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May 1, 2005 (Easter VI)

Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg

John 14:15-21

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
 

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments," Jesus says in today's gospel reading. If you are steeped in Lutheran tradition and theology, as I am, this sentence may be a hard pill to swallow. I know that it makes me uncomfortable. Because it seems like a conditional sentence: "If you love me..." As Lutherans, as Christians, we are assured that God loves you wholly and unconditionally, and that there is nothing that we need to do to earn God's love--in fact, there is nothing we can do. God's love is given freely and without restraint to all God's people--whether we keep those commandments or not. So why would Jesus say "If you love me you will keep my commandments"?

Well, I would like everyone to think for a moment. How do you really know that someone loves you? We likely all have people who tell us they love us, but how do you really know? We know that someone loves us by their actions--how they treat you, what they do, more than what they say shows you that you are loved. And, when you are loved in that way, aren't you more likely to reciprocate with loving actions yourself, and then the person loves you back and it is a wonderful back and forth of love and loving actions. Like that, when Jesus says "If you love me you will keep my commandments," he isn't demanding proof of your love, but rather something that is a result of the love that God has already shown you.

So, Jesus says "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

There are many commandments: of course, the "Big Ten" but also many other commandments and laws in the Old Testament. Which commandments is Jesus referring to here? Remember that he said the two greatest commandments are to "love the lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself."

There are many ways in your life that you show that you love God--you come to worship, you may pray, read and study the Bible, fellowship with other people of faith. But when it comes to loving the "neighbor" is when it gets sticky, doesn't it? Because that is such a broad commandment, and sometimes we just don't know what to do. The disciples had Jesus to turn to, to watch and to ask questions of. But we are in a different situation. We can't run to talk directly to Jesus when we have a conflict or a question. We can't pick up the phone or IM him on the computer. In a very real way, we feel the absence of Jesus in our lives.

I recently finished a book called Loving Jesus by Mark Allen Powell. Dr. Powell is a professor of New Testament at Trinity seminary. This book is part spirituality handbook and part spiritual autobiography. In one chapter Dr. Powell discusses the absence of Jesus. He writes about a conversation he had with someone in which he was asked "what does it feel like to be a Christian." As a seminary professor he was likely more used to fielding questions on Biblical interpretation, theology or doctrine, but this person wanted to know what it felt like to be a Christian. Dr. Powell answered, "it's like being in love with someone who has gone away." And this is where I wish he had gone further, because although Jesus has definitely gone away that isn't the end of the story. Dr. Powell did discuss the various ways we celebrate and acknowledge the presence of Christ--in the gathered faithful, in the bread and wine of communion, in the water of baptism--we know that Christ is truly present there. And we do live with the absence of Jesus, but as he said in today's gospel, he did not leave his disciples, did not leave us "orphaned."

Jesus says that he will ask God to send another "to be with you forever"--an Advocate, the Paraclete, the spirit of truth. Jesus promises he will ask God to send the Holy Spirit to be with the disciples and with the faithful "forever." Now, we Lutherans don't talk about the Holy Spirit much, as a rule. For some it's a little 'woo woo', a little 'other worldly', a little hard to define. And you, like me, may be a little uncomfortable around Pentecostal-types when they talk about being in touch with the Holy Spirit, praying in Spirit, healing in the Spirit--it all can seem a little sketchy...and maybe a little too "touchy-feely." That is a real expression and experience of the Holy Spirit for many, and maybe for some of you. I find joy in hearing about the joy that others experience in this way, but it's just not me. I first encountered this when I went to summer camp when I was about 12. I went with a friend to a non-denominational camp for a week and the program included altar calls and praise and worship singing--it was a very emotional time. I do remember that when I got home and my mom asked how it was, I was less than enthusiastic in my response and more than a little confused, because I just didn't get it. I didn't have the intense experience of the Holy Spirit that many others did. And so I thought that the Holy Spirit just wasn't for me.

Today's gospel gives us a different image of the Holy spirit, however. The Greek word used--paraclete--may help because it means one who helps, by consoling, encouraging, or mediating on behalf of. The Holy Spirit we hear about in the gospel is one we can turn to for consolation, encouragement, help, mediation. In this section of John there is no mention of the Holy Spirit giving the gift of tongues or healing or ecstasy, although they are mentioned in other places in the Bible and are very real to many people--maybe to some of you. What we have today is Jesus' promise that he will ask God--the loving parent--to send another Advocate to be with the disciples "forever."

I am relieved to discover that there is a Holy Spirit for us quiet folk. Do you feel close to the Holy spirit? Do you have those expressive gifts we hear about in the writings of Paul? If so, I rejoice with you and for you. But, if you're like me, and all of that seems like it isn't part of your reality, than take heart because you are not alone--you at least have me for company. And the two of us have the Holy Spirit--the Holy Spirit that brings gifts and comfort, consolation and encouragement to all of God's people. My prayer for each of you is that you are able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in whatever way it speaks, and that you are able to discern the direction and the path God is urging you to take.

Amen.


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