Sermons are meant to be heard. There is something that gets lost in just reading one. The following sermon was written to be spoken aloud which explains why the writing is not always perfect and the punctuation is at times nonexistent. Nevertheless, I pray that it speaks to you.
May 21, 2017
A SERMON ABOUT BEING IN LOVE
I’ve had the opportunity to be with people when they knew they were close to death; when their options were exhausted, their bodies worn out, their hopes of recovery gone. And in those moments, those weeks and days before death, I’ve seen individuals get very intentional about what they say to others – and especially to those closest to them. There seems to be a need to speak words of comfort – a need to tell people “it’s going to be ok – I’m not really leaving you because I’ll always be in your heart.” There seems to be a need to remind those who love that THEY are loved. Sometimes there are instructions to be left or pieces of advice to be shared. But most of the time there is just a need to be present – to soak up every last moment – to laugh and to sing and to cry.
Jesus knew he was going to die. And in the Gospel of John we see Jesus speak final words to his disciples – much like we see people do today. We call it the Final Discourse of Jesus and it lasts for 4 chapters in John – chapters 13 – 14 – 15 – and 16. In the middle of this Final Discourse we have tonight’s lectionary text – 7 verses in the midst of 4 chapters. But in these 7 verses we learn so much about the nature of God – and the reality of relationship. We learn what it means to be surrounded by God which is to be surrounded by love. We learn what it means for Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit to be in relationship through love and how we are invited into that love relationship. And we learn this truth: when it comes down to the end - it’s all about love – it’s all about being IN God IN Spirit IN Christ IN love.
Let us pray…
God give us eyes to see and ears to hear, and hearts to understand what it is you want us to learn about you this night. We pray in the name of the risen Christ. Amen.
So, let’s begin by reading the scripture together. It’s found in John 14:15-21 and you can read it in your Bible or device or on the back of your worship guide.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
As I mentioned, Jesus is giving his Final Discourse here – and it is a mix of comfort and advice and teaching. Last week our lectionary text was from this same discourse and it started out with Jesus saying “do not let your hearts be troubled.” So he’s preparing his disciples for what life is going to be like when he is gone. But he’s not really talking to them about death but rather about going to prepare a place for them. And he’s assuring them of his presence with them – even though he won’t be with them.
So you can imagine what’s going on in the minds of the disciples as they are hearing all of this. Put yourself in their shoes. It’s a pretty disconcerting place. Their minds must have been reeling. In fact, when you read all four chapters of the discourse, if you are like me, you find yourself sitting there kinda staring out into space not sure what to make of all this information that’s flying at you. Jesus is telling them some pretty deep things. And I’m not sure they are getting it. I’m not sure WE really get it.
And then we come to our passage tonight. And the first thing we notice is the very first word “If”.
English speakers hear the word “if” and immediately hear condition. IF you break the law you will go to jail. IF you clean the garage I will make you dinner. IF you do what I want you to do then I will love you. We live in a world where people put conditions on their love and their actions all the time. I think some people believe this is how the universe works – I know what I want from you and IF I don’t get it then I will withhold something from you. Or, I know you want something from me but if you want it, YOU are going to have to do something for me. And yes, I will admit to you that this is how the world works a lot of the time. But this is not how the kingdom of God works.
But it would be a mistake to read Jesus’ statement here in verse 15 as a conditional sentence. It’s not “I will love you IF you keep my commandments.” Love is not a quid pro quo. But rather, Jesus is saying here: “This is how you love me – by keeping my commandments.”
But even then there’s a part of me that goes – huh? THIS is how I show you love – by obeying?? And immediately I’m taken back to 10th grade when I had a preacher and youth leader who talked all the time about the only way to love God was to OBEY. And on the surface that sounds good – yeah, obey and God loves you. In fact most of our society believes that’s the way God is. If you are good – you get a reward. If you are bad – you get punishment. If you obey God you get heaven. If you disobey you get hell. There is this false understanding out there that my eternal future is based somehow how well I keep God’s rules.
But I can remember sitting so many times in high school listening to those sermons and asking “Obey what?” I was not the favorite youth group member in my church. I kept asking these questions. So, if we are to obey – then let’s talk about the list. What’s on the obey list?
Well in my home town the “obey” list included: no drinking and no sex before getting married. At least those were the ones that got MY attention. But there were other “OBEY’s” that were put in place when I was growing up. Things like: come to church – even on Wednesdays. Give 10%. Don’t smoke. Don’t get divorced. Don’t go over the speed limit. The “obey” list was very long.
When I was in my first church I was serving a church that liked obey lists. But there was a staff member there that I became friends with who was breaking free from the list and he told me it started when a revival come to town and the preacher was going on and on about the rules we need to obey and finally my friend had enough and said “You know what your problem is? You are so concerned about following your rules list and making sure I follow your rule list – what happens when someone comes along who has a bigger list than you? Are they closer to God? Do they love God more? Are they loved by God more?”
It was not until I got to seminary that I finally understood what is ACTUALLY on the obey list of Jesus. He told us. It’s found in Matthew 22:3ff. Remember, the Jewish people at the time loved their rules. They had developed books of rules about how to live a life that God would bless. There were rules about how many steps you could take on a Sabbath before it was considered work. There were rules about what kind of material your clothes could be made from and what kinds of animals you could eat and how long your beard should be. They had rules about who was clean and who was unclean and rules about who to execute and who to let live when a rule was broken.
Jesus came at a time when rules ruled. They were swimming in rules. They had huge debates about the rules. And so one day one of the chief rule makers came to Jesus to try and trick him into a debate about rules. So he asked him “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment.” And Jesus said: Love the lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. So the greatest commandment is to love God.
But Jesus did not stop there. He went on to say that there is another commandment that is equal to it – a parallel commandment: love others as you love yourself. So the greatest commandment – the greatest rule – is to love God and love others.
But then Jesus added a little coda to his answer. He said On these two commandments hang all the laws and prophets. In other words, every rule and law that you can make about God cannot even exist without loving God and loving others. If your rule does not spring love then it does not count.
And with that Jesus answered the “what rules should I obey question that I was asking in High School. And he’s answered the question for us from our text. When Jesus says in our text that the way you love me is to keep my commandments – he’s saying – the way you love me is to love.
Now there’s a reason Jesus commands us to love. And this can get a little confusing so hang with me.
I John tells us that God is love. Not just that God is loving. Not just that God loves. But rather God IS love. The very nature and essence of God is love. We also know that we are created in the image of God. So we are created to love and to be IN love.
Now love is expressed in relationship. Without relationship, there is no love. Love exists in relationship. So, God is love. Love is relationship. Therefore, God is relationship. Relationship is exchange of Love and if God is LOVE – then God is exchange of Love – the giving of love back and forth.
But how does that work? If God existed before all time and since God is Love and Love is relationship, then God must have been in relationship since the beginning of time. But with who?
This is where we get the concept of the Trinity. And THIS is what Jesus is talking about in our scripture tonight. The Creator – The Son – The Spirit: all existing as God and in relationship with each other and this relationship creating a unity that Jesus describes here as being IN each other so God is in Jesus is in God is in Spirit is in Jesus. and this relationship this “in-ness” is the very definition of love.
Let me see if I can draw a crude representation of this:
If I were to label this I would label it IN LOVE.
Now, notice something amazing from the scripture passage tonight. Jesus says WE are in Christ and Christ is IN us – we are IN Spirit and the Spirit is IN us. We are IN God and God is IN us.
The reality of life is that we are IN Love. We are swimming in it.
But we don’t believe this. We have bought into the lie of separation. We usually think of ourselves as being outside of this relationship but the reality is that we have been invited into it. And the way into it is through Jesus.
And so here in the final discourse of Jesus he is telling his disciples and us that HE is the way – the truth and the life. That HE is the way into this relationship. HE is the truth that we are IN God and God is IN us. HE is the life – the reality of life that is lived in relationship with God. And knowing this changes everything.
Well, it should change everything.
But it seems we would rather live our lives intentionally outside of God and denying reality. I would call this sin.
OR, alternatively, we live our lives trying to get IN by following a rules list instead of Christ – by creating a bigger list than the person next to us – instead of living in love.
So when Jesus says to his disciples and to us – follow my commandments – he is saying “Live in the reality of love. Live in the reality of being in relationship with God and others. Live in love.”
What does living IN live look like?
1. We live a life based on the logic of love. We always ask “is it loving”? Our default is the logic of love.
2. Power and control are not a factor in our lives because power and control are not loving. Instead, we give up power and control just as Jesus did.
3. Living IN love means living in truth. Jesus says in this passage that living this kind of life will mean that we are in the Spirit and the Spirit in us and the Spirit is truth. So when we see lies about power and control we will know the truth. When we hear lies about our worth we will know the truth. When we speak lies to other people we will be convicted of truth. When people lie to us we will be comforted by truth.
4. Living in love looks like Jesus. It’s not some mystical union but is expressed in action. Living in love feeds the hungry, heals the sick, treats women with equality, touches he untouchable, fights abuses of power, washes feet, fights against living a life of rules and regulations. Living in love looks like Jesus.
This learning to live in love is not something that happens overnight. It’s not something that you hear one sermon about and then *Snap* you’ve got it. This is our lifelong journey – to learn to live in the realty of God’s love. Maybe that journey starts for you tonight. Maybe you just need a little encouragement to keep on going. But wherever you are on this journey to love – may tonight be a reminder to keep going – keep learning – keep growing in the realization that you are IN love.
Let us pray…