A New Hope

Inspired by John 14:15-21

In our Gospel reading for today we get another snippet from Jesus’ looong goodbye. If you were not here last week and didn’t listen to my sermon online, well, first of all, shame on you! I’m kidding! Last week I mentioned that Jesus looong goodbye, which spans four plus chapters in John’s Gospel, occurred on what we now celebrate as Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, when we remember the last supper, the foot washing, and Jesus command to love one another as Jesus has loved us. These are Jesus final words to his disciples before his arrest and execution. That is the context with which we are to hear this short passage from Jesus looong goodbye. And I’m hoping you’ll see why this context is important by the time we’re done. So let’s dive in.

There are two major points that I want to highlight for you from this short passage. The first is the very first sentence. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” A better word, rather than keep, might be the stronger word obey. If you love me, you will obey my commandments. Keep is a bit too passive. So, this is a hard one for many of us to wrap our heads around. It sets the bar really high. Cuz let’s be honest, how many of us are keeping Jesus’ commandments? How well do we obey Jesus’ commands? I’m hoping we can all agree that we could all use a little work in that department. Otherwise this sermon will be pointless if we can’t at least agree on that. I mean, it’s the reason we begin most worship services with confession and forgiveness around the baptismal font!

So, if we believe that we are not doing very well at obeying Jesus’ commandments, then what do we do with this? Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” So what are you saying Jesus? We don’t love you? What if the answer to that question is a simple yes, that Jesus is saying we don’t love him? Why would you say such a thing pastor? Of course we love Jesus, why else would we be here every week! Ok, calm down, and stay with me here. Waaaay back in February, I know, a long time ago, we read a passage from Matthew where Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. And in that sermon I talked about how love is actions, not feelings, not thoughts, actions. If you don’t remember that sermon or weren’t here, it’s online. Ok, stay with me.

Going further back, waaay back on Christ the King Sunday just before Advent, I know, I’m really testing your memory here, we read another passage from Matthew, this time, a story about a king who said to those on his left, “‘Get away from me. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’

Jesus here is referring to himself as the king, and in doing so is commanding his followers to feed, quench, welcome, clothe, and visit his people. In other words, Jesus commanded his followers to love his people. And by serving others, by loving others in this way, we will be serving Jesus, we will be loving Jesus. Which brings us back to today, as Jesus says to us, “If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments.” Loving others is how Jesus want to be loved. And remember, love is not a feeling, or a thought, it’s action. Jesus doesn’t need our warm fuzzy feelings for him. Jesus doesn’t need our undying devotion to doctrines and rituals. Jesus needs us to love the world. So, how well are we doing with that?

There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world. 2.2 billion people who are followers of Jesus! If 2.2 billion Christians were doing their job as followers of Christ in the world, would we have the hunger crisis that we have today? Would we have the homeless crisis that we have today? Would our prisons be disproportionately filled with our brothers and sisters of color? Would women be paid 80 cents for every dollar that a man makes? By the way, the answer to all those questions is no, and if you disagree I’d love to have a conversation with you about it sometime, but not back there when I’m trying shake hands and say good morning to people, that’s not the time or the place to critique my sermons thank you very much.

So, when Jesus says, “If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments” and we ask, “So what are you saying Jesus, we don’t love you?” I think we need to accept the answer to that question is yes! Own it! Only then we can do something about it. Ok, let’s move on, that was just the first thing I wanted to point out from this passage! The other will be quick, and way more hopeful. After that we need to end on something positive right? So the rest of the passage is about the Holy Spirit. As this is Jesus’ long goodbye, Jesus here attempts to reassure them that they will not be left alone. Very tenderly Jesus says, “I won’t leave you as orphans.” The Holy Spirit is something we Lutherans are not in the habit of talking about a whole lot unfortunately.

We’re great at talking about God the Father, and God the Son, but we get kind of tongue tied when it comes to God the Holy Spirit for some reason. But Jesus says something right after this that helps. He says, “I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you.” Immediately after talking about the coming of the Spirit, the companion, he says, “I will come to you.” Hmmmmmm. Almost as if Jesus saw himself returning, just in a different form, as the Holy Spirit of truth. Right before this he did call himself the way, the truth and the life, as we heard last week!

This reminds me a lot of Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars A New Hope. And if you’re not a Star Wars fan, I’m sorrynotsorry for losing you here. It is 40 years old, I think it’s safe to use as a pop culture reference by now! Anyway, at the end of A New Hope, the hero, Obi Wan Kenobi, fights the villain Darth Vader, and buys some time for his friends to escape. He then tells Darth Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” And then with a sly smirk, he allows Darth Vader to kill him and his friends escape. We later learn that Obi Wan becomes a powerful spirit that can still communicate and guide his friends, even better than he could before he “died.” Hmmmmm. Who does that sound like?

Though, Jesus’ looong goodbye is emotional, fraught with dread and sadness, especially on the part of Jesus, the foundation of his goodbye is hope, a new hope for a continued future with them, with us. Though Jesus begins by laying down that “If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments” gauntlet, he never intended on leaving us alone to do it. Maybe we Lutherans aren’t as bad as talking about the Holy Spirit as we thought. Maybe every time we speak of Jesus’ work in the world, we are speaking of the Spirit’s work in the world—the spirit of truth, the spirit of Jesus. I like to think of Jesus saying his long goodbye, with that same sly smirk of Obi Wan Kenobi, knowing full well that he would return, more powerful than we could possibly imagine. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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