A sermon for Easter 6a, May 29, 2011
For a guy who grew up the son of immigrants in Brooklyn, didn’t learn how to drive until he joined the Navy and worked blue collar jobs including being a truck driver for a good portion of his life, my Dad was a softie when it came to his daughters. If not effusive, he was protective, and Mom would work around his obsessive desire to keep us from getting hurt by doing things like telling him we were on the youth ski trip after he looked around and noticed we weren’t there.
As he got older, his verbal skills caught up with what was in his heart and he gained a reputation for sitcom-esque monologues about the ways he loved and was proud of his daughters. When we would come back to visit after we moved out of the house, he would especially and I will admit, embarrassingly, go on and on about his 'two beautiful daughters - one the singer, one the preacher’ - blah, blah, blah until Mom or (my sister) or I would say, "Okay Dad, okay..."
"What? What-did-I-do? I can't tell my two daughters that I love them and support them?"
To which Mom or (my sister) or I would respond, "No."
Once he even tried to encapsulate all of these things onto a cake that he picked up at the grocery story. Now, the man was still frugal so he had found the smallest ice cream cake possible and then watched as they attempted to fit it all in on the cake: To life, love and prosperity.
He meant well, but it finally got to the point where we assigned numbers to his most repetive phrases. Cliché #1 is this: “Your mother and I love you and support you no matter what you do.”
(My sister) and I know we are two of the lucky ones who never had to wonder if our Dad loved and supported us – we get that. But the man sure did know how to drive home a point.
I didn't want to preach on love again. I just didn’t want to do it. How many different ways can the Gospel of John say it? And how much do we really need to hear it? Like a teenager shrugging off a parent's hug - we get it, right? Jesus. God. The Holy Spirit. They love us... now just drop us off at the mall by the far entrance and let us go on with our lives, ok?
I think my Dad may have learned how to belabor a point from Jesus in the Gospel of John.
Do we need to assign Jesus his own cliché numbers?
Cliché #3 - Do not be afraid, we are still with you.
Well, it’s the Father, it’s the Son and it’s the Advocate – the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, counselor, comforter, helper, mediator and ‘broker’. Parakletos is the Greek word and directly translated it means Advocate, like an advocate to a judge.
But instead of the Advocate going to God on your behalf, she is instead coming to you to plead God’s case: 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.
Some of you may remember from last week that these words were spoken as the disciples shared their last meal with their friend and teacher, Jesus. Judas had already left the room called out for being the one who will betray. Following that Peter was told that he would deny Jesus three times before the cock crows. The very next words from Jesus are, Do not let your hearts be troubled…
Our Scripture today continues that speech where Jesus is trying to assuage their fears. He knows they will feel left behind like orphans. He knows that it will be all the harder for them as they spread the Good News to those who did not see Jesus with their own eyes.
But he also knows that death will not have the final word. And that the love that will abide in them is not about the memory of a historical event, but is about a very present God who they will know through the Spirit. The Spirit, the Advocate, shows God’s love to us and in us.
Cliché #3 – Do not be afraid, we are still with you.
Cliché #2 - Remember my commandments.
What is it about these that we refuse to understand? The commandments are not in our lection passage for today but they are found earlier in this same speech: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (13:34-35).
That's the list.
Even if you look to the Synoptic Gospels and add: You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength it's still so simple you could fit it on a small cake with just 4 letters: l.o.v.e.
I know it’s crazy and ridiculous – but think for a moment what the world would be like if all of humanity erred on the side of love? Just go there with me for just a little bit – there would be no borders, no greed, no abuse, no hoarding, no gluttony or arrogance or shame. There would be no more thirsting, hungering, imprisoning.
I know, I know, it’s not reality so let’s bring it way down.
What would this community be like if everyone erred on the side of love?
What would this congregation be like?
What would your family be like if everyone erred on the side of love?
Immediate or extended - what would change if a commitment was made by all to err on the side of love. And what about you?
What would change about you if you chose to err on the side of love
Impossible? Or can we do all things through Christ who strengthens us?
Cliché #2 – Remember my commandments.
Cliché #1 - Your Father in heaven and I love you and support you no matter what you do.
It is the eve of history’s most tragic hour and the one who speaks these phrases knows his betrayal, abandonment, torture and death are merely hours away and this is what he says…
- Do not let your hearts be troubled, Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
- I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you… because I live, you also will live.
- Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world give. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
- As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
- This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
If you are a person who prefers actions over words, this entire speech comes after he washes the disciples feet.
He washes the feet of Peter who will deny him.
He washes the feet of Judas who will betray him.
Cliché #1 – Your Father in heaven and I love you and support you no matter what you do.
Why is this so hard for us? Why the push back so hard against a commandment to give and receive love? What are we waiting for?
After my father had been sick for so very long the hard decision was made by him and my Mom that he would no longer be shuttled from the nursing home to the hospital, back to the nursing home, back to the hospital… he wasn’t going to get better. By then (my sister) was in town and we handled it the way each of us handles these things – she went into his room weeping, immediately emotionally available in the moment – something I have long envied.
I tend to be the more practical, stoic one and when I went in I spoke very clearly to him and asked him if he wanted to stop going to the hospital. Yes – he nodded.
“Dad, do you know what this means?”
Again he nodded yes.
I made myself say the words, “It means you’re going to die, do you understand me?”
And I was surprised to hear his voice, “It’s ok.”
He looked up to heaven and pointed and then he looked back at me and lowering his finger he said, “Cliché #1.”
How much more is our heavenly Father's love for us?
John 14:1, 18, 27, 15:9, 12.