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Easter Season

Sermon for the sixth Sunday of Easter

Pastor Michael Jarick


        I wonder what thoughts you have when I say the words “roast chicken”? These words might evoke memories of delicious meals with your family. Saying the word “chocolate” might lead you to reflect on the state of your chocolate stash at home, and whether it needs resupplying. Hmmm…75% cacao, or hazelnut? These words might generate feelings of comfort, warmth, even love.

       But when I say the word ‘orphan’, the feelings generated aren’t so pleasant, are they? There are no positive associations with this word whatsoever. Alone…vulnerable…sad…longing for love! Do you remember the orphans in Romania that came to the world’s attention in 1989 when the dictator Ceausescu was deposed. There were orphanages filled with hundreds of malnourished, unwashed, and unloved infants and children.

       When we consider the Gospel for today, it might seem a strange thing for Jesus to say to his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.”

       I guess Jesus realizes that he is speaking not only to students following their rabbi, but a group of friends who had come to depend on him. In Jesus they had learnt of the Father’s undeserved love and forgiveness. They felt secure with Jesus. Jesus knew them.

       The disciples felt confident with Jesus as their Lord and Master. Time and time again he had proved himself to be the lord of every situation. When demons came, he caste them out; when the crowds were hungry, he fed them with one boy’s lunch; when sickness debilitated, he healed with the touch of his hand or just a word; when death overwhelmed, he called the dead out of the tomb; when religious leaders plotted to trap him, he confounded them.

       Living with Jesus was wonderful. He was the source of the peace and security that the disciples longed for, and that many people today equally long for. Perhaps you are craving that peace right now, the peace that comes from the presence of the Master.

       You look at the destruction, death and suffering caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and you wonder where is the Prince of Peace. During the worst of the pandemic, when relatives weren’t allowed to visit their dying parents, and when in some countries, hospitals were so overwhelmed that even the corridors were packed with the sick and dying, you wished that Jesus would have walked through the door and said, “Be healed!”

       You feel rejected and alone, wanting nothing more than that Jesus would notice you and say, as he did to Zacchaeus, “Come, I want to visit you and be your guest!”

       You feel depressed about the circumstances of your life, or worried about your family, and would crave for Jesus to take you within his loving embrace, saying “Come to me all who are tired from carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest!”

       We hunger for the security and presence of the Master, just as the disciples did. But now, in John 14, Jesus starts to talk about leaving, and the disciples are distinctly uneasy – “it couldn’t be! Surely, he’s not going to leave us now after everything that has happened! What on earth will we do without him?

       Jesus knows the impact his leaving will have on his disciples. They will be like sheep without a shepherd. So, he promises them, “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.”

       To those starting to panic, he says “Peace be with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid!” (verse 27).

       When we think of a counsellor, we tend to think of a social worker or psychologist, someone who listens to our problems, and helps us to find ways to cope or find solutions. The word used in the original text is “Paraclete”. This word comes from the Greek law courts. It means an advocate, someone who represents us and speaks on our behalf, someone who looks after our interests.

       When he leaves, Jesus says, I will send someone who will look after you, teach you, guide you, advocate for you. I will send you a paraclete – the Spirit of truth who will stay with you forever.

       Then Jesus adds, “When that day comes, you will know that I am in the Father, and you are in me, just as I am in you” (14:20). Jesus promises that he will bring us into the closest possible relationship. As Jesus is in God the Father, so Jesus is also in us. We, through the presence of the Spirit – guiding, caring, prodding, protecting, advocating – are in Jesus. Rather than becoming orphans, the disciples are going to be united with the Father through the Holy Spirit.

       Jesus in you. Jesus in me. We’re not talking about a vague influence, like some sort of kindly aunt from our infancy. Jesus in you! Jesus in me!

       That’s the end of this talk about being an orphan. No longer helpless, no longer alone. When we face difficult times, we are never alone. Through the Paraclete, Jesus is there with us.

       And what is the result of the presence of Christ within us? Peace! Not a wishful longing, a vague dream! The secure knowledge of who we are and where we are going. This is the peace which comes from knowing that we are in the safest place in the world, in God’s hands. Jesus says, “Peace is what I leave you; it is my own peace that I give you. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”

       That’s Jesus’ gift to his disciples and to you, a gift made real by the presence of the Holy Spirit. We don’t know what the future holds for us, never mind what it will be like for our children and grandchildren.

       There will be times when we feel uncertain, confused, vulnerable, sad, and perhaps alone. But we thank Jesus for the promise he made, first to his disciples in John 14, and today to us: “I will not leave you as orphans. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever.” Amen.

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