“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
How do you hear these words this day? What does it mean to you to hear “If…then you will?” There are a couple different ways we take these words from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, these words spoken to his disciples on that last night when Jesus was betrayed, handed over to those who sought to control and kill him. You could first hear these words as a conditional statement that probably sound a little more like “If you really do love me, then you will do what I ask of you.” There’s nothing wrong with complying with the command and request of our Lord, Savior, and Friend, yet it can come across as something akin to what a parent would say to a child who has a pile of broccoli sitting on his or her plate: “If you want dessert, then you have to eat your vegetables.” I think we can start to see why this would be problematic. Taken as a conditional statement, it turns loving Jesus into a chore that must be completed or, like that child who is sitting at that dinner table 20 minutes after everyone else has left, keeping his commandments can become something like closing your eyes tightly and holding your nose as you are forced to do something that you really would rather not do. And is that how we are supposed to approach Jesus’ command “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another?”
In case you don’t know the full context in which our reading from the Gospel according to John comes, “…love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love another.” has just been spoken mere minutes before we begin our reading for today. So is our love for another really to be something like eating our vegetables, where we see other people in our lives and begrudgingly hold our nose, close our eyes tightly and do just enough so that we can receive the reward of our dessert? Certainly not! So there must be another way to hear these words that come from our redeemer on this day.
Maybe we can possibly hear “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” as simply a statement of causality, where our love for Christ necessarily causes us to keep his commandments, where keeping his commandments is necessarily is an affect of our love for him. And this reading of our gospel for today simply states the reality that if we truly do put our faith in Christ, if we center our lives upon the love that he has for us, we can almost do nothing other than love all those who abide with us on this planet we have called Earth. When it does get difficult for us to truly and deeply trust who this Jesus is, we also see that we will never be left alone and abandoned to try and do this all on our own. In fact, we will fail on our own without the help of that Advocate, that Spirit of truth guiding us to know, love and trust the Son of the Father who was sent into the world not to condemn the world, but “in order that the world might be saved through him.” No, in fact this statement is a statement of causality that brings to light the reality of who we are in Christ Jesus our Lord, that who we are is simply a people who gather around the cross that saves us all from sin and death, not to only die, but to be raised up into eternal life with Christ in the resurrection.
No, our Lord will not leave us orphaned, abandoned to our own inability to fulfill the requirements of the law. Jesus knows that we will fail, just much as he knew that even his most steadfast disciple, that rock on which the church shall stand, Peter, will deny that he knows this man who he has called teacher, and who the teacher now calls him his friend. Every day of our lives we need the support and care of the Holy Spirit inspiring us to know and love God, so that we may see just how much God loves us this day and every day from here on out. This Spirit shapes us into being what God has created us to be – a good creation that God is pleased to invite into the life and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Spirit sets our eyes toward that hill where we see exactly what God has given up and done for us in our lives, right here, right now!
So if this is who we truly are, then let us truly be the people of God in the world for everybody to see, where they will know that we are Christians not because of how correct our doctrine is, not because of how morally righteous we are, but because we simply show the love Christ has for us by the love we have for all of those around us. This is not a chore to be completed to get to the really good stuff, the dessert, the paradise of heaven. This is something that, when our eyes are firmly affixed on the cross, we rejoice in the freedom that has been given to us to finally love and serve our neighbor, not because we have to, but because we simply do! This promise of the Holy Spirit for our lives is for today and everyday. This is the promise which gives us life, love, and direction.