Sixth Sunday of Easter: May 21 2017, Year A
Acts 17.22-31; Psalm 66.8-20; 1 Peter 3.13-22; John 14.15-21
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who will not leave you orphaned, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I just want someone to love me, someone to talk to when I need to talk. Someone to cry on when I need to cry. Most of all someone to love me and walk as far as they wish through my life. Amen (Sometimes God Has a Kid’s Face by Sister Mary Rose McGeady, p. 32).”
This prayer was written by a teenager in the chapel of what is called “The Covenant House.” Covenant House is a crisis shelter for homeless and runaway kids. There are “houses” in 30 cities throughout the United States, Canada, and Latin America, in which young people can find a place to eat, sleep, and belong.
These young people end up on the doorstep of these homes for a number of reasons.
For one girl it was because her dad decided to leave her mom and six kids one day and never come back. She had 5 brothers. Her mom tried to get a job to support her children, but it all got to be too much. One day her mom sat her down and said, “You’re 16, Dana. You’re the oldest … I can’t afford all of you … you’re going to have to leave.”
Dana thought her mother was kidding. Where was she to go? What was she supposed to do? Her mother continued, “You can make it, Dana. You’re strong like me. Pack up your things. I’m sorry, you have to go.” Dana found herself alone, on the street, and eventually made her way to the Covenant House to find somewhere to belong.
For one boy who came to the Covenant House it was because he was beat up all of the time by his parents, and also suffered abuse from the hands of his uncle.
For another, it was the death of a grandmother, a diagnosis of bone cancer in her leg, and eventual abuse by her father that led her to the Covenant House.
For others it was drug use and there was nowhere else to turn when he or she hit the bottom.
These are not unfamiliar stories to us here at Heart River. Many of you in this chapel this morning have had similar stories to the ones who end up at Covenant House.
In all these stories of the Covenant House that are found in the book, Sometimes God Has a Kid’s Face by Sister Mary Rose McGeady, these young people are simply longing for someone who will care rightly for them and love them, for somewhere to belong.
Isn’t that what we all desire? To belong to something and someone? To have someone to love us, to talk to, to cry on, to walk with?
In our Gospel reading today Jesus’ disciples are worried and feeling like Dana. They feel as if Jesus is sitting them down and saying, “Time to pack up and be on your own now.”
We are still in the season of Easter in which the risen Christ encounters his disciples, but throughout his life and in his resurrection, he prepares the ones he has called for his eventual absence.
Last week in our Gospel reading Jesus tells them that he will be going to the Father. They are coming to the sober reality that Jesus cannot always physically be with them here on earth. This is a scary notion for those who love him.
“What are we going to do without Jesus?” they think. “How can we know the way to where you are going?” Thomas asks in our reading last week. They are feeling abandoned.
I hardly know anyone who hasn’t felt alone at some point in their life. This feeling of loneliness or abandonment is very real.
It can happen to us in all kinds of ways: people literally leave us by choice or by death; people who are supposed to love us don’t; we are betrayed; we experience a mental health crisis; we are diagnosed with a disease; we lose our purpose in life; or we hear someone say to us, “I don’t love you anymore.”
On the back of our bulletin there are 3 great questions: “What do we do when we feel abandoned by people we believed would always be there for us? When relationships end or coworkers betray us? When friends move or someone close to us dies?”
What do we do? How are we supposed to feel?
One answer to these questions is that we turn inward and feel sorry for ourselves. I’m not saying this is bad. There is certainly an appropriate time to grieve, to be alone, and be sad about where we’ve ended up in our lives for whatever reason. This wallowing in self-pity becomes toxic when it’s where we stay, thinking we are abandoned, that life won’t get better and no one cares, least of all God.
I realize this is what life can feel like some times. Jesus knew this. Even he cried out from the cross in his death in the Gospel of Mark: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Really, “Why have you abandoned me, Father?”
Now whether or not it was true in that moment on the cross, we know that in the end, God did not abandon Jesus to the grave, but as it says in our reading from Acts: raised him from the dead.
So from the mouth of the one who knows what it feels like to be abandoned, Jesus tells his disciples and us: “I will not leave you orphaned … the Father will give you another Advocate, to be with your forever.”
This Advocate is the very Spirit of Christ, who abides with you and is in you. Jesus gives the Spirit to you and what Jesus is trying to say is that the Spirit’s presence is no less than his physical presence with you in the world.
The word, Advocate, in our reading today is from the Greek word, “Paraclete.” It means: advocate, comforter, helper, intercessor. It also means to be with and called to come alongside.
It’s as if you are walking along a road, carrying something heavy. And when what you are carrying becomes to great to bear, the Advocate/Paraclete/Spirit is the one who comes alongside of you and picks up your load when you fall.
This Spirit that is given to you and to me is the very Spirit and presence of Jesus himself. Jesus says this Spirit is with you and in you, never to leave you. To not leave you orphaned or abandoned is the promise of God in Jesus Christ.
We have a God who is in relentless loving pursuit of us. All throughout Scripture God tries to make it clear who we belong to and that we are never alone. In Psalm 100 God says: “I made you. You are mine.”
What difference does this Holy Spirit make in our lives?
The Spirit reminds us that you and I belong to someone: we belong to God. The Spirit reminds us of what Jesus says in John 14: “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” There is no greater language of belonging than this. We just forget this sometimes when life gets tough, and people kick us out, or leave us, or we feel abandoned.
If any of you are feeling alone, I hope you can find belonging here in this chapel among these people, in the heart of God.
We have an incarnational God that is always making God’s way to us. It’s not us climbing the Spiritual ladder up to God, but God coming down, and coming down, to dwell and be with the ones God has made.
Even Luke, the writer of Acts, emphasizes this when he says: “In him we live and move and have our being.”
A friend of mine, Corrine Denis, wrote a poem titled: Incarnation. In it she names the feelings of abandonment and despair, but then recognizes the Love Incarnate that is God, who dwells in and with us always.
“Incarnation” by Corrine Denis
dwelling in wilderness
fearing in the dark and doubt
numb, unable to move
Eternal Presence steps into the chasm
standing and beckoning from the periphery is not good enough.
No, Love Incarnate comes close,
sits down next to you,
so close your bodies are almost one,
waits with unwavering patience.
and when it is time- no sooner-
clasps your hand,
completely hemming you in
and leads you out.