Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 14:15-21

Apollo 8. 1967, on fourth orbit around moon. Essential mission for the later moon landing of Apollo 11. Had to trust that it would be important, out in the darkness, pioneers of the seas of the sun. Then, on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24th, earthrise. Their faithfulness to the mission led to a revelation so beautiful that it changed them forever, the reward at the end of the road. (On a later orbit, they read the first 10 vss. Of Genesis)

In the gospel of John passage, we are told that the Holy Spirit will be sent to aid and guide us in Christ’s “absence.” He will ascend to his rightful place at the right hand of the Father, and then the Father will send the Spirit to be with us, indwelling and guiding us, giving us the truth, making us in truth the Temple of God. The gospel, including Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, means nothing if not applied to us. It is not a salvation in abstract, but a salvation whose purpose is to bring us into union with God. That is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who reveals to us the truth, indwells us, and is in the continuing process of transforming us more and more into the image of Christ. 

This is a tremendous mystery, a beautiful and sacred truth about human life and destiny. Jesus says, because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” All accomplished by this Advocate, this Comforter (both meanings of paraclete in Greek, either one who assists and comforts or one who is legal representation). The same way that the Father and Son are united is how we will be united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, who is also united to Father and Son in an existence of perpetual, constant, indwelling. God, upon whom all creation rests and by whom it subsists, continues with the sending of the Spirit to give of himself to us so that we might be lifted up for ever and ever into God’s life, of which our time here and now is only a small part, a beginning of the journey of faith.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” Jesus may have left bodily, but he is so entwined with the Holy Spirit that he can rightly say that he is coming to us. We, in a mystical and not fully explained way, will see him. With the eyes of faith, when we encounter and experience the Spirit’s power, we encounter and see Jesus. We receive him by the Spirit, he indwelling us, we indwelling him.

The passage does not tell us we are passive in this, however. In fact, it is book-ended by: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” right at the beginning, and at the end, “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.”

This might lead us to think that we have to somehow merit the Father’s love, that we have to earn it or we will not receive his love. But that is not the sense of the passage; rather, Jesus is clarifying to the disciples that following him is not merely a matter of words, but of love. One who loves another shows it through what they do, through their deeds. The latter reference, note, says that we “have” them before it says we must “keep” them, in other words, the commands have been received and internalized. We love Jesus, we see the beauty and goodness of who he is, and so then we see the beauty and goodness of what he tells us is his way of life. 

Put simply: Love calls to love, and to follow Jesus means to love him, to be swept up by the incredible power of God demonstrated by his taking on and then defeating death, to be caught up by life into life. To love is to follow, and to follow is to obey. When we encounter Jesus and come to love him for who he is and what he did, we want to then live that resurrection life. The Father loves us because we love his Son, and so then we are given the Spirit, permanently, who then enlivens and empowers us to continue to grow into the Christ-like love and obedience that we so desire to live out.

And lest we think this is all sounding a little too “lovey-dovey,” let’s remember that our conception of love is so sadly tainted by modern conceptions of romance that we are missing the intensity and challenge of actually loving. Loving Jesus is not romantic love, not just about having warm feelings about him. It isn’t about being wooed. Jesus says to love him is to keep his commandments, and what are those? Just for example, “pick up your cross and follow me,” “love your enemies,” “if you are struck on the cheek, turn the other,” Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will die by the sword.” Now the other mistake we can make is to take these as the actions of the weak, the behavior of people too weak or cowardly to defend themselves, “beta’s”.

Those who think so do not see the truth, do not understand the commandments because they fundamentally do not understand Jesus. If these were simply things that happened to us, we the perpetual victims of the world’s cruelty, then yes, it would simply mean we are called to be cowardly and weak. But these are commands that call us to courage, to strength, to persistence, to the opposite of weak cowardice. There is nothing more courageous than, when we could deny Christ, to shoulder the cross and surge with the strain of its weight to carry it, following him; there is nothing stronger than refusing to strike someone back when they strike you, choosing to call them in defiance to strike the other cheek; there is nothing harder than to love one who hates you. 

All of this is only possible because we know, we know that in our deaths there is no defeat, that because of the work of Jesus Christ to whom we are united by the Spirit, we will endure even through death to new life. The resurrection takes the bite from death, and so we are empowered to throw down our weapons and say, “do your worst, it won’t be enough to tear me from God.” To follow Jesus is to stand in courageous defiance of the world, and refuse to lower ourselves like animals to take part in its strife.

The Spirit, the Advocate, the “legal friend,” abides with us to give us strength in this walk of faith. The Spirit abides within us, the promise of the Father, joining us to the Son. The Spirit takes the scales from our eyes, creating new life in us so that we can see truly who Jesus is and what his life means. As we ride in the ship, we keep our eyes on the instruments in front of us for now. We look with yet still-dimmed eyes for the coming Glory, to see God face-to-face, what we see now only shrouded. But as we sail in faith, as we follow Jesus in love, in the darkness we will see a point of light, and the brightness of God in all his glory will, bit by bit, come into our vision, until one day all will be revealed, and all will be seen for what it truly is, just like the earth coming into the eyes of Apollo 8. Continue the walk of faith, love Jesus, and trust the Spirit, that you too may behold the great gift of God through all eternity: Himself. Amen.

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