Saturday, May 12, 2018

Year B, Easter 7, John 17.6-19, David, I don’t want to lose you.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Earlier in the Gospel of John, in Chapter 14, Jesus offered this promise to the disciples:
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."
I am reminded of these words, as I read from the Gospel lesson today:
12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.
To be orphaned.
Those words struck me this week.
I was lucky over the course of my life that both my parents lived to a ripe old age.  My mother died a few years ago, my father this last fall. 
They were blessed with a long life.  They were with us long after we left home and began lives of our own.
And yet there is this sense now that they are gone that I am orphaned.
Left alone to stand or fall on my own.
Dr. James Nestingen, one of my seminary professors, used to describe the experience of losing one’s parents as like removing the insulation from the north side of one’s house.  All of a sudden, you can feel the draft of the cold north wind, and you recognize that you yourself are aging, and that your’s is the next generation to face the end of life.
There are many dimensions to the experience of losing one’s parents.
It doesn’t matter whether we are young or old, there are times when we say “Mom, Dad, I need you now.”
And there is the significance of the fact that the people from whom we first experienced love in our lives, can no longer offer it to us, leaving us with just a memory of what it was like to have been loved by them.
Today we give thanks for our mothers.
In a few weeks, we will offer thanks for our fathers.
These are not just “Hallmark” Holidays, designed primarily to sell cards and flowers, though the florists will certainly be busy.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are about gratitude for the love we have received.
For many of us, there is another experience of being a child that we must face in one way or another.
Our parents weren’t perfect.
One of the residual issues from my childhood was that I was abused by a band director during my adolescent years.
Jesus says “I protected them.”
From a very early age, we trust in our parents to protect us, and when they are not able, or simply are unaware of the difficulties we are facing, we feel abandoned.  We feel orphaned.  Where were you?
That was the question I found myself asking as I looked back on those experiences of childhood.  How could they allow such abuse to occur?  Shouldn’t they have been more cautious?
In my own situation, my parents simply were unaware of what was happening with the band director.  Unaware.  I really can’t blame them, for even I was not able to recognize what happened as being abusive for a couple of decades.
And yet the emotional scar remains.  Whether through ignorance or outright neglect, they allowed for a relationship to unfold in my life that was abusive.
And so when I look back on my childhood and my relationship with my parents it is a mixed bag. 
As with all human relationships, there is good and bad.
And then the promise of Jesus:
I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost.
“David, I don’t want to lose you.”
These were the words of my bishop, Martin, during that most difficult time of my life when I hit rock bottom with respect to my alcoholism, and was nearly destroyed by the battle with depression.
Those same words were on the heart of Karla, my children, and my parents.
I was at risk.
In many ways I was at risk.
There were questions regarding whether I could continue in ministry. 
The struggles I faced jeopardized my marriage and compromised my relationship with my children.
On numerous occasions I was borderline suicidal.  The self destructive nature of alcoholism nearly killed me.  At other times, I considered ending the suffering as an option.
Hope had vanished.  And faith was fleeting.
Later I would write that “it is not the desire to end one’s life that results in suicide, but the belief that one’s life is already over.”
“David, I don’t want to lose you.”
When Martin spoke those words, he might have been thinking about losing me as a pastor in the Church, or losing me to the effects of alcoholism and mental illness, or ultimately, to death.  Probably, all of the above.
And likewise with Karla, and my family.
Whatever their primary concerns might have been, those words communicated to me a deeper spiritual reality.
“David, I don’t want to lose you,” are words spoken to us by Jesus.
The most important thing Martin did, in speaking those words, was to bear witness to the love that Jesus had for me in that moment, and in so doing to communicate to me the promise Jesus offered to protect and guard me from all evil.
I will not leave you orphaned.
I will protect you.
I will guard you.
And I will not lose you.
Promises for each of us, from Jesus himself.

Last week you voted to extend a Letter of Call for me to be your pastor.
What you probably didn’t realize at the time, is the significance of that to me.
After all the dust settled, that I might once again receive the Call of a congregation to serve as pastor means for me, that indeed, Jesus did not lose me.
Not only that, but I wake each morning with my wife at my side.  I enjoy the relationship I have with my children, and especially now, my grandchild.
And even more than all that, I have hope and faith.
I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost.

I was not lost.
Nor will I ever be.
What a promise.
There is another threat in the life of Christians today.
Jesus speaks to this when he says:
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
The threatening times we live in are not that we as Christians are under persecution and experiencing violence against us.
The threat is that we might be lost to the ways of the world in which we live, and no longer abide in Christ.
“They do not belong to the world.”
Or do they?
In Romans Paul writes:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
When we look at the Church today, and see so many graying heads, and so many empty places in our sanctuaries, one has to wonder if we are experiencing a “lost generation”. 
Those of us who remain wonder if our children, our neighbors, have indeed conformed to this world, and become one with it at the expense of not being set apart from the world, and transformed by Christ.
Karla and I struggle with this ourselves, as we look at our children, and recognize that they have not yet found their place within the Church as we wish they might have.
And yet we cling to the promise.
If Jesus can say to me, “David, I don’t want to lose you,” he can also say that to my children, our children, all to all who are called children of God.
Not one of them was lost.
Mind you, there are many in our world who have not found their way, and yet even when it appears they are wandering, they are not lost.
They may not have “found” Jesus, but Jesus has not lost them.
It is like a mother who watches her children leave the nest and spread their wings out in the world, yet never ceases to love and care and embrace them.
Oh, children may wander far and wide, but never can they venture beyond the reach of their parents love.
So it is with God, only in a much more perfect way.
Go where you must, face the world as you can, but just know this, that Jesus loves you all along.
He will not leave you orphaned no matter how far you stray.
That’s grace.  The pure unmerited love of God for his wandering children.
I am one such wandering child.
To one extent or another we all are.
And Jesus did not, and will not lose us.
May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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