God Abandons None

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Easter 6A ● Holy Eucharist II
May 17, 2020
Gospel: John 14:15-21

Sixth Sunday of Easter 10:30 a.m. Mass. Celebrant and Preacher, Mother Adrienne Hymes; Lay Readers/Acolytes: Mrs. Sharon Sharon Nickolson Soto, Mr. Pete Soto; Intercessor/Video: Mr. LeGrand Jones; Altar Guild/Flowers: Ms. Chris O’Donnell; Musician: Ms. Gina Spano; Cantor: Ms. Katherine KnippelGospel: John 14:15-21

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 17, 2020

It may come as no surprise that a National Institute of Mental Health[1] study found that 73% of Americans fear public speaking more than they fear death, heights and spiders. A different survey affirmed that public speaking was the number one fear of Americans. The fear of death ranked fifth, closely followed by the seventh-ranked fear of loneliness.[2]

Why is that? I suspect that the fear of looking foolish, or saying something silly, touches a place of deep vulnerability within, so that many are not willing, or able, to risk enduring the nervousness, the sweaty palms or the staring eyes.  Consider that the operating fear factor is not the act of public speaking, rather the fear of abandonment.

Our shared experience of moving through this pandemic brings to the fore the reality of our mortality and perhaps a wondering about whether or not God has abandoned us, prompting people of faith to cry out, “God, where are you? Why do you hide your face from me?”

Our passage in the fourteenth chapter of John’s gospel today is a timely message of reassurance in an uncertain time—a promise of God’s abiding presence—as Jesus continued to foreshadow his inevitable absence in the lives of his disciples.

“If you love me,” Jesus said to his disciples, “You will keep my commandments” (v.15). Jesus was clear; he expected his disciples to manifest their love for him through the actions of loving God and loving neighbor.  A synonym for the word commandments is teachings.

Jesus was instructing the disciples to not only behave according to his teachings, but to actually maintain his own action of teaching others.  Jesus expected his disciples to show their love for him by mirroring his life dedicated to loving God and God’s people through his public ministry of healings, preaching and teaching.

Loving Jesus through the action of living his divine teachings sets in motion Jesus’ request for the Father’s help.  This advocate, the Spirit of Truth, in Jesus’ absence, would spiritually abide within the disciples.  I imagine that even with Jesus’ assurance of divine help, the disciples might have been fearful that Jesus, in his obedience to God’s will, would soon abandon them.

Perhaps you have witnessed the outpouring of emotion by a young child, who for the first time is left with the baby sitter, and is separated from its parents. Without words to explain the screams and inconsolable crying, a child knows when their parents are absent. For all the child knows, out of sight—gone forever. That must be a terrifying, traumatic feeling.

What the young child cannot yet comprehend is that the separation from their parents is temporary. Over time, the child comes to realize that the parents do return, and trusts that their parents remain their parents even when temporarily absent and cannot be seen. This example applies well to Jesus’ engagement with his disciples.

Jesus said two things that may have eased their fears.  First, recall that the Advocate, of whom Jesus spoke, would be with the disciples forever. So that even though they would no longer have Jesus physically with them, His spirit would be in them.

Second, Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned” (v.18).  The word, orphan, is intentional.  In ancient Jewish society, the descriptor, “orphan,” referred not to the lack of parents, but specifically to the absence of a father.

Jesus’ statement, “I will not leave you orphaned,” reminds us that God is not an absent Father.  God is the Father of orphans (Ps 68:5) and is the one who, as Jeremiah said, commands the people to leave their orphans with him, and he will keep them alive (Jer 49:11).  Jesus spoke words of assurance to the disciples that if they loved him by keeping his commandments, they would never be orphans nor would they be orphaned by God.

This passage is indeed timely.  The physical, mental, socio-economic and spiritual devastation, that the pandemic has forced upon many has triggered the pain of helplessness, isolation and invisibility, while surfacing feelings of being unwanted and unloved. For many, the fear of abandonment is more than a phobia; it is a lived reality.

For Easter people, the fear of being abandoned by God is inconsistent with what we believe by faith about our savior, Christ. We profess that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. And, like the child who waits with hopeful anticipation, the return of its beloved parents, we wait also for Christ’s promised return when we will see him face to face.

In the meantime, in this in-between time, people of faith must hold each other accountable to living our baptismal covenant. We must continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship;

persevere in resisting evil; proclaim the life-saving message of the gospel; and love our neighbors, all the while striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being (BCP, pp. 304-305).

Living our baptismal covenant, as an expression of our love for Christ, in this world is not easy; it requires help. But, do not let your hearts be troubled. Be assured that the Triune God—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—will neither leave you nor forsake you—and is ever-present with you and in you.

So, be a willing instrument for the Spirit of Truth to abide in you, giving you the courage to publicly profess, without fear of rejection, the life-saving message of God in Christ Jesus. Through the courageous hearts of those who love Jesus, the world, which does not know God, will come to know God’s abiding, inclusive and unceasing love. It is a love that invites all and abandons none.

May we each be strengthened with the help of the Holy Spirit, moving within us, to keep Jesus’ commandments.  And, may we show our love for Jesus, to Jesus, as we embody the ever-present love of God himself for the sake of the whole world.   Amen.

[1] https://nationalsocialanxietycenter.com/2017/02/20/public-speaking-and-fear-of-brain-freezes/

[2] https://westsidetoastmasters.com/resources/off_the_cuff/chap1.html