Orphans the world over are a tragedy of tremendous proportions. Whether in refugee camps in Africa, India or institutions in Romania, Bulgaria, Haiti, or South East Asia these are people who have been tragically affected by the loss of their parents and will remain affected by this loss for the rest of their lives.
Even a child left without parents here in our country, although infinitely far better off than those situations I have just described, is affected in ways that we don’t fully understand. Children who lose their parents lose their security and are vulnerable and powerless – physically, emotionally, and psychologically. The love and care given to them by others will, in time, make up for this but some children never get over their loss.
Over the years I have known many children who were orphaned and adopted into some very loving families. They receive the best of everything but somehow being an orphan affects them as people in ways they themselves don’t fully understand. I don’t pretend to know all about the psychological effects of being an orphan but to me it seems these children feel as if they have lost their story, their sense of belonging, their sense of identity and direction, their sense of who they are.
It is hardly surprising then that there is a high incidence of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and an inability to form close relationships among people who have been orphaned in childhood.
In the light of this, the words of Jesus take on whole new meaning. "I will not leave you orphaned", Jesus says to his disciples. Or this could be translated, "I will not leave you desolate, feeling deserted, alone, abandoned, unloved, futureless".
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. 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. When they were hungry, they experienced his multiplication of a few loaves and fish to feed a multitude. When they were in danger on the sea, Jesus was nearby to rescue them. When they witnessed the grief that death brought into their lives, Jesus was at hand to comfort and raise the dead to life.
You see there is a kind of fatherly or perhaps brotherly relationship between Jesus and the disciples.
Jesus could see that his disciples were dependent on him. In the presence of Jesus, they were like "little children" – they relied on his love and comfort. In fact, Jesus occasionally addressed them as "little children".
When Jesus warned the disciples that he will no longer be with them he had to quickly assure them not to be worried and upset but to trust him. Now if that’s how they felt before Jesus’ death imagine how alone and abandoned, they must have felt after Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus knew that they would feel like orphans after the events of Good Friday. They will feel lost, without hope, powerless, completely uncertain about their future.
Jesus knows how devastated his disciples will feel 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" (John 14.16,18,27).
Those in Christ are never orphans. They are not left alone. Note the unique way Jesus reminds the disciples that they will always have a home and a family. He says, "My Father will love those who love me. I, too, will love them and reveal myself to them". Through Jesus, in the Spirit, they are one with the Father. They will never be orphans and left without a home. They will never be lost and forgotten. They have a special relationship with their heavenly parent. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will show to them the special care that God has for them and given them the boldness and confidence to be his children in the world.
And then Jesus adds these words, "I am in the Father, and you are in me, just as I am in you (John 14:20).
This might sound complicated but bear with me. Just as Jesus is "in" God the Father and Jesus is "in" us; and through the presence and guiding and teaching and caring of the Spirit - we are "in" Jesus.
Jesus is expressing the very close and intimate relationship between his disciples and the Triune God. They will always have a home. They will always have a loving family – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These words of comfort carry the message that they won’t ever be orphans – they’ll know exactly who they are and where they belong. When it seems that you are alone and powerless and everything is going all haywire, in actual fact, you have a loving family around you, supporting you and helping you and that family is none other than the Triune God.
And of course, since that is the case for every person who is in Christ then we are all a part of that Triune God's loving, supporting family. We are all brothers and sisters joined together in God's family. This unique connection in the family of God is highlighted every time we witness a baptism. We are reminded that all of us are in God and God is in us in his family we call the church.
In an aside, I need to mention that as people who are intimately related to each other through God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is a special and holy bond between each of us. We have a special responsibility to preserve that bond and encourage one another in the unique relationship we have with each other.
True enough sin will try to break up that togetherness we have; Satan just loves to drive wedges of doubt, anger, hostility, jealousy and just plain being hard to get in with between members of the family of God, that is either between us and God or us and others in his family. And as soon as the bond is broken and walls are built up between the members of the family, we break away from the family, we become orphans, we lose our sense of purpose and direction, and we lose our connection with our heavenly parent. Truly we become orphans and that’s not what God has planned for any of us.
When Jesus says to us "I will not leave you as orphans" he means that we belong to the Father, adopted, and claimed through Jesus the Son. We are loved by the Father. We are forgiven by the Son. We are given a new direction, a new future and a new home, a new life through the power of the Holy Spirit.
God wants no one to feel like an orphan. When there is a member of the family who is feeling like an orphan because we have had a falling out with someone as a member of this special family, it becomes our responsibility to make amends, whether it was our fault or not. When there are members of the family who are feeling like orphans – lonely, scared, uncertain because they are facing illness and even death – as a special member of the family, it becomes our responsibility to pass on the love and care that we have received from our heavenly parent.
When there are members of the family who is feeling like an orphan – feeling unloved, needing a guiding hand, wanting someone to know their pain – as a special member of this family, it becomes our responsibility to be a brother and sister to that person and let him/her see the love of our heavenly parent through us.
When there are members of the family who are feeling like orphans – needing someone to provide them with basic essentials and to empathise with them in their circumstances, it becomes our responsibility to be a brother and sister to that person and let them see in us the love of our heavenly parent we meet those needs.
Jesus’ words need to become our words to one another as people of God's family, "I will not leave you as an orphan", as we reflect the love and care of God into the lives of the people around us. Let Jesus inspire us to say to our fellow brothers and sisters, "I will not leave you desolate, feeling deserted, alone, abandoned, unloved, futureless".
At the 400 metre race at the 1992 summer Olympics a young man was hungry to win a gold medal after being forced to withdraw from the previous Olympics because of injury, however, at the start of the race, Englishman Derek Redmond popped his right hamstring. This is a severe and excruciating injury. All the other runners continued the race leaving him like an orphan alone on the track. Amazingly Redmond got back up and started hopping towards the finish line. The other runners had all finished the race in a matter of seconds. Redmond, in tears, slowly and laboriously kept hopping. It looked as if he would fall any moment now. Suddenly, a man appeared beside Derek. His father had run down from the stands and pushed his way through the security guards to reach his son. Redmond's father put his arm around his son and let him cry on his shoulder for a second. Then, with his father holding him up, Derek hobbled to the finish line and then he hopped over the line by himself to finish the race.
There’s a word of hope for you and me. When we are feeling like orphans - feeling deserted, alone, abandoned, unloved, futureless, we have a Father who gives us his strength to keep on going, a Saviour who whispers to us, "We will do this together", and his Spirit who cheers us on and will enables us to cross the finishing line. We are not abandoned because we have a God who loves us. He says to each of personally and individually, "I will not leave you as orphans".
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