6 Easter C ~ Fr. Ray Kasch ~ May 5, 2013
Lessons – Acts 14:8-18; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:22-22:5; St. John 14:23-29
I was listening to an interview on NPR of a songwriter who wrote a song about a pregnant suicide bomber. I have no idea why she was moved to write such a song but what jumped out at me in the interview was that she said that she was very careful when she wrote it to not take sides or to be judgmental. Now just let that sink in for a moment. She has become so darkened in her mind by the unholy trinity of secular tolerance, secular diversity and secular love that she cannot bring herself to say that it is evil for a pregnant woman to blow up herself, her unborn child and innocent bystanders. Please don’t misunderstand, tolerance, diversity and love are important Christian values but not as this girl understands them. She is a product of a culture that does not comprehend that there are absolutes, there are standards, there are divine laws and that following them, as well as requiring others to do so, is not judgmental or unloving. In fact quite the opposite, living by the truth is actually a way to walk in love.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes this point very directly to His disciples. “Those who love me will keep my word…” or as it is more forcefully translated in in the English Standard Version, “Those who love me will keep my commandments.”
But wait a minute! I thought love was supposed to be unconditional. How can Jesus link obedience to love?
Let me use the example of marriage to show how love and obedience are not contradictory ideas, that unconditional love has standards and absolutes by which to live. When you take the wedding vows you promise to love, honor and cherish. And then you describe how unconditional your love will be. It will be for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health. This is a promise that changes of circumstances will not change your commitment. That is unconditional love, right?
But once having made that vow of unconditional love is your spouse then free to speak to you or treat you any way they like? Since you have promised to love them unconditionally can they step out on you with someone else? Of course not. When someone abuses you or cheats on you, they have broken their vows to love, honor and cherish. They cannot say that if you love them unconditionally then they can behave however they like. But you have every right to demand of them, that if they love you unconditionally, then they will keep their vows.
Jesus doesn’t just stop there at linking love and obedience. He takes it a step further. He says, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them and we will come and make our home with them.” So obedience not only demonstrates our love but obedience creates a deeper relationship. “We will come and make our home with them.”
The most famous verse in the Bible, you would agree, is John 3:16. In that verse we are told that God loves the world. But does everyone in the world have a relationship with God? Of course not. Why not? According to what Jesus tells us here it is because they do not keep His Word. So there is a link between love and obedience and having a relationship with someone.
I saw this played out in a recent documentary. It was told from a grandfather’s perspective. He was present at the birth of his granddaughter and through the years they had a very close relationship. There was no husband in the mother’s life so he was the important male figure. The granddaughter hit some rebellious years and at 14 she hooked up with a 19 year old who led her astray. When the mother reported the 19 year old to the sheriffs department the two teens, who thought that they were so in love, decided the only way to be together forever was to kill the mother, which they did. Of course they were arrested and found guilty and are in prison and ironically will never be together again. When the grandfather was interviewed you could see how divided he was because while he still loved his granddaughter, given what she had done, a relationship with her was no longer possible. He had to make peace with that reality. It made me wonder if God does not grieve in a similar manner over this world that He made and loves and yet this world has made a relationship impossible with Him because of its disobedience.
It is here that the Good News comes in. The disobedience of the world had made a relationship with God impossible so the Son of God makes the impossible possible. He demonstrates His love by being perfectly obedient to the Father, even to the death upon the cross. Now it is through His obedience that we can have a relationship with God.
Here is a problem. Some people, when they hear the term “obedience” think of it as a burdensome concept. God says “If you want a relationship with Me you then have to follow the rules” and now it is up to us to learn and obey”. A heavenly version of “Because I said so, that’s why.” But instead of that perspective, if we see obedience as a response to God’s love that produces a deeper relationship with Him, then it need not be burdensome at all.
When I was a kid I hated to do my chores mostly because, from my childish perspective, I was only doing them to avoid punishment. Do your chores or else. As an adult I still have chores, but most of the time I don’t hate them because most of the time I do them out of love. For example I know that it pleases Beth to come home to a clean kitchen or a mowed yard and so I do them because I love her and want to please her, not to avoid punishment………okay maybe a little to avoid punishment but mostly out of love.
This is how it can be in our relationship with God and that is why the idea of obedience does not need to be a burdensome concept. The promise of closer communion gives us a higher motivation for obedience. So for example Jesus told us to be baptized. So we get baptized principally to avoid hell, right? No! We choose to obey Him because God promises that we will be united with Jesus in His resurrection. We receive the Blessed Sacrament each week because we believe it is a mortal sin to miss it, right? No! We receive it each week so that “we may dwell in Him and He in us.” We can gather together begrudgingly or we can gather with the expectation that when two or three or three are gathered together in His Name, that He will be in the midst of us. Do you see the difference? The promise of the Father and the Son coming to make their homes with us, when we keep God’s word, moves obedience from “because I said so, that’s why” to obedience out of joy and an expectation of a closer communion with God.
So far so good, but when we begin to unpack Jesus’ commandments, things can become complicated. Why? Because not all of His commandments are easy to follow. In fact none of them are.
Right after the bombing in Boston and the murder of the policeman by the Muslim terrorists, I was filling up my truck at a gas station when two men who were clearly from the Middle East pulled in front of me. I shocked myself with how strong my reaction to them was. My reaction of course was sinful and because it was not in line with Jesus’ command for us to pray for our enemies. (That is what motivated me to add the prayer for our enemies in our bulletin). But when you think of the lives lost and changed forever by these Muslim terrorists, it is a hard thing to do. That is why Jesus’ next statement to His disciples is so very, very important. He said, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
What He is telling us here is that we are not left to our own devices to walk in obedience and I for one am eternally grateful for that. In two weeks the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit and in this text Jesus tells us of His coming. The Father is sending the Spirit in Jesus’ name and so we are not going to receive some impersonal power. Luther called him “alter Christus” or another Christ because He is the Spirit of Jesus. Jesus calls him “Paracletos” which is translated here as “Advocate.” A Paraclete is someone who comes along side of you to be your friend and helper and aide. It’s like having a really good friend who is also a lawyer and so not only can he give you moral support but he actually has the authority to get you out of a jam.
So Jesus does not just give us a pile of commandments, like pray for our enemies, and then abandons us to figure out how to do that. He gives us the commands and then sends us the Holy Spirit to empower us to do what He has commanded. This also shows us how much Jesus loves us. That He would send such a Helper to ensure that we succeed in doing what He wants us to do. Obedience leads to deeper communion and the Spirit is sent to ensure our obedience so that Jesus can dwell with us and us with Him.
Lastly in these instructions to His disciples, Jesus promises them peace. He says that He gives peace like the world cannot offer. The peace that the world offers is an absence of conflict but that is such an illusive peace. Why is it so illusive? Because you have no control over others to prevent conflict. You have no control over a terrorist nation or a disrespectful boss or the idiot on your bumper on I 40. The only way to keep people from being angry with you or from disagreeing with you or being offended by you is to live in a cave. Jesus does not offer that kind of peace.
His peace is not an absence of conflict; it is peace in the midst of conflict. It is Daniel in the lion’s den, it is Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego in the fire, it is Stephen with a glowing face before he was stoned. Anglican priest John Newton is famous for writing the hymn Amazing Grace but he is also known for his love letters to his wife Mary. He saw her as a work of grace in his life and he prayed to precede her in death. God did not answer his prayer but God did give him the grace to preach the Sunday sermon on the day she died. The next day he visited with his flock and on the day of her funeral he both officiated and preached the homily. He said, “The Bank of England is too poor to compensate for such a loss as mine. But the Lord, the all-sufficient God, speaks and it is done. Let those who know Him, and trust Him, be of good courage. He can give them strength according to their day. He can increase their strength as their trials increase…and what He can do He has promised that He will do.”
That is the kind of peace that Jesus promises to leave us. Not a peace that comes from an absence of problems but a peace that comes in the midst of them. It is a peace that comes from trusting the One who has come to make His home with us.
God is love but God is also light and as followers of Jesus we are called to walk in the light of His truth. He gives us His commandments to show us the way and He sends us His Spirit so that we not only know His will but also have the power to obey. The fruit of this relationship is peace that comes through trust. That is why I put the picture of the T-shirt on the front of the bulletin. It is so true. No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace. Amen.