Practicing Resurrection: Loving One Another – John 14.15-21

May 25, 2014 – 6th Sunday of Easter

Introduction: Today’s reading from John is part of what is known as Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” his final message to his disciples. It runs from chapter 14 through the end of chapter 16. Jesus’ friends are slowly awakening to the imminent death of their teacher and friend. They are wondering what the last few years with him have been about. Have their time and efforts been pointless? Their future, as followers of Jesus, is uncertain. They’re scared and anxious and already feeling abandoned. It is to this sense of abandonment that Jesus speaks his promise of hope.

In Holy Week, we have already been through the death of Jesus and we are now in Eastertide when we celebrate the wonder of resurrection. Next week we will hear the story of Jesus’ return to God–what we call the Ascension. Mark will preach on that strange story; one that we contemporary thinkers barely know what to do with.

Reading this story this morning about Jesus’ disciples wondering what they will do when Jesus is gone presents a similar context for us. We don’t live in a time where Jesus is present physically. And so how do we live in a time where Jesus seems to be absent?

As I always say when I’m preaching from John, remember that in this gospel, Jesus uses the language of Father for God as the language of healthy, life-giving familial intimacy, the close and loving relationship of a beloved parent and beloved child. This is the relationship that Jesus has with God and this is the intimate relationship we too can have with God because of Jesus.

In our day we can use “Mother” as a parallel for “Father.” In the first century, this would not have been equivalent to using “Father” as an image for God because of the low status of women. But with a greater equality between mothers and fathers and a movement toward more equal social standing for women and men, I think we can use “Mother” as an equally important parental image for God.

In this reading I will use Father as it’s written and will use “she” for the Spirit since in both Hebrew and Greek the word for Spirit is female.

This is Jesus speaking to his disciples: [READ John 14.15-21]

The disciples were concerned about what would happen to them—when Jesus was no longer with them. And Jesus promised God would send the Advocate. The Greek word is paraclete. The NRSV translates that Greek word as “Advocate” or “Helper” but it’s one of those Greek words that no one English word really contains. The Greek word paraclete also means Comforter (KJV), Counselor (RSV), Companion (CEB), Friend (The Message). We use it to refer to the Holy Spirit but notice Jesus says, God “will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” Jesus, too, is a paraclete, a Comforter, Compassion and Friend. But in this passage, Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit who will come and be with the disciples forever.

“Now the Spirit was not a new idea or late addition to the Godhead, like some postscript. All through the Hebrew Scriptures there are references to the Spirit: from the Wind passing over the waters at the beginning of creation to dry bones in Ezekiel having new life breathed into them. Everywhere the Spirit is present, saturating the world with the Divine presence. Through all time—from before the beginning and at least to the end—in all situations—from troubled turmoil to quiet joy—the Spirit of God hovers.”[1]

“I will not leave you orphaned” Jesus says. So even when Jesus is no longer with the disciples, the Spirit is present. Jesus assures the disciples “they will not be alone in their efforts to live a life shaped by love.”[2] Because this is the teaching that Jesus leaves with the disciples: “The sign of faithfulness to Jesus’ commandments is to live a life of love grounded in Jesus’ own love.”[3]

To live a life of love grounded in Jesus’ own love is not some theoretical concept or a warm fuzzy feeling. How did Jesus love? By touching lepers, eating with outcasts, healing the sick, confronting injustice, teaching a way of life grounded in the value of all people and sharing one’s gifts for the good of all. That’s what love is about. That’s what a life grounded in the love of Jesus is about.

Nancy Ramsay, who used to teach at Louisville Seminary and now teaches at Brite Divinity School, says, “Surely this promise, that the Spirit who continues Jesus’ ministry of…love now dwells in us, is as important [today] as it was in the first century.”[4] “John’s Gospel was written in an age of empire, for people surrounded by agents of the emperor, military might and the ready weapons to enforce imperial power.”[5] We may not experience the crushing domination of empire in the same way as disciples did in the first century but we know other kinds of life-sucking realities. “For some it is the deadly rush of our lives; for others it is the inability to move. For some it is the prison of our possessions; for others the crushing poverty that dooms our children to more of the same.”[6] For some it is the intoxication of power; for others the humiliation of abuse.

Yet “the reality that love creates”—the love Jesus calls us to live—“the reality that loves creates discloses to us the truth that God calls us to be neighbors—to recognize in the ‘other’ one whom God also loves and calls us to love.”[7]

So as we practice resurrection, what does this love look like? What shape does it take in our lives? What reality does it create in the world?

What shape does it take with our money? What does the record of how we spend and save and give our money reveal about the love Jesus calls us to live? In the way we use our money, what is the reality that is created?

Having just had primary elections this past week, what shape does love take in our voting? Do we vote on behalf of those who have no voice in our political system? Do we vote on behalf of children and people who are undocumented? Those who are just like us or on behalf of the wide diversity of the human family? What do our choices in the voting booth reveal about the love Jesus calls us to live?

What shape does love take in our time? Many of us are working more than ever. We see people around us losing their jobs and so we’re driven by fear to try and do more and more so we won’t be next in the unemployment line. On the other hand, because we’re so stressed out, we often numb out with mindless television programs or computer games or endless social media. Or we have too much empty time and we spend more of our time worrying about that. In any of these circumstances, the time we spend nurturing our life with God and caring for our life with others is likely to suffer. How do we use our time in service of ourselves and for the people God has entrusted in our lives and the community that we are part of? How might our time reflect the reality of love in which Jesus calls us to live?

There’s no one answer to any of this. And for many of us, these are questions we wrestle with through much of our lives as the world around us and our own circumstances change. I think that wrestling and prayerful exploration is part of what is it to grow in maturity in Christian faith and so perhaps we can welcome that struggle to let love live in our lives.

And as we’ve said so many times, and the Scripture is clear, we don’t do this alone. Jesus tells the first disciples–and tells us–we are not left alone to figure this all out. We are not left orphaned. We are accompanied in our living–if we are open to the Spirit. So we lean on the Spirit in order to practice resurrection–in order to live lives shaped by love—grounded in the love of Jesus.

* * *

[1] Jane Larsen-Wigger, Sermon on John 14.15-21, April 27, 2008.
[2] Nancy Ramsay, “Pastoral Perspective” for John 14.15-21, Feasting on the Word, year A, vol. 2, eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), p490.
[3] Gail O’Day, “John,” New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), p747.
[4] Ramsay, p492.
[5] Ibid., p490.
[6] Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, (Harper San Francisco, 2006), p226.
[7] Ramsay, p492.

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