May 17. ( John 14:15-21) Jesus asks for the impossible today. And then does it for us.
Remember we have returned in this season after Easter to the time before Jesus was arrested and taken to be crucified. He gives quite a long speech that kind of goes in circles as he lets his disciples know what life will be like when he’s gone. He is comforting them but then today we hear this if=then statement. If you love me, you will keep my command. What command is he talking about, but the one he gave just a bit earlier, after he washed their feet- to love one another. Love one another as he has loved them.
It seems so simple in a way, doesn’t it. But can we love with the love Jesus loved with, just because we try to?
And then it’s like it dawns on Jesus right away- these guys are going to need some help. a lot of the time they still don’t get it. So he promises them a helper- the Advocate, the Counselor, the Paraclete- one who will walk alongside them, and he says, he will remind you of everything I said- he will be with you even when I am not physically with you, so you can do this- obey my commandments. Love one another how I have loved you. Love is the command to be lived out in order to show the love. My bible’s commentary says, love is the mark of obedience and discipleship.
Just love. It all comes back to love. Jesus even lovingly gives us a love-helper to help us love. Such great gifts, such grace.
Now as I was reflecting on this passage I started to recall that sometimes in my ministry I have been told I focus on the love part, the grace part, too much. People have said to me after hearing a few of my sermons, I want you to tell me I am wrong, I’m a sinner, some hellfire and brimstone. And then tell me I’m forgiven.
There are a lot of people who have been raised in the church and they have heard that message all their lives. That is what they know and so that is what they crave. They are bad. They should be ashamed. That God punishes, but punished Jesus instead so now we’re off the hook. If that is you I want to apologize on behalf of the church. Because that, to me, is a great disservice to all Jesus really wanted to accomplish and all Jesus wants for us and calls us to be.
IT’s a bit cheap, if you think about it. It comes out to, either: be really good so God will love you and you can go to heaven, and you can judge how bad, wrong, etc. everybody else is. OR: you go sin, you get forgiven, you go sin again, just so you can get that high of being forgiven again.
And to me to say those patterns are the way to be a disciple and demonstrate our love for Jesus, are like going on tinder every weekend, and thinking you have the same thing as a committed marriage.
Or like knowing you really need to work on yourself but therapy seems hard, trying to really change is asking so much, so you self-medicate with a substance, and think you are okay.
Or even, you try to be really really good and fulfill everyone’s expectations and hope no one notices how you’re hurting because you forgot to be true to yourself.
And you know what? This kind of cyclical religion or achieve it religion are a part of most people’s spiritual formation. I think you have to go through one or the other for awhile, to learn to pedal your bicycle on training wheels sort of. But then it’s time to really ride. And a lot of people get stuck with the training wheels. That’s what they know, that’s what’s safe.
But it’s not what Jesus is talking about at all- especially here, especially in the gospel of John.
What Jesus is explaining, in other words, is grace. As he talks about love commandments and the Spirit and dwelling in and with God the Father, talks about giving them a helper and being with them, he is talking about grace.
We do not have Jesus saying, if you want to have a great relationship with God, you need to do A, B and C to achieve favor with God, then D and E afterwards to show that you are grateful enough.
Jesus doesn’t say, ok make sure you memorize long lists of commandments and then practice them every day in the right order so that I will love you.
Jesus does explain the loving relationship he wants to continue with his disciples after he is gone from their sight but goes to great lengths to help them. He teaches and shows them all they need to copy while he’s on earth with them, and then prepares them for when he will be gone, then says, you know just call on my name- he said to them, in verse 14, whatever you ask for I will give to you: he offers that possibility, out of love, and then says, love me, keep loving me, here’s how. By keeping my commandments, in other words, by loving some more. And then my Father and I will come to you and dwell with you.
This is all just poured out love. It is given with no transaction in mind. Pure gift.
Grace is like this. Let’s trace the path of some size XS Bombas black socks. We have to imagine a little bit the backstory. Did you know Bombas socks are a social company, wanting to do good? The package says, for every pair purchased, a pair is given away, and to date over 37 million clothing items have been donated to homeless shelters and similar organizations. Now these are high-performance socks. I can imagine why parents have not bought up all the store-available Bombas socks because as a parent I mostly just want something in a sock for my child, where the elastic is going to last as long as my child’s foot is going to stay in them, not a high-performance sock. So there were a surplus of these socks in size XS, color black. The ones meant to be sold, on top of their siblings meant to be given away. Now the story becomes facts we know: Somehow this surplus is donated to World Vision who donates them to Cruising for Jesus who have a reputation for knowing how to give things away. Cruising for Jesus thinks of Palm UMC thanks to our developing relationship of partnering together and asks to give us a box of these socks, 250 pair. We are in the midst of a pandemic but one volunteer steps up to receive the shipment. We brainstorm a little and invite some volunteer help. A mother of 3 and very busy trying to prepare to open her own restaurant, volunteers and finds time to deliver socks to 7 families with some relationship to our church, people we are hoping to express the love of God to… even her husband joins in and gives some socks to a friend. The families appreciate this strange, unrequested gift and it is an opportunity to say, we love you, in action. The socks, imagined as one way to bring good to the world, have now blessed many levels of organization, church, and people. Another volunteer will take some to Open Gate, and there are more if anyone listening feels left out- remember they are size XS. Then remember there were several more boxes of socks given out through Crusing for Jesus and their other partners- it just goes on and on! And no one even asked to get any socks! That is a pouring out of grace, that is Jesus teaching us how to love with the help of the Holy Spirit. If you would have asked me a couple of months ago if in the midst of a pandemic I would care about socks I probably would have looked at you funny. Jesus asks for the impossible, then gives it to us. Gives us the way to live out that incredible unconditional love he has shown.
Now I want to be clear, too: Yes, we need to repent, there is an awful lot humans do wrong, but we don’t repent so God will love us. We repent because we want to love better, to better show Jesus how much we love him, after he has shown us so well he loves us. And we do it all with that companion the Holy Spirit always with us, our helper, also a gift given.
Now in this passage Jesus also mentions the world hating his followers, and there is a lot that could be said about that, but to me it all comes back to, how hard it is to let go of the transactional kind of relationship and really just receive the grace. So many just can’t get it, in the church and out. We can all forget. The spirit is here to remind us. God’s way is the way of grace. The command is to love- even if hated, to love-seemingly impossible. Yet possible by the grace of God, and with the help of the Holy Spirit. Amen.