“Those who love me will keep my word and my Father and I will make our home with them. And the advocate, whom the Father will send, will teach you everything and will remind you of what I have said.”
People often ask, “What’s the hardest part about preaching?” And for me, it’s a very specific fear – the fear that nothing I say will register at all, that it won’t connect with your life in a meaningful way. And it was an ordination gift – in fact my favorite ordination gift – that put me in touch with this fear. The gift is this picture from the children of All Saints. The title is “John: Priest of the Church,” and it’s made up of eight drawings depicting what priests do. In the upper right hand corner I’m administering the Eucharist – to someone, it seems, who’s terrified by the wafer. In the upper left hand corner I’m anointing, and next to that I’m praying, but in the bottom middle – I’m preaching. And the children, God bless them, were kind enough to fill in the bubble with what it is they suppose preachers say Sunday after Sunday. And so let me just read you the sermon they wrote out for me: “wa wa wa, blah blah, wa wa, blah blah blah blah.”
In tonight’s Gospel Jesus is clear – He does not want His word to sound like that to his disciples. Jesus wants His word to register – he wants it to fuel and sustain their lives even after He’s gone. And so this is what He says the night before he died. “Those who love me will keep my word.” The word keep is a bad translation. You and I don’t use or value half the things we keep. Jesus’ word isn’t an old prom dress – something to keep but never use. You see in the Greek that word means to guard, to take care of, to carefully attend. Jesus says that if we love Him we’re going to guard what he says, we’re going to take care to practice what He says, we’ll carefully attend to what He says. That’s what he means when tells us to “keep his word.”
And so here’s the question we need to wrestle with – are we making a conscious effort to keep Jesus’ word? When it comes to our life, and I mean to the smallest details – our families, our jobs, our anxieties, our fears, the daily decisions that make up our life – where does Jesus’ word come into play? For example, a couple years ago I had a conversation with a Christian who was at odds with his friend. And after suggesting that he make the first move in hope of being reconciled, which Jesus teaches is the most sensible Kingdom of God way to live, his response was “things just aren’t that simple.” But in this case, it really was that simple. My friend’s subconscious belief was that Jesus was out of touch with reality, that Jesus hadn’t taken everything into account. Jesus was very clear on what his students would do in this situation, but to my friend – Jesus’ word to him might as well have been “wa wa wa, blah blah blah, wa wa.”
Whose word are we keeping? Or to say it differently, “who’s our teacher?” You see there’s a reason that Jesus is so concerned that we keep His word. Jesus is profoundly aware of what we all seem to have forgotten – we have to keep someone’s word. Jesus understands that everyone has a teacher, and that most of us have way too many. You see we make decisions everyday about what’s important, how to treat people, what to believe, how to behave, what to do, how to spend our money, and how to spend our time. But it’s worth considering – who taught us how to make those decisions, or what values to base them on? Our tendency is go on what we feel, but has our environment not conditioned our feelings?
You and I have been formed, every single one of us, by a complicated mix of people, places, things, parents, teachers, scientists, mentors, pastors, slogans, commercials, news anchors, and magazine adds – for better, or more often than not, for worse. Now, I know a lot of us take great pride in being our own teacher – rational people who’ve learned how to think for ourselves, but let’s be honest. We inherited that perspective from somebody else. That’s why it’s so popular. We all have a teacher. We all keep someone’s word. Whose word are we keeping?
Now, we have a hard time keeping Jesus’ word. Embracing Jesus as our teacher – that’s demanding work. It is so much easier to think of him only as God’s “sacrificial lamb,” whose sole purpose is to save us from death – that way we don’t have to bother letting him teach us about life. It’s so much easier to think of Jesus as the proponent of some great social agenda – that too allows us to keep Him at arms length, out of the “real world” where you and I actually have to live. And yet, we find in today’s Gospel that the real world is exactly where keeping Jesus’ word matters. “Those who love me,” he says, “will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” In other words, what Jesus is saying is this: “My Father and I are humble, humble enough to enter the smallest details of your life – your family, your job, your anxiety, your fear – the decisions you wrestle with day in and day out. Prepare a place for us,” Jesus says, “because we want in. We want to be your teacher. We want your life to be our home. We want you to keep my word.”
Now, I know what you could be thinking. “I’ve read the Bible and when it comes to the decisions I wrestle with Jesus is silent. On top of that,” you may say, “a lot of people claim to keep Jesus’ word, they all disagree, and they make everyone else miserable.” To which I reply, “you’re right.” But, should our response really be to not try? Remember, Jesus says we have the Advocate, the Paraclete – but do you know what that word means? It’s the Greek word for someone who “is summoned to another’s side for the purpose of helping.” According to John, that’s who the Holy Spirit is – someone summoned to our side to help us keep Jesus’ word.
Now, we have to understand that keeping Jesus’ word isn’t the same thing as keeping the right rules. I’m not trying to make a case for legalism. No doubt, some rules just need to be followed, but that’s not the point of tonight’s Gospel, a Gospel that begins with these words. “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was God. The Word was with God. The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” That is the Word we’re being asked to keep – the Word we’re being asked to guard, to take care of, to carefully attend – the Living Christ himself. Jesus says that if we love him – and not some agenda He stands for or some arrangement He’s made to get us to heaven – He says that if we love Him we’ll keep His word, that we’ll work hard to prepare a place in our lives where He and His Father can dwell.
After all, we all have a teacher. We all keep someone’s word. Whose word are we keeping?