“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (John 14:15, 16)
Hearing these sentences from Jesus in today’s gospel lesson I am reminded of the Small Catechism, that nifty little book written by Martin Luther in the 1500s to help families and pastors teach the basic tenants, or teachings of faith. In addition to discussing the Apostles Creed, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and the Lord’s Prayer, the Small Catechism includes a discussion of the Ten Commandments.
In his explanation of the Ten Commandment Luther points out that the Commandments direct us towards that which we should be doing, as well as showing what we should not do. So, for example, not only should we not steal what is not ours, we should help others in caring for what is theirs, protecting and enhancing our neighbor’s assets. Not only should we not lie, we should make truth the foundation upon which our personal, congregational, and civic lives are built.
If our focus is on loving God, keeping these commandments naturally follows. It is impossible to be preoccupied with loving God and despise or hate our fellow humans. It is impossible to put God before all things – before money or being liked by other people or being right – it is impossible to put God before all other things and not hold God’s name as holy and precious, remember the Sabbath, honor our families, eschew murder, stealing, lying about others and being jealous of their stuff. And Jesus promises that even as Jesus ascends to his earthly throne God will give us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to be with us forever. And it the power of the Holy Spirit that makes this love of God possible, empowering these frail bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits with the everlasting strength born of the cross.
So even as the power of sin constantly seeks to tear black holes into our lives and the world that quite literally suck the beautiful marrow out of the beautiful hearts and souls and minds and bodies with which God has blessed us, we do not falter or lose hope We do not cease striving to do what is good and right and pleasing before God. For God in Christ is always finding ways to work over our brokenness, redeeming and sanctifying us through the power of the Advocate.
When Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” this sentence might remind us of another of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances as well. Appearing to the disciples on another occasion, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. Each time Peter says that he does and Jesus responds “then feed my sheep.” “If you love me, then feed my sheep.”
Commentators have noted that the three times in which Jesus asks Peter this question mirror the three times in which Peter had denied being Jesus’ disciple. Jesus’s question, “do you love me?” would in this light seem to be a form of absolution for Peter, washing away Peter’s denial. With Christ’s prompting Peter is pushed to affirm and perhaps even re-commit his heart and life to Jesus. Sometimes all we need is for someone to ask us the question and we see the answer with clarity. “Do you love me?” Are your actions reflecting my love and my commandments?
We want, oh we want so much to do the right thing, to be the good people, to follow our Savior! And yet often we, like Peter, claim total allegiance to Jesus in one moment only to deny him by our actions and words the next.
We show love to loved ones and then hold grudges against them. We act as caretakers for God’s earth by recycling and then as a nation we consume more than 65% of all the earth’s resources to support our creature comforts. We care for neighbors through church and civic organizations and then shut people up or shut people out when the cost of that care begins to raise questions and fears about being able to take care of ourselves. Like Peter, all too often we deny the Christ, even as Christ is heading to the cross to redeem our very lives.
But oh, what is made possible when Christ by the eternal power of the cross, that cleanses our hearts and seeks to re-direct our lives! Oh, what is possible when our infidelity is worked over by God’s faithfulness in Christ!
When God asks us, again and again, “do you love me?” When God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, helps us again and again to answer “yes!” Then our made-possible-by-God-in-Christ-yes will be words of comfort and hope for the nations of the world. Then our actions will be restoration for all of God’s good Creation. Then our lives will reflect Christ’s goodness and mercy. Oh yes! When we love God with all our hearts and our souls and our minds and our bodies we cannot then but help to keep God’s commandments.
Then our love of God shines brightly like it does through the Churches of Common Ground and Church of the Damascus Road, both Lutheran congregations begun with a focus on support for people in Twelve Step recovery communities. Then will our love of God shine brightly like it does through the seminaries of Gettysburg and Philadelphia Lutheran, willing to give up their buildings and personal survival in order to become United Lutheran Seminary, to better educate Church leaders for today and long into the future. Then will our love of God shine brightly, as it does through Lutheran World Relief, which works globally and locally to translate love into sustainable livelihoods that support dignity for all human beings.
When we love God first, the rest all falls into place. Or maybe we might more accurately say that it lifts into mystical union with the ceaseless petitions of our Great High Priest, our Messiah who is Christ Jesus.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Yes! When we practice - amidst our busy lives – being most busy, most preoccupied with loving God, everything else lifts into place. When we look at our lives and the world not through rose-colored glasses, but through lenses steeped in God’s love, we will be shown what to do at every turn. God has given us Commandments as guideposts, both showing us what not to do as well as what we should do. And most of all, God makes possible all that is good and worthy, all that is upright and pleasing by sending Christ to transform us, to redeem us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to lead us on the path to righteousness.