willnotleaveyou“On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.”

So ends arguably the greatest of all American novels: Moby-Dick. Perhaps if you are a fan of old films, you remember the 1956 film version with the stirring performance by Gregory Peck of the increasingly insane Captain Ahab. But, from its famous first sentence, “Call me Ishmael,” in which Mehlville references the most famous of all biblical orphans, to its last line we just heard where the theme is made explicit, this book is about our sense of being alone in the world. Despite all of the imagery of whales and ships and the sea, Mehlville wrote Moby-Dick to address this un-rootedness, this deep aloneness we feel in the world. This feeling of being an orphan.

We’ve probably all known that feeling at some point:
• Perhaps a number of us can still remember – as young children – our panic at losing sight of mom or dad in the department store…
• Then, how great the pain when they actually do leave us through death…
• Or perhaps we had parents who were never there for us…
• Or maybe it’s the up-rootedness of our mobile society… friends leave… we move… mom and dad no longer live in the same house or even the same city…
• We’re divorced or widowed and it seems like everyone goes on without us, and we just don’t fit in…
Have you ever known this painful part of the human condition, this unease about our lives, this lingering sense of being alone? If you have, then hear this commitment from Jesus in today’s gospel: “I will not leave you orphans.

I will not leave you orphans. That’s the promise. You are not alone in this. I am with you. When you are scared or hurt or confused, when you feel abandoned or forgotten or a failure, I am here. I am with you. You are not alone.

And doesn’t that phrase, “I will not leave you orphans,” encapsulate in a few words the whole ministry of Jesus? Jesus sought out all of those groups who might feel forgotten and abandoned: the lame, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outcasts. Jesus looks precisely and especially for those who might feel most orphaned in this world and reaches out to them to say, “God is with you. You are not alone.

I suggest that this is what God is always doing… around us, in us and through us. It is important that we see it… and that we name it.

For example, have you ever walked into a gathering where you didn’t know anyone, and felt that scared feeling in your stomach? On Saturday night I was invited to a gathering where I only knew the host couple. As I walked through the fence into the backyard, looking for a place to ‘land’, one couple broke the ice for me, by asking if the wine I held in my hands as a gift was white and chilled and opened? And if not, come in anyway. In that kindness and invitation, I heard Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

Perhaps you had a tense family situation, and you thought everyone was mad at you, and someone said, “I’m sorry, or I forgive you, or we’re glad you’re here.” In that you heard Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

No friend or spouse can always be there or understand you, but if you ever had a friend who listened to your fears, or understood for a moment what it was like to be you, or a spouse who stood by your side at a time of great sorrow, or who held your hand at the hospital bedside and who you knew loved you, in that you heard Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

Today, God speaks those words straight and directly to you and to me. “I will not leave you orphans.” I will come to you and live in you. Today, no matter what you are feeling or what you have lost or how difficult are the choices you have had to make lately, Jesus himself says, “You are not alone in this, I’m here. I haven’t left you and will never leave you.”

Moby-Dick has been called by some the greatest of the American novels precisely because it deals with issues of abandonment and aloneness that are so real for so many of us. And yet, it is worth noting that even in the end of Moby-Dick, as we just heard, Ishmael, the quintessential orphan, is not left alone. The Rachel, another ship actually looking for someone else, picks him up from his isolation and brings him home. And we hear again the promise of God… “Love will come. I will not leave you orphaned.”