Salem Lutheran Church

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Gathered to be Transformed

Here we are, only a couple of weeks away from ending the Season of Easter, the time in the church year that we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus and, yet, our gospel text isn’t focused on Jesus’ Resurrection, but instead, it is focused on the time just before Jesus’ death. For the past few weeks we have been reading about the teachings of Jesus just before he was arrested. We are trying to celebrate the Resurrection, but to do that it appears we need to focus on Jesus’ final days and the instructions he was leaving for his followers. Our story today is a continuation of last week’s story. It was the night that Jesus would be arrested. He had gathered his disciples together, he had washed their feet, and he had told them that he was about to be betrayed. He had shared that Peter would deny him three times that night. Jesus was in the midst of preparing his closest disciples for life without him.

As I noted last week, in John’s gospel, the good news that the author of this gospel wants us to hear is that is that in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus,God has made a way to us and Jesus is trying to assure his disciples that even though he will be leaving them, they will not be alone. But, the disciples aren’t buying it. As we heard last week, Thomas was still trying to get better directions as to what to do and Phillip wanted proof. You can’t blame the disciples for struggling with this plan Jesus was laying out for them. They had left everything to follow Jesus, and now he was telling them that he was about to leave them? What’s up with that? The work he had been doing with them was hard and it was dangerous. If they were going to continue to spread the gospel and build what will later be called the church, they needed Jesus. He was the key to all their success. Had they accepted his invitation to be part of this incredible ministry, only to discover that they would soon be alone with no one to lead and guide them?

Jesus understands their concerns. He fully understands their fears and their skepticism, just like he understands our fears and skepticism, and so he shares with them that he is not leaving them alone, or as John Holt explained it in our staff meeting this week, Jesus wanted them to know that he “had their backs.” And so, Jesus says to his disciples, “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).

Now I know this sounds like a conditional offering from Jesus, “if you love me…” then I will do this for you, but, it isn’t a conditional offering on his part at all. No, what Jesus was saying was that our actions, or how we live or lives, will show whether or not we really love him. If the disciples, or if we, really love him, then that love will be shown in the keeping of what he has commanded, and in so doing we need to know that he will be helping us every step of the way. And so the question is, what has he commanded? Well, let’s go back to something he said earlier this same evening, which we read back on Maundy Thursday -- “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35). Jesus was saying, if you love me, you will “love the world as I have loved.”

In other words, our love for Jesus will be shown in how we treat others. Jesus fed the hungry. Jesus healed the sick. Jesus welcomed the stranger. Jesus welcomed those who were different and cast aside by the mainstream. Jesus celebrated the diversity of others. Jesus offered God’s forgiveness to all who desired it, even to his enemies. Remember what he said on the cross, “Father forgive them…”. Jesus responded to everyone in peace, even those who would betray him and who would kill him. The love Jesus offered wasn’t a feeling, but a decision, and it never wavered. Jesus loved all of God’s creation and he instructed his followers -- that is you and me -- to do the same. It is so easy to say with our lips, "I love Jesus," but it isn’t so easy to let our actions show it, and so, in the midst of celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection, we once again hear Jesus say to his disciples, and to us, let your actions show your love for me.

But, as I said, this is hard, and, in fact, it might even be impossible for us to do this on our own, so Jesus does something that ensures we will be able to love as he has loved. He refuses to leave his followers orphaned. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus promises his followers that even though he physically will leave, he will still live with them now and for every generation to come.

When Jesus goes to the Father, he tells his disciples that he will ask the Father to send them another “Advocate,” which he notes is the Holy Spirit. According to Webster’s dictionary, an advocate is one that “pleads the cause for or defends another.” So, the Holy Spirit is the one who will publicly defend us and plead our cause as we seek to bring about God’s kingdom in this world. As we seek to share the gospel and to be invitational, the Holy Spirit is the one that will support us. This Advocate that helps us continue the work Jesus started enables us to practice and share our gifts, and by doing this, we are able to participate with the Holy Spirit in the work of God’s kingdom.

In the final days of this Easter Season, we are being challenged by Jesus’ teachings to answer some tough questions. First and foremost, do we believe in the promises of Jesus? Do we believe the Holy Spirit has our back? As scary as it is to talk about and share our faith, do we believe the Holy Spirit will encourage us and support us as we do what Jesus has commanded and then that the same Spirit will open the minds and hearts of others to join us? Do we even want to love as Jesus loved? Do we want to follow Jesus’ commands?

The ultimate call of the church is for all of Jesus’ followers to go and grow the church. That is our job. It is not to create converts. It is not to convince others to believe as we believe, but it is to share the Good News and to invite others to participate in God’s love. Put another way, if we as a faith community want to continue to grow and to fully participate in the mission of God, then today we are called to commit ourselves to be those who joyfully share the gospel and invite others to participate in it.

I know it is a hard thing to do, but Jesus has our backs and gathering in worship is one of the ways we can be reminded, encouraged, and strengthened to be obedient to the commands of Jesus. This obedience is not born out of duty or obligation, but the type of obedience that stems from love, as an expression of love.

As we prepare to bring the Season of Easter to a close next week, we are reminded that the risen Christ dwells in us as the Spirit of truth. We receive this Spirit in baptism and pray that in our gathering around the Lord’s Table the Spirit will transform us to be the body of the risen Christ in the world. Amen.


Tags: Sermons