The story is told of a man who was sitting in his chair one evening and his wife shouted at him, “You haven’t heard one word I have said!” the startled man jumped, and thought to himself, “Now that’s an odd way to begin a conversation.”
It is a fact of life, isn’t it, that often we don’t catch the entire conversation. Sometimes we simply aren’t listening like our startled husband; other times we come into the conversation after it has started. This is the case today. Our gospel reading starts in the middle of a conversation. There is a lot more that we have not heard. This section of Scripture is part of a long discourse that Jesus has with his disciples on what we call Maundy Thursday evening. This is the night of the last supper. This is the night he washed their feet. This is the night he went into the Garden of Gethsemane, was betrayed, taken off to be tried and finally was crucified. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke they mention only that Jesus has the last supper and then that he went to the Garden of Gethsemane and betrayed. But in John’s Gospel we hear all the conversation that Jesus has with his disciples during and after the last supper and while he is on the way to the garden. It is a small part of this conversation of Jesus’ last minute instructions and encouragements that we heard in our reading today.
The disciples are confused about what Jesus has told them. He has said that he is going away but then will come back and only the disciples will see him but not anyone else. To them this doesn’t make sense because in their mind still, Jesus is going to set up a new kingdom with them as prime ministers and heads of the new government. And how in the world is he going to set up a new kingdom if no one is able to see him anymore, well, no one but them? Things are difficult to understand when we have a preconceived notion because we always build on that notion even though it is incorrect.
Jesus continues to instruct them even though he realizes they really won’t understand him until later. Today we hear him say “Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them.” One of the main components of Christianity is that God loves us, that God loves the world. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” In First John we read that “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us.” Here in our Gospel reading today though we get a slightly different view. Here we see that while there is a collective love for the human race, there is a particular love for certain people. God does love some people more than others! Do you know who he loves better? He loves those who keep the words of Jesus better. Certainly he loves all of humanity; He loves everybody. But, Jesus tells us here that God the Father particularly loves those who keep His Son’s word. And what does that mean? In context with what he said earlier, keeping the words of Jesus is obeying what he has taught us to do. Keeping the words of Jesus is having his mindset and adopting his values for our lives. And if we do this, if we keep his words, if we obey his teachings then God the Father will love us and He and Jesus will come and make their home with us. God will live within us. Last week in a reading from Revelation we heard that later on at the end of the world God will physically live on earth with humanity but here and now, God the Father and God the Son will live within us IF we are keeping the words of Jesus; if we are trying to obey his teachings and trying to see the world around us as he taught us.
The story is told of an elderly Florida man who was driving down I-75 to go pick up his wife who was in another city and his wife called him on his cell phone and said, “Frank, Frank be careful! I just heard on the radio that there’s a car going the wrong way down I-75!” Frank replied somewhat frantically, “It’s not just one car, there are hundreds of them!”
Sometimes we think we are going the right way but despite our best intentions we are not; we are going the wrong way just like poor Frank. Just like the disciples, we get things into our heads and we make assumptions based upon our own misconceptions. All of us would say that we love God. We would all say that we love Jesus. The misconception we have is that coming to church is all that Jesus requires to show that we love him. But Jesus says we must keep his word.
It is at this point we see if our Christianity is genuine, if it is the real thing. In the epistle of James it says our faith needs to be more than simply the words we say. There it says, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only because hearers are only fooling themselves.” If we simply hear the teachings of Jesus and do not put them into practice in our own lives we are fooling ourselves; in other words we are only pretending to be Christians. Simply coming to church doesn’t make one a Christian any more than one becomes a car if one sleeps in the garage. To become a Christian one has to actually put Christ’s teachings into practice. We all want to go to heaven when we die, but Jesus has told us that the way is narrow that leads to eternal life. Why is it narrow if everyone wants eternal life? It is narrow because very few people really want to obey what Jesus tells us to do, including us! We don’t want to because it is very hard. Take the Lord’s Prayer for instance. In that prayer we say things like forgive us as we forgive others. There are times we don’t really want to forgive others—yet we do really want God to forgive us. We say “Thy will be done” yet we don’t feel like doing what he wants us to do. We don’t want to be loving. We don’t want to be kind and patient to others especially to those who disagree with us politically. In our society right now we are very polarized politically and all sides call each other names. But if we think we can call other people names, look down upon them and still call ourselves Christians, we are wrong! If we think we can withhold forgiveness to people who have hurt and offended us and still call ourselves Christians, we are wrong! Jesus calls his followers to serve and to give. If we are unwilling to serve or give and we still think we can call ourselves Christians we really need to look at ourselves long and hard because God tells us in the Scriptures we are really only fooling ourselves. And I should tell you that I don’t find these any easier to do than you do; I struggle to forgive and to be kind and patient and to want to serve and give and in order to be able to obey his word I have to ask God for help.
We all want and need God’s presence in our lives. We want Jesus to live within us. We know that it is through his presence we have peace and have joy. We know he loves us. We know because he died for us. Jesus said, “Those who love me will keep, will obey my word.” This is tough isn’t it? In our collect for this weekend we ask God, to “pour into our hearts such love towards Him, that we, loving Him in all things and above all things, may obtain His promises, which exceed all that we can desire.” Let us truly love Jesus and obey his words. Amen