Promise, Love and Obedience

May 18, 2020
Ros Eveleigh

It’s been a long while since we did puppy training with Dilly our Sprocker Spaniel and although she and I remember some of what we learnt, we need to go back to the basics every so often!

And as we continue in lockdown there is also a need for households to go back to basics too-especially if it’s been a long while since we were all together under one roof.

How are you finding that?!

I saw one article this week that suggested that the spontaneous kindness shown to strangers during the pandemic is often easier to give than to members of our own household and that we may need to recognise that our family members might also need uncomplicated help and support in this pandemic that exist independently of any ups and downs in our relationships. Basic stuff: simple kindness shown at home as well as to others.

And what about our faith life?  Perhaps this time can be a season for us to go back to basics with God?

I know one person in our congregation who has used the extra time to read the Bible in a greater depth than they have ever done before. And you may be praying or worshipping in a way you never expected. We can find treasure even in this troubled time.

Every Christian is “a new creature in Christ” cf. 2 Cor. 5:17, yet for most believers this new status too often remains an unclaimed treasure. We know we are united with Christ, but that union has had no or little effect on our daily lives.

As with a long-distance, arranged marriage, our faith in Jesus Christ has resulted in a new legal condition and a new name, but it has not resulted in a real relationship of love. What’s gone wrong? Our union with Christ must be experienced—we must abide in Christ. We need to be at home in Christ and allow Christ to make his home in our lives.

John’s Gospel is full of the word ‘abide’ or dwell as we saw last week, that Jesus promises his disciples in his Farewell Discourse to them that he is going ahead to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house so that where Jesus is they may be too. Together under one roof. But what now? How will they cope without him? Jesus makes a promise to them.

Promise

Jesus continues in John 14 :15-21 to speak to his disciples who are anxious about his imminent physical departure from them and how they will manage without him teaching and guiding them. Jesus has already stated that he is the way to the Father and is the revelation of the Father. But he is withdrawing from the disciples sight and he won’t be their visible teacher and guide very soon. However he assures them that when he is no longer physically present, he is not absent and he has not abandoned them like orphans without a parent but he promises them the continuous presence of Holy Spirit.

I would like to pause there and share a story from professor and preacher Rubel Shelly who tells of his friends Rich and Patty White, who travelled to a developing world country to adopt a little girl named Olona.  After 2 years of effort and paperwork, the Whites stood before a judge who read words from an official document: “Inasmuch as Olona Morgan is orphaned and unwanted by any family in this country… Inasmuch as no citizen of this country wishes to have Olona Morgan…” When this recitation concluded, which gave the Whites custody of Olona, the loving couple dropped to their knees, hugged their new daughter, and promised, “You will never have to hear the word ‘unwanted’ spoken of you again.” When they arrived back home in Tennessee, they changed their daughter’s name from Olona Morgan to Hope White. “You and I are unwanted orphans in a hostile universe,” Shelly writes. “Dearly loved, sought after, and claimed, we are God’s children. We have been given Christ’s name as our own. We are secure because of him. On the authority of Jesus, we rest in confidence that we are more precious than we dared dream.”

The basis of the promise that Christ makes to his disciples and to all believers is that of the immense, unfathomable love of God for his own:

If anyone acknowledged that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us…We love because he first loved us.

I John 4: 15, 16, 19

The teaching of the New Testament maintains throughout a moral dimension that assumes individual responsibility within our relationship with God. It is a relationship that always begins with the divine initiative, but which also calls for a human response: “Abide in me…abide in my word…abide in my love” (Jn. 15:4, 7, 9).

Just as with human relationships our relationship with God can be under strain at times-our faith is tested, our hope is questioned, our love for God is weakened. How can we continue to abide in God when we or others question our own calling to follow or even our status as children of God??
In his imminent departure Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to the disciples, who is the gift of the Father cf John 15:26; 16:7-15. This is key to John’s understanding of discipleship and the gospel.

The Holy Spirit (in Greek Paracletos) is the third part of the Trinity and the essence and the action of the Spirit is characterised by truth cf 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6 as all three persons of the Trinity are linked with truth.

The meaning of Paracletos has a number of aspects to it:

Advocate- as a legal term for someone who helps another in a legal situation- more than just the role of a defence lawyer cf 1 Jn 2:1 but taking another person’s side, standing with them.

Intercessor- as one who prays for the disciples cf 1 Jn 2:1

Helper-as one who assists and upholds

Comforter- as one who comes alongside  cf Job 16:2

Counsellor – as one who gives wisdom and understanding cf John1:33; 14:26

The purpose of the Spirit is to reveal God in Christ and to know our abiding in Christ so to enable the disciples and us to continue Christ’s mission on earth.

Christ in us means that since God has filled us with His Spirit and the essence of who He is, we have the capacity to manifest His presence and power to the world around us.

Christ lives in us and we need to let him be seen. When we yield fully, we allow Christ himself to live in and through us. The result is that we become more Christ-like from ‘glory to glory’ as Christ is formed in us. This is done through the work of the promised Holy Spirit.

To the anxious and fearful disciples Jesus speaks: God is not absent, God has not abandoned us- He is with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit cf John 7:39

To the anxious and fearful believers today Jesus speaks: God is not absent, God has not abandoned us- He is with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Love

So the promise of the Holy Spirit is borne out of love and so the disciples are told that if they love Christ they will obey what he commands.

Jesus says that those who love him will keep his word. This is not the first time he’s said this (v15), and the implied command is clear: love isn’t a feeling, it is action, obedience to Jesus’ word.

But what is Jesus’ word? While it’s easy to speculate, and even easier to avoid having to obey by speculating, it is clear in John’s Gospel: Jesus commands that we serve one another – just as Jesus washed his disciples feet, so he expects us to serve each other (Jn 13:14-15). Jesus commands that we love another, even that we love another as Jesus loved us (13:34). And Jesus commands that we love one another even to the point of giving our life for one another (15:12-13).

It raises the question that as we keep Jesus’ commands do we receive his promises, and that as we hear his promises we are equipped to keep his commands?

Does the command to obey come before the promise of the enabling Holy Spirit? It is ‘both-and’ in a passage that is intended both to instruct and comfort those disciples Jesus was about to leave and those disciples who struggle to be faithful after his departure both in the story and today.

I am sure that there have been many times when we’ve loved another, not perfectly, but I suspect we have each at times loved others – or been loved by others – in a way that sought to follow Jesus’ command and example. 

This is our witness to the love of God in the way we love one another- at home, in our neighbourhood, in our parish and in the wider world.

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 i, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35.

This is the basis of our faith, our witness to the Gospel and the reason for our actions which identify us as God’s Easter people. As Pope Francis said in 2015 as he celebrated the canonisation of four saints:

“Our faith is firmly linked to their testimony, as to an unbroken chain which spans the centuries, made up not only by the successors of the Apostles, but also by succeeding generations of Christians.” Pope Francis added that all those who follow Christ are called to be witnesses to the Resurrection, “above all in those human settings where forgetfulness of God and human disorientation are most evident…If this is to happen, we need to remain in the risen Christ and in his love.”

Surely today we are absolutely in a global situation of human disorientation on an unprecedented scale and so we heed this encouragement to remain in the risen Christ and in his love, as we seek to love and serve our broken world.

Obedience

Jesus tells the disciples that the world cannot accept the Holy Spirit because it neither sees him nor knows him. v 17

This is the context of the mission of the disciples as they continue the work and ministry of Christ through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit within them and it remains our context today.

In his commentary on this passage Walter Bruegemann writes that:

The church cannot expect the world to appreciate or participate in its reason for being, its mandate for mission, its source of strength. The one who guides the church into all truth remains a secret to the world. The world’s ways of knowing and its criteria for evaluating what is real and important do not allowed for such divine presence as this. This suggests that the church, particularly in its moments of uncertainty and confusion cannot look complacent about what it is doing. It cannot expect that its way of loving Jesus and obeying his commandments will necessarily be highly valued, that it will receive plaudits when it is most faithful to Jesus’ directive.

At the same time the church is prevented from an arrogant aloofness from the world, because it knows that the divine presence is a gift. Jesus looks on a potentially orphaned community and asks the Father to send the Paraclete to be present with them. It is not a reward for the church’s good behaviour or its sincere piety, but an expression of God’s grace that the people of God enjoy the presence and direction of God.    Commentary on John

Here it is important for us to remember the promise of God, the love of God and our response of love and obedience:

Please pause for a moment- think of a time when you were able to love someone well or were loved beyond your expectations. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, or complicated, or dramatic, just a brief memory of when you tried to follow Jesus’ command or saw someone else do the same. As you do so, we are reminded not just of Jesus’ commandment but that it is possible to keep his word and be his disciples. So much in life can conspire against us following Jesus that I think this reminder will be not just important, but powerful-especially at this time in history.

Jesus later promises the disciples that the Holy Spirit will come and remind them of all that he has said to them Jn 14:26 and so we too can encourage one another that Jesus has equipped us to be his disciples today, to follow his word, to endeavour to keep his commandments and to be people among with whom he abides with the Father through the Holy Spirit.

Those to whom the Spirit comes live in love and obedience, and those who live in love and obedience are persons in whom the Spirit dwells.                Bruegemann

It’s a two way mode of grace- undeserved and unending.

Moreover in the strength and reality of this faith, the prayers which the disciples will pray will be prayers such as Jesus Himself would pray, prayers offered he tells them, In my name, such as he could present before the throne of grace…

The prayers that Christ prayed on earth were the prayers of the One whose chief characteristic was obedience to His Father. Prayers that are offered in Christ’s name must therefore be the prayers of those who are obedient to His commandments: and such obedience will be made possible, not by the cold exercise of the will, but by the warm love of the disciple for their Lord. This love will be fully reciprocated and as a result the Father will send at the request of the Son another Advocate, the Spirit who reveals the truth and abides for ever in the heart of the believer…

RVG Tasker commentary on John 14

To conclude

This week, as we look back at the events of Holy Week and Easter and on Thursday remember the Ascension of Jesus and look forward to the promised coming of the Holy Spirit celebrated at Pentecost, we also bring our ordinary lives to God in prayer and worship.

Within our daily lives we are reminded again that as followers of Christ:

We are heirs to the promises of God that are ours because of Jesus being with us by the Spirit:

We will see him with the eye of faith. 14:19

We will live with his new life 14:19

We will know the deepest theological knowledge of all: that Jesus and the Father are in each other and we are in him and he is in us and we will be joined to Jesus and the Father by the unbreakable bond of love.  14: 21 cf John 17:21

We reminded too that we are fully human, in need of being brought back to the basics of our faith time and again; to hear and obey the commandments of Jesus and to welcome afresh the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We are reminded of our need to abide in Christ everyday, in order that we may be a sign of life and love, intentionally showing and sharing the Gospel, speaking to the God-given yearning in all people to reconcile with God and with one another.

May God give you all the grace that you need to follow the commandments of Christ, to see the Holy Spirit at work in your lives and to abide in his presence daily.

Amen.

 

2 Comments

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