love, the only…

a sermon, based on John 14.15-21, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 21, 2017

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments…They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”

In this Easter season, as we continue to contemplate the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection, today, we are invited to consider the immediate, incarnate, in-the-flesh-of-our-daily-living connection between loving Jesus and being obedient to Jesus. Thus, it is important to ask, “What commandments?” And Jesus reminds that it is easy to remember, for there is only one: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[1] Lest we miss the point, he tells us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[2]

Love – and though we’ve said and shared this many times before, let us recall that by “love” we are not talking about our feelings about others or our affections for others, but rather the power to act in benevolent regard on behalf of others – is the only commandment of Jesus…

Love is the only measure of obedience to Jesus…

Therefore, at the proverbial end and beginning and middle of every day, there is only one question that a disciple, a follower, a lover of Jesus need ask: How did I love and (given our human weakness, unable always to fulfill our best intentions, and our human waywardness, able always to follow our self-interest) how did I not love?

To ask and answer this question, honestly, confessionally, especially the “not” part, is to open ourselves to judgment. Yet, praise God, this judgment is not that often most debilitating human disapproval of us by others or, at times, even worse, ourselves! No! This is the judgment of Jesus. The One who loves us unconditionally! The One who died for us self-sacrificially! The One who was raised from the dead for us that we have life eternally![3] And whenever Jesus points a judging finger at us it is always to help us see more clearly who we are, where we are in relation to him, all so that he can call us to come closer to him. How close? Abidingly, abundantly, inseparably, interminably close: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…(who) abides with you, and…will be in you.”[4]

“Advocate”, from the Greek parakletos, variously translated comforter, counselor, teacher, testifier, and, literally, one who comes alongside. Jesus, the Word of God in flesh,[5] was, is our first Advocate. Because of Easter, because of the resurrection of Jesus, he promised to send and has sent another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whose coming we will commemorate two Sundays from now on the Day of Pentecost, who, as God’s presence and power, abides within us.

It is by, for, in, through, with (pick any preposition, the truth is the same!) the Holy Spirit that we can love Jesus and can keep his commandments and can ask ourselves that critical question “How have I loved and how have I not loved today?” and can place ourselves under his judgment and all that we can believe, can know that we are loved by God now through eternity.

Because of the everlasting Easter-love of God in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, let us in gratitude declare again, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”

 

Footnotes:

[1] John 13.34-35

[2] John 15.12-13

[3] Here, I have in mind the Apostle Paul’s grand declaration that the One who can (is able to) condemn us is the same One who has saved us, thus, we need not, need never fear: If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?…I am convinced that…(nothing) in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.31b-35a, 38a, 39b, abridged and amended).

[4] My emphasis

[5] See John 1.1, 14a: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

 

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4 thoughts on “love, the only…

  1. Thank you Paul! I read this a few hours ago before I left my camping excursion. I thought about your question as I took the scenic drive home alone. I had been with quite a few people and it was hard to get a minute to think. So it was good to be able to think this afternoon. I’m grateful that God’s presence and power lives within me, AND that he loves unconditionally.

    I have NOT loved in all ways over the last couple of weeks. I haven’t felt like myself, and I wonder if God would be disappointed in me. I need to see more clearly, see myself more closely – so I welcome the fact that Jesus was our first Advocate. I guess I hadn’t looked at it that way, But I sure need an Advocate. The Holy Spirit is something that has always been somewhat confusing for me – so as another Advocate, I wonder what the Holy Spirit looks and feels like?? Is it when people get “happy” in church? Do you not have the Holy Spirit if you don’t feel something significant? People say that there’s a great spirit within me. But what does that really mean.

    I distinctly remember when Tim died feeling a certain calmness and peace as I walked out of the hospital not quite sure what to do next. At first I thought I was peaceful because I knew he died without pain. I kept feeling “this is going to be ok.. we will be ok”… but then I thought,… maybe God is trying to tell me something. Is that the Holy Spirit? Lifting us up when we are at our lowest? Now that another milestone date has past in our “year of firsts” I hope that I will get back to paying more attention to how I love and NOT love. But I guess the beauty of all this (and the end of my rambling) is that either way God will still love me forever.

    Much love!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Much love! That is first and foremost what I wish and want to convey to you!

      Loretta, you ask profoundly, wondrously grand questions about the workings of the Holy Spirit…

      I think, I believe that Holy Spirit is at work when bringing to our remembrance the words and teachings of Jesus; that, primarily, being about love (unconditional benevolence for all).

      That said, I do NOT believe God is disappointed in or with you, for you daily strive to serve God in your loving (acting kindly on behalf of) others.

      Be at peace, dear Loretta,
      Paul

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Loretta, this morning I reread your initial reply to the sermon. Again I say you raise provocative and important questions about the nature and work of the Holy Spirit. As we approach the Day of Pentecost, this year, on June 4, I will think more about your wonderment!

    Also, again I say, God is not disappointed in or with you. As my mama would say, always about those in whom she perceived the presence and working of the Spirit, you’re a special one.”

    Love

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m guessing you could do an entire series on “what the Holy Spirit is for me”! at Epiphany Laurens!! I’d have to drive down for that one!!! Thanks for you confirmation that God isn’t disappointed in me. It’s difficult to be loving to everyone on every day. I realized after I sent my original reply that sometimes I DO love simply by NOT expressing my feelings in the moment which could bring hurt to someone else. I think that counts too!!

      Much love!

      Like

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