Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Alan Watt
In the first congregation I served as a pastor, one of my responsibilities was to lead youth ministry. Having had no training or practical experience in that area, I often enough did not feel up to the task, especially since, at any given time, a number of the families faced difficult problems. Here is a story about a time I felt particularly inadequate.
An elderly couple had invited me to their house—to meet and talk with a family member of theirs. What I encountered was a unique situation—at least to me. A young person—15 years old—was staying with them. He was their great-grandson. When he was young, his parents had divorced, and since then, his mother was no longer in the picture. Most recently, he had lived with his father’s parents. But he was too much for them to handle, maybe, in part, because they owned a business that demanded much of their time and energy. Before them, in another state, he had been living with his father and stepmother. But she couldn’t deal with him, either, or maybe didn’t want him there in the first place.
Although the elderly couple had taken him in, they were ill-suited to care for him. For example, the great-grandfather was already homebound. And the great-grandmother was not far behind. Predictably the young man was bitter, negative, and trying somehow to come up with a plan of his own. I had no idea what to say or try to do for him, only thinking to myself how unloved and abandoned he must have felt. The couple later told me that, after buying a motorcycle, he had soon left for who knows where.
The fear, the threat, the reality of abandon mentis something some if not many of us have experienced in life—or least we have witnessed it in the life of someone else. At times the feeling of being deserted, being left to one’s own devices, is because that individual—in part at least—brings it on him- or herself. A demanding nature or sheer meanness has driven others away. Whatever the cause, the loneliness—the sense of being left to cope nearly all on one’s own—is a heavy burden to bear. It can crush the spirit.
In some parts of scripture, the despair of abandonment is a very strong theme. We see it in several places in the Book of Psalms—in supplications that God not leave, not desert the one who feels besieged, who feels overwhelmed by forces beyond his or her control.
Today’s Psalm, part of which is also quoted in the reading from the Book of Acts, it reassures the petitioner that God will “not abandon [his] soul to Hades”—to that shadowy afterlife from which no one returns. But in parts of some of others, one isn’t always so sure about that. For instance, in Psalm 42:
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me
“Where is your God?”
Has his steadfast love ceased
Are his promises at an end for
And in Psalm 13:
How long, O LORD? Will you
forget me forever?
How long will you hide your
face from me?
If anyone felt like that, it was the disciples. They were huddled together behind locked doors, not only grieving the death of their master, but also afraid they too might be found out, arrested, and executed. At that point, they may well have believed God had indeed abandoned them. But then their Lord suddenly appeared. And comforted them. And breathed into them new life—the life of the Holy Spirit.
Before that, they had forgotten all about the promise Jesus had made earlier. In chapter 14 of the same Gospel, he told them: “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 Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
In the world, it’s not too hard to find people who have been abandoned—if not physically, at least emotionally. One December a few years ago, I remember going Christmas caroling with a church choir, you know, to various nursing centers. One place we stopped at was a little different. It was a hospice home—for people with AIDS. Visiting a traditional nursing center can sometimes be sobering enough. But seeing the hospice residents was really heart-wrenching. The halls were narrow and the rooms quite small. In some of them friends or family members were spending time with their loved one. In others were only the patients themselves—either lying in bed or propped up in a chair. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them never had any visitors at all. I wonder how many of them—with the exception of the staff—died alone
Jesus knew what it was to be abandoned, or at least knew the feeling of being utterly alone in his time of need. Turning to one of the psalms, he cried out:
My God, my God, why have you
Why are you so far from helping
me, from the words of my
O my God, I cry by day, but you
do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
Yet, in the Book of Acts, Peter testified that “[although Jesus was] crucified…, God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” And, again, at the end of that passage: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”
For the one who waits on God, abandonment—even the mere feeling of it, is never the end. It’s never permanent. As in Psalm 30:
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the
You and I have opportunities—plenty of them—to share with others who have felt deserted that, although it seems like that, that’s not the way it really is. The love of God expressed in our actions tells them otherwise. Here’s a wonderful example of that.
At yet another church I once served was a couple who had a little girl. One day they shared with me that she was adopted. Several years earlier, she had been living—more accurately surviving—in an orphanage in Romania. The adoptive parents told me she had looked a little healthier than the rest because, they were told, when the food was placed on the table at mealtime, she was the quickest one to get to it. When I knew all three of them, she was a happy and active seven-year old.
May we always remember
that though it may sometimes feel as
if God has abandoned us or others—especially those who suffer so terribly in
the world—that because of the raising of Jesus of Nazareth, we never need fear
of being alone again—in life or in