Today, we’re going to hear from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in the gospel of John. This is Jesus’ last night with the disciples before he’s betrayed and arrested, so he’s giving them some final encouragement and instruction. But the interesting part is that the disciples don’t know this—they’re still just trying to keep up. So when Jesus says that in a little while, the world will no longer see him but the disciples will, Judas (not THAT Judas, a different one) asks: but how will you show yourself to us, and not to the world?
Our Scripture reading for today is Jesus’ response to that question.
Scripture: John 14:23-29
Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
One of the hilarious things about adulthood is looking back at your childhood and teenage years and remembering the things you did that would never, ever be allowed to happen today (usually for good reasons.)
One example: when I was a kid at church camp, we used to play this game called ‘Honey If You Love Me.” You would have a bunch of kids sitting in a circle, and one person who was ‘it’ in the middle. The person in the middle tried to get out of the middle by making someone in the circle smile – and you did that by getting up in their face and asking them: “honey, if you love me, won’t you please, please smile?” The goal was usually to embarrass your opponent enough so that he or she would crack a smile, you could take their seat, and they would be ‘it.’
You can’t even imagine how terribly awkward this game could get. It was both hilarious and terrifying.
But as I pondered and prayed through this text this week, I was struck by how the same words – if you love me – can be used in such vastly different ways: one for manipulation, embarrassment, and personal gain, and the other to remind us that true love leads to a certain kind of living, where our intentions and our actions actually match.
If you look at the gospels, particularly the Sermon on the Mount and its companion texts, you’ll notice that Jesus speaks over and over again about how we need to match our insides to our outsides – the things we say we believe, we need to act on. The things and people we say we love, we need to pay attention to. He says that we can tell what we actually love by where we put our time, our money, and our attention and care.
Our calendars, our budgets, and our Facebook timelines are, at the end of the day, a testament to who and what we love.
Every service hour we put in, whether it’s coordinated by the church or not, puts love into action.
Every time we open the prayer app on our phone or spend five minutes journaling or sit on a swing to pray, we’re growing our love for Jesus.
Every time we sing, whether together in this space or in the car with our kids or alone in the shower, we’re lifting our voices to let love ring out.
There are thousands of ways to live out our love; I saw something the other day that said: “People don’t always say ‘I love you.’ Sometimes, it sounds more like: ‘did you eat?’, ‘text me when you get home so I know you made it okay.’, ‘be safe.’, or ‘I made you this.’”
1 John tells us that God is love. The two greatest commandments that God has given us are to love the Lord our God with all that we are and all that we have, and to love our neighbors as we have been loved.
And if you want to know what that looks like, just take a look at the life of Jesus, offered to us in Scripture. Jesus, the one who provoked crowds with his talk of God’s justice and God’s mercy. Jesus, the one who healed anyone who asked (and a few who didn’t.) Jesus, the one who fed thousands and crossed boundaries to offer living water to the Samaritan woman who was thirsty. Jesus, the one who sat down to dinner with tax collectors and sinners, Pharisees and lawyers, friends and betrayers. Jesus, the one who gave himself up to death and rose to new life. This is what loving God looks like, and this is what God’s love for us looks like.
While those who followed God in the Old Testament had to rely on instructions from a God they could not see or touch, we have Jesus – a real person, flesh and blood, who encountered temptation and complicated life situations and plenty of jerks along the way. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus, who is the tangible image of our invisible God.
There are a lot of questions Jesus doesn’t answer for us in the Bible. There are a lot of situations that don’t come with an instruction manual. But that doesn’t mean we’re on our own.
Jesus promised his disciples that a helper—an advocate—would come to them: the Holy Spirit. While they would no longer be able to see and touch Jesus, to ask him questions like the ones they offer in this chapter, they would move from God with us to God within us.
The Holy Spirit is our guide, our teacher, our comforter, our encourager, and the one who kindly pushes us way, way out of our comfort zone for the sake of God’s kingdom. And as we discern our way through life, relying on God’s presence with us in the Spirit, we change and grow.
Galatians tells us that the proof of the Spirit’s work in us is seeing the ways we’ve grown in love, kindness, joy, patience, self-control, peace, faithfulness, and goodness.
All of that’s just the long way of saying: the Holy Spirit is helping us become more and more like Jesus.
Jesus said: those who love me will keep my words. No one can do that for you – no one can do the work of discernment and transformation on your behalf. There is no ducking out, no passing the buck, no cheat codes.
There is only love. To do this work, you must first be rooted and grounded in the ways God loves and cares for you, and how the Holy Spirit encourages and builds you up—whether it’s through silent prayer or the delightful chaos of teaching Sunday School, reading the psalms each day or listening to your favorite preacher’s podcast.
One of the ways we sabotage our own growth in love is by letting the shouts of the world ‘should’ all over us – you should be doing this, you shouldn’t be doing that, you should you should you should. But ‘should’ leaves no room for discernment, for individuality, for curiosity and figuring it out.
What actually brings delight to your soul? Where are the moments that you see God’s love in action in your life? What are the rhythms and routines that give you enough time and space to practice gratitude, joy, and hope for the future?
Better yet, how is the Holy Spirit leading you deeper into that love God has for you?
Because no matter where you’ve been, no matter how many ‘shoulds’ you carry, no matter how many dreams you’ve had to let go of, no matter how wonderful or terrible or stressful or boring your circumstances may be—God’s love for you is like an ever-flowing river, that can never be diverted or dammed up and will never run dry. You don’t have to earn it and you can’t lose it. This is the good news – that God’s mercies are new every morning, and God calls you to live out that love every day.
As Jesus prepared his disciples for his death and his return to the Father, he said: “peace I leave with you – my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”
In the security of Christ’s peace, let us go to love and serve the Lord.