So…there was a phrase in this gospel that hit me a little harder this week…”I will not leave you orphaned.” As I said goodbye to my mother…I realized I am left with no parents…orphaned, I suppose, even though I’m not a child. I lost the person who I knew would always love me, would always listen, would always believe in me, would always encourage me.
My parents did what parents are supposed to do. They weren’t perfect…but they gave me a sense of security and safety and belonging….enough so that I had the courage to go into the world and live my life fully. To spread my wings and fly. I didn’t feel vulnerable or afraid…because I knew I had people who were there for me…who had my back. They were, in the best sense of the word, my advocates.
Orphans…children without families are the most vulnerable people in the world. We have, at best guess, about 140 million children in our world who are orphaned. And they are at risk…and taken advantage of throughout the world. Human trafficking is real…children are bought and sold. The child warriors we hear about are often children whose parents were killed and who were taken by other soldiers. Kids who are drawn into gangs…are often kids who have no parents to speak of. The reality is, kids whose parents have died or have abandoned them are more susceptible to violence, to mental illness, to developmental delays, to addiction, to abuse. There is a reason the Bible, over and over, emphasizes God’s care for orphans…and God’s admonition that WE care for orphans. That we be their advocates in a world where they are vulnerable. God’s intent is that no one should be left without people who give them security and safety and belonging. That is what God wants for all of us.
I think that’s what many of Jesus’ disciples found in him. In Jesus, they found someone who loved them. Who believed they were worth loving. Jesus made them feel like they had something to offer…that they belonged. Jesus helped them believe in themselves…believe that they mattered…believe they were children of God…and he gave them the courage to live fully…to quit living in fear…of what might happen…of those in power…of the future…of the “enemy”…and to truly be the children of God they were born to be.
The problem is…Jesus knows he isn’t going to be around forever. Because this world does not like what he’s about. This world doesn’t exactly respond well to grace. Grace flies in the face of the world’s modus operandi. This world operates on a “dog eat dog”, survival of the fittest, take out the enemy, preemptive strike, winner takes all mentality. So Jesus…and his vision of the way to live — of facing people’s hatred with love, of facing their threats with service, of facing their abuse and refusing to let it silence him… well, that did not sit well with those in power. You see, hatred is supposed to incite anger and hatred in return…threats are supposed to make people fearful and violent as well….abuse is supposed to intimidate people and make them shut up or make them abusers of others. But Jesus believed the world wasn’t meant to be that way. And being with him, his friends began to believe too…that they could live differently. That they could make a difference. Someone had their back..someone was on their team. Jesus was their advocate… they didn’t have to be afraid. They didn’t have to live in a cycle of violence and anger and bitterness…they could live their lives with courage and hope. They could love. They could spread their wings and fly.
But now…what is going to happen after he’s gone? In the face of his looming execution, how will they respond? Jesus is concerned that their courage will crumble. He is worried about them, that in the face of barbarity and cruelty…in the face of their own grief and sadness…they will be vulnerable, and succumb like orphans to the hatred and violence and despair of the world. So, he reminds them…that they won’t be alone. They will still have an advocate…God’s Spirit will be with them..always. And you will know that Spirit, he says….why? Because it abides in you…with you. God’s spirit will be present in you…and in the people around you.
Jesus won’t be physically with them…but his spirit will be fully alive in their life together. When they love one another. Jesus says…when YOU give someone encouragement…my spirit is working in you.. When you are there for someone…when you have their back…when you remind them that they matter….YOU are Jesus’ hands and feet….you are the advocate God sends to them. Jesus won’t leave us orphaned…he leaves us to one another…and the same spirit of hope and love and life that he embodied….lives in us…in this body of Christ.
When mom died…it mattered that people cared. Those of you who have lost loved ones….you know. The words of care…the hugs…the presence of this community…matters. IT gives us the courage to go on…we are not alone, after all. God is still with us. This body of Christ is the dwelling place of the HOly Spirit — our presence in the world matters. And when we are faced with barbarity and cruelty ….or grief and sadness….we do not have to despair. We have a place of security. We have people on our side. We are not orphaned…we are beloved children of God. Members of God’s family.
In a couple weeks, we will celebrate Pentecost…the Holy Spirit on the loose in the church. And we have lots of images we use for the Holy Spirit — fire, wind, dove, Goose, breath, water, lamp, light — but the image Jesus has is in here. (mirror). You’ll recognize the holy spirit, he says…because you know what? It looks a lot like you. And you…and you.
You are not alone in this world. God’s spirit is in you….and with you. So you can keep following the way of Jesus…keep following his commandments. You don’t have to despair or give in to the ugly ways of the world. You can love in the face of hate….and serve in the face of threats. You can live…without fear. Children of God, You can spread your wings and fly. Amen.