Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Text: John 14:16, 18
Jesus said, … "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever." … "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you".

"I will not leave you as orphans"

"The pictures tear at the hearts of all who see them - scenes of a war ravaged land, stories of devastation, pictures of bombed homes and churches, reports of cruelty, rape, the slaughter of a whole village of boys and men. Thousands upon thousands of people were killed; others were forcibly relocated because of their ethnic backgrounds. Perhaps the most heart wrenching are the pictures of little children, crying, hungry, terrified, alone. They have lost their parents in the forced evacuation from their homes, or their family has been wiped out and they are now orphans".

This was written almost 10 years ago about the war in Kosovo. And since that war there have been so many more wars. What I said about Kosovo could equally apply to what is happening in so many places around the world. In fact, our media only reports a selected few incidents that are happening right now and I believe we would be surprised at just how many people at this moment who are suffering under violent regimes.

Where there is war and violence there are orphans. They are so small and seemingly insignificant in the mass of humanity gathered in huge refugee camps. What future will these children have? Many of them had witnessed the death of family members – what impact will this have on them for the rest of their lives? We might wish that there would be something we could do to brighten their lives – show them the love they are missing, give them security and warmth.

Right here in our own backyard, there are orphans. Not in the sense of children losing their parents through war but children unwanted or abused by their families; children for whom love, attention and care are distant memories. They are at risk - vulnerable. Open to abuse.

Some orphans are more fortunate. Aid agencies set up orphanages; some are adopted into a loving home. The task is enormous because it’s not just a matter of providing food and shelter but helping the children deal with the loss of every one they love, the emotional scars, the feeling of loneliness and abandonment.

Abandoned, alone, without roots or stability, without love - this is the kind of heart-rending, soul-numbing experience that Jesus is speaking about when he says, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."

Jesus is speaking to a group of people whom he loved and who had come to depend on him.
The disciples knew Jesus in a very close and personal way – they had walked together, talked together, ate together, shared good times and bad times together. They had been constant companions of Jesus.
They felt confident and safe in the presence of Jesus.
When they experienced doubt, pain and suffering they felt Jesus understood what was happening to them because Jesus knew what it was like to be human.
When they were filled with joy and happiness or overcome with sadness and sorrow, they felt secure in the knowledge that Jesus experienced the same emotions and feelings as they did.

The disciples felt very secure and confident with Jesus as their Lord and Master because time and again, he had proven to be bigger than their situations –
when demons were encountered, he cast them out;
when hunger was experienced, he multiplied loaves;
when sickness threatened, he healed;
when death overwhelmed, he conquered;
when self-centred leaders tried to deceive, he protected with truth.

Living with Jesus was great. Living with Jesus meant the kind of peace and security that many people have longed for at one time or another. Perhaps you have craved for the presence of Jesus.

Well, the disciples had witnessed many moments like these and personally experienced the love and care of Jesus. But now, here in John 14, Jesus was talking about leaving, and the hearts of the disciples leaped into their mouths. Their stomachs begin to feel uneasy. It couldn't be! They recalled what happened in the past when he left them for short periods of time: how they went sailing and almost ended up drowning in a violent storm, that is, until Jesus came to the rescue.

They were worried – very anxious. Is he saying he is leaving for good? What are we going to do?

Jesus knows the devastating impact that his leaving would have on his followers and so he makes them a promise:
"I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth ... I will not leave you as orphans... Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (Jn 14.16,18, 27).

Jesus promises to send them a "Counsellor". When we think of a counsellor we think of someone who sits and listens to your problems, and perhaps provides a word of advice now and then. But the New Testament word is "Paraclete" and this means someone who is not only a listener, but also a teacher, an adviser, someone who actively guides you to make good choices that are in accordance with God's will for your life. The word "Paraclete" is one that finds its origins in the law courts. A Paraclete was an advocate, who spoke on behalf of another person, who represented and who looked out for the interests and well-being of others.

"When I leave," says Jesus, "I will send someone who will listen to you, teach you, guide you, and look out for your well-being. - I will send you a Paraclete, a Helper, an Advocate, a Counsellor - the Spirit of Truth, who will stay with you forever."

And then he adds these words, "I am in my Father, and you are in me, just as I am in you" (John 14:20).

Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will bring them together into the closest possible relationship. Just as Jesus is "in" God the Father and Jesus is "in" us; and we - through the presence and working and guiding
and prodding and teaching and leading
and caring and protecting of the Spirit -
we are "in" Jesus.
Jesus says, "
You are in me, just as I am in you".

Jesus "in you"! Jesus in me!

We're not just talking about a vague influence. We're not speaking about some hazy inspirational strength that one would gain from the memory of Christ and his example on earth.
This is far deeper.
Far closer.
Far more mysterious and intimate than that.
This is closer than close.
We're talking about Jesus coming so close to believers that he touches their very hearts, a heart-to-heart relationship, sharing in the most intimate, deepest manner possible. God in you. You in God.

It's the end of an orphan-like existence. No longer alone. No longer helpless. It is like receiving a heart transplant. New life is beating in our chest. Fresh hope, new starts, restored faith. Again we are able to face the future, for God himself is standing right at our side, in fact even close than that. He is so close that he is "in" us;
standing with us as we move through the various circumstances of this imperfect and often broken world without ever abandoning or forgetting about or overlooking us;
empowering us to serve our Lord in the church.

There are times when we feel like orphans – alone, weak, helpless, unloved, vulnerable. Jesus is saying to you this morning that when you face illness or hunger or loneliness or depression or sadness you won’t be doing it by yourself!

He will be there with you – in you. Through the Counsellor, the Helper, Jesus is there right at your side.

  • Sometimes he gives the unexpected and spectacular.
  • Sometimes you can feel his presence so closely that you are almost certain you could touch him.
  • Sometimes he speaks to you directly through the Bible, sometimes through others.
  • Sometimes he is quiet and whispering, almost behind you.
  • And what is the result of this presence of Christ in our lives through the Holy Spirit? Peace. Not a momentary emotion. Not some wishful figment of the imagination, or a distraction that ignores reality.

    No - we're talking real peace; a deep-seated knowledge that life.... somehow... in the big picture... is going to work out OK, that when push comes to shove, in the eternal scheme of things, we’re in good hands. Jesus says, "Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. … Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid" (John 14:27).

    That's Jesus' gift of peace to believers. A gift made real through the Holy Spirit.

    To be sure there will be those times when we will feel like orphans – lonely, lost unloved, vulnerable and sad. But we thank Jesus for his promises to us in today’s Gospel reading. "I will not leave you as orphans" … "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever."

    © Pastor Vince Gerhardy
    27th April 2008

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