Good morning, and happy Easter VI to you. I am Jim Jelinek and with the Rev. Alan Neale we serve the people and community of Trinity Church, Newport, RI. This is one of two sermons we are offering you for today.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John [14:15-21]:
Jesus said, “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; 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.” The Gospel of the Lord.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Really, there is only one commandment Jesus gave, we don’t have to memorize a list of ten. Jesus tells us to love in slightly different ways: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Perhaps that’s the simpler version, in terms of how he phrased it. Another way he said it was “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That has more of a catch to it. I think it may come out of that last of the Ten Commandments, you know, the one about not coveting anything that is your neighbor’s. When we covet something that belongs to someone else we are wishing that we could have it, and just wishing doesn’t hurt your neighbor at all, unless you try to take it away, as in stealing, or unless you try to poison his enjoyment of what he has, and that is envy, a very serious sin indeed. That is spoiling his pleasure just because you haven’t got what he has. But those are active sins.
The sin of coveting is not really against your neighbor, it is a sin against yourself, and I would add, a sin against God. To covet what someone else has is really declaring that you are unhappy with the You God has created you to be and become. It is not to value yourself and that is a slap in God’s face. I’m not talking about being unhappy about some of our behaviors or bad habits or sins, but to dislike and undervalue your very essence, your being is much more serious. I very much like those birthday cards that tell us in one way or another that the world is a better place because God gave you to us at your birth. That says at least two things: first, that I love you, and second that I am grateful to God to have you in my life. The funny cards are just that: fun, but I hope you get at least one of these other ones each year, to remind you of the gift you are.
The Church takes Jesus’ commandment very seriously and includes it in the five promises we make at baptism and when we renew our baptismal vows. It is the fourth, and is my favorite because it is so powerful: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.” It shows how far loving needs to go—all the way. First we seek to see the Christ in the other, and sometimes that is very difficult indeed. Some people have become so lost they no longer even faintly resemble the person God created them to be. They may be nasty or demeaning or rage-a-holics, or whatever, that puts up such a screen or curtain that it is very difficult to see the love that is inside. But the promise, as I hear it, is that we keep on seeking, no matter the obstacles, no matter how we are treated, no matter how much dislike we feel, we keep on seeking until we see the Christ. That is our work, and that work can be very hard. That goes way beyond sentiment and sentimentality. That takes praying for courage to keep on hanging in there and continually trying to see the Christ in the other. I have to admit, sometimes I fail. I either quit trying or the person moves out of my life before I ever get that far.
The promise has a second part: to serve the Christ in the other. This doesn’t mean serving a person’s ego or addiction or selfishness. It is always about serving the love in the other, and like a gardener, tending to it and helping it to grow until it blossoms and bears fruit. That can take as much time as the seeking, and can also be frustrating when there are setbacks in the other’s life. That’s the time especially to go back to the seeking until you see the Christ in her or him again.
When we answer the question, and the other four in the Baptismal Office, we say, “I will, with God’s help.” We do not have to do it alone. In fact that is exactly what Jesus is telling his disciples, as he prepares them for his departure a bit down the road. “I will ask the Father, and he will give your another Advocate [the Spirit of truth], and he will be with you forever.” This is the promise of Pentecost, which we shall celebrate in two weeks. We are not alone! Amen.
Be safe; stay well; call if you wish to talk. God’s every blessing to you!