Just after I graduated from college, I spent over a year working with my Great Uncle doing carpentry and cabinetmaking work to restore the chapel of a Lutheran church in North Carolina. We did everything from casting plaster moldings to hewing timbers to delicate carving. It was a blast.
One little job among all the others was building a little wall-niche bookcase. The chapel was vaguely gothic and, looking around for design ideas, I landed on a medieval example with a verse of Scripture lettered across its top. Lovely. Settled, I built it, which left only the problem I didn’t actually know much Scripture to quote from in those days. So, I borrowed a bible. For possibly the first time in my life, sat by myself paging through the New Testament as I looked for some appropriate line. In the fourteenth chapter of John, I came across the words,
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you,”
and stopped. And that is what I painted, and that’s what is probably still there today.
I was 23 and my Dad had just died.
As I worked I didn’t know that, soon after the job was finished, I’d get married in that chapel. And in that church, my whole family—aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents—would spend a week preparing and throwing this tremendous wedding for us. They did it because they loved us, and because my Mom had gotten sick too and was dying, and they were making a circle around these kids. They were weaving it strong, to hold.
And they were, for me, a vision of the unknown God Paul preached about to the Athenians in the Areopagus. It’s striking how everything Paul has to say about this unknown God has to do with God’s identity as the one who created and who remains present and involved in all life from breath to breath to breath—a God who is not far, but who has arranged life in a way that nearness might bloom into relationship. This is a God who leaves nothing orphaned.
And so it isn’t surprising to me that, from the beginning, followers of Jesus recognized that the God who had created them and made family of them had also called them them to work like that on the ground. It isn’t surprising that an extraordinary and distinguishing feature of the early Church was the care and adoption of orphans—gathering them in, imagining wider and wider circles of family to hold them.
Every kindness, every small mercy, matters in the world in which God raised Jesus from the dead.