No Orphans in God’s Kin-dom

On May 25, 2014, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

No Orphans in God’s Kin-dom Rev Dr Durrell Watkins May 25, 2014 Who grew up reading the comic strip Little Orphan Annie? It ran forever, well, not quite forever, but for a very long time…from 1924 to 2010. In the storyline 11 year old Annie is generous, courageous, a young person of strong character, as […]

No Orphans in God’s Kin-dom
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
May 25, 2014

Who grew up reading the comic strip Little Orphan Annie?
It ran forever, well, not quite forever, but for a very long time…from 1924 to 2010.

In the storyline 11 year old Annie is generous, courageous, a young person of strong character, as is demonstrated when she rescues a mongrel from a group of abusive boys. She calls the dog Sandy and Sandy is her constant companion from then on.

The comic strip inspired a radio program in 1930, a film in 1932 and another film in 1938. And then, in 1977, Annie found her way to the promised land…Broadway.

In the musical we see the Depression era orphan battling a nefarious orphanage matron but who for all her difficulties and challenges in life, for all her setbacks and disappointments, chooses to remain optimistic in life and ultimately, her optimism serves her well.

Well, everyone remembers the comic strip and surely everyone in THIS church remembers the Broadway musical, but what you may not know is that the comic strip that inspired radio, film, and stage productions was itself inspired by a poem.

In 1885 James Whitcomb Riley wrote a poem called “The Elf Child”, later renamed “Little Orphant Annie.”
He actually based the poem on Mary Alice Smith who was an orphan who lived with his family when he was a child.

The 4 verse poem that gave rise to musicals and movies and a comic strip legend imagined an orphan who is taken into a family and not only does her share of chores but also regales the other children in the family with ghost stories about goblins that snatch children who misbehave.

The point of the poem comes at the end when the readers and hearers are encouraged to show the people they love how dear they are to them, and to also care for the poor and disadvantaged.

Little Orphant Annie
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
an’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
an’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
we set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
Ef you – Don’t – Watch – Out!

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,–
an’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mommy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
an’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
an’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz jist his pants an’ roundabout:–
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you – Don’t – Watch – Out!

An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
an’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin;
An’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there,
She mocked ’em an’ shocked ’em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ jist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They wuz two big scary Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you – Don’t – Watch – Out!

An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
an’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
an’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,–
You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
an’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you – Don’t – Watch – Out!

Cherish those who love you, be grateful for your blessings, and care for those who are in need…words that could have come from the prophets themselves, or even from Jesus…sentiments that indeed did come from the prophets and Jesus.

Little Orphan Annie came to mind as I was reflecting on the gospel reading today. The phrase, “I won’t leave you orphaned…” jumped out at me and the story of Little Orphan Annie came back to me as well.

At first I bristled at the phrase, “I won’t leave you orphaned…” John’s highly symbolic, allegorical, philosophical language gets on my nerves.

Maybe I have unresolved issues resulting from the way John has been overly literalized and used as a weapon to control Christians and convert those of other faith experiences.

Moreover, John’s portrayal of Jesus as smug, omniscient, and all too willing to infantilize his friends also annoys me.

Still, when we get past John’s off-putting style, we do see what he was trying to achieve.

The anonymous writer we call John is telling a community that feels alone that in a cosmic sense they are not and never can be. He is comforting people who feel orphaned.

John is loving, caring for, expressing concern for people who feel abandoned, alone, increasingly hopeless. The point isn’t how he imagines Jesus but how he creatively tries to tend to the needs of the hurting people right in front of him.

“John” is writing between 90 and 100 CE.
Jesus was executed more than 60 years earlier.
Paul was executed 35 years after Jesus.
Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed 40 or 41 years after Jesus’ death.
And to add to all the loss and devastation, the apocalyptic hopes that many had been preaching were starting to seem all too unlikely.

The gospel writer Mark wrote to his community that some people hearing his message would still be alive at the apocalyptic moment when God would somehow intervene in human history, overturn the oppressive empire, and usher in a divine kin-dom where the oppressed would become aristocrats.

Almost 30 years after Mark said that, many (probably most) people who heard his message were dead and no such apocalyptic change of fortune had occurred.

Paul, too, thought that an apocalypse would happen in his lifetime, putting an end to empire and establishing a divine kin-dom in its place. He, too, was mistaken.

So the Christian movement(s) had lost Jesus, Paul, and the Temple and the apocalyptic revenge they were hoping for never happened. People were starting to feel hopeless, abandoned, alone.

In response to those feelings, “John” assures his community that they are not alone.

The spirit of Life, the Substance of life is omnipresent and not only is It with them but It is expressed through and as them (and us). If we can imagine ourselves embraced by a larger Life then we won’t feel abandoned or powerless and therefore there is always hope to sustain us.

We are not left alone because we are one with all that is; we are expressions of the one omnipresent, eternal Life.

Last Sunday we read John’s Jesus affirming that he was in God and God was in him.

This paraclete/helper/presence that is the expression of God in this week’s reading is a way of saying that we are all in God, filled with God, and connected to one another as units of divine Consciousness.

John is imagining Jesus reminding the readers that they are in God and God is in them; they are never alone. The omnipresence of Spirit that connects all life, fills all life, is the substance of all life, is reaffirmed as John has Jesus say, “I am in God, you are in me, and I am in you.” There is One All, one Life, and we all share it and we each individualize it.

In last week’s reading, John’s Jesus says that the hearers will do greater works than he did (healing, justice seeking, challenging oppression ) and he promises that when people are doing that work if they need help that they can prayerfully ask for help and they will receive the help they need to do the work.

That theme is continued with the imagery of God’s power/presence/spirit being present as the helper.

I don’t enjoy John’s gospel as much as the others, but when I consider that the anonymous writer we are calling John is looking around at people are hurting, afraid, overwhelmed, disappointed, and he finds his heart breaking when he considers that people are losing hope…you can live without a lot of money, you can live with pain, you can live with loneliness, you can live with uncertainty but it’s almost impossible to keep going without hope…

I can imagine John thinking about his friends and neighbors and community members and sensing their growing hopelessness,

he does whatever he can, however awkward or desperate or even corny his words appear to be, he does what he can to say to people…things aren’t always easy and they don’t go as well as we might wish sometimes but please never give up the belief that you matter, that you are part and parcel of the divine Reality, that divine Love will never let you go, that it flows through you and fills you now and forever.

In other words, John says, affirm your sacred value and trust that you are never really alone. Spirit holds you, fills you, walks with you, and is present to you eternally. You have a helper at hand, and because you are not alone, because there is a presence and a power that is always with you, part of you, there is always reason for hope.

Hope for healing if that doesn’t mean cure, hope for love even if that doesn’t mean romance, hope for prosperity even if that doesn’t mean wealth, hope for happiness even if that doesn’t mean that life is easy.

And you can hope, because you are not alone; you will never be alone. Because of the spirit, we are never really orphans. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2014

Divine Love will never let me go.
The divine Presence is my constant helper.
Hope sustains me at all times.
And so it is.


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