“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” NRSV *************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************
There is a lot of talk lately about the difference between being religious and being spiritual. Lots of people say they are spiritual, but not religious.
“On first glance, it may seem like the terms “religious” and “spiritual” are similar, but in the view of religious traditionalists and spiritual seekers the words describe opposing points of view.
The term “religious” is usually interpreted as meaning adherence to a particular religion …doctrine, and consecrated belief structure, while the term “spiritual” is less rigidly defined and can encompass ideas from various, and sometimes seemingly conflicting, faith traditions as well as personal spiritual ideas.
Many SBNRs have… had negative experiences with religious institutions and church leaders. Some grew up in church organizations they found stifling. Some discovered that too much questioning of religious doctrine got them in trouble. Others butted heads with religious authorities over issues – some finding religious dictates to be too constricting and out of touch and others discovering the institutions and members to be hypocritical”[i]
I get that. We hear all the time that church people are hypocritical. It’s true you know. We don’t always act the way we should. And we, knowingly and unknowingly cause harm… damage… to one another and to the world. We also don’t agree on very much as a church, whether we are talking about the worldwide institution of Church or our little piece of Main St. USA… we have our own opinions on doctrine, moral and social issues, policy, politics… we ascribe to the theology that best suits us- we have our own views on the way we interpret scripture; literal, allegorical, metaphorical…
And these views we have adopted as our own… they become very important to us. They shape who we are- we use them as a compass- they give us stability and grounding. So naturally, when our theology, or our views, or our grounding… is challenged by someone or something… (someone disagrees with us) we take it as a rejection- a rejection of not just our ideas, but of who we are. And in an attempt to defend our position, or our views, or sometimes because we are just plain stubborn and don’t want to budge, we can say and do the meanest things to one another! And that plays out in a whole lot of different ways; but in the end, it reflects on us as a church… “hypocrite!”
And I'm not pointing fingers here... we all do it. But hang on hypocrites… help is on the way…
Today we read a passage from John- one of the four passages in John where Jesus talks about the paraclete- it’s a Greek word that means helper, comforter, advocate, consoler.
Jesus is telling his disciples in what is better known as his parting discourse- look, I’m going to die- but you’re not going to be without me…someone else will be sent to help and be with you...
Jesus is of course talking about the Holy Spirit. That the same spirit that is in him, that IS him, will live and dwell within them. This same spirit (Jesus) who is with them now in the flesh, will always be with them…
We’re going to be looking at this passage for the next couple of weeks; and the main theme is that in each of us, lives the paraclete- the Holy Spirit, who moves and guides and directs us in our being and in our lives… and that Spirit is the part of us that assures us that nothing can separate us from the Love of God through Christ…
But this week I want us to look at the first statement… “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…” And what are the commandments? Well, there’s a whole slew of them aren’t there? But Jesus tells us, the greatest commandment is to love one another… that at their most basic level, all the commandments boil down to “love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Simple enough, isn’t it?
If we love Jesus, we will keep the commandments.
So what happens when we don’t… because I know that there are times in my life when I can be called anything but loving- not toward my family, or my friends or my neighbor, and there are lots of times when I am not even loving toward myself. And despite the Holy Spirit dwelling in me… and I in Christ… and Christ in me… I go my own way.
And I have to question, if I love God, why in the heck do I act this way? Do I really have the love for Christ that I claim to have? Does the Spirit really live in me, even when I’m doing despicable things? (Yes, I used the word despicable… synonyms: wicked, appalling, shameful… if we look for more than a moment at some of the behaviors we have, and how we treat each other at times… ‘Despicable’ is a pretty accurate word)
And during those times it’s very easy to forget that the Spirit is still there… because by the appearances of our hypocritical actions… it seems like we have either abandoned that Spirit or she has abandoned us… there is no semblance of anything Holy in us…
And so as a rule, we have come to look for an even depend on outward behavioral signs as a way to assure ourselves that Christ is indeed still with us.
In 1985 St. John's head coach Lou Carnesecca got a gift from an Italian basketball coach- a striped sweater. Carnesecca wore the sweater one game and the team had a big last minute win- it became “the lucky sweater.” He wore the sweater every game for the next 18 games- St. John’s had a 19 game winning streak going. When the team members saw the sweater walk onto the court, they knew they had the game won… it became a symbol of their success…
But the day of the championship game against Georgetown, Hoyas Coach John Thompson walked into Madison Square garden with a sport coat on- strolled over to the St. John’s team, opened that coat and flashed the team and the crowd- underneath his coat he had on the exact same sweater as Carnesecca. He had gotten a replica made- and he was quoted as saying “there is no lucky sweater… we’ve got one too.”
The plan worked- Georgetown crushed St. John’s 85-69. In fact the game is called “The John Thompson Sweater Game.” (For the full story, see http://www.guhoyas.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/121009aaa.html)
You see, the St. John’s team was so caught up in the outward appearance of the sweater; their symbol of success, that they let that one thing dictate the way they played the rest of the game! They got so flustered, that they forgot that it wasn’t what was on the outside that had helped them be a great team, but what was within them- All their training, practice,skill; confidence was shattered because they had put their faith in an outward symbol.
Why do I tell you this? Because sometimes we let our sweaters determine who we think we are… the things we wear on the outside… the way we act or treat each other… the behaviors we exhibit, good or bad… those behaviors don’t determine who were are inside. The things we do, good or bad… don’t change how God views us, or what God thinks of us, or the Holy Spirit’s power within us.
And what’s more, we use those things to determine and judge God in me… and God in others… it gives us a way to measure our own walk, and judge the way others may or may not be in tune with the “Spirit.” After all, Jesus said it himself- “if you love me you will keep my commandments” so if we aren’t keeping the commandments…???
In Greek, “if” and “when” are the same word. So while you can translate this text, “if you love me”, it is just as correct to translate it “When you love me, you will keep my commandments.” " If/When, you love me…. If/when you come to the understanding of my love for you… you will keep my commandments… you will live in love for others… the way I have for you…"
Within each of us lies the power and the living Spirit of God- and there are NO varying degrees of Spirit-( that some have more than others or that God somehow gives some people an extra dose while leaving some people high and dry) It's also NOT true that the amount of spirit you have is exhibited by how you act.
What Jesus is imploring his disciples to do, is to understand that regardless of how they ACT on the outside, regardless of whether they see Jesus physically, or feel him in Spirit, that they are never without him. And that whether they are keeping all the commandments or not keeping the commandments, he loves them just as much; that the promises he gives are for always, not just when they are acting 'God like…'
Jesus knows you inside and out. He knows that there were going to be times in our lives when it would be difficult if not impossible to try to act the way he would want us too. And I’m not giving permission for anyone to hurt another person, or excusing shameful behavior. But sometimes when we know we have acted badly toward another human being, we start to question... 'how long will God let this kind of stuff go on before God just gives up on me?'
And I want you to know today that the Spirit that lives in you never gives up on you; that is a gift and a promise, and in fact, it is your future. If/when, you are in that spot, and you are feeling like not only has God abandoned you but that you don’t deserve to have the Spirit in the first place… don’t go around looking for the sweater. Don’t go searching for signs 'out there' that God is still with you. Step back… look inside and ask yourself… 'What’s going on? What in me is feeling challenged, or threatened or rejected. Where is this behavior coming from?'
And then, look deeper within you…look inside and you will run right into the Spirit that lives and abides in you because God is there no matter what you see or feel or think… even when your own actions tell you that God has deserted you… you’re never alone… present in every breath in, and every breath out, is the helper, the comforter, the advocate, the consoler… not judging you or fed up with you, but loving you…
If/when you come to understand that that is the kind of love that God has for you… then living out Christ’s commandment to love one another can become as natural as breathing… as God in me and I in God…