Gospel: John 14:15-21
In final words to his disciples on the night of his arrest, Jesus encourages obedience to his commandments and speaks of the Spirit, who will be with them forever.
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
These readings seem slightly disconnected – but all point to the presence of God, the Holy Spirit – with us and with the world. To the ancient Greeks – and in many ways our current world – God was a far-off character who judged and watched and generally kept hands off except perhaps to meddle in human affairs as the Greek gods have been written to do. Many people’s concept of God is just that, a belief in some distant being that may or may not have a whole lot to do with what’s happening in their life. Disconnected from the history of the Christian people and God’s actions in their lives – they see the world as everyman for themselves…. And God is the giant vending machine in the sky who gives you what you want if you put enough work and prayer into it.
This is not how Jesus speaks about God. And this is not who God is, as we get to know the almighty in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus has relationships. Jesus acts with compassion and mercy. He gets our deepest fears and insecurities, including I believe those about parenting. When he says I will not leave you orphaned.
The church has long lifted up the holy role of mothers, when no other jobs were options for women, and Martin Luther reminded us that it wasn’t just the priests and nuns that had vocations, callings from God. It was parents, too. Certainly motherhood can be a calling. But while the church lifted it up – it glossed over the difficult parts, the grief, and the loss so many women have experienced. The terrible comments and the shame, the physical and mental and emotional toll, and the judgment those who choose not to have children still receive. I get emails now all throughout the month of May. “Do you want to opt out of mother’s day email reminders?” For some it’s just too hard….
Jesus tells his disciples I will not leave you orphaned. I will not leave you parent-less. I think Jesus is implying not just compassion and understanding, but a maternal impulse to protect these disciples. Luke and Matthew’s gospel records Jesus’ exasperated comments longing to gather God’s people together and protest them like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings – bodily protecting her offspring from harm.
The early church fathers latched on to this metaphor of Jesus as mother, and expounded on Paul’s milk metaphors which turns Jesus into a nursing mother, intimately providing sustenance and presence to his children.
When Paul tells the Athenians, we are all God’s children, when Jesus tells his disciples that he will not leave them orphaned; they are both speaking a powerful word about who God is and how God’s presence works here and now. God came into the world, the world which God loves – that we might know we are not orphans. We may not have an earthly parent, but our heavenly parent has always been there. God has not forgotten them, and Jesus comes to remind them of that. Because Jesus’ words of hope and comfort echo the passages of scripture throughout the Bible.
I will be your God and you will be my people.
I have called you by name. You are mine.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
And Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What exactly has Jesus commanded us to do? Well, in the chapter directly preceding our lectionary reading, John gives us the answer: “A new command I give you,” Jesus says. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” In fact, this commandment — Jesus’s “Maundy Thursday” mandate that his disciples love one another — is the only recorded commandment in John’s Gospel.
We hear Jesus’ words today as Law “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” – as a rule, as something to be achieved. But our ears hear something Jesus didn’t actually say. What we hear is “If you want to prove to the world and to God that you love me, then you will have to show it by loving each other.” But that’s not it. Jesus gave us a word of promise and comfort. If you are a child of God, you will act like it. If you are connected to me, you’ll bear fruit.
Jesus isn’t making a conditional statement, but is putting forth an obvious fact: when you love someone, really, really love someone, doing what is good and right comes so much more naturally and easily. When you are in a relationship of self-giving love with another person – that connection brings about a response with your actions. Parenthood feels like this for many people, you just love the little tiny humans so much you want to give them everything you can, every opportunity, protect them and provide for them.
Of course it doesn’t always go the way we plan. Parents are human – and make mistakes – and many children suffer abuse at the hands of parents who were abused themselves – generational trauma carries on…
Literal orphans – or those who just feel so isolated in this world that they might as well be. We try our best – but it is God’s love through us where we succeed. Because God is with us and has claimed us as his children. Because Christ has died for us and was raised for us. Because the spirit was sent to remain with us forever. We are not orphaned, but are empowered to love and abide with each other. Amen.