23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate,[a] the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
10 And in the spirit[a] he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
Last week we talked about the passage in John about a new commandment, that’s really not new, but Jesus was directing it towards his disciples. To really love each other well, to have an attitude of love that is authentic for one another. An attitude of love that is marked by commitment, trust, and presence…which means when you are with someone, you are really with them!
I’ve had some folks model that for me throughout my life. I can point to certain times in each chapter in my life where there was someone who I felt really believed in me.
Those friendships weren’t perfect, I had disagreements, disappointments, as well as great moments of togetherness and joy. Yet, through it all, there was an underlying sense of belief.
I think that this belief is more than believing in a set of rules or precepts, I think belief is that foundation of faith, it’s personal, it’s relational. When you believe in someone, you are letting go of your small case ego in that friendship as best as you can, you give yourself over to them in an appropriate manner depending on the relationship. You lean in on each other.
Those kinds of relationships lead to transformation. They are not transactional, they are not built on doing something for someone else so that they will return a favor some time. No, it’s an unconditional response and proposition of authentic friendship….which is rare in this world at times, yet it is what we are called to do as a church, as the body of Christ with one another…and as we model it, the world can see a glimpse of heaven, or God’s presence.
My friend, Phillip Roebuck lives close to us. Which is great, he was on the student ministry staff after graduating from Harvard. I’ve mentioned him before. But, he is someone that believes in me and has a deep love for my family. He tutors our son on a regular basis.
We also love to argue at times. One time, several years ago when he was interning for me, we were co-leading a Sunday School full of teenagers. We started talking about the concept of heaven and hell. I think he was just taking the opposite of whatever I was saying, just to be a devil’s advocate (no pun intended). So, we went down this path towards debate. It was brilliant, give and take, passionate, and really filled with good thought…at the end, one of the students, a young lady, pulled us aside and asked if we were going to be OK with each other, if our friendship was damaged. We laughed a bit, and assured her we were OK, on the contrary, it was a great exercise in civil and loving debate, it wasn’t personal, there were no personal accusations or mean spiritedness…or personal agendas of trying to win a point, etc. It was a great example of growing through dialogue, even if we were taking opposite viewpoints.
I also felt comfortable in that debate because I knew, and still know, that Phil believes in me and I in him. We worked really hard in leaving our smaller case egos at the proverbial door of our friendship and we are able to work together extremely well.
Sometimes, life can be so busy that we don’t see each other as much, but that doesn’t matter…we jump into a fun conversations and share life together when we are togehter. In those conversations, there is such a sense of connection and depth…or real love for a brother.
Those are the kinds of relationships that we should all be striving for in the church.
Our passage this morning gives witness to that kind of love, that kind of friendship. Jesus is saying that if you love him, and Jesus knew that his disciples, his audience, really did love him, then to model that love by following his teachings. His teachings are much more about restoration of friendship, restoration of community, and honoring one another than anything else. Jesus even says that this kind of love, this teaching of real, authentic community, gives evidence to God’s making God’s home with us.
Community is a word that I throw around a lot. I’m not sure what images that conjures up for you, but when I say community, it’s my understanding that is a word that describes being in deep unity with folks in a close proximity, working out our relationships, being committed to one another. Commitment, unity, coming together…all of those words share the same root as community. When we celebrate communion together, that word means a coming together in union, unity with each other.
We can’t do this community thing on our own. We need each other, and we have a gift of being called together as a church community placed in a particular neighborhood. We also have communion with God, a God that holds it all together. God’s Spirit, the “advocate” that Jesus talks about is the glue, the energy that forms us and binds us together. This spirit lives in every nook and cranny of our lives, the lives of others, and the space between us. It is flowing, shaping, forming even as we speak. Spiritual growth is developing an awareness of God, others, and ourselves and how or why we act or react to certain things, people, situations.
When we do this work of spiritual growth through worshipping together, through meditation and prayer, through developing obedience in how we treat one another whenever we are together or how we respond to the gifts that we have as a community with the needs of a community or others, we begin to experience peace within and with others.
This peace is not absence of conflict, it’s more about a state of being which then produces action. We have had some amazing meetings at Fleming Road UCC. Most of them great conversations…some hard conversations as well. But, overall, they have been beautiful and eventually peaceful and another witness or testimony to God’s Spirit at work in and through Fleming Road UCC.
We try to understand peace from the world’s perspective, which is oftentimes simply appeasement. But, the peace that God gives helps us to confront our fears, to love those around us and ourselves, and to see God’s imagination at work in our lives together. We see that God’s home, as it says in John and that John gives witness to in the Revelation passage is with us. We are not alone, even as we struggle towards a deeper experience with a God who is a mystery, but demonstrates love through Jesus and binds us together by the Spirit….a God who believes in us, even when we may struggle in our belief in God.