John 14:18 – May 21, 2017
“Jesus Knows Our Needs”
Today in our service, we focus on Mental Health and Mental Illness. All across the United States, one in four people are affected by mental health issues each year. Whether the health difficulty is mild, moderate or serious, still—one in four people have challenges or difficulties that affect their daily lives. And if you add the families and loved ones of those who are affected, you are talking about a lot of people! Often times, people with mental health challenges do not have much to look forward to, and not much hope at all.
In our Gospel reading from John 14, Jesus gives us all some hope and comfort.
This reading is from Thursday night in the Passion week, the night before Jesus was crucified. Jesus knew He was going away. He told His disciples so. However, Jesus tells His friends about a Helper He is going to send when He is gone: “16 And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.”
Jesus promised us to leave us another Advocate—another Helper. We will explore Jesus’s message to all of us for those times when we are feeling alone, afraid, separate and isolated. Just like people who are dealing with mental illness. Just like their loved ones, too.
The disciples still don’t understand a lot of what Jesus was telling them. Even though He had been with them for many months, even years, they still do not get it. Of course, we have better understanding of what Jesus told them in that Upper Room, looking back on it from our fuller point of view, today. But even now, many people have a challenging time figuring out exactly what Jesus was saying. Helper? Advocate? Spirit from God? What is that all about?
In a magazine, Vision New England’s Ministries with the Disabled, a minister writes “How many families in your [acquaintance] have a loved one who struggles with a serious, acute or chronic mental health issue?” Carlene Hill Byron says that “Someone is probably hurting and they’re afraid to tell you.” 
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI teaches us that “Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.” 
Do you think Jesus understands how we feel? How about everyone, absolutely every person—does Jesus know how each one of us feels? What about individuals who are suffering from major depression? What about schizophrenia? Bipolar disorder? Obsessive compulsive disorder? How about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Are all of these afflictions diseases that Jesus understands? Can He come alongside of each of us, in whatever mental state we happen to be in? Or, will Jesus desert us, like so many people do who just do not understand us?
The next verses in John 14: “18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see Me anymore, but you will see Me.”
Where Jesus mentions “I will not leave you as orphans,” that is exactly what He said, and exactly what He meant. “Orphan” (orphanos) “was a common metaphor to describe disciples left without their masters.”  Dr. O’Day mentions a special poignancy in Jesus’s words here, where He talks about a special family relationship He has with His friends and disciples. Especially here in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to His friends as “little children.”
“I will not leave you as orphans.” Sometimes, in this imperfect life, things happen. Loved ones die. Listen to this personal recollection from the Rev. Dr. Anna Hosemann-Butler: “Orphaned. Alone. Without guidance. Without support. Without parents. Without anyone. Mostly, “orphaned” means being so isolated in this world that it feels like no one cares whether or not we live or die. Orphaned. Really depressing. At least, it can be—and terrifying, too.
“Although an image of children first comes to mind when we use that word, any of us can be orphaned at any age. In fact, on any given day, a lot of us are orphaned, at least in spirit.
I lost my father to cancer when I was eight years old, and so became a “half-orphan,” and thus appropriately half-terrified.
“I became a child who on the surface was fine, but inside was frantic in my love for my mother, always on the edge of panic where her well-being was concerned, desperately afraid that something would happen to her and I would be completely alone in the world. Anxious fear was a constant childhood companion. There was no way around it, it seemed.” 
Imagine fear and anxiety like that, every single day. Dr. Hosemann-Butler describes her childhood feelings so vividly here as she relates how filled with panic and anxiety she was at the sense of being orphaned. I suspect many, many people with mental illness go through similar feelings of panic, fear, anxiety, and loneliness. It is not just fear and desperation at being left alone for people with mental illnesses, but it’s also a dark cloud of stigma that surrounds them. Many times, they can be unfairly labeled, bullied at school or work, excluded or shunned in social situations, and marginalized in many different ways.
But, Jesus never does any of those things. Can anyone imagine our Lord Jesus bullying someone? Or, shunning anyone? Certainly not! He would be likely to go out to the parking lot or in back by the alley, where the shunned and excluded ones are hanging out. Just as Jesus thought of His friends and disciples as His children, that is the same way He thinks of any of His modern-day friends and followers, too.
Remember what Jesus reminds us: “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.” Even though Jesus might have known He was ascending to heaven in just a few weeks, He knew the Holy Spirit would come to be with the disciples. Just as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit is with us today as well, indwelling us and coming alongside of us.
I would like to encourage all of us, today—be friends for someone who is hurting, today. Come alongside of someone who struggles with mental illness, or one of their family members, today. Provide a warm welcome for these friends, so they don’t feel alone any more.
I want to reiterate: Jesus will not leave anyone as orphans—not grown ups, not children, not seniors, not people who are blind or deaf or with speech impediments, not people who are developmentally disabled, and not people with mental illnesses. No one. No one.
Remember Psalm 23, where King David talks of walking through the valley of the shadow? Sure, the road ahead may be dark sometimes, and take unexpected twists and turns, but the Holy Spirit will be right by our sides. Always. Jesus has promised, and we can take His word for it. Alleluia, amen.
 A quotation from Carlene Hill Byron, from Vision New England Ministries with the Disabled, http://mhn-ucc.blogspot.com/p/mental-health-sunday.html https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1-I-16TIdciVlprWldQOTEtdUE/edit , page 11.
 O’Day, Gail, The Gospel of John, The new Interpreter’s Bible: general articles & introduction, commentary, & reflections for each book of the Bible, Vol. 9 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 748.
 http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Orphaned-Anna-Hosemann-Butler-05-20-2014 , “Orphaned?” Anna Hosemann-Butler, Edgy Exegesis, 2014.