This passage offers the promise of God’s help and empowerment instead of a performance checklist.

Read the passage here. (John 14:15-31)

This is the Gospel Lesson from the Revised Common Lectionary for Lectionary Year C

How many times have congregants heard, “Jesus said that if we loved him we would keep his commands.”? The one preaching then lays out 15 things we must do to prove to ourselves, one another, or to God how much we truly love the Lord. The congregant tries and fails and ends up internalizing, “I must just not love the Lord enough.” This process then reinforces the view that the others are really good Christians who have the assurance of God’s love.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Instead of shame and guilt, the passage offers incredible reasons to be encouraged.

The Passage in Context

Chapters 14-17 are called, “Jesus’ Farewell Discourse.” He is preparing his disciples for his arrest and death. Judas has gotten up from the table and has left the house, and as Jesus is talking in our passage Judas is on his way to betray Jesus. The betrayal and abuse of Jesus are imminent. These are Christ’s last words to them and the mission of God must continue through these followers! This passage is immediately after the last supper.

Chapter 17 ends with Christ praying for himself, the disciples, and the ones who would come to believe through the disciples.

The flow of the Discourse could be summarized, “I’m going away, but God will send the Holy Spirit to reside within you. Continue to abide with me through the Spirit and you will be able to live faithfully (chapter 15). I am sending you into a world in which hate thrives, so you will need the work of the Spirit to help you and to remind you of my words to you (chapter 16). So, I pray God would be glorified in me, through you, and would work in the hearts of those who will come to hear the story of God’s salvation through you (chapter 17).

The Passage

In our passage, Jesus is preparing them. I’m going away but God will send the Holy Spirit, then Spirit, Father, and I will reside within you.

I am going away, so you will not be able to demonstrate your love to me in a physical, one-on-one way. However, you can demonstrate your love for me that you will be influenced by my words as the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of truth) reminds you.

Far from being a prove-to-me-you-are-a-real-Christian-passage, this is a passage of promised help and guidance by Father, Son, and Spirit. I’m going away and God is going to provide the Spirit, who will empower you to know the truth, because the Spirit will abide in you (verse 17). The Spirit of God is within the disciples, working in them so that love can be turned to action. This passage should be encouraging – God is working in you! Even when you don’t know certain things, the Spirit is in you and will teach you truth.

Beyond Us-Them

When one reads this passage, it can seem that Jesus is setting up an us-them understanding. There are those who know the truth and those who don’t. There are those who believe and those they don’t. The gospel of John provides a more nuanced view than a simple dichotomy of us-them.

Generally, there are those who

  • are being influenced by the words and works of Jesus (disciples, Samaritan Woman, Nicodemus, man born blind)
  • those who are actively working against Christ and God’s work of truth and justice in the world (14:30)
  • those who do not yet know (John 10:16; sheep who are not yet in the pin, but who will be gathered).

Jesus is calling the disciples to go into the world being assured of God’s presence and the Spirit’s empowerment to tell others. They are to abide in Christ, bear good fruit, and to glorify God by telling others and by fulfilling the work that was started in Jesus and continues through them.

They are to tell others. Some will respond favorably. Some will be in process for a while. Some will reject and be against it. Nevertheless, through danger or discouragement, the disciples are loved and cared for (14:21) by God.

An Idea

This is an opportunity to assure our listeners of God’s enduring presence in our life, in when it all falls apart and is in danger of failing. God’s work in us and the world will continue. God is faithful.

I believe one has to work through whether salvation is something I do and earn or is salvation something God does and invites me into. The invitation is open for us to be swayed by the work of the Spirit and the words of Christ. If we are willing to be wooed by the Loving God, then we will indeed desire and do the works Christ has called us to do. Convincing, suggesting, and showing a life that is in movement with God is more effective that the blame and shame game.

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