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Sixth Sunday of Easter
Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:1-4, 22-22:5; John 14:21-29
I have not been a part of the military. But, if my study of military history has taught me anything it is that there is an immense amount of preparation and training required of those who join. Have you ever wondered why? Why did Spartans begin training their young at 4 years old? Why did those who would become knights have to go through years as pages and squires first? In modern militaries, why boot camp and all the training that follows? Because there are expectations for soldiers, how they will dress, eat, sleep, address superiors, and conduct themselves in their jobs. There is an expectation that these people will behave like soldiers, whatever that may mean in different contexts. The opening verse of our gospel passage today says, “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.”
We can draw an analogy here to soldiery, or any other vocation that requires training, has limits to conduct, and expectations of behavior. When one pledges allegiance to the Lord Jesus, there is a commitment made, a signing of a dotted line, and a serious obligation that is established. Like a soldier, a nurse, a priest, or whatever else, there are rules to be followed. Those who follow Jesus with their whole selves love him, and if they love him, they keep his commandments to love God and all others.
Now this could easily be taken to mean that we are saved by our good deeds, but that isn’t exactly the subject of this discourse. What Jesus is saying here and John is recording is that “love calls to love,” because “love of him is not a thing of words. If it is real it is shown in deeds.” Love is demonstrable, seen, enacted. We’ve all seen TV shows or films with flawed parents who are barely around for their spouses and kids, and even if physically present are distracted by phones, work, or whatever other pursuits they have. The classic Robin Williams movie “Hook” is an example that stuck in my mind, where the older Peter Pan’s neglect of his children leads to one siding with Captain Hook. It is not that we are saved by keeping the commandments, but that if we truly understand what it means to be saved and to follow Jesus, if we truly love him, then how could we not?
Charles Dickens’ book, “Hard Times,” is a book I have not read. However, I was introduced some years ago to a short passage in the second chapter that has stuck with me. See, the story involves the character Mr. Gradgrind, a person who is practical, relying on numbers, facts, no funny business, only data. The short passage, as he is teaching two children, goes like this. A girl is asked, because her father is a horse trainer, the definition of a horse, and she is unable to answer. So he turns to the boy: “Bitzer,” said Mr. Gradgrind. “Your definition of a horse.”
“Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in the mouth.” Thus (and much more) Bitzer. “Now, girl number twenty,” said Mr. Gradgrind, “You know what a horse is.”
Now you know what a horse is. A precise, mechanical description of a horse. But is that what it really is? We often act like that is what love is. We are asked what it means to love and we struggle to say, or define it sentimentally: “Well, I love Jesus because he died for me and that makes me feel good.” Or we define it with doctrinal precision, talking about theories of the atonement and active and passive obedience. But, do we really love Jesus? Because if we do, we don’t say what the horse, love, is, like clinicians; we learn it by doing, by riding and petting and feeding the horse, or in the case of love, by letting go of our pride and embracing humility, pursuing holiness, giving abundantly. And this works in reciprocity with love; we often grow in love by doing acts of love. Does your love of God falter? Then continue to obey, and as a person grows to know a horse by handling one, grow to love God through obeying God. “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 makes Christ tangible and present in the here and now. When Judas asks “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” his question is predicated on his belief that the Messiah will be shown forth in all his glory, like a physical manifestation. The answer is love, that love of Jesus will be shown in deeds, and that those loving deeds will show to the world the reality of our Messiah. Love calls to love, and when we love those around us, we provide an opportunity for them to seek out the source of that love, and find Jesus at the end.
All this is possible because of the love of God in Jesus Christ that went to the Cross and rose again. It is the very self-emptying love of the Son of God that demonstrates what the commandments are all about, and the salvation which frees us from sin and frees us to pour ourselves out as Christ did. That is why Jesus shifts here to the Holy Spirit, to the promise that though Jesus is going away, in the Ascension, to intercede for us until his return, the Spirit will come and guarantee that the Apostles remember what Jesus taught, and they passed down what was needful for us as well.
That is our promise. Jesus says “Peace 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.” Peace used as a word of greeting. When the world says “peace,” it does so as a hope; but Christ effectually gives peace. That’s why we rejoice that he goes to the Father, because it means he has secured the final salvation for us all in the Presence of the Father, even as we await his return. Jesus has won. When we understand that, that the Son of God emptied to become Jesus of Nazareth so our salvation could be accomplished, than how could we do anything but love? And how could that love become anything but lives that overflow in the abundance of love that we received? So go out, seek to love by obedience, and let that create in you even more love as you see the power of God work in lives all around us, Amen.
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