Gospel: John 14:15-21
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
In 1890, in Topeka, Kansas, a minister by the name of Charles Shledon started the WWJD movement: What Would Jesus Do? (I bet you didn’t know it began over 125 years ago!)
About twenty years ago it had a big revival and Christian Bookstores and Youth Groups wore multicolored wristbands and asking, “What Would Jesus Do?” in all kinds of circumstances.
Because I am always a little bit contrary, when it became popular I decided that it wasn’t WWJD that was important (because we don’t know what Jesus would have done), so I started my own movement (which went nowhere) – WHJD, What Has Jesus Done? The point being that Jesus lived and died for us and taught us a new way of being in the world.
A Nigerian-American blogger by the name of Enuma Okoro said in his blog this week, the key question is the one that opens our Gospel lesson today: “If you love me?” Jesus says in conjunction with “If You Love Me” (IYLM), that you will keep my commandments.
The question is how does Jesus interpret the commandments? We are a nation of laws and we come from communities of laws and we have a strange and wonderful relationship with laws.
Laws! We have all kinds of laws that govern our behavior. We have all kinds of laws that are used to protect us. We have laws that we like and laws that we don’t like. Jesus lived in a world of laws he called commandments.
I looked up “unusual laws in Kansas” and here are a few of my favorites:
- In Dodge City it is illegal to spit on a sidewalk.
- In Topeka servers are forbidden to serve wine in teacups.
- In Wichita it is illegal to catch bullfrogs in a tomato patch.
- It is illegal to put ice cream on cherry pie in Kansas.
- No one may catch fish with his bare hands in Kansas.
The list goes on and on. In addition to being humorous, these laws point to us as a people fascinated by law. In fact we are obsessed with laws.
Most of our laws stem from English jurisprudence and Blackwell’s work on the law which was in part based on the original law, the Ten Commandments.
Today Jesus talks about his law. He says very simply if you love me you will keep my commandments. Jesus closes the door on the Ten Commandments and opens the door on the law of love.
Most often we hear this Gospel lesson and we talk about the commandments of Moses and the Hebrew Scriptures or our Old Testament. But there is a good bet that this is not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus was very specific about what he understood the commandments to be through out his ministry.
First of all, Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law not to change the law. Fulfilling the law for Christ was simply to summarize the ancient code and restate a portion of the golden rule with these words:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might, and your neighbor as yourself.
So if this is what Jesus understands to be his commandments (there are just two), then that is not about the law of human behavior as much as it is about the human heart. What comes from deep within us.
What Jesus is offering here in his commandments is a way of being in the world that loves God and neighbors. It is not about judgment or legislation. It is about being in a relationship with everything that is God’s.
Love is never easy. But ministry, the ministry that we do for, to and with each other, is always about love. So in 2017 we need an acronym for a new age and a new time: IYLM, if you love me.
After 43 years of ministry I have learned a great deal about my part in that ministry. Being a pastor is not about who I am, but who God is and what God is doing in the world, occasionally working through me and you.
My entire life in the ministry I have been involved in some sort of social action ministry. That meant that we fed the hungry, provided clothing and worked to care for all of God’s creation.
From New Haven, Connecticut to Mission, Kansas, to Prairie Village, Kansas to Door County, Wisconsin there have always been people who have found me to ask me for assistance. Perhaps that is because the Jesus has not left us orphaned and has given us the power and perhaps the responsibility to help others.
I think the lesson of helping others came from an experience that I had in New Haven, Connecticut in 1969. I was working for the New Haven Council of Churches. I was attending a lunch meeting at diner with a few others to talk about church communications. We were siting in a booth opposite a long counter. Hunched over the counter sat a man. I noticed that he was very tall and he sat with his knees bent such that the soles of his shoes were pointing upward. Each of his shoes had a hole in the bottom of the sole a few inches wide. He had stuffed newspaper in the holes in an attempt to keep out the cold and snow.
I decided I would buy him a blue plate special. It was only a couple of bucks. I tried to catch the waitress’s eye but was interrupted. Later when she brought our food I started to tell her I wanted to buy the man at the counter lunch, but when I looked up he was gone.
When I was heading home late that night, bathed in the glow from the streetlamp I saw the man from the lunch counter. He was standing on the corner, huddled in his coat, collar pulled up, without a hat. I started to roll down my window when the light changed and the cars behind me honked. I drove on, turned around and drove back, but he was gone.
I never saw him again.
It may be that I have been trying to find him ever since. I see him in every person I have helped since. Maybe that man was the face of and presence of Jesus, teaching me an understanding of the words “if you love me.”
Follow the commandment of Jesus: try to the best of your ability to love one another.