And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 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.—John14:16
As I was preparing for this weekend’s worship I kept coming back to these words in the gospel lesson wherein Jesus promises the arrival of the Holy Spirit. “I am leaving you—but I will not leave you orphaned” and therefore they “will never be alone.”
I suppose these words of reassurance that God, through the guidance and presence of the Holy Spirit, is always with me really ought to leave me feeling confident and strong—happy even. But as I was studying the text this week and preparing for this reflection, I found myself sinking into a melancholy and slightly fragile place instead. This is a familiar place and it is pretty achy, for it is a deeply lonely place. Then, as I acknowledged the melancholy, I pulled out my judgment-ridden-baseball-bat and swung a few upside-my-own-head as I told myself that it is a place from which I find myself looking way too often. “What is the matter with you?”, my dysfunctional self talk screamed. “You have everything you need, you’re better off than most, you have people who love you and work that fulfills you… Get a grip. God is here. You are not alone.”
Yet, loneliness can and does hit us—even in a room full of people, even as we worship with others,even when we are a part of a wonderful faith community. The loneliness is grounded in an awareness of abandonment and it is just the nature of being human and being in human relationships. Human beings often feel let down. However well we have been nurtured, by virtue of being human there have been disappointments, losses, rejections, and betrayals: our trust has been, at best, tested. Some of us have experienced repeated or profound abandonment and we live on the lookout for and in fear of the next time. Even when the abandonment is not profound, fear easily stalks our relationships because we are… human.
These experiences can lead to a state of disconnectedness from God and from each other. Our fear of being hurt and/or abandoned again makes it worse. This sense of emptiness that can haunt and unsettle us creates a vacuum that we often try to fill with food, alcohol, drugs, sex, or possessions. Ironically, it has been said that addictions are a search for community. Yet, the fear makes us resistant to the kind of sharing and connection in community that would fill the void—thus begins a vicious cycle. Out of fear we “orphan” ourselves by choosing to cut ourselves off from God and God’s people, by running away from God and turning away from community, by lacking the humility and the trust to accept that we do not see the whole picture, by acting as though we are God. We can orphan ourselves by not feeling worthy of God’s love, by failing to accept that we cannot earn God’s love—it is already there.
All of these very human feelings and reactions are based in fear—and it is this fear that Jesus addresses when he says, “I shall not leave you orphaned.” This achy place of human hurt is the place that Jesus promises is filled by the presence of a perfectly loving, runs-out-to-greet-the-returning-Prodigal, leaves-the-ninety-nine-to-find-you, never-will-fail-you-or-abandon-you God—who we come to know intimately through the Holy Spirit. Fundamental to Jesus’ life was trust in God, dependence on God, and faith in God and he invites us into the same kind of dependence. That kind of dependence is surely easier said than done for we scared-all-the-time human beings—but it is a promise we can count on and it is a promise we try to live out in our communities of faith.
Beloved, I am here to tell you that it is not uncommon for people of any age, including the most committed Christians, to experience times of feeling abandoned, orphaned, powerless. We are all in need of help, comfort, encouragement, and for someone to stand with and on our behalf. The good news is that no matter what happens, God’s Spirit is with us offering help, direction, comfort, guidance, and encouragement. The better news is that God’s Holy Spirit is also creating beloved community—community that sees as her mission connectedness and care; and embodies the very guidance and counsel, comfort and connection that we human beings crave From the youngest to the oldest, we experience “more God” through Spirit-filled community where love is given free expression.
This is one of the reasons we are so excited about the future vision of our new model for ministry. We are seeking to be that beloved community that witnesses to God’s love and helps people to recognize and experience the Holy Spirit’s enduring presence through worship, formation, and service. We are going to build that kind of community where God’s love is made real and palpable and is lived out in the city through our actions and through our love. May it be so.
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapadefirstname.lastname@example.org/617.592.5853