Sermon “Not an Orphan”
Audio link http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23575548/110529John14.mp3
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
I wonder if you know what struck me the first time I was in a Lutheran church which followed the traditional liturgy? It wasn’t the fact that it was easy to concentrate on the words of the Introit, Gradual, and the Psalm that we chanted. It wasn’t the fact that there were three extended passages from Scripture read. It wasn’t the sermon or the hymns. It wasn’t the vestments or the symbolic position the pastor was in at different parts of the service. Those were all good and welcome. But they didn’t strike me over the head and surprise me. What did was the trinitarian nature of the worship. It was how much there was an emphasis on the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not three gods, but one Trinity.
Sometimes we seem to take the Trinity for granted. Our liturgy is bold about the three persons of the Godhead, but I fear we ourselves fall short. It isn’t just Lutherans who do it, either.
Years ago, very early in my Christian experience, I was involved in charismatic churches. Yes, these were the Trinitarian ones. But it seemed we spent a lot of time speculating about what the specific role of each person of the Godhead might do. We tended to separate the three. And sometimes we’d tend to look to the Holy Spirit as if he was the God who really was there, caring for us. Maybe deep down we sometimes thought of the Father as a sort of distant figure, the Son as someone who did some work but was no longer busy working in us, and the Spirit as God of the moment.
It’s really easy, though, to have this idea that maybe only one person of the Godhead is present at any given time, or that when we speak to the Father we aren’t speaking to the Son or the Holy Spirit. We are awfully good at confusing ourselves that way. And because we are so good at that, in John 14, Jesus spends some time talking with his disciples.
Jesus has been telling the apostles that he is going to depart. He’s going to go to his Father in heaven. They will not be able to follow him there, because he’ll have to die to do it, but he plans to leave them living on earth. The disciples feel abandoned, already, even though Jesus hasn’t left them yet. Their Lord is departing. Who will guide them? Who will teach them? He’s done miracles. Who is going to do that now? What hope do they have without Jesus’ presence? He’s their rabbi, their teacher. He’s a father figure to them. Who are they going to trust when he isn’t there?
But Jesus reminds his disciples. He is one member of the Trinity. He is not alone, nor are the disciples. He goes to the Father, but the Holy Spirit, already dwelling with them, will be with them. Just because the physical, bodily Jesus is not walking around laying his hands on people, just because they can’t hear his voice telling them what they need to hear, just because he is with the Father, that doesn’t mean that God has departed from his people. Not at all. God is not departing from his people. He is not distant. He is not hard to find. He is there, present, really present, for his people, for all their need. They are not orphans. They have one God. They have one Father. And the Father sends the Son. At the Son’s request the Father sends the Spirit as well.
What does the Holy Spirit do in his people? Now here we go again. We need to be careful that we don’t try to divide the persons of the Trinity. Remember that God is God. So what does the Holy Spirit do? He is there for his people when they need him. He is seen and known by believers, because he dwells with them. He serves as a father, preventing Christians from being orphans. He is there, Jesus is there. See how even Jesus’ language becomes a little confusing here? He says he is leaving, that the Holy Spirit is coming, that he is coming, that the Holy Spirit will dwell with his people, and that he will dwell with them. He even pulls the Father in there. The Father is in the Son and the believers are in the Son and the Son is in the believers. It becomes a big mess of language because we’re trying to say something that we simply can’t express. But Jesus says it anyway. We can try to understand it as far as we can. But it won’t fit onto our nice neat flip chart or our corporate table of responsibilities.
Here’s the big summary, then. Jesus is departing from the earth. Truly, but not entirely. He is with his believers, in the fullness of the Godhead, dwelling with them, by the power of the Holy Spirit. God himself is in us. We are in God. We are bound to our triune God, who is always with us. We know him. He knows us. We live in him. He lives in us.
Do we face doubts? Do we fear? Are we afraid that our Lord will leave us as orphans? Maybe we’ve faced trouble in our lives. Maybe our families have abandoned us, maybe there’s unresolved conflict within our households. Maybe we see that we’re to blame for those conflicts. Maybe we doubt God’s provision and love for us. Maybe we wonder whether our Lord can reach into our lives and make a difference. Maybe we think God is far away. Our Lord wants us to know today that he is not far away. He has not abandoned us. As we celebrate the ascension of our Lord this Thursday we also look to the giving of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost two weeks from now. We can know that God is in us, that we are in him, and that he has not left us unprotected. He ever lives so we can live too. He has carried our sins so we don’t have to carry them. He has gathered us from all nations, from the corners of the world, if we could go far enough to find corners, to make us his own people. And he will never leave us or forsake us. He will be with us always, even to the end of the world.
Our Lord, we are full of doubt. We are so quick to think you might not mean what you say, or that you won’t keep your promises. Show us this day that you are the God who keeps all your promises, even those that we can’t comprehend. May you live and reign in us as one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, caring for us as a father cares for his dear children. Amen.