“If You Love Me…”   Based on John 14: 15-21

15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.18 No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. 19 Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. 20 When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.21 Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.” John 14:15-21 (NLT)

 This Gospel reading is a continuation of the gospel reading from last week, and really has to be considered as part of that whole conversation for it to fully make sense.   It’s from what has come to be known as Jesus’ farewell discourse.   Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he will no longer be physically with them.  He knows his time to leave is close, and that they disciples have come to depend on him.  They left their lives behind to follow him, for three years they travelled with Jesus, and soon he would leave them.  So of course, they will be upset and lost without his earthly presence, and he is reassuring them that they will not be alone, that he will not leave them bereft.  Jesus tells them not to be troubled, but to believe in God and in him, because he is going to his Father’s house, where there are many dwelling places, and they will know where he is going.  When they ask him how they will know,  Jesus tells them that he is the way, the truth and the life, and that he is in the Father and the Father in him.  And if they have trouble understanding how that can be, he says, think of the amazing works they have seen him do—things which only one with the power of the Almighty could possibly do.

And today’s gospel reading begins with Jesus saying:  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

So, let’s do our own review:   What did Jesus command us to do?

  • To love the Lord your God:
  • To love yourself, your neighbours, your enemies
  • heal the sick, feed the hungry, visit the prisoners
  • preach the word; baptize and teach
  • pray unceasingly
  • and the new commandment he gave his disciples on the day we now call Maundy Thursday: that they love one another as Jesus loved them.  A commandment of loving service to others, and he showed them how to do that by washing their feet, the job of the lowliest of servants.

Why do we do these things?   Well, verse 21 gives us a clue:

“Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

So, I had to give this some thought, at first glance it’s like Jesus is saying if you do what Jesus wants, and obey, both Jesus and God will love you and be with you.  And that’s a good thing because it’s always good to be on the good side of the Almighty!  That makes God sound like someone fearful, if I do right the right thing, I stay on the right side of God, and then God will love me.  That makes our relationship with God as one based solely on obeying because God’s the powerful one: so a relationship based on fear of reprisal.  Which would also make God’s love conditional upon what we do, and so by doing good things, we can earn God’s love.  Now, that can’t be right, we know that’s not God’s way!  This is the problem of focusing only a piece of scripture.  You can really get caught up if you put too much emphasis on just a few verses, and lose sight of the bigger picture and the complete message.

We know that Jesus loves us regardless of what we do; and that God forgives us no matter what.  We cannot earn God’s love, just by doing the right thing.   Think about it in terms of being a parent.  Your kids will makes mistakes, do wrong things, sometimes even to you.  And you don’t love them less for it, you don’t stop loving them, you might even love them more, because that means they need even more love to get past or even overcome whatever the issue is.  Now, think of someone you love, past or present – a child, spouse, parent, sibling, even a dear friend.  Now, think of the things you do for that person out of love for that person, not just because you have to, but because you want to, because you love them.  You do things –or maybe don’t do some things as an expression of your love.  It’s living out your love.  And if we can do that, as mere human beings, think how much more the Lord God, the one who created us loves us!  We were, after all, created in God’s own image.  There is a piece of God within each of us!

Living Jesus’ way, is to live out our love for Jesus, for God, by living out our faith.  It is acting on Jesus’ teaching, it’s an expression of our love for God, the one who created us, our heavenly parent, the one from whom all blessings flow, and for Jesus, the one who redeemed the world by giving his life for humanity.  Living our lives by Jesus’ commandments is who we are as Christians, as God’s children, living not just to and for ourselves, but for the coming about of God’s Kingdom.   And God knows that’s not always easy.  So, Jesus told his disciples “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.”  (verse 16) He would not leave the alone, bereft of his presence. Who this other Advocate?  -yes, the Holy Spirit. So that means Jesus was the First Advocate. The first letter of John chapter 2 verse 1 clarifies this for us:  “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and he is the atoning sacrifice of our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” So, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both advocates for God.   Jesus knew he was leaving the earth, so he arranges with God to have another one take his place, while they took Christ’s mission into the future.

Ok so what is an advocate, what does an advocate do? A very legal sounding term isn’t it!  According to the Oxford on line dictionary, an advocate is a person ‘who puts (forward) a case on someone else’s behalf’[1].  So someone who stands up for you, is a representative for you, someone who is there for you when you need them, called to be at your side.  Some more modern biblical translations use the word comforter, encourager, or counsellor instead of advocate.   When we do God’s work, when we do what Jesus commands, Holy Spirit, God’s Advocate is with us, to comfort, to defend, to encourage and stand up for us, be a supporter for us.  Almost like having the best lawyer possible there alongside us—almost.  Except Holy Spirit is better even than the fanciest lawyer, because this advocate comes through Jesus, directly from God.   The Greek word for advocate is “paraklete”.  Let’s break this word down.  ‘Para’ means with or along-side.  As in the word paralegal-that’s someone who works along with a lawyer.  “klete” comes from the Greek word ‘kaleo’ meaning to call.  The Holy Spirit, the Paraklete is the one Jesus called to be alongside us.  We are not alone.

The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Truth….”(17a) Jesus said.  And Jesus told the disciples he was the way the truth and the life, so the Spirit of Truth, is the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of Jesus.    And you know this Spirit, Jesus tells them, because the Spirit abides with them, is in them, in us and among us, giving us the life and light of Christ to lead us and guide us.  Some of God’s Spirit is within each one of us, but it can get buried behind the busyness, the complexity of our lives.  It can get so covered up, that we can lose touch with it, and feel like God’s no longer with us. It’s a bit like searching for a particular photograph,  that one special picture that you remember.  But you haven’t seen it for a while, because it’s been covered up by all the old photo albums and the newer albums and the kids and grandkids pictures, the pictures of the pets and the flower gardens.  But you know it’s there in that cupboard, somewhere! And it’s going to take some work to find it.  Getting in touch with our souls, that part of God that’s within ourselves takes effort.  You have to take the time to get beneath the layers of self imposed stuff and find it.  And then commit to spending some time renewing that relationship with God, with Jesus, and feel the strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit. This might be a good time to clean out the ‘cupboard of your soul’ while still tucked away in your covid induced isolation!

I’ve heard from many of you that after nine weeks of this isolation, it’s starting to get to you.  Me too!  Ask the Holy Spirit to come alongside!  Take time for prayer each day, read some scripture, sit quietly and listen to your favourite hymns or other religious music—whatever touches your soul.   You could try meditating, there are lots of books or apps to help —  or read a spiritually inspired book.  Most importantly, spend time in prayer, open your heart to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is with you, alongside you—as comforter, advocate, encourager and supporter.  You haven’t been orphaned!

Let me end with the words our Lord used to reassure his disciples:

23“All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. 26…the Holy Spirit… will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14. nlt)  Amen

The Rev’d. JoAnn Todd,, May 18, 2020

[1] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/advocate?q=advocate