Return to Sermon Archive
No Orphans in Christ
May 1, 2005
15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
17 This 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.
19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
21 They 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."
Derek Redmond was a young British runner who sky rocketed to fame by shattering his country’s 400-meter record at age 19, but then an Achilles tendon injury forced him to withdraw from the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, and he endured five separate surgeries. When the Summer Olympics arrived in Barcelona in 1992, Derek Redmond was absolutely aching for a medal. On the day of the semifinal races for the 400-meters race, 65,000 fans streamed into the stadium. High in the stands was Derek’s father, Jim, a faithful witness to every one of his son’s world competitions. According to ESPN, Jim was wearing a T-shirt that read, “Have you hugged your foot today?”
The race began. Derek broke through the pack to seize the lead. Heading down the backstretch, only 175 meters from the finish line, Derek seemed a shoo-in to win this heat and qualify for the Olympic finals. But then Derek heard a pop. It was his right hamstring. He pulled up lame, looking as if he had been shot. His leg quivering, Derek began to hop on the other leg. He got slower and finally fell to the track. Medical personnel ran toward him as he sprawled on the ground, holding his right hamstring.
At the same moment, there was a stir at the top of the stands. Jim Redmond, seeing his son in trouble, was desperately working his way down toward the track, sidestepping some people and bumping into others. He had no Olympic credentials. He is not supposed to be on the track, but all he could think about was getting to his son, to help him up. He was absolutely single-minded about this, and was not going to be stopped by anyone.
On the track, Derek realized that his dream of an Olympic medal was gone. He was alone. The other runners streaked across the finish line. He was orphaned, as it were, a lonely figure on the track, friendless, parentless and alone.
Tears poured down Derek’s face, and all he could think was, “I don’t want to take a DNF.” “DNF” is runner’s jargon for Did-Not-Finish. Derek could not stand the thought of having DNF written beside his name at the Olympics. When the medical crew arrived with a stretcher, Derek told them, “I am not getting on that stretcher. I’m going to finish my race.” And so, he lifted himself to his feet, ever so slowly and carefully, and he started hobbling down the track.
Gradually, the crowd realized that Derek was not dropping out of the race. He was not limping off the track in defeat, but was actually continuing on one leg, in a fiercely determined effort to make it to the finish line. One painful step at a time, each one a little slower and more agonizing than the one before, Derek limped onward, and the crowd began to cheer for him. The fans rose to their feet and their cries grew louder and louder, building into a thunderous roar.
At that moment, Jim Redmond reached the bottom of the stands, vaulted over the railing, dodged a security guard, and ran to his son — with two security people running after him. “That’s my son out there,” he yelled back at his pursuers, “and I’m going to help him.”
Jim reached his son at the final curve, about 120 meters from the finish line. He wrapped his arm around Derek’s waist. “I’m here, son,” Jim said gently, hugging his boy. “We’ll finish together.”
Derek put his arms around his father’s shoulders and sobbed. Together, arm in arm, father and son struggled toward the finish line with 65,000 people cheering, clapping, and crying. Just a few steps from the end, with the crowd in an absolute frenzy, Jim released the grip he had on his son so that Derek could cross the finish line by himself.
“I’m the proudest father alive,” Jim Redmond told the press afterward, with tears in his eyes. “I’m prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal. It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did.” Together, they kept a promise they had made to finish the race, no matter what. [See, Weinburg, Rick. “Derek and dad finish Olympic 400 together.” ESPN Web Site. ESPN.com, sports.espn.go.com.]
We could use this illustration to talk about God the Father and God the Son. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11). They were bound together — bound much more tightly and more thoroughly than Derek and Jim Redmond — as they approach the finish line at the cross. But Jesus crossed the finish line alone. The Father withdrew and the Son died alone on the cross. Thus, Jesus said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (MT27:46). Jesus went to the cross alone because he loved us. That is God’s love on the cross. That is how much God loved us.
God loves us so much he will never leave us. That brings us to our scripture today. In John 14, everything is changing, and, naturally, the disciples are worried. The major lesson of life is that everything changes. Nothing remains the same, and it is sometimes difficult for us to cope with that basic fact. People who study these kinds of things note that in the last century, the rate of change has been steadily accelerating. That is, things change more quickly today than ever before in human history.
That worries a lot of people. Coping with change is always an anxious process. We do not know if we will be able to handle it. The careful little future that we had mapped out for ourselves seems suddenly very much in doubt.
For example, I suppose that you know that the Celanese Plant over in Rock Hill is closed. At its height, it employed more than 1600 people but the number of jobs there has been steadily declining for years. Now it is over, and former Celanese employees have got to be concerned as they look for another job or career.
Change happens. The point is: How do you handle change? How do you handle stress? How do you handle worry?
The first group of disciples that Jesus gathered around him had gotten accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Jesus was their rabbi or teacher. He was conducting a school in motion. He walked and talked and he taught by more than talk, he taught by everything he did, by his actions, by his life. So the disciples had been in school, but now that is ending. Jesus explains to them that he is going to die, but the disciples don’t understand that at all.
The disciples know that the situation is explosive. They are in Jerusalem at Passover, and the temple authorities hate Jesus. They know something is in the wind, but they do not know what. Even 2000 years later, we can easily imagine the stress and anxiety they were feeling. But Jesus says to them that he “will not leave [them] orphaned” (14:18).
Alienation and abandonment from parents were major motifs in Greek and Roman mythology. For example, the city of Rome was founded by two orphan children Romulus and Remus. There was a great fear in classical mythology that we would be without parents. The gospel responds to that great fear. The basic message of the gospel is the blessed promise from Jesus that we can never be orphans.
Small children when they see their parents packing suitcases to go on a trip may feel scared because they think their parents might go away and not come back. As grown-ups, we think we are too smart for those kinds of feelings, but we are not. We also sometimes feel lonely and afraid. Jesus understands, Jesus wraps us in his love and says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (John 14:18). Jesus was about to die on the cross, and he knew that his followers would feel like orphaned children. But death was not the end for Jesus; he rose to new life and promised to be with his followers forever. Jesus is always with us, giving us his love and support and guidance. Although we cannot see him, his Spirit is with us.
“I am coming to you,” he says, and his coming is in the form of the Holy Spirit, here called in the Greek, the Paraclete, or the Advocate (14:16).
The word “advocate” reminds us of a courtroom drama, especially since Jesus himself is described as the paraclete in 1 John 2:1. Jesus is our advocate. He stands in court with us, pleading our case, speaking for us.
Returning to the gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is described as our Advocate. Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit will stand by us and with us. I realize that this may be a confusion factor. Is it the Holy Spirit who is our advocate or Jesus? In our Triune God, the persons are not separated. What the Holy Spirit does Jesus does, and vice versa. So there is not contradiction. The Holy Spirit is Jesus in another form.
So let’s review. The first disciples were called to get into the action, to run this race of life. But so far, Jesus has been there with them in the flesh. They do have to run the race. To say that another way, they are responsible for their actions. They have made their choice to follow Jesus. They are walking in Jesus way and facing all the obstacles and difficulties of walking in that way. But they have a constant source of reassurance. Jesus is there with them to inspire them, to keep them going.
Now Jesus is not going to be there physically any more. The unthinkable is happening. What do they do now, without Jesus? Jesus reassures them again. They are not going to be without Jesus. Jesus says that even after his death he will still be with them. He will still encourage them, help them, guide them along the way. But the nature of his presence will change. “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me,” he says (14:19). He will be present to them in the form of the Holy Spirit.
We all have been in those circumstances where we sign on to do something as long as we have someone to help us do it. If we have to do it alone, forget it, but if we have help, we will do it. This is the key issue here. The disciples signed on because Jesus was team leader. They recognized God in him as he was physically present before them. Now Jesus is not going to be present like that any longer, but his promise is, he is still with them. His promise to us, is that he is still with us. He has his arms wrapped around us as we limp toward the finish line.
Sometimes we may feel almost overwhelmed by our problems. The stress just builds and builds. Sometimes the problems are physical: the roof leaks, the washing machine is broken. The car won’t start. Sometimes, most of the time, the problems involve other people. I have problems with my parents, I have problems with my children, I have problems with my boss on my job.
Now we do not want to spend all our time stressing about our problems. After awhile that becomes just whining, and someone will tell us, and rightfully so, that we should buck up and get on with it. After all, everybody has problems. Everybody has difficulties.
That is why we all need Jesus. We may be limping, we may be wounded, but we do not have to take a DNF, a Did Not Finish, in life. Because there are no orphans in Jesus.
Being orphaned is a strong negative image. It is a feeling of being rejected and abandoned. Jesus reassures us, other people may reject us. We may in the midst of all our modern culture feel abandoned, but we are not abandoned, we are not rejected, because Jesus loves us .
Remember this: No matter how bad it gets. Jesus is still with us. Jesus is still a living presence in our lives. Because I live, promises Jesus to his followers, “you also will live” (14:19). The good news is that Christ has conquered the power of sin and death, and the same God who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our bodies through his Spirit that dwells in us (Romans 8:11). So no matter what tragedies come our way, we can hold tight to the promise that Jesus gives us the gift of life — life in this world, and life in the world to come.
The Heidelberg Catechism was written by reformed scholars back in 1562 in, as you might guess from the name, Heidelberg Germany. The first question of the catechism asks: “What is thy only comfort in life and death?” the answer is: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” My only comfort is not in myself or other people, not causes or nations or philosophies, certainly not in material things, not in the latest gadget or “labor-saving device.” My only comfort is “my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”
That is what we need to remember whenever we get stressed out and worried out and beat out. What is my only comfort in life and death? Jesus is with me. That is it. Jesus loves me. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 6/2/05