John 14:15-31 (see below)
Jesus says: I will not leave you as orphans….
I have learned so much about how parent should be, from being a parent.
As many of you know, my family history has been a bit patchy, rather like that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. My second step father died shortly after I left university and my mother, latterly an alcoholic, died while I was living in Dubai working for a law firm in the 1980s.
But really since the time I left school, I had lived pretty well as I chose; without any parental advice or guidance; without that reminder of identity – who I am; where I have come from, how the family deals with life and, importantly, relates to others….
It’s very different with my own children. Guided by the normality of Lucy’s experience of how family life is done, our daughters, now independent women in their twenties, obviously make all their decisions for themselves, but they are also constantly ringing us for advice and encouragement; touching base with where they have come from, and that is just wonderful.
But when I was about their age, particularly during some time living and working in Dubai after leaving university, I lived as if I was an orphan. Without guidance or accountability of any kind….
Now I don’t mean to critique orphans, because being an orphan is not something generally that we choose. And also our experience of parents may not be good: ranging from incompetence to abuse. But when our parents die or lose their influence for what ever reason; when that parental influence goes early on or if we have very inadequate parents from the start, a child can go seriously off the rails, particularly as a young adult.
I lived a dissolute life in the 1980s, which was great fun at the time for short periods in a rather shallow and selfish way but was ultimately destructive for me and for others.
I remember, at one particularly low moment calling out to God ashamed of how low I had sunk…..
Shortly after that I met Lucy….but it was a long, long journey back from carrying on as if my interests were the only ones on earth to consider. It took years and years.
Jesus says to his disciples verse 18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned’. He offers to come and live with us by the Holy Spirit to provide that perfect parental guidance which we are all yearning for and we were meant to have, so that we can be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. And, verse 27 so that we can have peace….that peace in which all our suffering is bearable.
We went to a concert last weekend at the Newbury Festival. Beethoven and Bruck played by the Royal Symphony Orchestra. It was SO good, it felt SO right, every note and chord, flowed perfectly…
And that sense of ‘rightness’ is how it feels as the Holy Spirit comes to live in us…as the dove of the Holy Spirit comes to settle on our shoulder. And Jesus says John 7:38 if the Holy Spirit comes to live in us, rivers of living water will flow from within us: We will be a blessing to all those we meet…
But actually many of us choose to live, as if we are orphans, whether we are actually orphans or not: we reject guidance or leadership or teaching. We reject anything or anyone which challenges us on how we live or on the decisions we take. We reject the idea of being accountable to others for our choices and actions…And this is not just young people, as I was in 1980s Dubai, but across the generations perhaps, in some cases, it actually intensifies as we get older.
You could even say that we live in an orphan culture. And with living as an orphan comes an attitude: a hardness of heart, which resists guidance from those who love us: a sort of ‘who are you to tell me what to do?’
I remember one occasion in Dubai having lunch in one of the hotels with a large party of people and someone older (probably only 40/50 who I would now think was young) said something about the combination of food that I had chosen from the buffet. I remember saying “I think I am old enough to make these decisions for myself, don’t you?’ Not good….
And yet now I can see this attitude for what it was and am embarrassed by it..
And yet, and yet, as you all know and Lucy knows in particular although I have a long, long way to go in so many areas, I am completely different now from the man that I was then.
I have left the orphan heart behind.
But how does this change happen? Particularly in an orphan culture where respect for authority where accountability, teachability across the generations has been almost entirely abandoned?
How can we help people to abandon choosing to be orphans and to accept being guided by Jesus through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling? To accept the perfect Fatherhood of God?
Well it doesn’t happen by force. By force I include the power of persuasive argument; by hectoring and not listening; by any sort of bullying or compulsion…
One of the reasons I think that people don’t want to talk to their friends and neighbours about their faith in Jesus is because they imagine that it would be impolite or weird to turn a conversation to faith; that, in some way, it would involve bullying and they don’t want to do that. And bullying is NOT a good idea.
But St. Peter writes in the letter we have also read today 1 Peter 3:16 (see below) bringing people to know Jesus for the Kingdom of God to come is something that we do with gentleness and respect; by being ready to provide an answer, the reason for the hope in our lives….
So it assumes that we are only responding to someone asking us about our faith
So there are two questions:
Firstly, Are we willing to take the risk of praying that we will have an opportunity to speak to one of our friends or neighbours about Jesus?
Secondly are we brave enough to speak about our faith; to speak about how we know that God is real, to give our testimony, to that friend when the question comes?
But the question when it comes from a friend or neighbour may not be obviously a question about faith, the question probably won’t be ‘OK if you’re a Christian how do you explain the trinity then?’
That is not actually question about our faith. That’s probably just the questioner seeking justification for his atheism. And is really not worth answering directly unless you are a theologian or a minister. You can safely say ‘I don’t know about that but I am sure that Alex or Amanda will be happy to explain it to you can I ask them to call on you?
No a question about our faith comes like this: ‘How have you managed to cope with your suffering?’; ’What is it about you that is different?’; ‘How can you be so confident about your faith, when I am not…?’ That sort of thing…
But why would anyone ask the question and why would anyone’s heart change if they get an answer?
The ONLY way that people come to know Jesus is if God draws them to him…
This is so important that I want to say this again
The ONLY way that people come to know Jesus is if God draws them to him
It’s NOT about US. It is about HIM
It is ALWAYS the Holy Spirit who is drawing us to him
But if its up to God to draw them to himself, what’s it got to do with me, you may be thinking? Why should I bother?
Because if anyone asks us those questions, it means that we are not orphans any more.
And although God could do this all by himself, and does in some cases (We can think of Paul on the road to Damascus) generally, God the Father wants us involved, in the family business. And the family business is called: the Kingdom of God and we are apprentices in that business. We are involved in on the job training, Jesus wants us to be involved, although we may be inexperienced, in fact useless at doing this! I know I feel this much of the time.
So how can we be involved in people coming to know Jesus?
Firstly and most importantly, by praying. By praying for God’s Kingdom to Come; that people in our communities will come to know Jesus as we do…
We can take part in the prayer Novena called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ Thy Kingdom Come – Global which starts on Thursday 25th May and which hundreds of thousands of Christians of all denominations and nationalities all over the world are taking part in: all praying at 12 noon for nine days, between Ascension and Pentecost: by praying for individuals to come to know Jesus; Individuals we know: Our friends, Our relations, Our neighbours. These are those for whom we are responsible to God, if we are Christians. Thy Kingdom Come in Itchen Valley
And Secondly praying bravely; being strong and courageous that we will have opportunities, as Peter writes to give an answer for the faith that we have.
Some of you will know this story: A few months ago, I was taking the dogs for a walk around the village and muttering to myself about someone in the church and I felt God say to me ‘By this people will know that you are my disciple – That you love one another…’
So I felt a bit corrected and said to the Lord “Ok if you are working in this place then show me by arranging things so that I have shared my story on how I came to faith; so that I have shared my testimony by the time I get home from this walk”
So I turned round the corner, and there was a group of cyclists hanging around the entrance to a house. They then left on their ride leaving the wife of one of them, who is lovely but not perhaps a regular church goer wanting to chat. We spoke about churches which are growing and churches which are shrinking and she said to me; ‘I have heard it explained like this: becoming a Christian is like seeing a complicated mathematical equation on a chalkboard. You look at it and look at it and just can’t understand it. It makes no sense at all…then someone comes and explains how it works
then suddenly you understand the penny drops….’ Then she said ‘So how was it for you…..?’
So I shared my testimony…..
Be in no doubt. God is working in the Itchen Valley.
God will not want us to do anything, which we cannot do. But, if we are Christians, we are no longer orphans, and he does want us to be his hands and his feet. He wants us to be his apprentices in the family business of growing the Kingdom of God.
He wants us to play our role in bringing people to know him. All we need to do is to pray and bravely pray for opportunities; being strong and very courageous to share our faith with our friends and neighbours and he will do the rest.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 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. 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.
1 Peter 3:16
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him