"If you love me..."

May 9, 1999 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon John 14:15-21

"If you love me, show it by doing what Iíve told you." Sounds like something my mother must have said once, if not a thousand times, when I was growing up. Seems to me Iíve heard that refrain repeated somewhere else in recent years. "If you love me, show it by doing what Iíve told you." Have any of you heard those words in the last week?

Love, after all, is not just something we say. Itís something we do. We show our love for another by listening to what they ask of us and then acting upon what we hear. Did you catch that? Real love involves listening. Sometimes we have to listen beyond the words, though, donít we? Sometimes itís not what a person we love is asking right in this moment, but what she has asked over and over again previously. Am I right? Children and husbands are notoriously deaf when it comes to this kind of listening, this kind of loving.

"If you love me, show it by doing what Iíve told you." Thatís something Jesus said to his disciples long ago. He said it as he was getting ready to leave them. Of course, at the time they didnít really understand why he was saying it. After all, Jesus was smack dab in the middle of his most productive years. Why would he want to leave when things were going so well? He was in Jerusalem, where the best and the brightest teachers should be - and he was definitely the best of the best. When Jesus spoke these words, he and his disciples were in the middle of a feast - a celebration time, if you will. Why talk about leaving when things are going so well? Thatís a question that probably was on his disciplesí minds.

Jesus, however, knew more of the road ahead than they. The time would come, as it always does, for things to change. Only it would happen much sooner than desired. In a matter of hours, in fact. "If you love me, show it by doing what Iíve told you." Now, Jesus didnít have Ďpicking up the room,í Ď taking out the trash,í or Ďdoing the dishesí in mind. Real love would involve some very hard lessons for those who followed Jesus. Later that very night, the disciple Peter would learn about real love as he sat around a fire and three times denied knowing Jesus. Of course, had he showed his love in those moments and revealed who he was, Peter might have been on a cross next to Jesus on the following day. I have a feeling that for the rest of his life Peter wished he had. However, we canít go back and change the past. We can only act out our love in the Ďhere and now.í

Thatís really what Jesus was getting at when he said, "If you love me, show it by doing what Iíve told you." He was looking ahead to when he no longer would physically be with those who followed him. "Show your love for me even when I am gone." Thatís a pretty tall order, isnít it?

On this day of honoring motherhood, many of us do so without our mothers. They no longer are physically with us. How, then, can we show our love? Good question. I canít answer it for you. I do believe, however, that in listening - youíll find the way. As I said earlier, we show our love by listening and acting upon what we hear. Thatís true of our relationship with our mother, each one of us, whether she is with us or departed from us. Thatís even true when other distances have developed between us.

We show our love by listening and acting upon what we hear. Thatís true of our most primary relationship - with God in Christ. The word "obedience" involves listening as much as acting. I think of it as leaning with our ear in the direction of Godís voice. Speaking for God, the prophet Isaiah once said, "Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live." (55:3) When we incline our ear, when we lean toward Godís voice, the rest of our body naturally follows - call it spiritual gravity. Thatís "obedience," "keeping the commandments of Christ," "doing what heís told us." It begins with listening.

Listen, again, to that marvelous verse in the 14th chapter of Johnís gospel, where Jesus gave his disciples (and us) a handle for living a life of real love. "I will not leave you orphaned," he said, "I am coming to you."

"I will not leave you parentless, as though abandoned. I am coming to you." In these words we hear the promise that we will never be alone. Someone is with us always... The festival of Pentecost is a couple weeks away, a time when we remember the birth of the church, when we recognize once again the presence of God among us in the form of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament speaks in a variety of ways about this wind, this breath, this fire, this presence, this spirit of God that blows through us, that powers us up, that is always with us, even though not in a form that we can physically touch.

In this passage from Johnís gospel, Jesus promised his disciples, and us, this Spirit. Only in Johnís gospel do we find yet another word to describe this Spirit. In Greek that word is "parakletos," or "paraclete." No, thatís not a couple of shoes with spikes on the bottom of them that baseball players wear. That would be a "pair of cleats." This is "paraclete." The word does sound a bit like a "parachute," doesnít it? It should, for they share a common root. A parachute goes with you when you jump out of a plane, and helps you to land safely. Thatís not too far from the meaning of the word "paraclete."

Some Bible versions translate this word as "comforter," which gives a nice warm feeling, doesnít it? Everyone needs a comforter, blanket care, arms that enfold in times of trouble. Certainly that is part of the picture this word paints. The Holy Spirit does bring such comfort! However, when John Wycliffe first used the English word "comforter"several hundred years ago to translate "paraclete," the word "comforter" meant more than it does today. Originally, "com-fort" was taken from the word "fortis" which means "brave." So, literally, a "comforter" was someone who helped another be brave, especially when they were down and lost. That comes close to the original meaning of "paraclete."

Other translations include "advocate," "counselor," "helper," or "someone to stand by you." All of these fit. Literally, a "paraclete" is someone who is "called in" for a variety of reasons: to give witness in your favor or to plead your case in a law court, or to provide the kind of advice you can count on in some difficult situation, or, as earlier said, to help pick you up off the floor and get you going again when youíve fallen.

As for me, I like the connection to the word "parachute." You see, "loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, spirit" (with all of who you are, really) is a bit like jumping out of an airplane. Itís risky to live out your faith - at home, at school, at work ... wherever. Those first disciples needed all the spiritual fortification, all the encouragement the paraclete, the Holy Spirit could give as they stepped out into their world after Jesus left. And you know what? Even though Jesus was no longer physically present with them, they turned their world upside down. "If you love me," he had told them, "show it by doing what Iíve told you." With the Holy Spirit called in to help, to be the very presence of Christ to them, they continued his work, and the world hasnít been the same since.

Listen. This paraclete, this Holy Spirit is still with us. Weíre not abandoned. Weíre not orphaned. The Holy Spirit goes along with us, wherever this God of glory / Lord of love leads. He is behind us, beside us, around us, and within us - a sign of Godís protection when weíre taking our leaps of faith. He is like a chute that, when opened, carries us safely home.

"If you love me," Jesus said, "show it..."

©1999Peter L. Haynes

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