02 May 2008


John 14:15-21, "I will not leave you orphaned.”

Well, I have once again confirmed that my son is in fact mine, biologically speaking that is. I am his father. My son's paternity was never really in doubt. I am joking. But when he was born with those blue eyes and blond hair, when my wife and I both have brown hair and brown eyes, we joked that people may start to talk; they may begin to wonder.

Then as my son grew older, at about ten months, his hair began getting darker. And then it began to curl in the back. Then his eyes were changing color too; they are almost a hazel color now, sort of greenish, but getting darker.

And I should tell you that this doesn’t surprise me a whole lot. You see there are pictures of me, as a tiny baby, with blond hair, and bluish eyes. There is a picture of me that is still stuck on the side of the microwave with a magnet that has a little blond haired, blue-eyed Jason in a pair of overalls with a baby bottle stuck out for a piglet to suck. And even though now my father's hair is grey, it was blond at one time. And his eyes are still a steely blue.

So when my son was born with that blond hair, and those blue eyes, I could see my father in him. Just like when I was born, my parents would have seen my father in me. So in that way, my father is in me, and my father is in my son. And I am in my son; and my son is in me. And as he has gotten older, he is looking more like I do now, with curling, darker hair, just like the older I got, the more I looked like my mother, with her dark, curly hair. And as he ages, he has a bit of a mischievous streak in him.

I know where he got it.

It is funny and a mysterious thing the way that our families are who we are, for better or worse sometimes; they are who we are. And we are who they are.

That is why when someone asks your name, they are wanting to know you through your family. Or for women, when they asked who you “used to be” (as if you left all that behind when you married), they want to know you through your family; they want to know your family through you.

But I guess that that is different for my daughter. Because she is an orphan.

There’s no shame in saying that.

All of the paperwork that my wife and I completed over many months was geared toward adopting an "orphan". And then again and again, when I was in China standing in front of some government official, holding my daughter, they would say in their broken English, “So you adopt Chinese orphan.” The paperwork with our government says, “Petition to adopt an orphan from another country.” And we had to show paperwork that said that our daughter was an abandoned child.

So with no knowledge of her parents, her biological parents, we sometimes wonder where she gets her strong spirit. We wonder sometimes where she gets physical features like her nose and eyes. We wonder from where she received get her desire to caretake, because even from the beginning when our son would cough, she would pat him on the back; when he would get upset, she would run to get a toy and give it to him.

There is no doubt that some of that is biology; her mother is in her, and she is in her mother. But our daughter is also with us now too. And some of who we are is in her; and some of who she is, is now in us too. And even though she was called orphan, she now has a mother . . . and a father . . . she has a home, a place where she belongs.

You see, we can’t diminish what that means for all of us, to belong somewhere, to have that home, to have that safe place to land when everything feels a bit up and down. We imagine home as the place where we eat Mama’s cooking. Of course not all of us had Betty Crocker for a mother, so we may remember something else . . . but it was a place we belonged, people we belonged to. And if we didn’t have that at home at home . . . we found it somewhere else . . . but you always find that somewhere.

Because to not belong, to not have that family, to not have that community, is dangerous. To be an orphan is dangerous. To be without protection and care and love . . . is dangerous.

You see Jesus knew that too. Jesus had recruited a whole crew of folks away from their families. Some of them had been utterly rejected by their families. To these who followed him at the protest of their parents Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

What a terrible thing to say, but Jesus knew that that family wasn’t where they belonged. They would be a new family together, a new community, a new people.

They would learn from Jesus how to live in a new way, to be people of grace and love, to be people who showed that love and grace to others. So that in that way, when they followed the way of Jesus, God would be in them, just as God was in Jesus. And Jesus would be in them, and they would be in Jesus.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus said to his disciples before he left them. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

“I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus says to them.

I will not leave you alone.

Endings are hard; endings are difficult. And as we celebrate the Ascension, it marks an ending of Jesus being with the disciples in bodily form, walking with them, talking with them. And naturally they would get a bit nervous about that.

But Jesus tells them, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

Because Jesus know that to be without family is dangerous. Especially in that culture, in most cultures without social security, or a government that will provide for you if no one else can, you relied on your family, on your parents at one point, on your children the next.

And these disciples had left their families to follow Christ; they had taken that step of faith, laid down their fishing nets, left their families of birth, and took up the cross of Christ and followed. “I have decided to follow Jesus,” they said. And now, this Jesus that they had followed is leading them up a mountain and up and leaving them. What will they do? How will they go on? The one who has led us, taught us, cared for us, died for us, how will we go on when this one is gone, they must have been asking themselves.

Jesus knows that it is hard to let go.

And as we approach Mother's Day, many of you may struggle with the letting go of mothers who are not here any longer, not with you where they can touch you, cook for you, care for you, talk with you. It is hard to lose that mother in your life. Those of us who still have that . . . celebrate those mothers who are still with us. But our mothers too got us to a place where they weren’t as needed any more.

Good mothers don’t raise their children to always need them, to always have to have them. They pass down the recipes, hopefully teaching you how they cooked fried chicken, or whatever it is your grandmother or mother cooked. They passed down those traditions.

Just like Jesus saying, “If you love me, you’ll do what I have taught you.” I will be leaving you, Jesus tells the disciples, but you are going to be OK. I’m sending the Holy Spirit. And I will always be with you, because God is in me and God is in you. And you are in me and I am in you.

That is what it means to be family. And you are my family . . . and I will not leave you orphaned, Jesus tells the disciples.

As my own family expanded, we began to recognize our parents in us; we recognize ourselves in our children. And even when our parents are gone, and eventually when we are gone, they will not be alone, just as we are not now alone, just as you are not alone. We have not been left orphaned. For we know that even as Jesus left the disciples, he was still with them . . . and he is still with us.

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