[Jesus said:] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Abba, who 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 the Spirit nor knows the Spirit. You know the Spirit, because it abides with you, and this Spirit will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Abba, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Abba, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.
This portion of John’s Gospel is the last speech of Jesus of Nazareth to those who followed him, his friends. This was Jesus’ last chance to address them and to prepare them for a life without Jesus, because in the story arc of this Gospel, the next thing to happen would be Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death. So imagine the room, the place, the atmosphere. What were those hearing Jesus’ message feeling? We don’t have to read between the lines too much. They were feeling:
Insecurity, Uncertainty, Confusion, Sadness.
They were feeling alone, isolated, lonely. They were leaning into fear, panic, and anxiety.
Sound familiar? I think a lot of us these days are feeling a wide range of these emotions and depending on the day, we also can lean into fear, panic, and anxiety.
Jesus offers a counter-narrative to this. Insecurity becomes security, uncertainty becomes confidence, confusion becomes clarity. Isolation and loneliness turn into connection and community. Jesus challenged the followers to lean into LOVE.
And love has no room for fear, panic, and anxiety.
This doesn’t mean, though, that Jesus was oblivious to what folk were feeling. Jesus knew they were emotionally all over the place; Jesus knew that this transition would be hard for them.
Notice the way that Jesus of Nazareth related to those followers and friends who were really in a bad state of mind. Jesus treated them as loved ones, as dearest, closest family. Jesus loved them, not because they were blood family or because of obligation or duty.
Jesus just loved.
And taught them that if they just loved each other [and themselves] and then interpreted the world through that lens, they had a chance to really live.
And Jesus told them that he would not leave them orphaned. Now, these days we don’t call kids without parents, orphans. Neither do we refer to the places where they live as orphanages. Why is that? Well, sadly and horrifically, children who have lost their biological parents for whatever reason, have been ostracized and mistreated around the world. The term “orphan” was like a label for a kid who wouldn’t amount to much in society. Orphanages? Well, many of them did not have the best interest of the kids in mind. So now we call them children’s homes. And I’m all for anything that reclaims dignity for these kids who have been thrust into these situations by no fault of their own. Most of the people I know who work for children’s homes are incredibly loving and empathetic people who want to help, mentor, and love. That term deserves its weight.
It sucks to be orphaned, to be left alone.
It sucks to be marginalized to the point that you fear for your life because of the color of your skin or your gender identification or expression or who you choose to love. Yesterday in a zoom meeting with Black clergy I heard my friends and colleagues express great sadness, anger, and doubt. Forget covid-19. What is it like to be targeted just because you are black? What’s it like to have people chase after you? What’s it like to have people break into your home and attack you because they are suspicious that you did something?
What’s it like. I cannot imagine. Things like systemic racism orphans people; it isolates, destroys human connection, and creates more fear. It is the opposite of love.
Take a look at that smile.
Ahmaud Arbery. Have to speak his name.
A 25-year-old black man, chased by armed white residents of a South Georgia neighborhood and killed. While people are rightfully concerned for loved ones and friends to stay healthy during this time, who will be equally concerned for the lives of people of color? In this season, the phrase “open up the states” and “return to normal” and “go back to work” are floated around for political and economic purposes, but what are we really saying? Do we want for this to be normal? Do we want to go back to how it was? Do we really?
I view this John story as a wake-up call. Jesus told his friends that things would never be the same, never go back to normal—and rightfully so.
Good! Because what is “normal” is not healthy, or loving, or compassionate. So Jesus challenged his followers [and now us] to have the creative imagination and innovation to perceive of a new dawn, a new way of being together on this planet. And it doesn’t involve fear and separation.
It’s a promise of Spirit, a Spirit that bears strength, courage, comfort.
A Spirit that connects and binds us together, moves through us and advocates for us to live fully. It’s elusive and non-binary, we cannot control it or categorize it.
But it’s not some ghost or some religious, aloof thing.
The Spirit is love.
See, we all interpret the world and what’s happening around us, each day, right? We are interpreting. And depending on our perspective that day or what we ate or how much or little we slept, or lots of other factors—our interpretations vary, don’t they. But the challenge [and promise here] is to see the world differently, to interpret things differently. And it’s both simple and complex. The challenge and promise, friends, is to see the world through the eyes of love. Now I don’t mean romance or superficial love or being nice or anything like that.
I mean really love. Create family out of love.
See, the world is full of orphans—people who have been marginalized, homeless, family-less, isolated, forgotten. It’s not right. It’s not fair. It’s not human. And so, we have this opportunity, to create family wherever we go, not out of obligation or sameness but because of love. We have this opportunity to stand up to hate in the form of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia—we can combat hate by leaning into love and making that a habit and creating family as we go.
Friends, allow me to close with some words from the Dalai Lama.
“My call for a spiritual revolution is thus not a call for a religious revolution. Nor is it a reference to a way of life that is somehow other-worldly, still less to something magical or mysterious. Rather, it is a call for a radical re-orientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self towards concern for the wider community of beings with whom we are connected, and for conduct which recognizes others’ interests alongside our own.”
Friends, it’s not mysterious or even religious. We can make it a habit to love. We can lean into that existence, and if we do, we will be connected to each other, to something greater. We will be connected. Lean in.