Triumphant Living #3 in the series
We all hate those preflight instructions. We know they’re for our own good, but we don’t pay attention. If you’ve flown more than twice, they become like that children’s movie that your kids watched over and over and over again. If you turned it on right now, you could repeat every word without even thinking. But Southwest always does thing a little differently don’t they. And like Southwest, Jesus asks us to do things differently as well.
I love Ms. Cobb’s version of the pre-flight instructions; especially that line, “Basically, just do what we say and nobody gets hurt.” In one sense, that could be interpreted as what Jesus was telling the Disciples in the passage we’re looking at this morning from the Gospel of John. It’s part of Jesus’ discourse at the Last Supper.
John 14:15-21 (NRSV)
 “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.”
Besides being very Trinitarian in its nature, this is a call to obedience, obedience born of love. “If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my commandments.”
Have you ever noticed that in the Prayer of Confession we use every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, that there’s this odd, almost oxymoronic phrase which we pray: “Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
“Free us for joyful obedience.” What does that mean? I thought Jesus and the Christian faith was all about Grace and now Jesus seems to be asking for obedience. What’s up with that?
Over the last year as I’ve been studying Scripture as well as religious practices in first century Israel, I’ve come to realize that what Bishop William Willimon wrote concerning the Ten Commandments is true. He wrote: “Before the Ten Commandments were ethical, they were liturgical.”
We think all of the laws which the scribes and Pharisees boiled out of Ten Commandments are burdensome. How could anybody live up to that standard? The thing is, they weren’t burdensome. They didn’t see them as burdensome at all. They were simply how one worshipped God to the fullest.
They worshipped through obedience. The word liturgy literally means, “the work of the people.” Their worship was expressed by being obedient. While we see the minute detail into which the law seemed to devolve as strange and somewhat ridiculous; to the first century Israelite, that detail was extremely important because it defined how they would work and worship God every moment of every single day. Those details defined their Liturgical life. Unfortunately, those details eventually became more important than the worship they were supposed to enhance.
And that was where they got crossways with Jesus.
So, how are we to understand and live this Joyful Obedience Jesus talks about when he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
II. NOT ALONE:
Well first, we need to remember what Jesus says to us in verse 18: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” In other words, we’re not alone. We don’t have to try to do it on our own. Christ is with us. In verse 20 Jesus says, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Jesus promised to be our constant companion. How is that possible?
Jesus says He is sending another to be with us forever. Each of the translations of the describe this third person of the Trinity a little differently. The KJV calls him: “another comforter.” The RSV: “another counselor.” The NIV & NRSV: “another advocate” The MSG uses: “another friend.” And the CEB calls this promised one: “another companion.”
Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” And however we translate the words it simply means we are not alone. God is with us. Christ is with us.
And because Christ is with us His motives, His love, His actions, His commandments become our motives, our love, our actions, our commandments.
Do you remember Bette Midler’s song, From a Distance? It’s a very beautiful song but it is very non-Christian in its understanding of God as revealed in Christ. If you remember, the lyrics say:
“It’s the hope of hopes, it’s the love of loves.
This is the song of every man.
And God is watching us, God is watching us,
God is watching us from a distance.” (1)
Jesus says this is where everybody got it wrong. And this is where He changes everything. For now, God is not just watching us from a distance, God, through Christ and with Christ, in and through the power of the Holy Spirit, is with us every single day. And that fills us with the power of His love which allows us to live out that love through Joyful Obedience as we keep His commandments.
Loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves becomes the work of the people of faith, our Liturgy of Joyful Obedience.
We don’t have to try to do it all alone. Instead, as we seek to love Christ and others with all of our “heart, soul, mind and strength” we do so in the power and presence of Christ who is with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are not alone.
We are not alone in this walk of faith if we seek to follow Jesus’ commandments. Jesus wants more than affection. He wants more than our respect, Jesus wants more than our recognition. Jesus wants our undivided attention. Jesus wants our love, our deep abiding love. He wants to be the center of all we do and say and think. Jesus wants to be our Savior and Messiah.
He wants our devotion and needs our passion. And we give it to Him, He becomes our Constant Companion.
III. CONSTANT COMPANION:
A. So what do we mean when we say God is with us, God is our constant companion? Partly it means that Jesus shows up in the most unlikely places through some of the most unlikely people.
A man who underwent open-heart surgery told a friend about his experience. He said, “The day before surgery a nurse came into my room to visit. She took hold of my hand and told me to feel it and hold it,” which he did. Then she said, “during the surgery tomorrow you will be disconnected from your heart and you will be kept alive only by virtue of certain machines. When your heart is finally restored and the operation is over and you are recovering, you will eventually awaken in a special recovery room.”
She went on, “You’ll be immobile for as long as six hours. You may be unable to move, or speak, or even to open your eyes, but you will be perfectly conscious. You’ll hear and you’ll know everything that is going on around you.”
“During those six hours, I’ll be at your side and I’ll hold your hand, exactly as I am doing now. I’ll stay with you until you’re fully recovered. Although you may feel absolutely helpless, when you feel my hand, you’ll know that I won’t leave you.”
The man continued his story and said, “It happened exactly as the nurse told me it would. I awoke and couldn’t do a thing. But I could feel the nurse’s hand in my hand for hours. And that made all the difference!” (2)
It does make a difference when someone comes alongside us and walks with us through whatever it is that is going on in our lives; especially when we’re in need. That’s what Christ meant when He said He would not leave us orphaned. Through the Holy Spirit, sometimes Jesus comes into our lives with power. Other times, the Holy Spirit comes as a guide. Sometimes Jesus comes as a friend, a counselor, and even a comforter.
But however He comes, the truth is He’s our Constant Companion.
B. Robert C. Cunningham about a missionary working among the Karre people of the Karre Mountains in equatorial Africa. Translators were struggling to translate the Bible into Karre. Some words and concepts are hard to translate. They were struggling for just the right word to use to translate the concept of the Holy Spirit. The missionary sought help from some of the Christian leaders and was trying to explain the way that the Spirit encourages, protects, helps, strengthens, comforts and guides us. She asked, “Isn’t there some word in your language that has this meaning?”
Finally one of them said, “If someone would do all that for us, we would say, ‘He’s the one who falls down beside us.” Then he explained that their porters would travel great distances carrying heavy loads on their heads. One porter carried nothing. He wasn’t the boss or crew chief. But he played a very special role.”
At times one of the porters would collapse along the trail because of sickness or sheer exhaustion. A porter might lie their all night in danger of being killed by wild animals. However, the job of this special porter was to come alongside and pick up the fallen teammate and the teammate’s load. He would either carry it for him or redistribute his load and carry the fallen porter to receive help.
“The one who falls down beside us,” that was exactly what the translators needed because that is exactly what the Holy Spirit does for us.
When we’re at the end of our rope, no matter what the situation, Holy Spirit is right there to help us through it. God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is right there to lift us up or encourage us or give us the power and the strength to resist temptation. The very Spirit of God, the Comforter, the advocate, the companion, our friend is right there, all the time filling us with the grace that assures that God is with, we are not alone.
Jesus said, “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.”
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. God didn’t run off and hide. When God created humanity, God looked at us like any proud parent and said, “Very good.”
God didn’t take off and go into hiding. On the contrary, from the very beginning God made Himself totally accessible to us. No more so than in Jesus when God took of the royal robes of heaven, put on the flesh and blood rags of our existence and became one of us. God wants a personal relationship with us.
I think it’s interesting and significant that Jesus begins this section by saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
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. The Message by Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you.”
Obedience is important to our spiritual lives. There is an undeniable link between love and obedience. Our obedience grows out of our love for God. But this isn’t blind obedience to a heartless law. God doesn’t want robots. Christ did not tell us to park our brains at the door. God doesn’t want clueless children.
Years ago, a library aide wrote Reader’s Digest about a trip to the symphony her elementary school students made. Each class had been reminded to remain with their teacher at all times.
After the house lights went down, one of the teachers quietly left her aisle seat and made her way to the ladies’ room. As she placed her hand on the door handle, she heard a noise from behind and turned around. Her entire class, obeying instructions exactly, had followed her all the way to the restroom.
That’s not the kind of obedience God expects. But God does expect us to obey with Joyful Obedience. Jesus doesn’t say, “So what I say and nobody gets hurt,” like Marty Cobb. Instead He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. If you love me, if you obey me, if you honor me, if you live like me, I will be with you forever.”
And when we live with Joyful Obedience, God’s presence opens to us in ways we never dreamed.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Some People’s Lives, 1990, Atlantic Records. Written by Julie Gold.
2. Daily Encourager. Cited in Monday Fodder, www.mondayfodder.com.
3. Deep Impact Keswick ’99 (OM Publishing).