May 1, 2005

Sixth Sunday after Easter

"What Difference Does It Make?"

(John 14:15-21)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


I ran across a story this week about a seven-year-old granddaughter who said to her grandfather, "In this family we are kind of serious about God, aren't we?"

Grandpa said, "Yes, we sure are." And the little girl asked, "Why?"

Grandpa wrapped the little girl in his arms, hugged her real close and said, "So that I can hug you and tickle you and try to tell you how much I love you and how glad I am that God gave you to us."

The little girl grinned and said, "That's cool."

I'm not sure that hugging and tickling everybody we meet would go over very well. They might actually come and put us in one of those jackets with the buckles and really long sleeves and lock us in a rubber room. However, we are supposed to figure out how to show that love to everyone we meet. The love we have experienced through Christ is supposed to be shared.

Let's look at the passage: John 14:15-21 (NRSV)

[15] "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

[16] And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

[17] 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.

[18] "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.

[19] In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

[20] On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

[21] 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."

I think it's interesting that Jesus begins by saying, "If you love me." We forget sometimes that it's not enough to just say, "I love Jesus." Or "Jesus is Lord and Savior of my life."

The important part is living that love. The important part is the manifestation of the love of Jesus in all that we do and say. [15] "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Or as The Message by Eugene Peterson puts it: "If you love me, show it by doing what I've told you." Thus the question for today. "What Difference Does It Make?"

[Show clip-Family Outing]

"What Difference Does It Make?" Maybe you know people like that. Maybe you know Christians like that. Obviously it didn't seem to make any difference in the life of that family. But it should, shouldn't it? "What Difference Does It Make In Your Life? In the life of those you come in contact. What difference does it make in your family?"

Jesus said, [15] "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." What Commandments was he talking about? I think he was talking about the two most important commandments: "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself."

Later on in John 15:17 Jesus says, "This I command you, to love one another." Pretty simple, pretty straight forward isn't it. Then why is it so easy to say, and so hard to do and live? IT'S HARD BECAUSE IT DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE.


IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE TO GOD. Most of us may not think so. Most of us have this sort of gentle heavenly watchmaker philosophy of God. He's the ultimate judge who will sort the good from the evil at the end times, but God doesn't get involved much in our daily lives. But that's not the Biblical witness. Look at the experience of Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus. Look at Saul, who was persecuting the church and became Paul, the chief Evangelist of the early church. God got involved in their lives in a big way.

A religious cynic once said, "God made humanity on the last day of creation. When God realized what He'd done, He took off and went into hiding. The search to find God is what we call 'religion.'"

Ahh! Wrong answer! That's not the Biblical witness either. When God created humanity, God said it was "Very good." God didn't take off and go into hiding. On the contrary, from the very beginning God made Himself totally accessible. to man. More importantly, God wants a personal relationship with you. God created you. You are one of God's creative masterpieces. And an artist doesn't just walk away from his or her piece of art.

In Exodus 19:5 God says: "Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples."



While God says we will be God's treasured possession, Jesus takes us into an even deeper relationship. In Matthew 20:50 Jesus said: "For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

And at the very end, Jesus even took that relationship and took it deeper. In John 15:15-17 Jesus tells the Disciples and us:

"I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father. You didn't choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. But remember the root command: Love one another."

Jesus said, [15] "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." So, you see, how we live out these commandments of loving God with all we are and loving our neighbors as our selves, is the proof of our love for Christ. It's not simply saying we love Him. It's doing what He told he told us to do. That's the measuring rod of our faithfulness.




There was a nature show on television about a black bear that gave birth to two cubs. One cub died right away. Three weeks later the mother died and the remaining cub was left to fend for itself. An orphaned cub in that condition is like a walking buffet for predators. And of course the camera immediately showed a hungry-looking mountain lion.

One day the orphan cub encountered a giant male black bear. The little cub cowered at the bear's sheer mass. The larger bear peered around and seemed to realize that the mother bear wasn't anywhere to be found. He gave the little cub a friendly nudge. The camera then showed the little bear happily trailing along after the larger one. The adoption papers were signed, sealed and registered at the county seat in that nudge. Papa bear proceeded to show the cub how to grub for insects and how to catch fish and how to scratch his back against a tree.

One day the two bears became separated. The cub began to cry and looked frantically for his new father, but couldn't find him anywhere. The cub approached a stream where he'd learned to fish and something caught his attention. He looked up to see a mountain lion ready to pounce. That same mountain lion had stalked the cub for the entire show. There was no way that mountain lion would've gone for that cub with Papa bear around, but now....

The camera zoomed in on the cub. He automatically mimicked the posture of his adopted father when threatened. He stood on his hind legs and bared his teeth. Then, in the exactly the same way his new father would have done, this cub let loose a mighty growl that should have reverberated throughout the forest. But, only a tiny bear cub squeak came out.

Well, you know what was coming. But, to everybody's astonishment the mountain lion lowered his head and ran off in the opposite direction.

The camera panned back to the proud little cub still standing tall on his hind legs. And then all the viewers saw what that little cub Could Not: a few yards behind him, at full, ferocious height, his sharp, white teeth bared in a snarl, stood Daddy bear. He may not have made a sound, but he was there.

And even though the cub couldn't see his father, his father stood guard, protecting his young. The little cub had power available greater than anything he could produce on his own. There was a greater power watching over him.

Jesus said, [21] "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."


We may not see or hear the presence of God all the time. But the power and presence of God is always available for us. No matter how frightened or alone we feel, no matter how much we feel abandoned or how weak or powerless we believe we are, that doesn't mean the Spirit isn't here. That doesn't mean we are not loved.

We may feel separated from God, but God doesn't go anywhere. God is always with us, even when all we can see ahead of us is that hungry mountain lion.

God protects and provides for us. We are God's treasured possession. We are God's children, brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus. We're friends of Jesus. Jesus promised He will never leave us orphaned. He promised to be with us always through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

But again, there's that obedience clause, that faithfulness factor. "They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me."

That's the problem with this whole debate raging in the church and the community about the display of the Ten Commandments on public property and in Court Houses. What good does it do to display them if nobody is going to follow them. Our whole economy and advertising industry co-opted most of the Commandments a long time ago.

We've gotten rid of the first four about our relationship with God because obviously owning stuff, power and position are our new gods and idols and not God.

And advertising is based on stealing, bearing false witness and covetousness. Advertisers want to steal customers. They may not out and out lie, but they sure bend the truth to the point of breaking. And the whole idea of advertising is to make you want to possess something that you don't have that someone else does. That's covetousness.

The point I'm trying to make is that it doesn't make any difference where the Commandments are displayed. The most important place for them to be displayed is in the lives of those who claim this kinship with Jesus.

IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE TO YOU. "They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me."



We were never meant to be alone. In the beginning of Genesis, God noticed that Adam wasn't doing well. God said, "It isn't good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper as his partner." God created us to be in relationship with each other. We don't do well as loners.

A set of twin girls were born 12 weeks premature, each about two pounds. They were placed in separate bassinets. One started to do just fine, the other one began slowly to fade. Her heart beat was rapid, she was visibly anxious, and nothing the nurses could do seemed to be able to stop what seemed like her inevitable death.

Then one of the nurses remembered something she'd read about treatment of preemies elsewhere in the world. As a sort of last resort the nurses put the weaker twin, right into the bassinet with, her 'big sister.' (she was 3 ounces bigger!) The results were immediate and dramatic. The littlest twin snuggled up to her sister, and her heart rate immediately slowed to normal. Her color came back. The baby visibly relaxed, almost it seemed with a sigh of relief. She accepted nourishment. The crisis was over. She would survive.

That tiny baby did not know who she was, or where she was. But somehow she knew where she belonged. And she knew when she was where she belonged.

Our souls are like that. Deeper than words, back behind all conscious thought, our souls know what they need. And sometimes all they need is to know that they are no alone, someone, you perhaps, there to walk with them through whatever it is they are facing. Walking as a companion, not a judge, not a guide, not as someone with all the answers. But simply as a loving and caring companion. As their friend and a of Jesus who lets them know they are not alone.

I think that's what Jesus meant when he said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."



Which means, that you can make a difference. Have you ever wanted to make a difference? Here's you chance. MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO GOD, TO JESUS, TO YOU AND TO OTHERS.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. Russell Metcalfe




Other References Consulted (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000) (Richard Fairchild Lectionary Resources)

Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)

Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)

Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)

The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)

Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)

Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)

The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 2002) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Miracles, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1998) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Parables, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1997) SermonPrep Version.