Sermon for Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Acts 17:22–31 | Psalm 66:8–20 | 1 Peter 3:13–22 | John 14:15–21
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like sentences that begin with “If” and are directed at me: As in “If you love me” because what’s coming next is “then.” It’s conditional on something else that I know I’m going to hear about very soon—that will require something of me; maybe something I feel I can’t do. Indeed, what comes next here is this: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” One translation says, “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you.” It feels like Jesus is giving a laundry list of things we need to do—maybe in order to be loved. Feels like the rest of life, huh? BUT the verb here is not imperative. It is not a command. “You will”—will is: a verb, 2nd person plural, future, indicative—used to make factual statements. That is, you all will: Love/ focus on me and you just will keep my commandments.
Of course love is a tricky word in our language and day; but this is the word here for how God relates to us: “I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Okay—but like Jesus—this is really concrete. We are not an idea to God, but something real and concrete. Neither is God to us- Jesus is making the case- nor one another. You cannot fall in love with an idea- but with another person; which calls for vulnerability. Which God does in Jesus and we are called to as well: engagement- like any relationship- what one cannot entirely comprehend, but that unfolds in myriad experiences: conversations, distances- even conflict, laughter and profound silences. The mystics always use the language of love to talk about God: Heart-rending, captivating, artful relationship. (Poem?)
Love—of and wih—the Divine is this process of discovering (as Richard Rohr says) a “hidden wholeness” that unfolds on a field of vulnerability. Jesus—even as he is talking now—is giving his best “advice” in this farewell speech before suffering for the sake of relationship. This act of the cross reveals to us a solidarity with our own suffering and is for us to take in at a gut level- not so much figure out. Like love. There is no theory involved here, just experience of the other.
Richard Rohr defines love as given-ness. He says, “When you give yourself to something, you are saying: ‘I’m happy that you exist. I’m so happy that you are here.’” There is no immediate judgement in love (like we often do as we saw in the weeds and wheat parable last week) in that we are approached—not with the immediate analysis of what we are not, but with what we are—and so we, too, can do this. It is a practice that allows growth. “For-given-ness” or “For-giveness”. Before we can do anything great or anything stupid and all the things in between, is the given-ness. God does not decide every now and then to forgive someone because they earned it, but the vulnerable engagement of God with us that allows love to blossom.
The commandments that Jesus is talking about here might be a nod to the Jewish way of relating to God though these long-standing good teachings, but Jesus has also summed them up: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So, in a way, he just keeps repeating himself here in the gospel of John: Where there is love (like “if”), we just ARE loving with other people (“commandments”). Of course, this probably won’t happen if we avoid the relationship—what John calls the “world” or the ignoring of “rejection” of Jesus. This doesn’t mean there isn’t potential. It just means that without seeing and recognizing, there is limitations to how far the relationship can go.
Paul on the Areopagus (aren’t you glad you didn’t have to read that word?) which is a rocky outcropping part of the way up to the acropolis topped with temples in Athens where people often gave talks to promote their views (early Facebook…), he doesn’t start by telling everyone that they are wrong. He calls them to relationship by taking what practices and objects they already have in place that express a desire for connection to the Source and Ground of their being. He doesn’t judge or destroy—just builds on it: Spreading this vision of creation and humanity—and God’s relationship to it—as being both grand, and close and accessible; better than a image or temple made by humans. In a sense, Paul is saying, “you’re sorta on the right track and now you can know, God is here!” Their impulses are not off “in him we live and move and have our being” and God is here. And God is like this: Assuring you all: Just look at Jesus who was raised from the dead. There is joy and life in this relationship.
Love will—for certain—cause us to leave some things behind: Habits, identifications, biases, beliefs- even religious ones- that really just kept us away from God and who God knows us to be as beloved. But love is not a forceful demand, rather a wooing that draws us to it. Thanks be to God. Amen.