Psalm 66:8-20, John 14:12-31
May 14, 2017
We’ve backed up a bit today. It won’t be long before we’ll be dealing with the Ascension and Pentecost. But this week I wanted to go back, back to that time in the Upper Room when Jesus was talking with his disciples, preparing them for the time ahead, the time when he would be gone.
He told them a lot of things that night. I think I’ve said before that when I was a little kid, we had, in our church pews, “Red Letter Bibles,” which were Bibles that had the words of Jesus were printed in red. (I’ve always loved Red Letter Bibles!) And I remember as a kid looking through them – usually during the sermon! I tried to find the pages with the most red letters. Well, they were right here in this portion of John’s Gospel.
Jesus said a lot of things here! And it was hard to decide where to begin this reading for today! I chose verse 12, just to give a little bit of lead-in. And I also wanted us to hear these words. “Whatever you ask in my name I will do.” I don’t want to focus on that today, but I don’t want to miss it either! It’s an important verse, and it’s one that’s often misunderstood.
Sometimes we get a little “formulaic” with that. Sometimes we feel like we want to “hold Jesus to that promise.” We make sure we end every prayer “in Jesus’ name,” – so we’ll “get what we prayed for.” But that’s not how it works. Jesus didn’t say ask anything “using” my name, like it was a password of some kind. He said, “in” my name. He said that to these men implying that they were to ask things in the context of his ministry! When we ask things “in his name,” the same thing is true. We ask things in the context of his kingdom and for his sake. Think about it. In the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus reaches the part where he is “asking for things,” he has already said, “Thy will be done!” That’s the idea here!
As I said, we could say a lot about that. And perhaps we will in future weeks. But for today, I wanted to focus on this next part. Because I wanted to piggy-back on what we talked about last week. Last week we heard Jesus asking Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And yes, there were some “charges” Jesus gave after Peter answered that question – things like “Feed my sheep.” But it was basically a question. “Do you love me?” This week we’re going back briefly to the Upper Room and we’re hearing Jesus say, “IF you love me!” (And no, that’s not a typo in the bulletin!)
That’s not a question, is it? It’s an “if/then” statement. The word “if” implies some kind of “then.” Those two words often go hand-in-hand, don’t they? “If” is the “condition.” “If something happens.” “Then” is the response to, or the “outcome,” of that condition. “If you do X, then Y will happen.” In this case, I want us to focus on verse 15, where Jesus says to his disciples, “If you love me,” (the condition) “then,” (the response) “you will keep my commandments.”
That’s what I want us to think about today. I asked you last week to hear Jesus asking you “Do you love me?” If you didn’t think about that, or if you weren’t here, I’d like you to think about that again today. Ask yourself the question, “Do you love Jesus?”
Maybe we don’t think about that enough. Maybe when we pray, we should start with that. Try that for a week. When you pray, start out by saying, “Dear God, I love you!” It’s been said that we should never pass up the opportunity to tell someone we love them. What about God? So try that! There’s your practical application for the week! Start your prayers by saying, “Dear God, I love you!”
But then of course I want to do a little more with the “thinking application.” I want you to give some thought to the response to this “If/Then” statement. “If you love me,” Jesus said, “you will keep my commandments.” So, what “Commandments” do you think he was referring to? I think there’s some sense that he was talking about the “Ten.” Remember, his disciples were all “good Jewish boys!” And they would have thought of that immediately when they heard the word “commandments.” They would have thought of the Torah! And I think it’s an easy step from there to think of Jesus referring to those as “his commandments.”
There’s more, though. If you recall, from way back on Maundy Thursday, we talked about that time in the Upper Room. I reminded you at the Agape celebration, how Jesus had the audacity that night to give those “good Jewish boys” a “New Commandment.” He was adding to the Torah! He was giving them Commandment number Eleven! And that actually happened in John’s Gospel, just before this chapter. What was the “New Commandment” – what was number Eleven? “Thou shalt… (what?) love one another, as I have loved you!”
That was it! That was the “New Commandment.” And that moment was so important, that the day became known as the “Thursday of the Commandment.” “The Thursday of the mandate – the Maundatum.” It became “Maundy Thursday.” That’s what that means!
So then, if we love Jesus, then we keep his commandments. We love one another as he loved us. Now, here’s the practical thing again. Does anybody think that’s easy? Sometimes it is. But sometimes, it’s not! People disagree! In a way, it’s especially hard for us “Presby’s!” Because we Presby’s have always believed, as a matter of principle, that “People of good conscience can differ.” That’s one of the “Historic Principles of the Presbyterian Church.” You can look it up in the “Book of Order.”
We can be of good conscience… and differ! And I’ll let you in on a little secret. From time to time, we probably will disagree. That will never stop. But! The commandment to “love one another” never stops, either! And we’re not alone. The Church in the early days differed over the Gentiles, over circumcision, over the nature of Jesus Christ. Even Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement, and even parted company! But, Jesus’ call to “love one another” never ends!
The good news is that we don’t have to do that by our strength alone! Jesus gives a further response, a further “outcome” to the “If you love me” statement. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will send you ‘another comforter’ – the Holy Spirit.” And I can just see Jesus adding, “‘Cause you’re gonna need it!”
That “comforter” was important because of the grief they would have. But it was also important because of their need for strength. They needed strength for the ministry ahead, and strength for the hardships they would suffer. But also in terms of this commandment, they would need strength to love one another even as he loved them. That spirit was promised in the context of this statement. And I think that’s no coincidence!
As we think of doing that, as we think of “loving one another,” I want to remind us that love is a matter of deciding how we feel, and choosing how we will treat one another. That’s love! You’ve heard me say that love is not a “warm fuzzy feeling.” Yes, there are wonderful feelings associated with it. But “love” is a way of treating one another!
There are two reasons that’s important. (Well there are probably many reasons, but I’m only going to tell you two.) First, loving one another makes for a church with all those great New Testament words. It makes for a Church that is uplifting, upbuilding, patient, forbearing and edifying. That’s the church we all want, we all need.
But there’s more. The very first song I ever learned to play on the guitar was the song called “One in the Spirit.” It’s also called, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love!” And that’s true. And that’s so important! A church that loves one another is noticed by the world! Well, so is a church that doesn’t, but it’s noticed in a bad way!
Our witness to the world is always seen by others in the context! It is seen “through the lens” of how we love one another! Or how we fail to love one another! We cannot forget that! As we reach out to others, it’s important that we show God’s love to them. But it’s equally important that we are seen as showing God’s love to each other! If not, it doesn’t matter how good our witness is!
So then, ask yourself again, “Do you love Jesus?” If you do, you will keep his commandment, the commandment to love one another.
Eternal God, help us to know that power of your Holy Spirit within us as we choose to love one another as you first loved us. My the world around us see that love, and seek to know it themselves. For this we pray in Jesus’ very name, Amen.