Rev. Stephen Baldwin
NT: John 14.15-21
I was visiting with a young man in his late 20s recently. His biggest fear…is never finding a spouse. Or that’s what he says, but the more he talks the more it becomes apparent that what he is really afraid of is…being alone.
And it’s not just 20-something clients of FarmersOnly.com trying to find love in rural America who fear being alone…lots of people do.
Americans age 18-24 are the loneliest of all. Nearly 80% report being lonely. Only about half as many people over age 65 say they’re lonely. Yet, half a million senior citizens go an entire week without talking to a single person on a regular basis.
Loneliness may be increasing in the modern age, but it’s nothing new. In the wake of Jesus’ death, the disciples felt the weight of loneliness. Jesus was gone. Their leader? Gone. Their teacher? Gone. Their savior? Gone.
It’s a miracle Christianity survived two months, let alone 2,000 years!
One reason it did is that Jesus prepared his disciples for the day when he would leave them. My favorite instance of him doing that is in today’s reading from John 14, when he promises– “I will not leave you orphaned.”
Jesus doesn’t often speak definitively. When he does, you know it’s a promise. “Get behind me, Satan.”
“It is finished.”
“I am preparing a room for you.”
“I will not leave you orphaned.”
In other words, you feel alone now….but I am with you. You feel abandoned now…but I have not forgotten you. You feel vulnerable…but your strength is in the Lord.
“I will not leave you orphaned.” It is a promise.
Several folks here in the congregation were adopted as children. Foster parents and adoptive parents are some of this world’s greatest heroes as far as I’m concerned, because they live out Jesus’ promise with our community’s most vulnerable kids, saying with their actions, “I will not leave you orphaned.”
The question we’ve wrestled with since these words were spoken is, “Who?” Does God mean everyone? Or only certain people? If it’s only certain people, which ones? Only those who believe? Only those who are good? Only those who are Christian?
It’s helpful to remember what else Jesus says in these chapters in John as we think about the extent of God’s grace and mercy.
Let me read you a few passages which all fit together so nicely.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. I go and prepare a place for you, and I will come again so that where I am, there you may be also.
I will not leave you orphaned.
‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
So who will God remember? It sounds like that’s up to Jesus, not us. We don’t get to decide; God does. And what God tells us suggests God’s grace and mercy are wider than we can ever imagine.
Think about this. Jesus says, “I am the gate.” Last week at the Episcopal Church, I heard a sermon that changed my mind completely about what that means.
I’d always thought of that like I think of the gate at our land in Gap Mills that keeps the cattle in the neighbor’s field and out of ours. Jesus is the gate. The big metal gate that separates this side from that side.
But the minister last week said something that blew my mind. He said, “If you look up the definition of gate, it’s not really the thing you unhitch on a farm. The gate is the open space between the fence posts.”
I looked it up right then and there. Lord forgive me, I googled it as we sat there in worship. You’ve never googled some crazy thing I’ve said during church, have you? I’ve seen some of you, wink wink.
So I looked it up, and sure enough, he was right. While a gate can be a hinged door, it is “an opening in a wall or a fence,” or “a means of entrance or exit.”
Jesus says, I am the gate. I am the opening between this world and the next. I am your entrance into heaven. No one comes to the father but through me. I’m your entrance. And I will not leave you orphaned, because I am preparing a place for you!
Thinking about that promise from God gives me chills. Especially on a day like today when we celebrate our mother’s, who were our gates into this world. Especially on a day like today when we celebrate Graham & Weston, upon whom God’s grace and mercy rests for their whole life and forevermore.
Jesus says, I am the gate. I am the opening between this world and the next. I am your entrance into heaven. No one comes to the father but through me. I’m your entrance! And I will not leave you orphaned, because I am preparing a place for you! Amen.