St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, College Park, MD
Jesus said to his disciples, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This 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.
"I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They 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."
My the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you oh God, in whom we live, and move and have our being.
Today’s Gospel reading is a direct continuation of last week’s. Jesus is preparing the apostles for their lives after He is gone. The reading is short, but like much of the Gospel of John is it circular, and it seems to me that the apostles must have found Jesus’ speech incomprehensible. Jesus says “I will ask the Father, and he will send you another advocate” This advocate is the “Spirit of Truth” which the world does not see or know but the apostles will know because he is in them. And this advocate is coming because Jesus is leaving but Jesus is also coming to them. Jesus will live so the disciples will live, and Jesus is in the Father and the disciples are in Jesus and Jesus is in the disciples.
Even if you know that the Advocate is the Holy Spirit, this passage is not going to clear up any theological questions about the Trinity. But if you take a step back, don’t worry about the details, and listen to the music of the words, the meaning is actually pretty straightforward. We belong to God, and we belong to each other. This belonging is not one of ownership, but of being loved by and loving one another. There is just one rule for this belonging, and Jesus says it twice in our short reading: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Jesus says “My commandments” just four times in the Gospels, all of them in John, and unlike the Moses commandments which filled not only two stone tablets but also the book of Leviticus, Jesus only really has two: Love God with your whole self, and love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus is still getting the disciples ready. They knew that the love of Jesus was a servant love, a feed the hungry love, a speak truth to power love, a touch the unclean love, an eat with sinners love, even a wash the feet of your friends love. What we know, but they didn't yet, is that is an even unto death on the cross love. That love is a tall order, more than any human being could do alone. Is it any wonder that at Pentecost we’ll find the Apostles hiding a locked room afraid of the world outside and of the task they’d been given?
Sometimes we’re in there with them.
We as a society, as a big C Church, are clearly failing at the kind of servant love that Jesus modeled for us, from the children in this neighborhood who won’t have breakfast in the morning after school closes in a few weeks because the cafeteria will close too, to the people around the world who get sick every day because they don’t have safe access to clean drinking water. If we all remembered that we belong to each other, the world wouldn't look like that.
Mother Theresa said “If we do not have peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Or, as my father used to say to me when he was sending me out into the world without him. “Don’t forget who’s kid you are.” And if you think that’s sweet, let me assure you that he meant “There are expectations for you as a member of this family, young lady. Behave yourself.”
Take a moment and imagine what the world would be like if we all remembered that we belong to each other, if we remembered whose kids we are, if we loved each other as Jesus loved us.
There are small things that would look the same. It would look like a new mother handing her baby to a member of her church family so she could have a few moments of quiet reflection. It would look like Wednesday night potlucks where take-out pizza sat next to homemade chicken soup and families without the resources to bring a dish were welcomed anyway, except that there wouldn't be any families without those resources. It would look like our offering of letters on Bread for the World Sunday, except we would already have a sustainable, compassionate food policy, so the letters would read “Thank you, and keep up the good work.” It would look like girls and boys around the world being safe in their homes and their schools regardless of their color, their creed, or their sexual orientation. It would look like our war veterans getting the care they needed in a timely manner, and it would look like swords being beaten into plowshares so that there are no more wars.
If I lost you somewhere in that list. If you thought “Not in my lifetime.” I ask you to remember two things. The first thing is that we are called to do the work, not to finish it. There will be laborers in the harvest long after we are at rest. The second is to think about how many “not in my lifetimes” you've lived through. In my lifetime, the Berlin Wall came down. In my lifetime, apartheid ended in South Africa. In my lifetime we had a woman as a serious presidential candidate and an African-American in the oval office. In my lifetime we have marriage equality in Maryland and 18 other States plus the District of Columbia. In my lifetime we've created pocket computers more powerful than anything on Star Trek. In my lifetime we've eliminated Smallpox.
No, that work isn't finished. The Kingdom of God isn't here yet. But we can do great things when we remember whose kids we are, when we strive to love others as Jesus loves us. The Good News is that we’re not doing it alone.
When my father said “Don’t forget whose kid you are.” the other thing he meant was this: “Don’t forget that you belong, that you are loved, and that love is like an armor you wear everyday, even when I am not with you.”
That is also what Jesus said to his disciples. “I will not leave you orphaned. . . I will ask the Father and He will give you another advocate.” The word we translate as advocate is the Greek “Parakletos” sometimes also translated as “Counselor” or “Comforter.” In the Greek legal system a defendant had to plead his own case, but could call to his side a paraklete, a person to provide a character witness and moral support. That is the Holy Spirit that we are promised, a God with us, beside us, reminding us that we belong to God.
There is work to do. The world does not fully understand that we belong to each other. Loving others as Jesus loves us is hard, and it can be risky. But we have our Advocate with us, and we belong to each other. Let’s not forget whose kids we are.