John 14. 21-29 | Easter 6C

John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John

21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who
loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself
to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my
teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with
them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you
hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. 25 “All this I have spoken
while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my
name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do
not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going
away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going
to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens,
so that when it does happen you will believe.

John 14:21-29

The Gospel of the Lord

On this the sixth Sunday after Easter in year C, we continue to consider the
complexity of Jesus’ resurrection by reading once again the Passover tabletalk,
the pre-crucifixion teaching emphasizing the central place of Jesus in the life and
calling of faith communities through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This Passover table is punctuated by anxious questions from his disciples. Our
lesson is excerpted from an answer to a question from Judas (not Iscariot). Jesus
had said, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me;
because I live, you also will live” (vs. 19) Judas pressing Jesus for more
information asks: “How is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the
world?” The answer: “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. Whoever
does not love me does not keep my words” (vs. 23-24a). Who better than a
Judas to ask such a question? For you see, Jesus is offering another Judas (that
is, Iscariot) at this table a chance to stay at the table. But that Judas chooses to
leave, seeking to force Jesus to show himself in another way -a way using
violence instead of non-violence. It remains forever night for that Judas.

Now remember, we’re reading this post-resurrection. Don’t we think the disciples
could have known beforehand what was going to happen? But remember again,
if we were reading the Gospel from the start we would be discovering the
disciples never seem to get what Jesus tells them—or shows them—the first time
round. At this last Passover, they hear Jesus talking about leaving. His Exodus ,
so to speak. The Eleven are confused, uncertain about what to do, unable to formulate a response. Jesus attempts to explain. After he has gone, a
euphemism for his crucifixion, the Spirit will teach them, guiding out the
significance of Jesus’ teachings. When the disciples revisit Jesus’ teaching they
will recognize and then know what has happened. The Spirit will confirm what
Jesus had said.

No question, I have much the same learning curve as any of the Eleven. But may
I suggest there is some subtle wisdom at work this morning. The lectionary
invites me to recognize myself not as an individual but as a disciple knit into a
faith community. And it’s calling me to voice questions and listen to questions. It
is in listening and hearing, believing communities understand how the Gospel’s
story speaks. For me, for us, like the disciples, often with retrospection, the
penny drops and the light lights. At a new time and in a new place we often see
something more, or see more clearly, or more fully grasp the significance of
Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is an expression of the Spirit’s work in
community. It is seriously important to be knit together into a community.

Now the Fourth Gospel seldom tells us how speech is to be heard. It doesn’t
have descriptive adverbs like “He said sternly” or softly.” So we’re left to imagine
in what tones various sentences were spoken. It seems to me for a long time I
heard Jesus speaking confidently, strongly. But over the years I now hear Jesus
speaking to the Eleven in a tone of voice matching the acoustics of the room.
What if—having just watched one of the Twelve walk out the door to betray him
and having told one of the remaining Eleven, he would soon deny him, not once
but three times—what if Jesus’ tone were, well—what if his lips trembled and
tears formed in the corners of his eyes. Anyone who’s ever been in a similar
situation will understand heartbreak tears. Then the heartfelt sincerity of this
moment finds a home. This will be a dark night. He will be betrayed by one of
them, abandoned by all of them.

So at this Passover, Jesus makes it clear his followers love him by serving others
in word and action. Not in the manner of the one who just left. “Those who love
me will keep my word” (vs. 15). In the Fourth Gospel, love for Jesus is the
touchstone for everything.  Love in Jesus’ teaching is love in action – acts of
service. In Jesus’ day, the Second Temple period, “keeping” or “obeying” Torah
was the acceptable, normal way of expressing a life of faithfulness. “Keeping” or
‘practicing” meant internalizing the teachings of Torah to the extent they shaped
every aspect of one’s daily life.  Jesus is teaching the Eleven faithfulness is
expressed in a “serving love”. This will be a crucial factor in their future.

Coming at it from another angle. The Gospel’s author cannot stress enough that
love for Jesus is the key mark of disciples in community. For them to experience
the love of the Father, they must keep the words of Jesus. To love Jesus is to
love the Father. Not to keep Jesus’ words is to disobey the Father (v. 24). This
furthers the theme from earlier chapters – whoever has seen Jesus has seen the
Father. Jesus adds to the theme “and we will come to them and make our home with them” (vs. 23).  Here the “home” is the disciples in community. The Father
comes to them as a community. The Father will work among them since they will
remain in the world even as Jesus leaves.  In the time of Jesus, the Judeans
believed YHWH’s “dwelling place” was the Jerusalem Temple. In the Fourth
Gospel, Temple has been replaced by Jesus who makes his “dwelling place” in a
community of those who love and follow him. Jesus and the Father call
communities to be at home with them. Disciples will never be unwelcome guests
in this household. So our calling as a disciple-ing community is to make time and
space now to welcome Jesus in his relationship to the Father. Welcoming Jesus
to live with us as we live with him is the primary and preferred way the Fourth
Gospel describes faith – discipleship and community. It should be the primary and
preferred priority of our lives.

This, in turn, lays the groundwork for the close relationship of Jesus with the
Spirit, identified as Teacher. As the Father has sent Jesus into the world, so
Jesus has asked the Spirit be sent to continue teaching them. The return of
Jesus to the Father means the future unfolding of the Father’s purposes.. Feeling
alone can be a profoundly difficult thing to experience, as many of us personally
know. And this is what the disciples are likely to fear most. They sense they are
losing their teacher, their friend. All that they have done for the last three years
has been about being part of Jesus’ life and journey.  But knowing he will be
leaving soon and understanding what that meant for them personally were
probably two different things.

The role of the Spirit is twofold: to “teach” the disciples, and to “remind” them of
what Jesus had taught them (v. 26). He will bring nothing new to the table; the
Father has already revealed Himself fully in Jesus. But the Spirit – Teacher will
deepen their understanding of revelation in ways leading them to follow Jesus
into ministry and to change the world in so many ways.

Countless stories have been told of teachers making an impact on a person’s life
in ways that turned them around or helped them fulfill their potential in profound
ways. I am married to a teacher, who yearly with humility brings home stories
from students, who return to tell her of known but sometimes unknown influences
she has had in their education. I have, myself, had two teachers who have
effected profoundly important directions to my life. All of us need someone
present “in our corner”. Jesus did that for the disciples and all future faith
communities in sending the Spirit – Teacher so they could face the future with a
sense of purpose. The Spirit guides communities when reflecting on what they
have experienced of Jesus. The Spirit guides communities to let love for Jesus
show up in the ways they relate to others. The Spirit helps the disciple-ing
community to understand Jesus and his word and to love Jesus by keeping his
word for the world’s sake.

Understood this way, there is nothing about Jesus’ words suggesting either he’s
promising the disciple-ing community an end to problems or he’s inviting them to ignore problems. Rather, he promises peace.  We need to be cautious about the
meaning of peace, especially if we look in a Webster’s dictionary. The entry you
will find is “freedom from disturbance, the absence of war, or strife”. Now in the
Second Temple period this “dictionary” definition of peace would fit. There was
the so-called “Pax Romana”, a ruthlessly imposed peace by crushing military
force.  But there is another “peace”, a Biblical concept standing against
political/military violence. For Jesus “Peace” is the covenantal or Torah concept
of shalom. Shalom envisions total wellbeing not only for the stand alone
individual but also for the total wellbeing of those bound together as people of
God.  Shalom is biblically characterized by community wholeness, healing,
abundance, concord, reconciliation, harmony, and health both spiritual and
physical. Biblical Peace is, therefore, framed in its corporate aspect, by the way
people get along with one another for the common good, rather than focused on
an individual’s inner tranquility.  The Spirit enables peace in the disciple-ing
community and creates calm concerning fears and doubts about the present and
the future. But more importantly, the Spirit intends to inspire us as a community
to meet our fears with peace so that our love can work to address the world’s
wounds with justice.

All dimensions of a faith community need to be governed by the Spirit. A faith
community is not just a collection of people who share common beliefs or
common efforts. Instead, it is a unity reinforced by the presence of the Spirit who
teaches and calls each one to remembrance who they are: Jesus’ followers. We
are not alone trying to make our own way as best we can. We are guided by the
presence of the Father through the Spirit -Teacher just as they were taught by
the Father through Jesus. And if we receive the Teacher, the Spirit of truth, we
will experience biblical peace going far beyond lack of conflict. It should be
noted, however, there is no guarantee the presence of the Spirit will eliminate
disagreements among those in the community. As a people who are called out of
the world into the community of Christ, it seems to me our protest and
disagreement, in whatever form it takes, should be noticeably different.  There is
a clear sense here. If a community is not governed by love through the work of
the Spirit in their midst, there will be no peace of the kind Jesus gives.

One of the shortcomings with American Chrisitanity is faith has become overly
individualized. Becoming a Christian too often means personal assent to a set of
beliefs rather than to a “lived-in-community”faith. Being a Christian, or better,
being a disciple or even better, being a “disciple-in-community” are not the same
thing. Someone can be a Christian, attend church services, hear sermons, pay
tithes, receive communion, and not be a disciple. A would-be disciple seeks out a
community in order to follow the example and teaching of the One who is called
Lord. A “disciple-in-community” gains a greater awareness of how the Father in
Jesus is at work with them. And how, by becoming more aware of that, they can
become more committed to follow Jesus along the path the Spirit directs. Faith
communities should be attentive to the rhythms and rituals constituting the background hum of life and should consider the end toward which these activities
are oriented.

Jesus is, of course, the key to this. I as an individual am called into a community
by his name, shaped by his life, death, and resurrection and empowered by his
Spirit for “serving love”. The Father does all of this in the effort to install on earth
his own life through human agents loving one another and overseeing the spread
of shalom. I’ve heard this statement ascribed to both Francis of Assisi and Martin
Luther, and I’m not sure either said it, but today Luther won the coin toss so I’ll
claim it for him: Once asked what he would do if he thought the world would end
tomorrow, Luther replied, “I would plant a tree today.” That’s not optimism, but
hope; not simply a lack of fear, but courage; not only the absence of disturbance,
but peace — Jesus’ peace, a peace the world cannot give.

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