a sermon on John 14:15-23
Anytime I hear our reading this morning from the gospel of John, this song immediately comes into my head. While I have sung many of the great works of choral music, I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually sung this particular one—but I do know that its simplicity and beauty inspire me to think differently about these words and the two incredible gifts that they describe.
Jesus’ words to his disciples from this reading in the fourteenth chapter of John point us to two incredible gifts that Jesus left with us. First, they remind us of the gift of his commandments. Now Jesus never gave his disciples an explicit list of his commandments in the gospel of John. Unlike what our bulletin cover suggests this morning, Jesus did not come down from a mountain like Moses, carrying two stone tablets inscribed with ten explicit instructions from God. Instead, Jesus gave his disciples a single new commandment just a few moments before these words:
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, if you have love for one another.
So when he tells his disciples that if they love him they should keep his commandments, he is telling them to show the kind of love that he showed them. Jesus gifts them with love so that they might gift others with love too.
But what does this love look like? How are the disciples—and by extension us—to live out the gift of this love in their lives and their world? It’s easy to make this love some sort of abstraction, as a generic feeling of goodwill focused on humanity in general, with no application in present and real circumstances. Instead, as Nancy Ramsay reflects,
this love is the lived reality revealed in the life, relationships and actions of a simple Nazarene who looks and talks like them and lives simply among them. He feeds the hungry, touches lepers, heals the sick, and speaks and acts toward women with care and regard. Love is seen in his life as service and compassion. It is also seen in his fierce protests against those who abuse this vision of the value of each person and the importance of an ethic of mutual regard and care. Instead of power as domination, Jesus invites those who meet him to imagine power that has as its goal the well-being of all persons regardless of social status. (Nancy J. Ramsay, “Pastoral Perspective on John 14:15-21,” Feasting on the Word: Year A , Volume 2, p. 492.)
This love of Jesus, then, demands a new and different way of life that sets aside power for presence, that steps outside of our comfort zones to meet others in their places of need, and that upholds the fullness of life that God grants to each and every one of us.
As difficult as it may be at times to live out, Jesus’ gift of the commandment to love is good news. But the second gift of Jesus in these words is probably even better, for he does not leave us to live out this gift on our ability alone, as he knows that that will just make things worse. Instead, he brings us a second gift, “another Advocate, to be with [us] forever.” Now ultimately this is a little preview of the story that will come before us in two weeks, where that Advocate named the Holy Spirit shows up on the day of Pentecost and surprises the disciples with all sorts of unexpected gifts, but even the promise of this gift here is important. This gift makes it clear that the disciples—and us too—do not face the challenges of living out this commandment to love on our own. Not only are we surrounded by others who are also challenged to love one another, we are supported by this continuing presence of God with us. This Spirit of truth may not be immediately visible—the world cannot see this Advocate, after all—but we will know that the Spirit is with us, and we will not be orphaned, wondering if anyone will journey with us or left alone to figure out the way on our own.
So Jesus also names this Spirit as “Advocate.” Now this is actually only a partial translation of the original Greek word here, “Paraclete.” That one word seems to come from a legal background, and so it implies other meanings too, like intercessor, helper, comforter, and counselor. This Paraclete will continue the work that Jesus began, embody his presence with the disciples after he is gone, continue to teach them when he can no longer do so, and bear witness to God in Christ each and every day.
So the gift of the Holy Spirit, described first by Jesus here as the Paraclete and later witnessed coming in power on the day of Pentecost, guides, directs, and supports us as we live out the gift of love we know in Christ in our world. This Spirit is so intimately involved in everything about us that we can easily miss out on all the Spirit is doing! Our Brief Statement of Faith describes the work of this Spirit very well in modern terms:
We trust in God the Holy Spirit,
everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,
sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor,
and binds us together with all believers
in the one body of Christ, the Church.
The same Spirit
who inspired the prophets and apostles
rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,
engages us through the Word proclaimed,
claims us in the waters of baptism,
feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,
and calls women and men to all ministries of the Church.
In a broken and fearful world
the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,
we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks
and to live holy and joyful lives,
even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth,
praying, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’
Ultimately, these words assure us that the gift of the Spirit as Paraclete will bring us comfort and hope, not because we need to feel good but to challenge us to walk in a new and different way, to live in the kind of love that Jesus himself offered, and to bear that kind of love to one another and all the world.
These are two incredible gifts in Jesus’ commandments and in the Holy Spirit. They are given with grace and mercy beyond measure, without restriction or limitation. They come in unusual and surprising ways to bring us life and for us to share with others. And they come to transform us and our world because of God’s abiding and continuing presence among us. So may we be ready to receive these two incredible gifts, to follow Jesus’ commandments to live in love with one another and to welcome the Holy Spirit each and every day, so that we might share them with anyone and everyone until all things are made new in Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God! Amen.