(A sermon for Easter 6A May 29, 2011 John 14:15-21)
When I was LP’s age, I sang in the adult choir at my childhood church, part of a group of high school students who broke down the barricades–well, who were invited to join, because the minister’s daughter and the choir director’s daughter were the right age, too. We had the fun of being in the choir when the church got new hymnals around 1975. They were even called “The New Baptist Hymnal.” And the choir director got to work using the new music with us, to encourage the congregation. We started singing the refrain of one new hymn as our Benediction response.
Share His love by telling what the Lord has done for you
Share His love by sharing of your faith
and show the world that Jesus Christ is real to you
every moment, every day!*
It’s a pretty good Baptist set of ideas, written by a guy who was solidly Baptist, encouraging people to tell about Jesus’ death and resurrection, to share the faith they hold and to show the world the reality of Christ in their own lives, in every moment and on every day.
The verse of the hymn was the usual sort of bouncy, straight up and down meter you would expect from a traditional hymn, but the refrain, well, it smacked of the 70s, I guess. And despite those excellent commissioning words, sending us out to be faithful and to evangelize…people hated it. They hated it!
They did not share the love.
It sounded like something written for teenagers, those wacky kids, and it was different from what people were used to hearing, and I remember feeling *very* defensive of the words and the music and the choir director.
It was my first experience of a complaint in church. It felt the opposite of loving and sharing. It felt rejecting.
And? It was.
It’s challenging to love other people when they don’t do what we want them to do. In that case the lack of love went both ways.
It’s very easy to love people when they meet or, even better, exceed our expectations. It’s easy to love our parents when they are generous with us, when they affirm our choices in life, when they pass along great combinations of genes that enable us to hit a ball a long way or win hearts or live a long life. It’s easy to love our children when they obey us, and when they make good grades, and when they clean up their rooms. It’s easy to love our friends when they remember our birthdays, or call out of the blue or invite us to share their vacation homes.
That’s all easy. It’s practically simpletonian.
But most of the time, people are not so good at these things. Our parents let us down, our children disappoint us, our friends are sometimes no better than our acquaintances, and sometimes worse than our enemies.
In John’s gospel, Jesus goes on and on about how we are to love, and on and on, in intertwining phrases that leave us breathless and wondering if we missed the actual commandments. And since we don’t read the gospel all at one go, it’s a good question.
Jesus says, at the end of this morning’s passage:
“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:21, NRSV)
But what exactly are those commandments? The words of Jesus as reported by John are not the same as those in the other gospels, so we may be forgiven if we assume he’s speaking of what we call The Great Commandment, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. In John’s gospel the imperative is delivered to his disciples, his closest followers, and what he tells them more than once is that he commands them to love one another. In loving one another they will love him, and since in John’s gospel Jesus describes himself as being indistinguishable from the Father, in loving each other they will love God.
It’s complicated. And what makes it more complicated is that we are commanded not to love our parents or our children or our friends from work or school or the neighborhood. The people Jesus is talking to are our spiritual ancestors, the men — and the women, they were there, too, making sure everyone got that dinner and paying the rent for the room on that last evening they spent with him– the people Jesus is talking to are bound together simply by their connection to him.
He says it to them earlier in the evening, in Chapter 13: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, NRSV)
And he comes back to it again in Chapter 15: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you… I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (John 15:12, 17, NRSV)
So. We get it. Love one another. Love the people who are also friends of Jesus, which means love the people here in church, whether or not we’re related to them otherwise. Sometimes that’s a stretch. We all know it’s true.
But it’s the bottom line Jesus delivers. We have got to love each other. Otherwise there is no way to share his love.
And his love? Oh, it is sweet and deep and it does not end, and that is some seriously good news for us, because my guess is every one of us has managed to let him down about this love thing somewhere along the way.
When we’re finding it hard to love each other, mind-bendingly difficult even, what can we do?
I’ll tell you what doesn’t hurt is to hold a little baby in your arms. I had to write this before I got to hold Quentin and baptize him, but I can tell you from experience that it is hard to stay mad at the most difficult people around when you’re holding a tiny, helpless bundle in your arms. And I’m *definitely* not speaking about this baby and his family, but I have stood holding a baby whose relatives did not particularly care for me, but who wanted that child baptized in that particular church, and they had to make the best of it with the pastor they had.
I was baptized by immersion at 13, in that same church where singing about Sharing His Love got on people’s nerves, and I remember it vividly, the rush of the water covering me, the surge of excitement as I came back up again. It was the most powerful experience of my life, until the day I stood holding the little baby whose people did not like me. I hate to admit this; I did it a little grudgingly. But when I poured the water on his head, God’s Spirit came down on me like fire from heaven, and suddenly I loved that baby with all my heart as a new little brother in Christ Jesus.
And that’s the love we’re called to share, the love that is more than our satisfaction with each other. It’s the love Jesus makes possible by loving us first. We’re called to share it with each other and care for that shared love and keep it safe for the children we bring into it, for Quentin and Jordyn. We’re pledged to be here and keep it alive for them, even if they don’t do what we want them to do. Maybe especially if they don’t.
The Spirit Jesus calls the Advocate is here, now and always, to help us do it.
“Share his love by showing what the Lord has done for you.” He has broken us open to love others by letting himself be broken for us.
“Share his love by sharing of your faith.” God who loves us is pleased when we love each other. And the bigger and wider we love, the more it pleases God.
There’s no way around it, all that loving each other in order to be in a loving relationship with God. It’s what we’re commanded to do. But there is help available, I promise you. The Spirit of Love finds a way to reach us. If you don’t believe me, after church, come and share the baby. Amen.
*Share His Love, William J. Reynolds (1972)