Sunday Service Sermon Text – May 17, 2020

Orphans No More

I was one of the lucky ones. I had parents, a mother, and a father, who not only conceived me, and gave birth to me, but also raised me, and nurtured me, in a loving environment.  I was doubly lucky to have both my parents both live into their nineties, until I was in my sixties.

Other people are not so lucky.   Shortly after they are born, one or both of their parents give them up, either by dropping them off at the doorsteps of a hospital, l or turning them over to doctors and nurses who locate others to raise them. Sometimes these orphan babies are adopted shortly after birth by prospective parents.  But, other times, at least in my childhood, they were taken to orphanages where they hopefully would be raised by caretakers and adopted by people who would become their parents.

About five miles from where I grew up, in the SE section of Washington DC, there stood off from the road a place called The German Orphanage Home.  I only knew it was there from the sign that bore its name on the entrance to the place.  I never walked, or road in a car to the orphanage, but I imagined it to be a rather dark and Victorian looking place.  It was a vision that was dispelled by my father. He was fond of saying that the orphans who lived there had a better childhood than he did living in poverty with 7 siblings, and a single mother.

The author John Irving gave us some insights into what life in an orphanage might have been like decades ago in his novel Cider House Rules.  Whether life like the one Irving depicted ever actually existed is debatable, but it seems likely that there was more than some truth in it.

In one of the first scenes of the movie a young couple came to the orphanage and adopted a baby names Homer Wells. Days later they brought him back saying something was wrong with him because he never made a sound. When the doctor who ran the orphanage was given Homer, he exclaimed he simply was too happy to cry.  Later when a second family who adopted Homer was discovered to be beating Homer, he was returned to the orphanage a second time.  After that no one came to adopt Homer, and he grew up in the orphanage essentially adopted by the doctor who ran the place, along with his fellow orphan boys and girls.

In another touching scene from the movie orphans were looking out the windows of their orphanage at prospective parents who came to adopt children.  As they looked, their eager and hopeful eyes said: “Pick me, pick me!” Then when the adults come in the door the orphans met them with their best behavior hoping they would one of the lucky ones who would be adopted.

Sometimes in our childhood we wonder if we too were adopted, and who our biological parents might be. Or we wonder if we will become orphaned.  Barbara Brown Taylor wrote of having this experience when she was asked by her parents to babysit her younger siblings:

“First my father would sit me down and remind me how much he and my mother trusted me- not only because I was the oldest but because I was the most responsible. This always made me dizzy, but I agreed with him. I would not let the house burn down, I would not open the door to strangers, I would not let my sister fall down the basement steps.

Then my mother would show me where she had left the telephone number, remind me when they would be home, and all together we would walk to the front door where everyone kissed everyone good-bye. Then the lock clicked into place, and a new era began.  I was in charge.   Turning around to face my new responsibilities, what I saw were my sisters faces, looking at me with something between hope and fear  They knew I was no substitute for what they had lost, but since I was all they had they were willing to try.”

And so was I.  I played games with them.  I read them books; I made the pimento cheese sandwiches on white bread with the crusts cut off.  But as the night wore on, they got crankier and crankier. Where are mommy and daddy? Where did they go?  When will they be back? I told them over, and over again.  I made up elaborate stories about what we would all do together in the morning.  I promised them that if they would go to sleep, I would make sure mommy and daddy kissed them good night when they came in.  I tried to make everything sound normal, but how did I know? Our parents might have had a terrible accident.  They might never come home again and the three of us would be split apart, each of us sent to a different foster home so that we never saw each other again.

It was hard being the babysitter because I was a potential orphan to.

Sometimes, instead of being born an orphan, or feeling like we are orphans, we become one. If we live long enough, as I have, our parents die before we do, as my parents did, in their old age, and we too find ourselves being orphans.

This morning’s scripture reading is a continuation of Jesus’ so called “Farewell Address” began in last week’s reading, from the 14TH chapter of Johns Gospel.  Jesus continued talking to his disciples and preparing them for his imminent departure.  While we do not know off any of them were really orphans, we do know that Jesus worried they would feel like they were, not from potentially losing their parents, but rather from losing him. Jesus had talked of leaving them many times before, and even though they apparently did know Jesus was referring to his death, his going away would cause them to experience the loss of their beloved teacher, and dear friend.  So, to alleviate their worries Jesus made them a wonderful promise, when he said: “I will not leave you orphaned.”

How could Jesus have kept his promise when he knew he would be leaving them in death? He answered that question when he said: “I am coming to you.” But how could he come to them when he was dead?” He answered that question too when he said: “In a little while, the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live, you will live also.” Jesus would not leave his disciples orphaned because he would remain with them, and they would remain with him- in spirit.  They would abide in each other. Even though they would physically not be together they would never leave each other.

This was very good news for Jesus’ disciples, as it is good news for us. For whether we are already orphans, potential orphans, or just feel orphaned, we are never left totally alone and desolate, for Jesus comes to us and abides with us.

Another minister named Sherry Crompton also shared this good news when she wrote”

The good news for orphans is that we do not have to be.  Those who truly love us are inside of us, and no one can snatch us out of their hands. We may have to learn a new way of communicating with them, since they are inside us now and not outside, where we can hang on them in the old way.  If we want to talk with them, we may have to sit down some place quiet  and listen very carefully for the sound of the wind blowing inside of us, for the sound of the still small voice that speaks in silence more often than it speaks in words…..God dwells with us, leaving us notes all over the place” ‘ Love one another, don’t be afraid; believe in God, believe also in me, if were not so, would I have told you.’ “

It is because of this that if we are orphans, or become orphans, we will be orphans no more.