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Proclaiming God’s Love Story

John 14:15-21 (CEB)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask God, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.

“I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too. On that day you will know that I am in God, you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them loves me. Whoever loves me will be loved by God, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

May 22-21, 2017
“Proclaiming God’s Love Story”
John 14:15-21

We pick up our Gospel story where we left off last week in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John. We are in the portion of this gospel that is known as the ‘Farewell Discourse’ of Jesus as he prepares his disciples for his death and departure. It could be thought of as Jesus’ Last Lecture Series that happens at some colleges and universities, where professors are asked what they would say if they knew it was their last lecture to give.

The setting is Jesus sitting with his disciples, having what we call the “Last Supper” before he will be betrayed and crucified. Jesus is doing a lot of teaching and preparing the disciples for what is to come next.

Last week, we heard Jesus tell his disciples, “Do not be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me.” Jesus also told them that in God’s house there is “room to spare.”

Today, we will hear Jesus tell his followers, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus will talk about sending “another Companion,” which we know as the Holy Spirit.

(Read John 14:15-21)

I like a variety of music and can usually remember a tune or theme or some lyrics from a song more than I can remember the titles or writers of the songs. One of the things about Country music is that the songs usually tell a story about heartache or about a broken relationship or have love as the main message or theme.

One country song that has been popular over several years tells a story about a young man who stops to help a woman whose car has broken down with a flat tire late at night. When the woman tries to pay the young man for his help, he gives a statement that becomes the chorus of the song.

He says, “You don’t owe me a thing, I’ve been there too. Someone once helped me out just the way I’m helping you. If you really want to pay me back, here’s what you do, don’t let the chain of love end with you.” (‘The Chain of Love’).

The sequence of loving acts continues in the song with the woman stopping at a nearby diner and leaving a young, pregnant and tired waitress the change from a $100 bill and a note with the words that the young man shared with her. By the end of the song, listeners have been challenged several times to continue the chain of love in response to the message of love heard throughout the song.

In the logic of the Gospel and in our scripture passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus continues the chain of love that promises the coming of the Holy Spirit as a Companion, who will be with us forever. Jesus says, “This Companion is the Spirit of Truth.” It was all meant to say to the disciples that God would be with them in a different way than when Jesus was physically with them.

Jesus does not expect the disciples to find their own way the best they can. Rather, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is the abiding love of God’s presence that is with us in the midst of all things. Love and the Spirit are at the center of Jesus’ Last Lecture to his disciples.

Like any good story, our scripture passage is framed at the beginning and end with the same message. It’s the message of keeping Christ’s commandments. The words of Jesus tell us that if we really care for him, then our lives are going to reflect this commandment-keeping. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus says.

Notice Jesus says, if you love me you’ll keep MY commandments, not THE commandments. There is a big difference between those two little words, “my” and “the.”
When we think of the commandments, we typically think of the top ten. But in the Jewish faith, there were over 600 commandments to be kept, so Jesus made it simple, summarizing them all into “Love God with all your hearts, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12:29). And then summarizing even more with what he calls a new commandment to love one another just as he has loved us
(Jn. 13:34).

Jesus knew there were going to be questions in life that the Scriptures would not address, and Jesus knew that there were some things he had never talked about. But if we just stick with this command…this command to love and acknowledge the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, Jesus knew we would be o.k.

It is Scripture like ours today that reminds us that we cannot go anywhere that God is not. With lives that often take on break-neck speed, in a world of advancing technologies, in a culture of in-fighting and division; and in a society of broken, fragile and irresponsible relationships, it is essential that we remind ourselves and each other of God’s constant presence with us.

It can be a mind-teasing mystery to think that there is no circumstance where God is not present, no relationship where God is not active, and no place where God is absent. God’s presence surrounds us constantly.

While this mystery may be hard to grasp, it is the mystery to which the entire 14th chapter of John’s Gospel points; a mystery on which Jesus does not invite debate
.
He declares with certainty in the Scripture that, “I will not leave you as orphans,” “you will see me,” “you will know me,” “you are in me, and I am in you,” and “I will reveal myself to you.” This is the hopeful, liberating meaning of the Easter promise.

We are called by God’s grace, through faith, to know this saving promise, whether we always feel it or not.

I once heard a long, philosophical debate over the question, “Does a fish know about the water?” We could ask ourselves a similar question.
Do we who live and move and have our being in God, know about God; are we aware of God? Or are we just breathing that presence, without ever identifying the presence as Holy?

In the text from First Peter that we heard earlier, we are encouraged to be ready so that, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.”
In other words, we need to be able to speak a word of God’s good news to anyone who asks.

And, when we tell our stories, do we tell them with the hope of God in them? Do we let others know how and where we have seen the blessings of God in our lives? And do we witness to the hope that is in us by living our lives in such a way that others ask why we are the way we are?

Jesus urges his followers to keep his commandments of love by reaching out to others in service, and acting with compassion and kindness. It is through our acts of kindness and compassion that we tell God’s love story and that we experience the abundance of God’s life-giving love, and grace, and hope.

As we near the summer months, the scene may be one you have experienced on a warm afternoon. As one writer tells it, it is a scene with two girls sitting on the sidewalk in little chairs behind a little table with a big sign that reads “Lemonade 5 cents.”
The six-year-old is the cashier. She monitors a plastic bowl of change. The four-year-old is the server. She handles the ice, pours the drinks, and stacks and re-stacks the paper cups.

Business has been steady. The afternoon stream of patrons has nearly emptied the pitcher, and the bottom of the cashier’s bowl is covered with 50 cents of change.

With the exception of a few spills, the service has been exceptional. No complaints; many compliments. Part of the success, though, has been due to the marketing strategy. Since the street doesn’t get much traffic, several persons in the neighborhood were called and invited to the grand opening of the lemonade stand. So all the customers, thus far, had been partial.

Then, as the girls are busy straightening the table after the wave of business, an unfamiliar voice is heard saying, “I’ll have a cup of lemonade, please.” Here was an unsolicited customer who had driven by, seen the sign, stopped and ordered a drink.

The four-year-old grabbed a cup that had already been used until the sister whispered to get a clean one. Then, she opened the ice bucket, looked in, paused, and said, “We’re out of ice.” “That’s o.k.,” the customer said. “I’ll take it warm.”

The girl then picked up the pitcher and poured. A half cup of syrupy sugar oozed out of the pitcher. The customer spoke again. “That’s fine. I don’t want much.”

The girl handed the cup to the man and he handed her a dollar. She gave it to her sister, who looked in the change bowl, and realized there wasn’t enough change. Her expression said it all. “No problem,” the customer said. “Just keep the change.”
The man thanked the girls, told them they were doing a great job and climbed back into his car and drove off.

The stranger had received a warm, partially filled cup of lemonade syrup, and for that he gives a compliment and a payment 20 times too much. Yet with his simple actions, he proclaims God’s great love story of compassion and grace (stories of Max Lucado).

This story could be the story of each of us. There have been times when each of us has attempted to give our best, only to find that our pitcher is running low and needs to be refilled. And at some point, we all wonder how God’s grace and love can remain when what we promise and what we produce are not even close to being the same.

What do you think? Do our lives proclaim God’s great love story? Do our lives bear witness to our hope of God’s love that is within us?

And, how do people around us know that it is God’s story we are living? What do we say when someone asks, “Why are you doing this for me?” or “Why are you the way you are?”

Our Gospel passage today urges us to proclaim God’s love story…to live by Christ’s commandment to love one another as God loves us.
In spite of a world that does its best to take us out of an attitude of love, we are to tell of God’s constant presence in our lives. We are to listen; to seek the common good; to be peacebuilders; to strengthen community; and to live in service and compassion, no matter how others live!

Proclaiming God’s love story takes faithful intention, but God does not expect us to be faithful on our own. God sends us a Companion…the Holy Spirit, that constant, near presence of God that will not leave us orphaned, but will strengthen and guide and enable us to continue the chain of God’s love.

May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.