Kept in Our Hearts, John 14:15-21; 1 Peter 3:13-16a
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; May 17, 2020
Pastor Toni Carmer
In this morning’s gospel lesson, we remain at that table with Jesus and his disciples as Jesus prepares them for his departure. Maybe it seems like we’ve spent a lot of time here at this table with him, and if you look in the Gospel of John, you’ll see how many pages and chapters his teachings there encompass. My Red letter edition is a sea of red from Chapter 13 through 17. It’s not until chapter 18 that they go across the Kidron valley to the garden where Jesus is arrested.
This is basically Jesus’ last will and testament. What he’s teaching his disciples is so important, that he repeats himself at times. That’s what we do when we want to be certain that our message is heard. What we’ve heard has pretty much circled around 3 themes: 1) loving one another, 2) giving up oneself for the sake of others, and 3) following his new commandment—which takes us back again to the first theme of loving one another.
It’s not hard for us to see that Jesus is talking about something bigger than honking if you love Jesus when you see that request on a bumper sticker. Jesus is calling his followers to show their love for him through their actions. And it’s not just about loving him—but it’s about loving others, as well—which we all know gets a little complicated. Because there are folks “out there” who—I’m sorry—are not all that easy to love. And yet that’s what Jesus is calling us to do.
It would be so good, wouldn’t it, if we could just have a face-to-face conversation with Jesus—across the table from one another? I’m sure he would understand, you know?
But if that were to happen, maybe the conversation would go something like this:
I’d start with this: “Lord, you can see what a pain such-and-so is. He’s hurt me. He’s let me down. And every time I see him…well, he’s just rude. I really don’t have to love him, do I?”
Jesus would respond, I’m afraid—very calmly. He’d look me straight in the eye and say, “Yes, you do.”
And I’d say, “Ugh.”
If you love me, Jesus tells us, you will keep my commandments. Loving others goes hand-in-hand with loving him.
It’s interesting for us to note here that the “love” in the gospel of John is an “in house” sort of love. In Matthew, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but here in John we are urged to love our fellow believers.
It’s interesting, I think, because I feel compelled to urge us as a church to move out beyond ourselves. To show our love for Jesus by loving others who don’t know the love of Christ, who haven’t heard about it or experienced it. I feel like that’s our task as a church. It’s the great commission: it’s the mission we’ve embraced as the United Methodist Church—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And yet, before giving us the great commission, he gave us the new commandment to love one another. When we fail to love one another as a church, we also fail to effectively communicate God’s love to those outside of the church. It would be like me leading a class in social media and technology when everyone knows how clueless I am in that area. Why would anyone come to me to learn something that I don’t know how to do? But, when the church shows the world a quality of loving community that is nothing short of miraculous, the world sees in us solid evidence that Jesus is Lord, the son of God, the light of the world. When we as Christ’s body work well together, the world takes notice and comes to see that we do have something important to teach and to share. We ourselves have been transformed by the love of God through Jesus, and we want to offer that to others, as well.
Jesus knew that this was not something the disciples could do on their own. It’s not something we can do on our own. I will not leave you orphaned, Jesus said, I will give you an advocate. I will give you the Holy Spirit who will provide what you need to be obedient to my command.
I always think about how our “infighting” must look to the world. It can’t be pretty.
It’s really interesting, and I’m not going to try to create some cause effect relationship that isn’t there…but the last two weeks were supposed to be our church’s general conference. I was scheduled to be a marshal at the conference; I was to leave town and head to Minneapolis on May the 5th and I was going to return home last night. The expectation was that we United Methodists would become less united, dividing into at least two different factions, that would eventually trickle down and effect each of our conferences and individual churches who would need to decide what we felt called to do. It seems to me that the most “interesting” and widely communicated moments at times such as these are the negative ones, and I think there would have been some things in the news that would have poorly reflected Jesus’ commandment that we are to love one another. I could be wrong, I’ve been wrong before, but that’s my guess.
Instead, everything has been put off, most likely for a year. I don’t know yet, but I’ve heard rumblings that it could be rescheduled for next summer sometime. It takes awhile to get people all over the world organized to come together to begin with, and the trajectory of COVID of course complicates things.
But what has happened, is that all those differences have been at least temporarily set aside as we focus on the more important issue of loving one another, caring for one another, keeping one another safe from harm. The big division has been set aside, and we’re dealing with what’s more important…and that has to do with love.
I read something in one of my commentaries this past week that made me sit up straight. My commentary was published in 2010, so it was completely unrelated to what’s happening here and now, but the author described Jesus’ presence as a contagion of genuine love. A kind of love that took hold in different communities and brought hope. It wasn’t a philosophical “honk if you love Jesus” kind of love, but it was the lived reality of a simple Nazarene who looked and talked like everybody else, and who lived simply among them. He fed the hungry, touched lepers, healed the sick, and acted toward women with care and regard. Love was seen in his life of service and compassion, in his protests against those who acted against the value of each and every person. Instead of using power for domination, he invited others to imagine power in a way that cared for the well-being of all people without regard to social status.
Jesus’ presence set loose a contagion of genuine love.
My prayer is that—as members of his body—we, too, can be infected with THIS contagion in such a way that his love for us and our love for him will be in us and in all that we do. Starting here in this place. Where we live. Where we work. Where we play. Where we worship.
Love one another, Jesus said. This is my commandment: that you love one another.