Scripture - John 14:23-29
John 14:23-29 (New Revised Standard Version)
23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
How many of you have tried a self-improvement plan this year? Like a new diet or exercise regimen or gratitude practice or meditation or house cleaning ritual -- any kind of routine that you hoped would lead to a healthier, more happy, more joyous, more peaceful, or a more whatever you?
And there are thousands of books and articles and web guides and YouTube videos all geared to help you create the best version of you possible, right? Most of them available in two easy payments of $19.99 plus shipping and handling, or one click away on your Kindle, or easily available in a weekly e-newsletter delivered straight to your inbox -- all there to help you have it al, that elusive, peaceful, simple life...once you follow the 17 easy steps to your best life now.
I have to say, I found myself caught up a bit in the Marie Kondo home-organization craze a bit earlier this year. I didn’t watch the series on Netflix but this idea of simplifying your stuff and surrounding yourself with the things and clothes and items that bring you more joy -- it’s not just about the best way to organize your sweaters, it’s about experiencing more joy and peace in your life. And who doesn’t want that? Especially in anticipation of baby #2 in just a few long/short weeks, there’s been this gradual purge of items in our household - but if I’m honest, the goal for me hasn’t been just to get rid of stuff so that we have room for all the stuff a second child brings -- it’s been about this quest for a simpler life -- as if I could achieve this by rearranging and organizing and getting rid of the extraneous items in my environment to experience greater inner peace.
This kind of dis-ease within ourselves we often ascribe to the culture around us. There is a kind of dislocation we experience and that our modern life exacerbates as we are bombarded with demands about being a good partner to our spouse while being a good parent to our children while being excellent at our jobs and great friends to our friends -- all while being expected to cycle through our appointments, errands, household chores, volunteer commitments cheerfully on the never-ending hamster wheel of life. Life is busy, we say. There’s a lot more going on in the world these days that demands more of ourselves, we say. And so we seek to control what we can - our weight, our schedules, our home environment, our attitude - everything within reach around the edges of our life, to bring alignment, happiness, peace, and joy.
Thomas Kelly, a Quaker missionary and writer, has something to say about this sense of busyness and dislocation within us, in his book A Testament of Devotion and offers insight that points to the heart of our scripture passage from the Gospel of John this morning . Kelly writes, “Let me first suggest that we are giving a false explanation of the complexity of our lives. We blame it upon the complex environment. Our complex living, we say, is due to the complex world we live in,...which give us more stimulation per square hour than used to be given per square day to our grandmothers. This explanation by the outward order leads us to turn wistfully, in some moments, to thoughts of a quiet South Sea Island existence, or to the horse and buggy days of our great grandparents, who went, jingle bells, jingle bells, over the crisp and ringing snow to spend the day with their grandparents on the farm. Let me assure you, I have tried the life of the South Seas for a year, the long, lingering leisure of a tropic world. And I found that Americans carry into the tropics their same mad-cap, feverish life which we know on the mainland. Complexity of our program cannot be blamed upon complexity of our environment, much as we would like to think so. Nor will simplification of life follow simplification of environment.
“We Western peoples are apt to think our great problems are external, environmental. We are not skilled in the inner life, where the real roots of our problem lie. For I would suggest that the true explanation of the complexity of our program is an inner one, not an outer one. The outer distractions of our interests reflect and inner lack of integration of our own lives. We are trying to be several selves at once, without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us. Each of us tends to be, not a single self, but a whole committee of selves. There is the civic self, the parental self, the financial self, the religious self, the society self, the professional self, the literary self. And each of our selves is in turn a rank individualist, not co-operative but shouting out his vote loudly for himself when the voting time comes. And all too commonly we follow the common American method of getting a quick decision among conflicting claims within us. It is as if we have a chairman of our committee of the many selves within us, who does not integrate the many into one but wh merely counts the votes at each decision, and leaves disgruntled minorities. The claims of each self are still pressed. We are not integrated. We are distraught. We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all.”
Sounds like he wrote this about this day and age, right? He wrote these words over 70 years ago. He talks about distractions like radios and cars -- and now we have distractions that pull us out of ourselves that we carry around with us in our pockets -- How many of us have forgotten our phones somewhere and felt like a piece of us went missing?
The problem is not with the busyness, with the complexity of daily living in our reality, with the external demands upon us -- the problem lies within us, and no amount of self-improvement strategies, of escaping to a simpler life, of controlling or changing our environment will, in fact, change us.
It’s that famous saying -- wherever you go...there you are.
Kelly referenced this idea that we are trying to be these several competing selves at once - not under the guide of one master Life, not integrated together into one. This is where I see Jesus’s words to his disciples speaking to this issue. Jesus is sharing these final words to his disciples before his death, resurrection, and ascension. He knows he is leaving them very soon, and so is preparing them for life without his physical presence. Jesus knows that the disciples will be pulled in a thousand different directions, that they will be unable to control the circumstances they are about to be faced with, and that they will need to be grounded and centered to keep his message and mission alive. And so Jesus says to them at the beginning of our reading, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
“We will come to them and make our home with them.” - for those who love Jesus.
God at home with us in the here and now, dwelling within us as our center, the ground of our being out of which everything else flows….the Life which brings all our competing selves into alignment, which gives us that otherworldly sense of peace that permeates all decisions, all the things we carry, gives us purpose and clarity so that we aren’t pushed and pulled about by the complexity of demands placed upon us. God doesn’t become one more voice among the myriad of selves within us but becomes the True Center of our lives - the basis for all our decisions, all our actions, all our words, all our hopes and dreams for ourselves and for the world.
All….if we truly, truly want it….because once we invite God to be at home within our hearts, once we have surrendered all of who we are to let Jesus be our Center, once we choose to follow the guiding and leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives - our lives are not our own; our very selves belong to God.
God comes and makes a home within us as the Holy Spirit, closer to us than the very air that we breathe, restoring us from within, bringing healing and wholeness -- and not through any five step self-improvement plan, not through us getting anything right or perfect -- but only if we make the decision to let that love in and take root in our hearts...to decide to love as Jesus loves...to let God’s priorities guide our own. And it’s not that life suddenly becomes less complex - there are still the responsibilities and commitments we make as part of families and communities - we still carry the same load…but we do so knowing what is truly important - operating out of a new center, living that new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples - love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus goes on to promise that we will not be left alone - that the Holy Spirit will be present with us to remind us and guide us in the ways that Jesus taught his early followers. Jesus promises that his peace will be ours - peace that comes not as the world gives, but that comes only from life lived in his presence. Jesus promises that our hearts do not need to be troubled - that we do not need to live in fear - all this for those who open their hearts for God to make a home.
I think about this as well for us as a congregation. What would it look like for God to truly be at home - to be present - among us as a church? Not as a place as a literal dwelling - but as a people, whose life together flowed from Jesus as the center? Churches too, as communities, aren’t exempt from being pushed and pulled by the complexities of ministering in this day and age, with worries about fundraising enough to meet the budget, with controversy around the color of the carpet, with concerns about aging buildings and aging populations and trying out church growth programs as if that is the silver bullet that will solve all our problems. We focus so much on the externals that we fail to tend to our internal life together - Jesus at the center. God at home within us. Making God’s priorities, God’s kingdom, the primary source and ground of our being as a church - the literal body of Christ, here in this place for this people at this time...so that others might know who God is when they look at us - in how we carry ourselves, in how we love one another and this island, in how we handle all the challenges and struggles of being a faith community in our world today. Again, it isn’t that the demands go away - but instead of letting our hearts be troubled or acting out of fear in response to the struggles we face - it’s God’s peace and love that form the basis of our decision-making together, it’s God’s peace and love that drive our ministry decisions, it’s wanting God’s peace and love for our community that informs how we deal with the challenges before us.
God at home with us - within our own hearts….within our church family here. All if we truly want it to be so. If we decide to let God’s heart shape ours...to let God’s kingdom reign within us...to let God’s hopes and dreams be our hopes and dreams...to let God be home among us.
And so my prayer for us this week - as we go forward from this place...as we head into the busyness of our lives - and the busyness of the summer season before us - both as individuals and as a church - is that we make that decision to let God be at home within us...to let Jesus be our Center...our source and our guide...and to let the Holy Spirit lead us and remind us to love one another as Jesus loves us….so that we might live a life of healing and wholeness…. so that God’s peace and grace might be among us….and so that all might know and experience God in and through us. Amen.
Scripture - Acts 11:1-18, John 13:31-35
Acts 11:1-18 (NRSV)
11 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
John 13:31-35 (The Message)
31-32 When he had left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is seen for who he is, and God seen for who he is in him. The moment God is seen in him, God’s glory will be on display. In glorifying him, he himself is glorified—glory all around!
33 “Children, I am with you for only a short time longer. You are going to look high and low for me. But just as I told the Jews, I’m telling you: ‘Where I go, you are not able to come.’
34-35 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
If you knew you were about to die, what would you tell the people you love? What cherished hope or dream would you share? What last, urgent piece of advice would you offer? What legacy would you want to leave for your loved ones to carry on?
Our reading from the Gospel of John starts what is known as the “Farewell Discourse” - it’s Jesus before his death and resurrection preparing the eleven disciples (because Judas has already gone out) for life without him, although they at this point don’t fully realize that he will be leaving them so soon. Jesus knows, however, the devastation they are about to face, and so is trying to get them ready - imparting to them his final words of encouragement and advice. The next couple of chapters are full of Jesus giving his final words and instructions to them as they sit around the table and eat together - emphasizing for them the importance of focusing on the mission and outlining the legacy he wants his followers to carry forward - and that legacy is centered around one simple commandment.
Jesus’ words seem pretty simple and straightforward, don’t they? “Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another.”
And then comes the reason this commandment is so important to Jesus. He says, “This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
There’s nothing ambiguous about them. No provisos, no fine print, no exceptions. Love one another. In the same way that Jesus loved. This is the hallmark of a follower of Jesus. Jesus didn’t say “believe the right things” or “pray this way” or “police each other’s behavior”….there is nothing about what one believes or says or what one doesn’t believe or say….but everything about love.
And for two thousand years, we’ve been adding qualifier after qualifier to what Jesus has said….to the point where the usual interpretation of this passage has been that Jesus was only talking about loving fellow Christian believers - and even further than that, loving only the Christian believers who are in your own, specific “in” group…and even then, it’s amazing to think how much we struggle with it. The irony in this, as New Testament scholar D.A Carson puts it, is that “This new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, and yet it is profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.”
“Love one another.”
More than that - “love one another in the same way I loved you.”
As a commandment - not a suggestion or a guideline. A new commandment.
Love - the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated - is more than what we see portrayed by Hollywood and our favorite sitcoms, or might find on Hallmark greeting cards. It’s even more than the kind of love we try to inhabit when we know we should do the kind and compassionate thing but don’t really feel it - like when we’re trying to get two kids to act as if they loved each other by sharing their toys or playing together nicely, or when we collect money for homeless shelters or cards for the sick. Not that these things are bad in and of themselves - but do they fall under the heading of Jesus saying “in the same way I loved you, love one another”?
We talk a lot in the Christian tradition about how love is a choice, it’s not a feeling - and to some extent that is true. We make the decision to love, to live our lives choosing to act compassionately and with forgiveness, even when we don’t always feel it within us. But Jesus’ commandment wasn’t “Act as if you love one another.” It was to actually “love one another - in the same way I loved you.” Which suggests to me that what Jesus is asking for isn’t just a shallow gloss of love over our everyday, ordinary actions, but to love as he did - with deep engagement, genuine presence, and sharing of our authentic selves with one another.
And that’s really, really hard to do - it’s hard to do in our families, in our congregation, among members of our own Christian tribe, or among people who think and act like we do already -- but the command to love one another isn’t limited; as we see in our reading from the book of Acts, God’s Holy Spirit is being poured out among the Gentiles - among the people that the Jews prided themselves on being different from - and now they, too, are part of the fold. The call to “love one another” expanded to include the Gentiles who were previously excluded from Jewish community. The call to love one another isn’t just about loving those who are in….it’s about loving each and every person, no matter who they are. Throughout scripture, God keeps expanding the circle of those we are called to love.
And if we look at Jesus himself - and how he loved those he encountered - he shared and gave of himself to those who were particularly excluded from community, who had been forgotten and cast out, and gave of himself in a way that brought wholeness and healing to their lives - loving them back to life in all its fullness. The blind and lame, the sick and the tax collectors - the disciples had seen and experienced the love of Jesus lived out - both in their own lives and in the lives of those he touched. And so the way of love is found in the way Jesus himself loves. He tells the disciples - follow my example. Do what I do. Love as I love. Live as you have seen me live.
“Weep with those who weep. Laugh with those who laugh. Touch the untouchables. Feed the hungry. Welcome the child. Release the captive. Forgive the sinner. Confront the oppressor. Comfort the oppressed. Wash each other’s feet. Tell each other the truth, even when it’s hard.”
Such love doesn’t just come from charitable tasks or well-meaning words. This love comes from the core of our being - from the compassion that moves in our gut, from hungering and thirsting for righteousness and justice that we feel in our bones, from letting our hearts be broken again and again by the world’s pain -- and rearranging our whole lives to be vulnerable to the brokenness in our world so that we can be led by love to do something about it….all because Jesus commands that we love one another as he loves us….because it is by this that the world will know that we are his disciples.
And friends, the world knows a lot of things about Christians -- but I’m not sure the world really knows that we are disciples of Jesus. All you need to do is pick up a newspaper and read about the hate being espoused by groups of Christians - hate for those who are gay and lesbian, hate for those who are not white, hate for those who have abortions, hate for those who are poor, hate for Jews and Muslims and immigrants and the list goes on and on.
But while we may not find ourselves in those camps, we do our own kind of self-selection, loving people based on our choices and preferences...I know at least this is true for me. I want to keep my boundaries small and safe and manageable, loving those who I want to love, who I like, who are easy to love...rather than loving based on Jesus’ nets-cast-wide commandment. It’s easy to love those who I chose to love….it’s hard and costly to cultivate a heart like that of Jesus.
Yet that is what Jesus wants of us - to love one another as he loves us.
Next week, this congregation has the opportunity to live more fully into that all-inclusive love as we discern and vote together around our Welcoming Statement and around becoming a Reconciling Congregation. We’ve had opportunities to talk about this together, to pray about this together, to study scripture around this together. It’s one step in letting everyone know that this church is a place of belonging for all people - no matter what - and to begin to heal the harm the church has done to our gay, lesbian, bisexal, and transgender friends and neighbors. It is a step forward in loving one another as Jesus loves...and step forward in making real the kingdom in which every single person knows that they are loved deeply and fully by the God who created them.
Because that’s what at stake when we choose to love or not to love - when we choose to keep others at arm's length in safe, charitable ways or when we choose to embrace others as Christ did; when we choose to love based on our own preferences and affinities or when we choose to love in obedience to Christ’s command….what’s at stake is the ability of others to see, touch, hear, feel, sense, experience Jesus alive in and through us. It’s through this love that we are embodying Jesus - literally the body of Christ - making Jesus real in a world that needs true, authentic, self-giving love so desperately….and even in our own island community, that deep loving presence of Jesus needs to be shared.
Jesus gives that commandment to us: Love one another. In the same way Jesus loves you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are his disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
Go forth this week to love as Jesus loved - with reckless abandon, with generous action, with an all-inclusive embrace that restored life to all. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.