I Peter 3:8-18
The Gospel passage we’ve read this morning is part of the “farewell discourse” of Jesus in the Gospel of John. In John’s account, Jesus speaks these words to his disciples just after the Last Supper, before he is betrayed and arrested, brought to trial, and put to death. It’s a lengthy discourse, spread over four chapters, offering further teaching, reassurance, and prayers. The farewell discourse is packed full of theology, and it can be challenging for readers to understand all that Jesus is saying. Some readers may feel like they’re pushing through a lengthy theological lecture, interesting at points, but definitely heavy-going. There’s a lot here.
Tucked into these chapters of theological discourse is a short phrase that catches my attention. Jesus says to his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned.”
What prompted him to say that?
If we view this Final Discourse as a lengthy theological lecture, we’ll miss the significance of this phrase and of this entire section. We shouldn’t imagine Jesus standing like a teacher at a lectern, explaining to his sleepy disciples complex theological concepts that he thought they ought to know. Rather, we should picture him surrounded by his closest friends, speaking to them with great compassion, care, and concern. This is a very intimate conversation, not a theological discourse.
This was an evening of significant disorientation for the disciples. During the meal they had just shared with Jesus, he had taken a piece of bread and given it to the disciple he knew would betray him. Now it was becoming clear that he was preparing them for the end. Their leader and teacher, once so popular that throngs of people flocked to hear him, was now the object of criticism, personal attacks, and persecution – now only from the general populace, but from the religious and political leaders of the day. It was increasingly apparent – to Jesus and to his disciples – that, should he continue on the way he had set out for himself, the opposition would grow even stronger. In truth, his life was in danger and there was little they could do to beat back the approaching storm. And Jesus was facing into it, ready to accept it. He wasn’t running away from it.
The world of the disciples was falling apart. They had left homes and families to follow this itinerant teacher from village to village. All their hopes – for themselves and for their fellow Jews – were bound up in him. Now they sensed that Jesus was about to be taken from them. It seemed clear that his enemies were going to prevail. What, then, would become of them?
We can imagine the fear and dread on their faces as Jesus spoke to them, telling them plainly that he was about to leave them. Jesus himself, the gospel writer tells us, was “troubled.” We can picture quivering lips, and tears forming in the corner of their eyes – perhaps in the eyes of Jesus as well – as they take in his words. Their lives are about to be turned completely upside-down.
As I noted earlier, this is no theological lecture. This is a poignant and personal moment, reflecting the deep love that Jesus has for these faithful followers.
Jesus sees the fear and dread in their faces and senses their great anxiety. He knows that, like him, their lives are in danger. He could have told them to flee; to return to their homes and lay low until this trouble passed by. But he didn’t. Like him, they would need to face the coming trials with courage.
He offers them words of comfort: “I am not going to abandon you,” he assures them. “In fact, I’m sending you another Advocate – a counselor, a comforter, a helper.” The Greek word he uses is paraclete, which means “one called alongside” of another. “The Spirit will be there,” he assures them; “alongside you, to comfort, help and guide you.” “I will not leave you orphaned,” he promises.
These are words of deep assurance, offered in their moment of deepest need. Words intended to comfort them and to strengthen them for the trials that lie ahead. He senses what they are going through and he can imagine what the coming days might bring. His heart is full of compassion and longing for their well-being.
His heart is full of compassion and longing for our well-being as well. These words are recorded by the Evangelist John not just as historical testimony; they are meant to comfort the believers to whom he was writing, and the believers who would come after them, including us.
enNo matter what you are facing in life right now, Jesus wants you to know that he is with you. He has not, and will not, abandon you. He has sent “another Advocate” to comfort you, to guide you, to help you. You need not face life alone and afraid. His promise is as true for you as it was for these disciples: “I will not leave you orphaned.”
Is there something in your life that is troubling you?
Is there something that is causing you to fear?
Is there something that is making you anxious?
Listen to Jesus’ words and be comforted. You need not be afraid. He is with you. He has sent “another Advocate,” the Holy Spirit, to guide and comfort and sustain you. Together they will bring you through this trouble and into a place of peace. So, set aside your fear. Refuse to be anxious. Give up your worries. And declare your trust in him. He will not leave you orphaned.
How can you do this? Open your heart to him. Share with him your deepest fears. Speak to him about your troubles, your hopes, your worries. Let him relieve you of the burdens you are carrying. Let him be your constant companion, your friend, your advocate, your guide, the one who travels “alongside” you. Believe that he is holding you and that he will bring you through whatever it is that you are facing now.
Our God is a God of compassion. Jesus revealed to us this compassionate God and invited us to live in intimate union with him, drawing strength and hope from him as a branch draws its life from the vine.
AND he has called us to be agents of this same compassion to those we know and those we meet. We are to be channels of God’s love and compassion in the world, comforting others with the comfort we have received from him.
But we cannot give what we ourselves have not received. We cannot be channels of God’s comfort and compassion if we continue to be bound by fear and anxiety, which is why he urges us to cast our burdens upon him, to trust his presence with us and his work within us, and to leave behind all fear. “Do not be afraid,” he says to us. “I will not abandon you. I will send another Advocate to help, guide and comfort you. I will not leave you orphaned.”
I’m going to ask you to do something now, something Episcopalians normally wouldn’t do. Turn to your neighbor and say, “He won’t abandon you.”
Now turn to another neighbor and say, “You don’t have to be afraid.”
Now say it to yourself: “He won’t abandon me. I don’t have to be afraid. He will not leave me orphaned.”
That’s right. You have his promise. As St Paul reminds us, “There is nothing – in the heavens or on the earth or under the earth – no person, no organization, no circumstance – that can separate us from the love of God in Christ.” (cf. Romans 8:38-39). God will never abandon you. Trust in God and discover the glorious freedom of the children of God, who need never be afraid.
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