Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
May 17, 2020 Worship Sermon - "The House of God"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
I will not leave you orphaned.
Like some of you, I lost a sibling to cancer at a fairly young age. My sister was forty-five when she died over twenty years ago, back when the odds of beating cancer were not as good as they are now. Losing someone you love is always painful, but my sister’s death was especially difficult because she left two elementary-aged children. I remember gathering with my family at my sister’s funeral, seeing my niece and nephew, and wondering how they would manage without their mother.
Twenty years later, I’m happy to say they have managed quite well. They managed well because a host of family members and friends stepped in to care for them in my sister’s absence. That’s not to say they didn’t suffer; but their suffering was mitigated by the love and parental support they received from others… older siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who provided them with motherly love.
“I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus told his disciples on the night before his death. Over the course of the evening, he had demonstrated his love for them by washing their feet. He shared a final meal with them. And before leaving for the Garden of Gethsemane, he spoke these words of comfort to them, preparing them for what was about to happen.
Jesus fulfilled this promise to his disciples. He did not leave them orphaned. After his resurrection, he breathed his Spirit into them, creating an intimacy that was even stronger than the love they had shared while he was physically present among them. Now they would not have to go and find Jesus to speak with him; they could speak with him at any moment in any place. Jesus, breathing his Spirit into the disciples, gave them the power to do what he has done: to heal, to forgive, to liberate, and to reconcile.
Dear brothers and sisters at Christ Lutheran Community Church, Jesus has not left you orphaned. This is so important to remember at a time when many of us are grieving the loss of loved ones and all of us are feeling the ache of isolation. Jesus is as close to you as the breath in your lungs. He hears your cries of loneliness and fear and sadness. He speaks words of comfort to you. Like a loving parent, he bathes you in the waters of baptism and feeds you with the bread of life.
In order that we not be orphaned, Jesus gives us his Spirit and he gathers us into a family so that we can care for each other and support each other in our journey through life. Just as my extended family nurtured my niece and nephew, so we are to nurture each other. We are to channel the love of Jesus into the lives of others so that no one in our world will be orphaned or abandoned.
Not long after my sister’s death, I remember sitting in a chapel service at the seminary I was attending. We were sharing the Lord’s Supper and row after row of my fellow students and professors were walking to the altar to receive the bread and wine. As we received the Lord’s Supper, we were singing the Taize chant, “Eat this bread, drink this cup, come to me and never be hungry. Eat this bread, drink this cup, trust in me and you will not thirst.” After receiving the bread and wine, I returned to my pew, sat with my eyes closed and listened to the words being sung by my classmates. Suddenly, I realized that I was hearing Jesus himself speak these words of comfort to me. The voices of my classmates were the voice of Jesus, who had not left me orphaned, but was still present in the community gathered around me.
Even though we cannot be physically present with each other during this time, it is so comforting to know that we are gathered in the Spirit. That’s why I love to hear members of our congregation read the scriptures and lead the prayers on Sunday morning. It’s a reminder that the body of Christ still surrounds us. I’ll also be asking members of the congregation to speak a few words about what God is doing in their lives. Today, Susan Pursch has offered to speak, so please listen with me to what she has to share.