Alleluia! Christ is Risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) It seems a strange thing that we have had the Easter story in all of its glory and for a few weeks now we seem to have been going backwards. This week is no exception. We continue to hear from Jesus during what is known as his farewell discourse. It is 3 long chapters of almost continuous speech from Jesus preparing the disciples and us for his ultimate death. Despite all of that, the disciples (and us, honestly) still seem woefully unprepared when the time actually comes. Maybe the reason why we get these texts after Easter is a gift of hindsight. We can look at what God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit are doing and also remember what Jesus told us would happen before, during, and after his death.
At the same time, what Jesus leaves us with isn’t easy. I remember when I was old enough to start staying home by myself (also serving as a babysitter at times for my brother and sister) I was left with a list of to-dos (and some not to-dos). Don’t answer the door! Don’t use the oven or the stove. Remember to start the washer! I have no idea what I would have done if my parents said to me “keep our words… peace we leave with you.” I would have been left with a lot of questions. So perhaps it’s understandable that the disciples don’t fully understand. But, let us not kid one another, my beloved, we don’t always understand either.
Jesus doesn’t play around or sugar coat things. He says “those who love me will keep my word.” For Jesus, there isn’t an option. There’s no gray area. We either keep his words or we don’t. And here’s the thing, we are inundated with the rhetoric that everything we hear is nothing but lies. Our administration loves to use the words “fake news.” It’s also possible that every news source, no matter if it is television or print, does have a bit of a slant. It’s also possible that, at times, we may only read and hear what we desire to absorb. With all of that in mind, what does it mean to keep Jesus’ word? What does it mean to keep Jesus’ word especially in a world that (1) isn’t familiar with Jesus and (2) may not want to hear Jesus’ word? Maybe the better question is what in the world is Jesus’ word anyway? How can we keep Jesus’ word if we don’t even know what it is. After all, there is an entire New Testament full of Jesus’ words, which ones do we keep?
I believe that the basis of all of Jesus’ words and commandments can come down to one simple word; the same one I touched on last week: love. Love one another. If we love Jesus as we say we do then we will love one another, we will love the world, we will love ourselves. That last part can be especially hard and tricky. I don’t know about you, but it is difficult, if not impossible at times, to keep this word that Jesus demands. I believe in truth telling. I think Jesus calls me to do that as well. The truth-teller side of me wants to tell the truth that I don’t want to love everyone and even if I tried, it feels like an impossible task. What about those people who wish to do me harm or who have harmed me in the past? Do you think I want to love those people?
There’s a saying that goes “speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” I think about that a lot as I prepare to preach and as I pray about where God is leading me in this world. Keeping Jesus’ words means that we might have to say difficult things, encounter difficult people, step into difficult places, and, ultimately, find ourselves in the places we previously ignored. When your message is “God so loved the world” you’re not always the most popular person. God so loved the world? Fake news! This can feel especially true if you are the one that is experiencing some distance from God or you feel as if God has forgotten you. This can feel especially true if society tells you that you are unlovable. This can feel especially true if you just don’t believe that God’s love is for you too. It’s easier to chalk that up to fake news than to trust that God keeps God’s word and that the love God spoke of is for you. Perhaps, my beloved, the hardest part of keeping Jesus’ word is just keeping it (that is, believing it) for ourselves. After all, a hurting world isn’t going to believe our message of love if we don’t embrace it in its fullness for us.
While all of this love does seem an impossible task, Jesus assures us we will not be alone. Jesus is sending us a friend, a companion, an advocate: the Holy Spirit. And my goodness, is she tricky! That Holy Spirit will turn your life upside down in the most amazing ways. When your hearts are troubled or when you are afraid, there is the Holy Spirit to remind you of all the things Jesus said and did and to continue to teach us Jesus’ ways. The Holy Spirit, when we are open to her and willing to listen to her, will guide us in the ways that show the world that Jesus’ words are not fake news. Jesus’ words are not an idle tale. Jesus’ words are more than lip service. Jesus’ words are life giving, life changing, life enhancing words. And when the Holy Spirit stirs, and she will, and it takes us to places we couldn’t even dreamed of going, the message of love will be one that is so sorely needed.
If this message of love isn’t welcomed, which, if we’re honest, it probably won’t be, then there’s a chance we (and others who love Jesus) will be put out to the margins. We’ll be swept under the rug. We will be put in a corner until we can learn to behave and recite the company line that power and riches equal happiness. We will be kept out of populated places where our crazy ideas of love and mercy can’t taint the waters of discrimination, sexism, and classism. This message of love, my beloveds, has the chance of putting us in or at the margins. Lucky for us, we serve a God that does the best work on the margins.
We have story after story of God taking marginalized people, lifting them up, and then doing great things through them. Esther was a woman and should have never risen to power, yet there she was. Jonah avoided God and God sent him anyway. Peter was a fisherman and denied Jesus three times! John the Baptist was eccentric and ate locusts. Ruth was widowed. Elizabeth was said to be barren. Mary was an unwed teenager. God did amazing things through all of them. Even the psalmist today says that God’s ways will be “known upon the earth, your saving power among ALL nations” (emphasis mine). When we keep Jesus’ word, perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is “how big is our God?” Because “God will not be restricted to people who look like us. Anything less than the entire world is not worthy of the death, burial, resurrection [and ascension] of our Lord. God refused to be the private possession of one group of people in the New Testament, and God certainly cannot be contained or controlled by one group now. God is for all nations, then and now” (Feasting on the Word, p 483-485, Self).
We keep Jesus’ word not because it is easy, or even because it’s the right thing to do. We keep Jesus’ word because we love Jesus. Our love will never be enough for sacrifice Jesus paid. But we keep Jesus’ word because we love Jesus. We keep Jesus’ word because this world needs more than fake news. We keep Jesus’ word because the Holy Spirit continues to stir and we are co-instigators in the Holy uprising of love!