6 Easter 21 May 2017
Sometimes families are great. When you are growing up, having parents who love and care for you and to whom you respond at first with happy recognition, then as you grow from an infant to a toddler you are able to give back love and affection and, as you further grow and mature, learn to love fully and finally unconditionally, realizing that the more you love the more the bonds between you grow. Love is limitless and boundless.
But the bonds between parents, whether biological or otherwise, and children may never be forged or forged but then broken by betrayal. Then the despair and hatred may grow and become like a festering wound. Life can be an empty shell and one may be driven to a world where scarcity, fear, and hatred become the measures of existence.
No relationship is perfect but that of the Creator and the Sustainer, the Father and Jesus. Between them there is nothing but mutual love, the love that is so perfect that the Son will die willingly so that all humanity can be a part of that perfect love.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. The one who keeps my commandments is the one who loves me.
Does being a follower of the Way, a member of the Jesus movement, means that we have a list of rules and that following Jesus is all about rule keeping? I say not at all. It is all about love, the kind of love that can survive separation and death and all the powers of the world.
We call Jesus the Word, with a capital W, which is like no other word we know. The Word is wisdom and the Word is love. Keeping the com-commandments that Jesus gave to his disciples, and to us, is not so much about personal morality, although that is part of it, but rather about communal morality and communal behavior. To keep Jesus’ com-commandments, his words, is to love unconditionally and to do those things he modeled for us in his human, incarnational, existence.
It is not about loving a memory. I love my parents and I miss them, but even that love is best when it is lived out day to day in how I treat other people and the world around me. I honor them by my example learned in their way of living in the world.
The disciples were told by Jesus much the same thing: I am leaving you and you show the love we have for one another by how you live your lives. Will you continue to visit prisoners, walk with lepers, feed those who are hungry and clothe those who are naked? Will you continue to show the world what the Father has taught me and I have taught you? He didn’t ask will you sacrifice the best lamb or the best calf to me, but will you sacrifice your lives for one another and for me.
Love trumped everything with Jesus. It was a public love, not a private or secret devotional club. We are not secret admirers and, while we are told to pray in secret, we are told to do our work for God in public, asking nothing in return.
But how can we do it? How did the disciples do it? If someone is gone, they are gone, right? Ha! You would not be a follower of Jesus, two thousand years later, if you believed that. You know that Jesus is with you, that God is with you. Yet if I asked you to tell me how you know that, I suspect you would be hard pressed to put it into words. I tell you, though, the answer is right at John 14:16. “And I will ask the Father and he will send you another Helper.” Jesus tells us we will never be alone. He is sending the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to us. The Spirit comes to each one of us, yet it comes to no one in isolation. The Paraclete comes to the entire community, throughout all space and all time. It is counselor, helper, advocate; it is everything Jesus was when he walked among us.
We are never alone. You cannot be a Christian in isolation. As Christians, we live together in a community of love and caring. Or at least we try. I think too often we let the Spirit leave the community or at least ignore it. When we do that we have lost everything that makes us Christian. We become a social club, a mutual support society, or at our worst a bunch of squabbling so called adults.
When that happens, it is time to open John 14. Put aside the fight about what color the sanctuary should be painted or how tall the candles should be on the alter or who brings the best cookies for coffee hour. Forget the transubstantiation or if Mary was a perpetual virgin. While all that is going on, the Holy Spirit is sitting in the corner or worse, not even in the neighborhood. When you read John, you understand that God’s promise is to the entire community of believers. We are NOT the World; we are not the Roman empire and Manifest Destiny is not ours. The players and the empires change but those of today look a lot like, and have more in common than not, with the empires of yesterday. Maybe the big difference is the amount of damage today’s empires can do.
We need to be able to know the difference between the reign of God and the reign of Putin or Trump or Catherine the Great or Napoleon or whomever you chose. Do not mistake the love of country for the love of God. For the ancient Israelites, God was their ruler and they were warned not to turn to earthly kings for their salvation. It did not turn out well for them when they demanded a king. Nor has human history ever shown that any earthly kingdom was capable, nor even willing, to provide for the needs to all the people. No realm that has ever existed on earth has been the realm of God nor will it ever be. The Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy nor even Roman.
John tells us to live in a liminal space, a space between the what has been and what will be. We live between the time of Christ who has died and Christ who will come again. As Christians, we live in a world not centered around me or you and not centered around a state or a nation. We are in but not of the world, bound together by a communal love that is the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the spirit of Jesus himself. This is why Christianity has survived and will, I believe, continue to survive.
How can you have a relationship with a dead man? In one sense you cannot. Death brings an end to one type or relationship. Yet I still have a relationship with my parents and friends and relatives whom I knew and who have passed. I have a different, but still very real relationship to my family in past generations. I never knew my grandmothers, but I know I carry part of who they were in me, and I don’t mean just their DNA. As a Christian I carry the history of the community of all Christians with me. Yet what Jesus leaves with his disciples is different than any of that. It is not merely a communal memory. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is inside of me and the same spirit is inside of you and we are joined by that spirit. In one sense we are all identical twins with each other.
When I think that God is in me and with me and in you and with you, that is enough to bring me to praise God every day and to come to communal worship as often as I can. But Jesus said that what should bind us together is love. Love for one another and love for God is worship of the Creator. “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by the Father.” Through the strength of the Holy Spirit, let us love God and love one another now and forever. Amen.
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