Keep my Command

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the sixth Sunday of Easter are here.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus spoke these words on the night of his arrest, at his last meal with the ones closest to him. It is part of the same conversation that we read a bit of way back when on Maundy Thursday and last week when Duane Miller was our guest. When we read it broken up into bits, as Duane pointed out, we miss out on the golden thread of the whole conversation.

We have to flip back a page or two to remember just what Jesus’ commandment is. But those in the room that night some 2000+ years ago would have just heard him say “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (John 13:34-5)

And to make sure this point isn’t missed, as Jesus continues speaking with his disciples at this final meal, as we turn the page forward, Jesus reiterates “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12).

The fruit of our love for Jesus is love. Just like a peach tree can only grow peaches, only love can produce love. Anger, mockery, manipulation, control, nor coercion can grow love, these cannot grow love fruit. Loving as Jesus loves means that we always want the best for another and a piece of wisdom in all that Jesus teaches us about how to love well is that we are only in control of our own behaviors. When Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit he lists self-control, not other-control. No amount of coercion or manipulation or condemnation will force another to love Jesus. Any and every amount of compassion and kindness shines the light of God’s love on others. Just as Jesus shows us in flesh and blood what it is to love as God loves, we model the character we want others to emulate. Others will choose to join us on this journey because they know they are loved, not because we attempt to control them or are mean to them.

Remember that in the midst of all that Jesus is saying that Judas left the room to betray him and in a few short hours Peter would deny knowing him. And Jesus washed their feet and ate with them. Another piece of wisdom that Jesus shows us about how to love well is knowing some will hurt us and some will walk away completely and yet we always make room at the table for everyone who wants a seat and then together in love we grow, with intention and discipline, to be more like Jesus.

Jesus proclaims love as the way to peace and freedom not so we are free to do whatever we want, but so that we are freed by love from the harm caused by both condemning and being condemned; the harm caused by both oppressing and being oppressed; the harm caused by both hating and being hated.

The people Jesus confronted the most severely were those who condemned others. His harshest words were for those in authority over others who used their power to oppress rather than build up, to control rather than relate, and to conquer rather than companion.

If we sit here on Sunday proclaiming our love for Jesus and then, outside of these walls, mock or belittle or condemn those we disagree with or who aren’t like us, we are not bearing love fruit. If in God, “we live and move and have our being” as Paul so beautifully puts it, our whole self, our whole life, is shaped by who God is. Not that we are made instantaneously perfect when we choose to follow Jesus – we remain human, with faults and failings – but that we let ourselves be discipled by the Way of Jesus so that we become more like him.

The more intentional we are in following Jesus, the more like Jesus we become. It is a lifelong journey, never too soon or too late to begin. We are in control of what we let shape us, disciple us. Our TVs and smart phones all have off buttons. With the plethora of media available to us, we can choose what we do watch and read and listen to, with the wisdom that whatever we give our time to shapes us. We can choose to let ourselves be shaped by the world or by God’s love for the world.

This is the Good News. The salvation that Jesus offers us by his life, death, and resurrection is that God loves. Period. Full Stop. We cannot earn God’s love or coerce it. God loves, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to cause God to love us any more or any less than he does at this very moment. This Loving God who created the universe and beyond came to dwell among us as Jesus and comes to dwell in us as the Holy Spirit. God isn’t some remote observer of our life but the One who wants to be in communion with us; as close and intimate as the breath we breathe.

With God’s help, we can choose compassion over anger or hate. We can choose kindness over judgement, companionship over coercion; we can control our desire to be in control of others.

When we make the choice to follow Jesus, we are, as Peter puts it, appealing to God for a good conscience – to live a life shaped by God’s Way. Together as Followers of Jesus in community, as the big “C” Church, we work out what it looks like in flesh and blood to love as Jesus loves in our place and time. It takes intentionality and discipline to be disciples, listening to the voice of our shepherd, obeying his command to love as he loves so that we can bear the fruit of God’s Kingdom in Canyon Lake, Texas in 2023. This is what each of us is called to do and to be as we choose to be a part of St. Francis by the Lake, the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, and the Body of Christ made up of all Followers of Jesus.

Alright, let’s do a learning exercise together before we wrap this up. Everyone take the Book of Common Prayer from the pew rack in front of you and turn to page 855. Starting at the very top of the page:
Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.
Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

As you ponder this in this week to come, I encourage you to read this whole section of John – chapters 13 through 16. It won’t take long, maybe 5 or 6 minutes. Turn off whatever else you are letting shape you this week for just a few minutes each day and read these words of Jesus. And let me know if it makes a difference in the other 23 hours and 54 minutes of your day.

It is our – each of us together – to be witnesses of God’s love in this hurting and broken world. If we love Jesus, we will keep his command to love as he loves. Others will know we are Followers of Jesus by our love. Amen.

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