The Orphan Syndrome

John 14: 15-21 *** Sunday, May 17, 2020 *** by Scott Webster, Lay Minister

At some point in life we all fear that time when we will be abandoned and left alone. John 14:15-21 overviews one of the last speeches that Jesus gave his disciples before his crucifixion. It was a strange mix of words to those gathered around as Jesus begins, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” It sounds as if Jesus was going to offer one of his parables, but as he went on the disciples became confused and even distraught.

Jesus tells them he is going to be leaving them to go to his Father, but they aren’t to worry as he is going to have God send them someone else to be with them. Depending on the version of the text you read, this entity may be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Helper, the Comforter, or even an Advocate. This Spirit of Truth cannot be seen or known by the world. But in fact, those that know God and follow Jesus’ commandments will receive this Holy Spirit and know the spirit because the spirit lives inside God’s children.

I can imagine that many of those gathered around Jesus were grumbling and complaining that Jesus is leaving them. He has been a part of their lives for 3 years or more and they can’t imagine what things will be like if he really leaves them. I’m sure that Jesus is feeling this dissatisfaction growing, so he shares this little statement with the crowd, “I am not going to leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

What a powerful statement. At some point in our lives we all want or even need a comforter to be with us. Jesus’ words speak straight to our biggest fears whether loneliness, abandonment, vulnerability, or even isolation arise. 

Obviously in these times of uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic and political unrest across the globe, it may seem like we are being left to fend for ourselves. We begin to imagine a million ques-tions: What will I do now? What should I do next? Am I really going to die alone? Who will love and guide me? These are sometimes referred to by scholars as the orphan questions.

These questions which might be running through our heads today are the same questions that Jesus’ followers must have been thinking as well. In my opinion, Thomas asks one of the most famous orphan questions of all time: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How do we know the way?”

For those dealing with orphan questions such as these, it would be comforting to hear the words, “I will not leave you orphaned,” from someone they care about. But imagine for a minute that you were of the world and not of Christ. You would never know this Comforter. What might happen? I would guess that fear and vulnerability would begin to fester and grow.

But we as God’s children can take heart at Jesus’ words: “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you.” For it is not God’s way for man to suffer and face things alone. Man just was not created that way. We were created to love and be loved, have relationships, and live among, and with, others as Jesus lives with God. We can live in the promise of Jesus and in doing so we will never be alone.

According to scripture, Jesus answers orphan questions through love that is revealed and fulfilled by keeping his commandments. Most importantly, his new commandment: Loving our neighbors as ourselves, loving our enemies, and loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength.

I ask you today to examine your score-card so to speak. Each of us needs to examine our lives and determine if we are keeping Jesus’ commandments. Do we live a life of transforming love? Letting it grow, transform, manifest, and expand into the world? Or are we falling victim to that fear of the time, living our lives literally in isolation, self-contained, as if we are living in an orphanage?

Even though aspects of this pandemic keep many of us secluded and self-isolated for health reasons, we should not feel as if we have been orphaned. Jesus made us a promise. He will send the Holy Spirit to live inside each of us so we will never be alone. His promise is just as real today as it was back then.

These words spoken of Mike Marsh, an Episcopal priest, in 2011, still ring true today…  “I will not leave you orphaned.” Over and over, day after day, regardless of what is happening in our lives that is Jesus’ promise. We have not been abandoned. Do not abandon yourselves or others to the orphanages of this world.”

So, in spite of whatever may be going on around us – individuals contracting illness and dying due to the pandemic, migrants detained and returned home, children being separated from their parents and left in detainment camps, or even worshippers not being able to meet for church in their buildings – we need to hold on to Jesus’ promise that we are not alone. It may feel like the world has abandoned us and we are all alone in our struggles, but if we love God, others and ourselves, we will never be orphaned and alone.

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