Sunday, May 21 was youth Sunday at Grace Church. We honored our High School graduates and youth served as greeters, ushers, acolytes, lay readers, chalice bearers and two of them delivered homilies. Below is Zach Masterson’s take on John 14:15-21. You can also listen to an audio recording that includes the Gospel reading and both homilies.
We have all had to endure it, the first day of school. An all new place and all new faces in a desperate frenzy to try and find our friends from our the previous year. There was one year in particular that really kind of stood out to me, it was my first day of middle school.
I remember clear as day looking around and seeing none of my friends, just swarms of scrambling people. As the day slugged forward my heart sunk further and further at each new sight of a throng of friends gathered around each other reciting the stories of their “spectacular” summer vacations, all as I swiveled my head around desperately trying to find someone even remotely familiar. Halfway through the day I remember saying to myself, “I just don’t want to be alone.” Looking back on that fear now, it seems completely absurd. I foolishly thought that I would be alone, without ANY friends, for the entire school year! That thought made me panic and feel hopeless. Of course, literally 10 to 15 minutes later I was able to find my usual group of friends. Looking back, that memory is almost a perfect parallel to this gospel.
“I will not leave you as orphans.” Obviously, I was not an orphan at the time of this happening nor have I ever literally been one, but I sure did feel like one- an outcast of sorts. I wish I had had the sense to think that way- that I wouldn’t be left alone.
What God’s inner teaching here may be this, Have faith in me, and you will find your friends, every. single. time. Consider it a trade of trust, as long as you can give your faith, love, and respect to God, God will give you his faith, love, and respect back. “He who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love him.” WOW, that in and of itself is prophetic.
This reading is especially powerful to me, simply because of the heading given in the particular Bible I was reading from, “Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit” Promises! Jesus is giving everyone the deal of a lifetime! He promises love in return for faith. That title brings the image of Oprah Winfrey to my mind, pointing randomly into a sea of people yelling, “You get the holy spirit, you get the holy spirit, and you get the holy spirit, EVERYONE IS GETTING THE HOLY SPIRIT!”
In addition to all of this, maybe we should think of this teaching as not a reading but as a rally cry. A rally cry for everyone who has ever felt alone or hopeless. Is that you? The concept that no matter how low you can sink or how often you sin, God will always 110% of the time be available to tap into is more than just a reading from the Bible. Even in times such as these, an almost dystopian world packed to the brim with hate, war, and death, God is still available to us, to YOU! God “Will not leave you as orphans.”
Even at my first day of middle school, not only did I find my old friends, I found them 10 minutes after I had so naively “Given up”.
Now here is a scenario, how do the homeless and downtrodden see God in their situations? That’s a hard one. It’s easy to talk about a loving God without putting yourself in someone like that’s shoes. Think, those people are at hope’s end. I could guess many have completely given up faith in God. Well, the question is how can they see God? Maybe they DON’T see God. Maybe God is the clothes that enfold them. “The world cannot accept him because it neither sees or knows him.” To see God, I guess the homeless guy would have to see us and we would have to see him.
Now here is the funny part. My family and I are moving to Austin,Texas this summer, and I am going to have to put my money where my mouth is. I will have to relive that first day of school scenario all over again, but this time I will not find my friends. There will be no spotting them and rushing toward them to be together. The only friend I will have that first day is God. Truthfully, that whole experience scares me. How will I find God? I know eventually, I will grow accustomed to this new found community THROUGH God and WITH God. But, how will it look at the beginning? How will God show up? Like God waiting patiently in the days of Noah, does that mean he might wait for me at the start?
This gospel reading is loaded with “I am in you and you are in me and we are in God”, and God is in.. and on and on and on. It reminds me of those little Russian nesting dolls. One big one encases the smaller ones, including the smallest one so hidden away almost no one sees it. The little one doesn’t see the massive outer one with bright colors and curving lines, but still, ——it’s out there.
Dear God, help us to see you. Help us to tap into you always and although we may feel hidden away and alone, help us to remember your free giveaway of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ironically, very shortly after writing this sermon, I received an email from one of my mom’s fellow seminarians. She said that there was a “Fish camp”- a sort of before school get together for all of the freshmen and that her son would be attending. The email wasn’t just letting us know, it was an invite for me to go with her son as friends.
Now if THAT isn’t God’s doing, I don’t know what is. “I will not leave you as orphans.”
May 21, 2017