<To listen to the sermon, click here. It’s better with the singing and the laughs…>
[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.”
On Being Cut Off and Gaining Vision
There are very few times when I will ditch a sermon and write a completely different one on Saturday of the week, but this is one of those times. So that sermon title in your bulletin isn’t the sermon title for today anymore because, well, I had a very interesting weekend.
As many of you know, I was accepted into a program offered by Wake Forest Divinity for early career clergy…of which I’m the only Lutheran…where, over theses two years, we spend a few days together every other month listening to and talking with civic, business, and political leaders about the challenges facing North Carolina.
This weekend we talked specifically about racial prejudice in the voting booth, the history of the separation of Church and State, and I found myself sitting across from State Representative Graig Meyer talking to him about how he sees his own faith life impacting his work as a state congressman.
He then invited us back to his office where we threw some Bruce Springsteen onto his record player and rocked out a bit singing,
Born in the USA
Born in the USA
It was a challenging weekend in many ways because I saw clearly how, sometimes, people are indeed left orphaned in this world: left orphaned by our own choices, by systems that are set up to keep the powerful in power and keep the weak from changing that. How we are left orphaned in our own cocoons and echo chambers as we only listen to and pay attention to people who already agree with us.
In the ancient world, to be left orphaned was not simply to be left without parental guardians, though there is that. The problem with having no parental guardian in the ancient world was that you had no one to advocate for you in the public sphere. Children were the most vulnerable people in that world, and I would contend that they still are, and to be left without a guardian meant that you were at the mercy of a system in which you had no voice, no advocate, to care for you.
Think on that for a moment, and then think on our work with Mnene Parish in Zimbabwe.
And so when Jesus says that he will not leave the disciples orphaned, he’s talking about leaving them cut off.
And it got me to thinking about all the ways we’re cut off in this world.
Need cuts us off. The Presiding Bishops of the Episcopal and Lutheran Churches, Bishop Michael Curry and our own Bishop Eaton, have called Lutherans and Episcopalians to fast on the 21st of each month starting this month…and does anyone know what day today is? Great job planning a church picnic on this day…
But the day of fasting is intended to bring awareness to the greater world, and to our own bodies, about the reality of hunger in this world because by the 21st of each month most SNAP benefits in most families using them have been used up, making the last week of the month the hardest week of the month for low income families.
Hunger affects children first in this world, leaving them orphaned. And, I think this is true: my belly has never known real hunger, which has left me orphaned to the real pain of my brothers and sisters. If I only feel compassion for them but not concern for the systems set up to keep the hungry starving, I’m really only being sentimental and not being loving.
This world can make us feel cut off, orphaned. I see it happening all over the place, to children and adults, as loneliness is rampant in a world where we always feel totally connected. I mean, think on that: we are the most globally connected we have ever been in the history of humankind, and yet so many of us feel all alone in this life, orphaned from others and even from ourselves. Our kids feel it. The fascination with this new Netflix series _13 Reasons Why_, which I admittedly have not seen, that focuses on a teen’s suicide should be an indicator to us adults that children are certainly still a very vulnerable population in this world, often feeling orphaned in ways we don’t realize.
And, to be honest, sometimes that doesn’t leave you. Some of us adults still feel that way often, alone and disconnected in this world, as the death of singer Chris Cornell this last week hammers home.
Religion can do it, too, though. As the Reverend William Sloane Coffin rightly says, “Too many religious people make faith their aim. They think ‘the greatest of these ‘ is faith, and faith defined as all but infallible doctrine. These are the dogmatic, divisive Christians, more concerned with freezing the doctrine than warming the heart. If faith can be exclusive, love can only be inclusive.”
Such faith led to the killing of Mennonites in the 16th Century. Such faith leads to the abuse of Christians today in many countries not friendly to Christians. Such faith leads to the abuse of many Muslims and minorities today in this country.
You know, in this cohort I’m meeting with 14 other pastors from across the state. One of them is the pastor of Raleigh Mennonite in the Mordecai neighborhood here, and about halfway through the conference she brought up the fact that it was only 10 years ago that the Lutheran Church apologized the Mennonites for abusing and massacring them in the 16th Century. And it occurred to me that, 500 years ago, we would have never sat at the same table…and would be worse for it.
There are so many ways we’re cut off in this world, so many ways to orphan others and to be orphaned.
You know, in this gospel lesson when Jesus encourages the disciples to “follow his commandments” and the Holy Spirit will come upon them, he’s not talking about the 10 Commandments, or a list of behavioral moralisms, or anything like that. You need only look one chapter previous in the Bible to see his reference point. Because just a few verses previous to this one he tells his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
The follower of Christ, then, is the one who loves. And love has this wonderful way of never leaving anyone orphaned in the world because it compels you to be with them and for them. Which is why God has sent us the Spirit, and why the Spirit sends us out in love.
Because our obsession over anything: money, religion, criticism, depression, being right, being in control…well…to quote that good reverend again, “(Obsession) is blinding. Love, by contrast, is visionary.”
Visionary: because it sees those the world overlooks and advocates on their behalf.
Visionary: because it sees in you what God sees in you…even when you can’t see it, and you are worth loving, by God.
Visionary: because though religion has been used to hurt it has, at its core, the potential to heal, too. The word “religion” literally broken down, “re-ligio” where we get the word “ligament” which connects our bodies and keeps us together, religion can indeed reconnect us to God and to one another and to ourselves when the Divine love of God comes through.
Visionary: because although the world cannot see Jesus, as this Gospel lesson says, we can. We have the vision for Jesus in the stranger, in the abused, in the outcast, in the corporate fat cat, in the one contemplating suicide, in the bread and wine. We see Jesus in every place where love can be found, infused, encouraged, enlivened in the Spirit.
God in Christ has given us a vision for love in a world full of systems who cannot see and are intent at cutting people off, Beloved. What will you do with that vision?