I Will Not Leave You As Orphans

Fifth Sunday of Easter B April 29, 2018 John 14:15-21
After the resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples, and then he went to

heaven.  He had lived in heaven before he was born (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-

11). Heaven was his home.  He was returning home. But before he left his

disciples, he had important words for them.  You can be sure that they were

important words.  Jesus would not have wasted that important occasion with

unimportant words.  First, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments”

(v. 15). “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  When I hear those

words, my mind pictures a father or mother saying goodbye to their son.  “If you

love me, live as I have taught you.  If you love me, you will bring honor to our

name.” “If you love me, keep my commandments.” We don’t talk like that today.

Words like “commandments” and “rules”, they are not very popular.  Standing in a

line, I noticed a slogan on a teen-age boy’s T-shirt.  It said: “Training is everything.

Rules are not!” Stuck in that line behind that boy, I kept seeing that T-shirt.

“Training is everything. Rules are not!” I tried to imagine what the boy was trying

to say.  “Training is everything” sounded like something that he might have heard

from a coach–and in every sport, training is nearly everything, isn’t it!  Games and

matches are won or lost on the practice field, where we practice the basics over and

over again.  But I was confused by the boy’s T-shirt. “Training is everything. Rules

are not!” After all, what is training, but practicing basic rules or principles over and

over until they become second nature!
I finally decided that the boy’s real point might not have anything to do with

training.  He was probably just trying to say that rules are bad.  I wonder if his

coach would agree. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

Jesus wasn’t trying to spoil our fun with empty rules.  He was trying to turn us into

winners.  Life isn’t easy, but loving Christ and following his commandments can

put us on top. And then Jesus said:

“I will pray to the Father,and he will give you another Counselor,that he may be with you forever” (v. 16).

Jesus was promising that, when he left, God’s Holy Spirit would come to dwell in

  1. That‘s good news!  Jesus, in his human body, could only be in one place at a

time.  The Holy Spirit can dwell within each of us, wherever we are, all the

time.  So Jesus was promising that, when he left, we would receive even greater

blessings by the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

And then Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans” (v. 18 ). The Greek word is

orphanous.  It refers to a child whose parents have died.  People also used it to

refer to a disciple whose rabbi had died. Imagine being a young musician who has

been chosen to study under a great master.  Imagine being a guitarist chosen to

study under Segovia.  Imagine the great honor!  Imagine how much you could

learn!  Such a master could teach you things that you could never learn from

anyone else.  Study under a great master would allow you to develop your skills to

their highest level.  It would prepare you to become the next great master.

 

It would prepare you for fame and fortune. Now imagine the first few months of

your discipleship.  In that short time, you would develop a relationship.  You

would begin to understand the master. You would begin to understand your

instrument and your music in ways that nobody else could teach you.  You would

find it hard to believe that you were learning so much.  You would wonder where

the next year or two years of study might take you. Now imagine that the master

dies.  What would you feel?  Grief, certainly!  Tremendous loss!  You would feel

abandoned–orphaned –desolate. That is exactly the situation that Jesus disciples

faced.  They had given up all that they had to follow this star Jesus, and now the

star was warning them that he was going to die.  It made no sense!  If Jesus really

was the Messiah, why would he die?  If he was going to die, he must not be the

Messiah?  And yet he had taught them so much.  He had amazed them with the

depth of his understanding.  He had brought them so far in such a short time.  And

now he was telling them that he was going to die.  How did they feel?  They felt

abandoned, orphaned and desolate. Jesus promised them, “I will not leave you

orphanous.”  That‘s the Greek word–orphanous.  Some translations read, “I will

not leave you orphans.”  That is a good translation.  But some translations say, “I

will not leave you desolate.”  That is a good translation too, because it captures the

feeling of the person who is left behind.  “I will not leave you desolate.” What kind

of place comes to mind when you hear the word “desolate”?  Jesus’ disciples

understood desolation.  They lived in the middle of great deserts.  To be alone in

in the desert is to be truly desolate.

 

When I flew across the deserts of Arizona and Nevada, I have tried to imagine

what it must have been like to cross the desert with only a mule and a canteen.

How that would feel!  Some people would like it.  Some people would enjoy the

solitude.  But it would be more solitude than I wanted.  If I had to cross a desert

alone, I would feel desolate. Do you remember when Jesus went into the desert?

I’m sure he must have felt alone, and to top it off he was tempted by Satan. He

must have felt desolate! Jesus said to the disciples, “I will not leave you

desolate.”  He says to us, “I will not leave you desolate.”  That‘s good news!  We

need to hear that good news, because we feel desolate now and then, don’t we!  We

would feel desolate if we were lost in the desert, but we feel just as desolate here

in Middleburg–or even in the quiet of our bedroom.  We feel desolate when our

lives are in jeopardy, but we also feel desolate when we lose our job–or our

marriage breaks up–or our child is sick.  Have you ever felt desolate? Do you

remember how terrible it was?  Now hear Jesus when he says:

“I will not leave you orphanous–orphans–desolate. I will come to you.”

Jesus was telling us that God’s Holy Spirit would come to dwell in us–to comfort

us–to strengthen us–to guide us–to be our constant companion.  I am reminded of

the 23rd Psalm:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
Jesus does not promise that we will be spared the suffering—or that we will be

spared the valley of the shadow of death.

But he promises to walk with us through the valley–and to bring us through it to

the other side. That’s really the message of the cross, isn’t it!  Jesus says, “I have

been with you through the worst of it!  I have taken the brunt of it, and have come

out whole.  I have endured my Good Friday, but I have also celebrated my

Easter.  So take heart!  You shall celebrate Easter too!” God is with us in many

ways.  He has planted his Spirit in our hearts, but he is also with us in other ways.

There is a pastor that I communicate with and he told me this story:A number of

years ago, I learned that I had cancer and might die.  In fact, it was clear that I

probably would die.  I had less than a 50-50 chance of living another five

years.  We had one child in fifth grade and another in diapers.  That was a

Good Friday experience for me and for my family.  But through that terrible

experience, Christ was with us.  His Spirit filled our hearts, and his disciples rallied

around us. Christ was with us through his disciples.  A Christian friend sat with my

wife through the surgery.  He and his wife took care of our children, freeing my

wife to visit me at the hospital.  Other Christian friends came to visit me in the

hospital–and to celebrate when I was released. At the time that we discovered the

cancer, we were preparing to move to a new church.  They had called us, and we

had scheduled the movers.  I had to cancel the movers so that I could have

surgery.  I wrote the church and told them what had happened.  I told them that

they would need to find someone else, because things didn’t look good for me.  The

church responded by writing cards and letters–and by establishing a 24-hour

prayer chain to pray for my recovery.  They called to wish me well.
Those things meant a lot!  My wife commented later that, when she went to bed at

night on the East Coast, she could imagine the church in prayer on the West

Coast.  When she awakened in the middle of the night, she could imagine the

church still in prayer. And then, after I was released from the hospital, the church

let me know that they still wanted us to come.  The call was still valid.  They

understood that things didn’t look good, but they told us to come anyway.  After

going there, I went through chemo and radiation.  Some days I could hardly get out

of bed, but I did my best.  The church supported us with their prayers.  And here I

am, many years later, still alive. Christ did not leave us desolate.  Even if I had

died, we would not have been desolate.  Christ dwelled in us as the Holy Spirit,

and he dwelled with us through his disciples. Christ does that for us.  He doesn’t

promise that you will never experience hardship–that we will never feel desolate—

but he does promise that he will never leave us desolate.  He will come to us and

strengthen us. And Christ often calls us, his disciples, to reach out to the desolate

in his name.  We do that in many ways through the church. We do the food

giveaway, we provide clothes for those in need, we bring the gospel to others on

our mission trips, but to me the most important is that both Good Samaritan and La

Iglesia del Espiritu Santo welcomes everyone. The first President Bush talked

about a “thousand points of light.”  For sure, there are a thousand points of light in

every congregation that loves the Lord. And the interesting thing is that, when we

serve others, we also serve ourselves.  A person once asked Dr. Karl Menninger

what a person should do if they felt a nervous breakdown coming on.

Menninger replied:

“Lock up your house; go across the railroad tracks; find someone in need; and do

something for them.”

Isn’t that interesting!  A doctor’s prescription for

desolation!  If you feel desolate, go help someone.  James Barrie put it this way:

“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from shining on themselves.”

So today, let us remember Christ’s promise and take heart.  He says, “I will not

leave you desolate!”  Let us open our hearts so that God might fill us with his

Spirit.  Let us hear Christ’s call to heal our own desolation by ministry to the

desolate in our among us and in the world. Amen!

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