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Surrounded By Love sermon

This is the sermon for 5/17/20 for the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church. Here is the YouTube of me preaching the sermon if you're interested. The text is John 14:15-21. 
Today’s gospel is part two of Jesus’ final words to his disciples before his crucifixion. It is bookended by “Keep my commandments,” but not like the Ten Commandments. Rather, Jesus’ commandment goes back to Holy Week, to Maundy Thursday, when Jesus said to the disciples, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). Today we find Jesus’ commandments also couched in terms of love. In fact, in John’s gospel, love is the only commandment Jesus gives.

The gospel text begins talking about obedience through love. Jesus’ words begin with love and end with love. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Here and in the last verse of today’s gospel, “keep” means “to retain in custody, keep watch over, guard.” Another meaning is “to persist in obedience…observe, fulfill, pay attention to…” (Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).
           
Love of Jesus equals keeping his commandments. Keeping Jesus’ commandments equals love one another (13:34). The verb for love implies a continuing act of loving Jesus or continue to love Jesus. It’s not a once and done.

The Holy Spirit is with us forever. It is the presence of God after Jesus’ death and is translated in numerous ways: Advocate or Helper, Counselor, One who speaks for another and Companion to name a few. An advocate works on behalf of the one in need. How does that work in our society? Is that troubling to those who think they have it all together—in a culture that values self-sufficiency? And yet in today’s reality of Coronavirus, I think we feel just that much less self-sufficient, a little more aware of our neediness.

Jesus also calls the Spirit the “Spirit of truth.” The Greek word for “truth” has the sense of waking up, remembering, overcoming oblivion and stupor; being alive and vital; not being deceived by false ideas or desires or scams; seeing what is as it actually is (David Ewart, holytextures.com). Don’t we need that so very much today? How many times do we read or hear the news of yet another person, frequently an elderly person, being taken in by a scam? The latest edition of AARP’s magazine talks about recent scams, especially people taking advantage of this time of pandemic.
           
The Holy Spirit is the embodiment of divine love which is the true foundation of being, revealing Jesus and God (Eric Fistler & Robb McCoy, pulpitfiction.com). As “Comforter,” the Spirit is alongside and present. As “Counselor” and “Spirit of Truth,” the Holy Spirit teaches and reminds us of all that Jesus did and said (v. 26). As “Helper,” the Holy Spirit assists disciples everywhere with obeying Jesus’ commands and recognizing God in our midst (vv. 17, 19). As “Intercessor,” the Spirit prays for us and intervenes with God on our behalf. As “Advocate,” the Holy Spirit stands alongside us, walking with us, assisting us, and working with and for us when our faith leads us crosswise with the powers that be. We are not alone or dependent upon our own strength! (Lindsay P. Armstrong, Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship: Year A, Volume 2, Lent through Pentecost).

Jesus did not leave his disciples orphaned. Disciples without masters were often called “orphans” (O’Day). They could find a new master. Disciples of a master that was crucified would be shamed and eager to find another one. The Holy Spirit, however, is not replacing Jesus in this way. Instead, the Spirit accompanies God’s people and teaches them the truth about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, but does not replicate these events. “Rather, the Spirit discloses the presence of the risen Jesus and his Father to the community of faith” (Craig Koester, workingpreacher.org) and we are part of that community!

In these words of Jesus, we find unity through love. Because Jesus lives, we live. God is in Jesus, who is in us. Those who keep Jesus’ commandments love Jesus. Love of Jesus equals love of God equals love of Jesus. It’s like a never-ending circle. It is in love that Jesus is revealed. For example, if Jesus is abiding in you, and I love you as Jesus loves me, then I am loving Jesus who is abiding in you.

I like the way The Message describes this relationship. “In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive.” What does it feel like to know you’re “about to come alive?” What kind of anticipation does that give us? What can it mean for the church to know that we “are about to come alive?”

Then we come to a summation of love. Jesus’ followers will be loved by the Father and Jesus and receive revelation. We are invited into a dance of love--Jesus in the Father, the disciples in Jesus, Jesus in the disciples. We cannot say we love Jesus while we hold ourselves apart from our fellow human beings. This is quite the test in these days of Coronavirus and physical distancing when the best way to love is to wear a mask and keep your distance. But there are other ways to maintain closeness—call, email, write letters to loved ones. When you are out and about, wave to those out walking in your neighborhood.

The other day Ray and I were outside with the dogs, waiting to see the flyover. There was a woman out walking that we were not acquainted with. We had a great conversation, all the while maintaining physical distancing.

Gail O’Day summarizes today’s gospel this way, “To love Jesus is to keep his commandments; to keep Jesus’ commandments is to love him” (New Interpreter’s Dictionary). We have been called to a great love fest--like that of the intertwined relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is into this relationship that we have been invited. Everything we say and do as believers in Christ comes down to love. Prayer, evangelism, repentance, generosity, asking, seeking, serving, feeding, sharing---it all comes down to and flows from love. The essential, searing, all-encompassing question is, do we love one another as Jesus has loved us, or not?

Let us love one another as we have been loved. Amen.

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