Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

Commands and Promises

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victoria
(Creative Commons image by maureen_sill on flickr)


Dear Working Preacher,

 

A quick but HUGE word of thanks before jumping into this week's readings. We met every challenge (netting an additional $12,000) and topped out best-yet semi-annual fund appeal. Thank you. Thank you. Because of your support, we can keep Working Preacher working for you!

 

Now on to the readings for Easter 6:

 

There is in this passage, I think, a command that is as daunting as it is clear and a promise that is as palpable as it is powerful. If we have the courage to preach – and demonstrate – both, I think we may be surprised by the effects.

First the command. Jesus says that those who love him will keep his word. This is not the first time he’s said this (see verse 15), and the implied command is clear: love isn’t a feeling, it’s action, obedience to Jesus’ word. But what is Jesus’ word? While it’s easy to speculate, and even easier to avoid having to obey by speculating :), I think it’s relatively clear. Jesus commands that we serve one another – just as Jesus washed his disciples feet, so he expects us to serve each other (13:14-15). Jesus commands that we love another, even that we love another as Jesus loved us! (13:34). And Jesus commands that we love one another even to the point of giving our life for one another (15:12-13).

See what I mean by both clear and daunting? I mean, who can do this? (But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Okay, onto the promise. Jesus says that the Father will love those who keep Jesus’ word, and that Jesus and the Father will come and make their home with them. Not only that, but Jesus promises the disciples they will receive peace the world cannot give.

Which is why I described this promise as both palpable and powerful.

But here’s the problem: Are these connected? That is, do we only get the promise if we keep the command? And if so, what chance to we have? (Back to the daunting part!)

In hearing these stories we are reminded not just of Jesus’ command but that it is possible to keep his word and be his disciples.

Except, here’s the thing: while it’s convenient and often theologically sensible for us to distinguish between and even separate Jesus’ commands and promises, I’m not sure Jesus makes that same distinction, at least not in this passage. Here, I think, these two are all bundled up, wrapped together, as it were, in a passage that is intended both to instruct and comfort those disciples Jesus was about to leave (in the story) and those disciples who struggle to be faithful after his departure (both in the story and today).

Might it be, then, that as we keep Jesus’ commands we receive his promises, and that as we hear his promises we are equipped to keep his commands? Because here’s the thing: I suspect that there have been times when we’ve loved another. We talked about this a bit last week. Again, not perfectly, but I suspect we have each at times loved others – or been loved by others – in a way that sought to follow Jesus’ command and example.

Which brings me to an idea I have for this week’s sermon. It builds on last week’s exercise but is a bit more "participatory," so not everyone, I realize, may want to try it. After exploring this question of the inter-connected nature of Jesus’ command and promise, and after suggesting that we have, at times, loved others and been loved by them, I’d invite people to spend a just a few minutes sharing with someone near them a memory of that happening. Share a memory, that is, of when they were able to love someone well or were loved beyond their expectations. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, or complicated, or dramatic, just a brief memory of when you tried to follow Jesus' command or saw someone else do the same.

This will only take four or five minutes, but when you’re done you’ve probably collected dozens – and, depending on the number of folks gathered, perhaps hundreds – of examples of ordinary Christians following Jesus’ word and living as Jesus commanded. I think this is important because in hearing these stories we are reminded not just of Jesus’ command but that it is possible to keep his word and be his disciples. So much in life, I think, conspires against us following Jesus that I think this reminder will be not just important, but powerful.

And, come to think of it, there’s something about reminders in this passage as well. In fact, Jesus promises the disciples that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will come and remind them of all Jesus’ teaching. Might it be possible, Working Preacher, that as we enter into this exercise of reminding each other we are calling upon the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to do, in fact, just what Jesus promised? And might it be that the peace Jesus promises is just what we experience as we remind each other that Jesus has equipped us to be his disciples, to follow his word, and to be a place and community where he and his Father dwell? Might it be, finally, that in these moments of memory, community, and encouragement, our usual distinctions fade away and we are drawn into the unity Jesus prays for and promises?

I don’t know for certain, but I’m sure looking forward to all of us finding out as we don’t just talk about Jesus’ commands and promises, but live into them! Thanks for joining me in this holy experiment and for your faithful proclamation always.

Yours in Christ,

David

Questions for Easter 6 - John 14:23-29

  1. After reading this passage, what do you think Jesus' "word" is that he commands his disciples to keep?

  2. In what way is Jesus' peace different than the peace the world gives? When have you sensed that peace in your life?

Questions for Easter 7 – John 17:20-26

  1. Notice that Jesus prays not only for the disciples, but also for “all those who believed on their account” – which includes us! What does it feel like to know that all those years ago Jesus was praying for you?

  2. Jesus prays for a profound kind of unity between himself and his Father and all of us. Have you had moments where you felt that kind of unity in your faith community?
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