By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
John 14:23–29 (ESV)
2 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.
The past few weeks have been busy for me. Nothing has really changed in my life, but it seems as if everything happens at once. I am sure many of us have weeks like that. Our schedule changes just a bit and suddenly everything seems to be spinning and you just cannot get your feet under you. I do not know what set it off really, it might be the fact that it is memorial weekend or maybe its just all the rain. Whatever it is, it has made me examine things in my life yet again.
These days happen. We were once walking through life thinking everything was in control and now its as if you cannot remember if you got lunch. These types of days make us question everything from our faith to our sanity. We wonder if we can ever get back to normal, because one day leads to another and another.
Today we again meet Jesus and his disciples in the upper room. Jesus has basically turned their world upside down. How do you respond to your teacher, leader, and who they regarded as king taking the role of a servant? There really was not a precedent for this activity. When a leader did this sort of thing it usually pointed to great mourning and distress. The reality is that something was about to happen something life altering and changing. Jesus was about to enter the final stages of his mission and ministry. He was about to become the embodiment of sin and shame, taking the wages of these things to the grave, and to rise again on the third day.
The disciples were in a daze. Jesus was teaching and they were listening, but it did not make sense to them. The reason it did not make sense was because they were in a totally different frame of reference. For centuries the teachers of the law, those great rabbis from various traditions of faith had taught certain things about the coming kings. They had an expectation, and up to this point Jesus had been fulfilling everything they wanted. He had built a following through his teaching, and his miraculous healings. He had marveled the crowds with the liberation of those who were gripped in the bondage of spiritual possession. People were regarding Jesus as the next Moses when he had provided food for them out in the wilderness from a simple lunch for a single boy. Jesus was tracking to be more than anything they expected.
Then on the day that the crowds were proclaiming him to be king, Jesus goes into the temple and causes the tables to be turned. He lashes out at the very system and foundation of their faith. He turns the tables over, he releases the sacrificial animals, and he rips the hair from a horse’s tail and uses that hair as a whip to drive those profiting from this religious industrial complex from the very courts.
I do not think we fully grasp how shocking this one event had been for the people of Jerusalem. Everything about the life of Israel revolved around this massive temple. It was the temple build for the one true God. It was the icon of their identity, the source of their pride, and the foundation of their faith. The temple was Israel. This was more than a simple place to gather and sing hymns and choruses of praise. The temple was everything to them, without that temple they could not begin to fathom who they were. And Jesus, their messiah was provoking their very identity.
For a week Jesus had taught in the temple, people listened in shock and amazement while he told them that everything, they had been doing was wrong. They were focused on building their nation and Jesus said that the temple was to be a house of prayer for all people. How can their nationalistic identity support a universal concept? The tension increased each day and hour. People could sense that confrontation was near. Plots were being made, schemes were being devised, lines were being drawn, alliances between foes were forged, and traitors being negotiated.
All this was happening around them. The disciples were in this religious and identity tailspin, trying to be faithful yet wondering what exactly they were being faithful to? They followed Jesus, but Jesus was really starting to make them nervous. Then as they prepare to celebrate the great feast of Passover, the feast that commemorates their liberation from slavery and emergence of a unified culture, their messiah opens the celebration by washing their feet.
They can sense that something is about to happen, they want to be part of the coming events. They know that Jesus had taught that what was going on in the established religion was not exactly the intention of God, but how can they fully embrace something this extreme. They submit to their teacher, yet each of them doubts and questions themselves. Jesus said that one will betray him and every one of them wonders if it will be them, they wonder even while Judas had already left the table unnoticed to their conflicted spirits.
Jesus knows what is about to happen, and he knows that it is more than these men and women present can grasp at this time. He knows their hearts and he is aware of their struggle. He knows and he speaks to their condition. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him.”
This sentence has been in the back of my mind this past week. Through all the tail spinning emotions that I have found myself being caught in; this statement has been right there. “If you love me, you will keep my word, and my Father will love you, and we will come and make our home with you.” This statement, when I have allowed myself the chance to sit and rest has provided some stability.
I have considered what this means as I listen to news reports and as I scroll through social media. I wondered about it while I prepared for memorial services and prayed for those who attended those services. I let my mind dwell in those words as I walked the red mile at work. If you want to know what that is, you can ask me later. “If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my word.”
This statement struck me because of the word keep. When we consider everything, the Jewish people were religiously they were people that knew the word keep. They kept the law. They followed the law. They devoted their lives and lifestyles to keeping their lives on the straight path of legal adherence. Yet, Jesus challenged their understanding of what it meant to keep. He physically confronted this system. For so long I have read this passage and I approached it in a legalistic mindset. In my mind I was interpreting this statement, “If I love Jesus, I demonstrate it by not living a life of sin.” Do not get me wrong there is a place for this. Jesus by no means was advocating for the rejection of the core concepts of the Torah. But what does he mean by keep?
I spent some time studying this word and found it to be more interesting that simply not breaking the rules. To keep is a journey, in some ancient uses of the word it can mean “to apply oneself to the chase” or “to aim at something.” It also can mean to guard, to promise, to pay attention to among other things. What I am getting at is that to keep is more that obedience but a life’s pursuit. It is disciplining our lifestyle to conform to this thing Jesus describes as his word.
I have spoken many times about the concept of word. The concept of word is divine wisdom or knowledge. This goes to the very origin of life; God spoke words and those words became our reality. The wisdom or word of God is life itself. Echoes of the word are found in the soil we tread, in the rain that falls from the sky, in the flowers you might have given to your mother last Sunday for Mother’s Day. Echoes of this divine whisper are found in every breath we take, every movement we make, and in anything our minds create because we are the product of the word of God. Consider what that means. This is more than rules, but the very things that give us life and make life worth living. It is our passions and our pleasures as well as our responsibilities and obligations.
If we love Jesus, we will keep his word. This is more than just keeping the rules. If we love Jesus, we will keep the rules sure, but more than that. We will pursue those things that God created us to be, because that pursuit is that of God in us. When we embrace the passion and abilities that God uniquely gifted us with, we are embracing who we are in that relationship. One of the most powerful words of advice I have ever heard is, “if you do what you love you will never work a day in your life.” This is powerful advice because if we pursue those things that we have passion for, if we pursue those things that inspire us to strive for greatness in, we do not work, we love. But if we deny our passion, we walk through life dreading the next step.
Who are you? What makes you tick, so to speak? What makes your heart race, what around you cause your mind to engage and your body to act? Are we able to see that the life of an inventor or an entrepreneur is just as much a vocation anointed by the hand of God as the life of a teacher or pastor? That the person assembling the cars that we drive is just as much a ministry as the professor training the next generation of ministers? Jesus is telling us if we love him, we will keep his word. If we love him, we will pursue that of God. Jesus did not allow every person that believed in him to walk with the disciples, some were needed to do other things. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha worked in the kitchen. Matthew was called away from the tax collector’s table, but Zacchaeus by remained in his post. Everyone was called in different ways, but each had a ministry to pursue within.
How then do we find that of God in us? Jesus said that if we love him and keep his word, His father will love us, and they will make their home with us. This home that they will make is a relationship. It is spirituality. Where we walk together toward a common goal. Jesus goes on to say that the Father will send a helper in Jesus’s name to assist us in that walk. It is the Spirit of God that directs us to that of God in us. And we discern the voice of the spirit when we take on the life and lifestyle of Christ.
If we go back to the origin story, because that is where the wisdom or word of God was first revealed to us. We find that the spirit was hovering over the waters of the void. Then God said let there be light and there was light. The Spirit was hovering, the spirit is the conduit of God’s wisdom to creation, and we encounter that conduit in the Name of Jesus, because he brings humanity to God through his life, death and resurrection. The spirit continues to hover that is her mission and purpose. To hover between and within the realms of heaven and earth and connecting the two. When we keep the words of Jesus, it is as if the spirit is the magnetic field propelling a bullet train along the track toward our destination. When we are in Christ we move forward in the relationship, but when we reject Christ it is as if the polarity of our spirit is misaligned and instead of moving forward, we come to a crashing halt.
If we love Him, we will keep his word. I speak of this as if there is a different word for each of us. In some ways there is. I am called to stand before you proclaiming the words, I sense God compelling me to say, yet not all of us are called to do this. But there are some things that is for all people. Jesus said that there is a new command that he gives to us, to love one another as he has loved us. This command is connected to the command to love God with everything we have and are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. These are the boundaries or the guidelines that direct us. They are the rails of our spiritual bullet train. These are the concepts that should help us discern if the passion we are pursuing a whisper of the divine word or the clamor of our own self-centeredness. Are we pursuing mutual profit, are we encouraging greater companionship within the community, or are we seeking to control and dictate?
Jesus speaks of a peace that he will give to us, his peace. A peace not of this world. He then encourages us not to let our hearts be troubled. Peace and trouble, love and keeping his word. Often in our world we live in fear, not peace. Throughout most of our lives we lived in peace with our greatest enemy, yet we lived through the cold war. The cold war was peace that was brought about by mutual fear. Our fear drove us to instill greater fear, only to find that we had even greater fear. When I went to Ukraine to teach English, I was surprised that the students that I interacted with told a very similar story as the one I lived, but the roles of each nation were changed. That is the peace of the world, mutual destruction. Jesus said I will give you my peace. A peace that is not driven by fear and mutual destruction, but of mutual encouragement. This is the result of each of us joining together, pursuing that of God in each other, encouraging one another to embrace the Spirit of God and to be directed by that spirit to find where we each can mutually profit and encourage the world around us. Love casts out fear.
The past few weeks I have been busy, I have gone about my daily life in every attempt to follow Christ, and at times I have felt about as far from him as one could be. I read the news and social media and I am saddened by the fear that seems to permeate throughout. Not just fear, but the fruit of fear which matures into hate. I see friends applauding legislation that criminalizes immoral behavior and friends that take the opposite view. I see people applauding selfishness in the name of patriotism while claiming faith. I see this among my friends. And I see Jesus turning the tables over in the temple screaming at the religious because they have made the house of God into something it was never intended to become. Are we any different? We are called to love. We are called to pursue God in our lives and to love him in all that we do and with everything we are. How can we do this if we cannot even see where we are opposing him in our lives? Peace He gives to us, peace not of this world but his peace, a peace that comes not from fear but love. A peace that comes not from force but each of us living lives loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Jesus with others.
As we enter this time of Open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, I encourage each of us to examine our lives. Are we keeping his word? Are we loving him? Are we at home with God? I have asked myself these questions often, daily, if I am honest. Do I love Jesus, and show that love in how I live?
To “keep” the Torah is to guard it. It is “shamar”–literally see and do it–since nothing is more intimate than that. You can read all day long how to sharpen your mower blades, but until you’re in the thick of it, doing it, you have scarcely an idea at all what it’s about. THAT is what “keeping” is. It’s “yours.” Today we might say “own it!”
I loved my time when I was in a Friend’s meeting. I think the unprogrammed meeting is definitely onto something akin to 1 Corinthians 14. But it was not until I started to “Keep” the Sabbath and the other commandments–those having to do with feast days and health instructions–that I “got it.”
And, wow, did I ever get it. The revelation and the manifestation of the Most High is just simply brilliant when you’ve shown obedience–that he/she who has, more will be given. You asked about love: The Torah shows the way to love the Almighty and one’s neighbors as oneself.
Thank you for your comments. Have a wonderful week