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The Rector’s sermon for May 21, 2017    



                                                                                                                                  

Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21



 

Last weekend away was wonderful.  A few days away from reality with the one you love is as close to heaven as one can get.  The only decisions to be made were…should we stay in out of the sun or walk on the beach…or… should I have one of Sherri’s Berries before breakfast?  Life was  so simple and uncomplicated.  When times like those happen, you thank God for his blessings, you get to take a deep breath and your life is back into perspective.  Of course, however, returning to reality is sometimes difficult, especially if you’re returning to a problem or two.  And that did happen for me.

 

Less than twenty-four hours back into reality, I was on the receiving end of a conversation with a family member, an issue that had apparently been brewing for some time.  I said ‘conversation’ but it was mostly one-sided.  The monologue consisted of family comparisons, perceived dysfunctional behavior, unhappiness with certain parts of life and much more that I can’t even remember.  I said very little, but I’ve thought about it often over the past few days.  And what kept coming up in my mind is the question Jesus asked at least twice of those who followed him:  “What are you looking for?”  What are we looking for?  What do we really want out of life?   And today we hear Jesus say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments; I am returning to the Father, but I will send my Spirit to be with you, to guide you and because I live, you also will live.”  Once again:  perspective! Everything falls on the shoulders of love, and not simply family love, but the unconditional love of God, that same God who must be the focal point of any relationship—family or otherwise—if it is to bloom and grow in this difficult world we live in.  That four letter word sounds easy, but it’s actually a little difficult.

 

From God’s point of view, love is not primarily a feeling that can change or be reevaluated.  And that is typically the problem when we deal with earthly relationships.   Situations change.  Feelings change.  But love…real Godly love is a decision, a choice and a commitment.  You’ve heard me say before that there are four different words for love in the Greek language, and the Greek word for love used in John 14 is agápē, which describes this Godly universal, unconditional love that is not affected by circumstances, situations, or feelings.   When Jesus says, “Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them,” he is speaking of the unchanging agápē love that begins and ends in God.  God’s love—his agápē love—is ever present, never leaves, and is a vital part of all of our human relationships.  And this is the perfect time to bring up that misconception that living a morally upright life is enough to be saved.  It isn’t!  First of all, we cannot live a morally perfect life.  We are saved only by God’s forgiving grace through the merits of Jesus and his agape love.  That’s the foundation.  That’s the root of all relationships.  There can be no other!  And many times, with many relationships, the presence of God, a church family, and a personal relationship with Jesus is non-existent.  Without that foundation only found in Jesus, the world, the flesh  and the devil will have free reign over your feelings and actions.

 

So here we have Jesus, once again sharing his agápē love with his disciples at the Last Supper.  He tells them that he’s leaving them soon, and in reality, as we approach Ascension Thursday, there is somewhat of a double meaning in today’s Gospel passage.   As I said, it’s the Last Supper.  Jesus knows that he is leaving them to be put to death, but he also knows that he would rise from the dead, spend some fifty days appearing to many, and then he would really leave them when he ascended into heaven.  So with all that in mind even at the Last Supper, Jesus adds this, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” He’s leaving them.  He knows they are going to need guidance…he knows the we need guidance.  And he says, “This Advocate is the Holy Spirit, who acts as a helper and comforter and counselor.”

 

Notice that Jesus describes the Spirit as “another Advocate” which suggests that Jesus himself is the first helper, comforter and counselor.  Everything that the Holy Spirit does is a continuation of what Jesus has begun. The Spirit spreads the truth about God, offers healing and hope, and shows the love of God—just as Jesus did.  “You know him,” Jesus says, “because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”  Do you ever think about that??  The Spirit actually lives in us and among us, continuing the mission and ministry of Jesus.  And best of all, this Spirit will be with us forever!  The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus does not end the work of God.  No, the work of God on earth continues through us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Even after Jesus says that the Spirit will live in us, he repeats it in a different way.  He says that we will never be orphans!   Jesus has a love that is as intense and as steadfast as the love of a good father or mother.  He says we must never feel alone and that his life will continue through this unbroken connection called the Holy Spirit.  That connection is what allowed the disciples to leave the safety of the upper room after the Holy Spirit came and go to the ends of the earth, preaching the Good News of Jesus.  This is the same message that we are tasked to bring to those who do not know Jesus…those who think they have all the answers, but they have no foundation…a foundation that is only found in a personal relationship with Jesus.

 

So where can this agápē love be found today?  How can we be Jesus to those who seem to rely so much on their own knowledge, their own intelligence and their own self-centeredness?   Where can we find this agápē love?  Well, the answer is not obvious.   In an old Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown is having a conversation with Linus and he says, “If I ever had to choose a way to die, I would like to die by poison.  How about you, Linus?”   Linus answers, “I would like to be killed by loving kindness,” to which Charlie Brown says, “Yes, that would be a good way to die, but poison is much easier to get.”  Charlie Brown is right—it is not that easy to get loving kindness, which is another term for agápē love. It is not advertised on television or in magazines, where the typical love is eros—a word that is better translated as “desire.” We see a lot of eros in ads for jewelry, clothing, perfume and luxury cars, but there is little to no agápē.

           

But Jesus suggests in John 14 that agápē can be found in the community of people who strives to keep the commandments of Jesus.  Ideally, that would be a church community of faith!  When Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he is not trying to put a checklist in front of us, one that will make us feel like moral failures when we break one of those commandments.   No, when Jesus asks us to keep his commandments, he is simply asking us to live a life of agápē love.   After all, a few minutes earlier, Jesus had said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another…just as I have loved you, and by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Keeping the commandments of Jesus means loving one another, just as he loves us.  This kind of love doesn’t kill us.  It gives us life.

 

The result of this kind of love is an eternal union with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  That was Jesus’ promise.  It’s a bond that forms the foundation upon which our lives must be constructed.  If we love God, he will love us and reveal himself to us.  It is that foundation—and that foundation alone—that holds relationships and families together.  We’re not going to be perfect, but with that foundation we will be able to see the holiness of Jesus in each other.  We will be able to see ourselves as imperfect human beings, waking up each day with a prayer  on our lips that others might see Jesus in us as we go about our daily routine.

 

If Jesus asked you today, “What are you looking for” what would you say?  I think I’d say that I’m looking for opportunities to spread the Good News to those who don’t know they need to hear it.   Do I know how I’d do that?  Not exactly, but I would depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance.  

 

And about that Holy Spirit?  Beginning next week and every week throughout the summer, we’re going to look at this Holy Spirit and the gifts that he has for all of us.  I look forward to learning and sharing with all of you as we try to best love one another in the spirit of agape love.  It’s not easy, but it’s better than poison!

 


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