The scripture text today is from John’s gospel and is part of a much longer section known as “The Farewell Discourse.” John spends 5 chapters of his gospel describing this conversation with the Disciples and Jesus’ time spent in prayer just before he is arrested. In this particular section we hear Jesus respond to this question from one of the Disciples: “Lord, why are you about to reveal yourself to us and not to the whole world?”
We are still in the Easter Season…The paraments are white and gold…The empty tomb is still on display…We haven’t finished rejoicing yet! So why are we back to this farewell text that leads down that road to Calvary? What a downer!
It might be helpful for us to hear this text from the perspective of where we are as a church and who we are as Christians. It’s true that we are still in the Easter Season…But when we look around we realize that it really is “after Easter”…It was just a few Sundays ago when our pews were full for Palm Sunday and Easter…It’s that way every year…What we see now is “business as usual”…“Church” has gone back to its shockingly low place on our priority list. So here we are…lots of choices for where to sit…But some of the energy has left the room…Someone is missing…We look around and we want to say: “Wait, the party isn’t over yet!”
Into this context comes this good news/bad news text from John’s gospel…The bad news is that Jesus is going away…The good news is that the Holy Spirit will come to restore the presence of the absent Jesus. God is still with us – going or coming.
The way John sets this conversation up in his gospel tells us a bit about the worshipping community to whom John is writing. John is writing near the end of the First Century to a church that is in turmoil and faces widespread hostility…These followers of Jesus have split from the synagogue and are worshipping on their own…There are clear divisions between the ways of the church and the ways of the world in which it seeks to exist…This section grows out of the question: why only tell us – why not show the whole world who you are? John lets Jesus speak into this reality by recalling his parting words and re-interpreting them for his community…We must do the same thing…we must hear Jesus’ words with our ears and act.
“Those who love me will keep my word…” Jesus made promises to God’s people and he expects those who love him and follow him to keep those promises…Care for, nurture, provide, and love one another. Live as Jesus lived and stop being so self-centered. Remember him when we gather; remember him always.
“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” Those who do not truly love Jesus are the ones who are not following the commandments Jesus gave us…“Love God, love one another…”
See how that priority list works:
3.) Kinda leaves you at the end
What Jesus is really saying here is that in spite of the chaos in our lives, in spite of the things this world throws at us, God must be the top priority IF we truly love Jesus. The good news in this story is simple: For every responsibility placed on us as disciples, Jesus and the Father provide the resources we need to carry out our tasks. In this story the image is that Jesus and the Father will come and “make their home” with those who love and follow them. It is a powerful image of us nurturing God’s words as Jesus crafts a home in our hearts where the Holy Spirit may dwell and feed us by reminding us of all that Jesus taught. As long as we’re using this construction image, think about one of the most famous paintings found in churches all over the world…It is the image of Jesus standing outside the door and knocking to be let in…The significant part of the picture is that there is no door knob on Jesus’ side of the door…The only way for Jesus to enter is for you to turn the knob on your side and open the door. I often wonder if we are so busy with everything else in our lives that we are simply not at home when Jesus comes knocking.
Rev. Dr. Mouzon Biggs is retiring after 30 years at Boston Avenue UMC…He was recently interviewed on Channel 8 and talked about the challenges faced by the contemporary church…He said that today’s generation of churchgoers isn’t in church as much as their mothers and fathers were…“There was no question of whether we will go to church or not, it was just understood. Of course we will.” He commented that people who attend church once a month consider themselves active members. He recognized that many things in our culture are competing for our attention and that many changes have taken place in the way our families function…However, he cautions us that church is simply no longer a priority for many people.
I believe that John’s efforts to interpret Jesus’ words for his community must be renewed as we try to re-interpret those same words for our community…In his Farewell Discourse Jesus tells the disciples that he is going away…This is a hard message for them to hear. He promises that his absence will be replaced when the Holy Spirit comes to give us all we need to carry on with the work Jesus began.
For us, this story says that, IF we keep God as our top priority, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will come and make their home with us. That means making tough choices between sleeping, playing, shopping, and many other things to make the time to come to church and worship God and learn what Jesus has to teach us. It means putting what God wants in front of what we want. It also means that we must do the hard work of telling our friends and fellow church members that we miss them when they are not here and so does God. If we will open the door and let him in, God will take care of us both going and coming…In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen