Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Do You Love Him?” (John 14:15-16)
May 21, 2017
We had only been married a few weeks. It was our second year of seminary and we both worked, went to school full time, and were adapting to being married. A couple days a week we would see each other in the morning and then late in the evening. One night after work, I got home around 9:15 pm and knew Amanda wouldn’t be home for another hour and half. I was hungry and wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do for dinner (I was just learning how to cook). When I got home, there was a note from Amanda on the kitchen counter. She wrote, “A few things…1) I love you. 2) Your dinner is in the fridge. 3) There is a beer mug in the freezer.” Now, I could have asked Amanda to make me dinner or I could’ve asked that she save me something she made. But I didn’t have too. Amanda loved me and so before I could even ask she served, cared for, and did something for me. Her love for me compelled her to take care of me. This is not confined to marriage. Many of us are in relationships where our love for someone means we listen to them when they ask us to do something or are in need. For some of us love for people, means we show up at lunch bunch on Saturdays or the soup kitchen during the week or head to another country to build a home for a family in need. Love is the greatest motivator for action and that is what this gospel passage is about. Jesus is calling us to obey him not to earn his grace but because his love empowers our obedience and service.
In today’s gospel reading, for the second time in a few verses, we hear Jesus giving commands. If we aren’t careful, we will totally misunderstand our Lord and hear a command to perform when really it is a call to love. The first way we misunderstand this passage is if we flip the words around. Instead of reading, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” we read “If you keep my commandments, I will love you.” The first reading is pure gospel the second is pure works righteousness. Jesus isn’t making fulfilling his commands part of our salvation. He is saying a sign of our salvation will be a love that desires to fulfill his commands. The second way we misunderstand this passage is if we don’t pay attention to the grammar. The next verse begins with “And.” How many of us when we first learned composition got papers back with big red circles and notes that said, “Never start a sentence with And, But, or any other conjunction.” All the English teachers say amen. Well the New Testament was not written in English it was written in Greek. In the Greek for vv. 15-17 it is one long sentence. Verse 15 and 16 are related and verse 16 is crucial for to a proper understanding of verse 15. It reads, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” Now the word “Advocate” may also be translated “comforter,” “companion,” or “helper.” If we don’t connect verse 16 to verse 15, we are left thinking that the only way we can keep Jesus’ commands is based on our own love and let’s face it, there are so many times when our love for God falters. If that was what Jesus was saying, this would really be a cruel taunt. Thankfully, what Jesus says here is that if we call ourselves Christians, it means we love Jesus and want to follow him and obey him. It means we’ve turned our lives over to him. It also means that, as St. Paul said, when we are faithless, He is faithful. The love that we have for the Lord is only there because he gave it to us. When he is ascended and with the father, Jesus will send the Advocate the Helper who will be at work in our hearts giving us the strength, courage, and love to serve Jesus Christ.
In 2009, Dateline ran a debate titled, “Does Satan Exist?” The participants sound like the beginning of a bad joke: Mark Driscoll an evangelical megachurch pastor, Annie Lobert who founded the organization Hookers for Jesus, Deepak Chopra, and former pentecostal megachurch pastor and now universalist Bishop Carlton Pearson. It was a good debate and Dateline was respectful of everyone’s positions. There was one particular exchange that to me showed the big difference between the gospel and all other forms of religion or self-help gimmicks. Annie Lobert who spent years as a prostitute was sharing her testimony. As she described how she got out of prostitution and was freed, she said something close to this “I knew that the strength I had to get out, the power I had to change my life, came from outside of me from somewhere else.” At this point Deepak Chopra interrupts and asks “Why give that away? Why not own that it was your strength that did it, your strength that freed you?” To this Annie responded, “but it wasn’t it was the power of Jesus Christ.” We don’t have the power to change ourselves, save ourselves, or for that matter save others. What we have is the power of another. We have the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. That power is inside of us as John said, “You know him [that is the Spirit] because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” That transformative power at work in Annie’s life led her to fulfill one of Jesus commands that we preach good news to those imprisoned. Annie has spent the rest of her life preaching the gospel and providing services for women to transition out of the sex industry. What’s more, she recognizes that it wasn’t by her strength alone but by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. We recognize our dependency on the Holy Spirit every week as we pray, “Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us the strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord.”
To summarize, Jesus tells us that love for him will produce a desire to follow and obey him and further, because we are so sinful and unable to do it on our own, he will give us a helper to assist us, encourage us, and comfort us in our walk with the Savior. Amen