Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.
May 21 – 6th Sunday in Easter
“Orphans”. Text is from John 14:15-21
Sermon audio follows:
Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.
We continue with the farewell discourse from John that takes place at the last supper in the upper room, in which Jesus is letting his disciples know what will soon be taking place and that he is going to be leaving them bodily very soon. Remember, Jesus has already predicted his death several times over the Gospel of John, and has been fairly specific in the previous chapter of John, letting them know that he would be betrayed by one of their number (Judas, who subsequently left to do the very thing he was telling them about) and then that he would be denied three times by Peter, the very rock and foundation of the world that is coming to them.
And last week, we started this chapter, where Jesus talks to his friends about his connection with God the Father and the fact that they themselves will subsequently be reunited with him as their own paths take them.
And this brings us to today’s text. Jesus has one more task for them, to keep his commandments which, as we know in John that they love one another as he has loved them. And then he offers them some good news. That they will not be alone in this journey, or at the very least, that they will not be completely without his help in their work. That God will send the Holy Spirit among them, to be with them forever, and that they already know this spirit because it abides with them and will be in them as they work in the world.
And even though he won’t be present in the world Jesus will still yet live, and the disciples will know this, because they themselves will see him. So they should not be worried they will be left without him, orphaned as he put it, and once again he reminds them to keep his commandments, to love one another as he has loved them as they share his good news and spreads his message throughout the world.
Wow. What in the world must they be thinking at this point? We have seen some of the responses of the disciples already on his leaving them. Judas the one who betrays Jesus, is angry that he was not the Messiah that they wanted and has opted to take a more evil route. Peter is in denial, a denial that will culminate in the very near future. Thomas and Phillip both seem to have missed some of the message, and are asking some questions. But now, the language that Jesus is using includes some certain terms that yes he will be gone, and in the very near future.
And he assuages this potential orphaning of the disciples and by virtue, the subsequent world of the children of God. That in his dying that he would not abandon them to the mercies of the fate of unprotected children but that they would be adopted by this, his holy spirit.
How does it feel to be orphaned? What is this anxiety that can happen when our worlds are turned upside down, that sense of security lost, that those who said they were going to protect us are suddenly gone from our midst? Or even, worse yet, to suddenly realize that those who we put all of our stock and faith in are suddenly faithless.
Our first reading from Acts has Paul wandering around Athens and seeing all of the shrines to pagan Gods. We wonder how much the people he is preaching to here actually understand of their deities, do they actually believe that Athena, Apollo or Aphrodite will provide them answers to their prayers? The Areopagus is also known as Mars Hill, and this famous sermon of Paul’s is a means to bring an understanding of a God they did not know of to light. These in Athens are true pagans. And here Paul found this altar to an unknown God, affording him an opportunity to tell them about the one God, the God of the Hebrews who is also their God as well. Who has adopted them as His offspring as well. That among all of these powerless idols that abound in their midst, there is something that can actively work in their lives. It lays the groundwork for the conversion of others, and Paul in turn shares the Good news that Jesus has provided.
Sisters and brothers, our texts today are reminders that God is with us wherever we go. That God is not just some something that we connect with on Sunday morning but that his Holy Spirit calls us to do his work all throughout the week, each and every day that we go out and do things in the world, we bring this Spirit of Truth among us.
There was a time I used to be afraid of describing anything as evil, as if that very word gave the devil power of me, but the longer I live, the more that I see that with the agency of human beings, there is indeed something that can be described as evil that causes us to falter as we live. That we habbve lusts in our hearts, and I mean of all things of the flesh: sex, greed, overeating, chemicals that make our brains go wow or let us escape from the real world. Anything that we put in front of our relationship with God can give evil influence over us, like baby wolf cubs in the wild, subjected to the elements and things that could harm us.
But we are not orphans in the world. God has not abandoned us. In the promise of Jesus we are given a protector, an advocate, a paraclete. The Spirit of Truth lights our path and we are given hope, strength, and wellness of mind. God is among us, within us, and with us and we need not fear for our lives.
Sisters and brothers, I ask you to let that spirit be known. We are a small congregation, but with that spirit among us we are powerful. This church on University Avenue does so much of God’s good work. We have good news here in our midst, in the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit that we can be a light and shining beacon everywhere around. Let it be known to all the world, that we do not do this on our own but in the name of Jesus Christ, that God’s Holy Spirit abides in us and we abide with God.