Sixth Sunday of Easter: May 17, 2020
Year A, Easter 6: Psalm 66:7-18, 15-16; Acts 17:22-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
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We’re in the season that we would normally have lots of celebration. Normally, we’d be attending a lot off graduation parties, even weddings. I went to a college and a seminary where there were a lot of traditions, especially when you attend a seminary that is now more than two hundred years old.
In seminary, one of the time-honored traditions was for second-year students to give incoming students a gift. Our class received a devotional book “Hour by Hour”. In turn, my class gave the newbies Anglican rosary beads. Yes, Anglican rosary beads are a thing.
What we were giving one another was a legacy. Perhaps that’s the most difficult thing about the rituals that we are missing this year – we’re feeling the loss of the legacy.
Jesus is certainly giving us a legacy in today’s gospel. In the text for today, Jesus says to the disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” his commandments were part of his legacy, of what he was leaving behind for the disciples.
These words are part of what is known as the “Farewell Discourse”. Soon, Jesus would no longer be physically with the disciples as they knew him. He was preparing them for life without his physical presence, something today’s Christians can relate to. Thus, Jesus emphasized how his followers were to continue the legacy he was leaving: through living a life that he modeled for them and obeying his commandments.
But what were the commandments Jesus was referring to? Earlier in the gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that he is giving them a new commandment: to love one another as he has loved them (John 13:34). He goes on to say that this is how everyone will know that they are his followers, by their love (John 13:35).
But what does love really mean? Our society is obsessed with the notion of love. It is in our romantic comedies, showing us that in the end true love always prevails. It is in our books, which help us to reflect on the different ways we show and receive love. It is in our music, no matter the genre. We even have a holiday dedicated to celebrating love, as if it is the only day all year where showing our love counts most.
But what does the Christian faith say about love? Throughout the New Testament, we encounter many definitions and descriptions of love, some mysterious and others more evident. We know that God is love and that God loves us so much that Jesus, God’s only son, was given to us. We also have the popular descriptors of love that are shared at many weddings: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Leviticus even tells us that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, with Jesus claiming it as the second greatest commandment, with our love of God as the first (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36-40). Yet, Jesus’ statement, if you love me, you will keep my commandments, does not specify any of these; it only implies that if we love Jesus we are to love each other, leaving the means of love to our discretion.
However, in this text, we can learn more about what love means to Jesus through other parts of the legacy He left the disciples. He said to them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever” (John 14:16).
Out of Jesus’ love for his followers and for God’s love of both Jesus and humanity, an Advocate, or “helper” as it is translated from Greek, would be sent to Jesus’ followers. It is also important to note that Jesus said another advocate. Jesus is also an Advocate sent by God to the world, to reconcile it, to love it, and to draw humanity closer to God through his life, death, and resurrection. Thus, after Jesus was no longer physically with his followers, the Spirit would walk with them and guide them the way Jesus walked with them and guided them. The Spirit would be with the followers as Jesus was with them. It was as if Jesus knew his followers would need assistance living a life of love as he did. Luckily, for them and for us, the Spirit they were given would be with them forever: it was with them and within them. The Spirit would be part of his legacy, reminding his followers of his legacy and guiding them as they strove to live into it.
To love is to be an advocate, to give oneself for others as Christ gave himself for us and as God gave of Jesus and the Spirit.
This definition of love is illuminated throughout the Gospels. We see Jesus loving, advocating, and in ministry with the poor and the marginalized, women, persons with disabilities, lepers, strangers and the imprisoned. He fed the hungry and healed the sick. And the list goes on. These are all part of his legacy.
We are to continue loving our neighbor and seeing them as God sees us all, in word and in deed. This Spirit is still moving among and within us today as we continue Jesus’ work of love! We too have not been left alone in the task we are called to as believers. But how are we to live into Jesus’ legacy? How do we reflect, live into, and embody love?
In addition to showing love as individuals, we are to show love as a community of faith. We are to advocate as a church. We are to preach and teach messages of love. We are to advocate through the hospitality we show to those who are most active in the church, towards those who visit once in a while, and towards those who need a warm place to sleep or to receive food. We also show love as a church outside of the church building, being a public witness of God’s love. We must listen to people in the community who are deemed voiceless as we meet them in the community or when they enter our churches. We must journey with persons as they seek to grow deeper in their relationships with God and with their neighbor. We must create disciples of love.
This is ideal, it isn’t always reality. It is a difficult task. The church is made up of diverse people with different passions, schedules and resources. Yet we strive to come together, bound by our love for God and commitment to Jesus’ legacy.
Theologian Orlando Costas puts it best in his essay Evangelism and the Gospel of Salvation when he says, “That [humanity] will never achieve a perfect, just, and peaceful world through [itself] is clearly taught in Scripture. But [humanity’s] search for justice, peace, hope, and solidarity is, nevertheless, a sign of the coming age which the church must relate to and interpret in the light of the gospel. [Humanity’s] life struggles constitute, therefore, opportunities for the church to show forth and demonstrate prophetically Christ’s saving power.” This too is Christ’s loving power.
The responsibility can be overwhelming. We know that the disciples were overwhelmed by the life they were summoned to live. However, like the disciples, we have the Holy Spirit as our advocate. The times we feel powerless or unequipped for a particular task, or for delivering God’s message, we too can ask God for the Spirit of Truth as Jesus did.
As we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit as our advocate, we must consider the legacy we are creating. What does society consider the Christian presence in our current community, nation, and the world? What is our footprint? Does the world see us as vessels of love, building a present to produce a future of love? Or do they consider our legacy to be something else?
As we reflect on the many ways we have shared and received love, may we remember the many ways in which we can still grow in our ability to love until the day when we are united with Christ again. This way, we, like the middlers can leave a legacy of words and actions to equip those who are entering the world behind us.
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.