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If You Love Me
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
May 1, 2016
John 14:15-27 Revelation 21:22-22:1-5 Psalm 67
Our Bible reading this morning begins with Jesus’ words, “If you love me.” The immediate issue and question arises about loving Jesus, loving God. How do we love Jesus? Jesus’ answer is clear and straightforward. The answer to the question, “How do we love Jesus” is by keeping His commandments. For Jesus’ words are, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
I may sound like I’m belaboring the obvious here. But this point is not obvious. This plain statement of Jesus is so often not heard. For many Christians, faith is what Christianity is all about. Many Christians say that accepting Jesus as their personal savior is what saves. I agree that faith and accepting Jesus matter. There is that famous verse, John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
This verse says that whoever believes in Jesus we might or may have eternal life. The King James Version of this verse says that whoever believes should have eternal life, as does the Revised Standard Version. What they are trying to capture with that word should is the Greek subjunctive tense. In the Greek language, you use the subjunctive tense when expressing strong emotion, or, as in this case, when it isn’t for sure. The subjunctive tense means that it is a maybe. Jesus is not saying whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Rather He is saying that whoever believes in Him may, or might have eternal life. The New International Version, with its evangelical leanings, wants there to be certainty associated with belief in Jesus. So it translates the verse whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.
Believing in Jesus may give eternal life. But it’s not enough in itself. Believing matters. Faith matters. But so do good deeds. John turns our attention to deeds just after he talks about believing in Jesus. John says that our deeds matter. It is our deeds that will turn us to Jesus or away from Jesus. Using archetypical imagery of light and darkness, Jesus says that good deeds turn a person toward the light, and evil deeds turn a person away from the light.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God (John 3:19-21).
So if a person’s deeds are good, he or she will turn to the light. Jesus is the light. That is how one can say that Jesus is a judge. As the light, people whose deeds are wrought in God will turn to Jesus. And as the light, people whose deeds are evil will turn from the light. So Jesus isn’t judging in the sense of a king or a judge. He is the light and a person will turn toward the light or turn toward darkness by their own choice. Toward the light if their deeds are good. Toward darkness if their deeds are evil.
For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God (John 3:19-21).
Jesus remains the same light calling people to safe harbor. The judgment is self-judgment.
This is a very Swedenborgian concept. This church teaches that God doesn’t condemn anyone to hell. Rather heaven and hell are freely chosen by each person for themselves. And the idea is exactly as John puts it. People who love God and the neighbor wander upward into heaven’s heat and joy and remain. People who hate God and their neighbors can’t stand the heat and hate the people in heaven, so they turn away to the cold of hell. As in John, in Swedenborg God remains the loving light that invites everyone to come to Him. But it is individuals who choose to come to God’s loving light or to turn away into hateful, cold darkness.
This is why believing in Jesus isn’t enough. It may lead a person to good deeds wrought in God. In this case, we have what is necessary and sufficient—belief in Jesus and deeds wrought in God as John 3:19-21 teaches. By itself, John 3:16 isn’t enough when it comes to salvation. To understand how Jesus saves, one needs to read to the end of the chapter—especially verses 19-21, which are about deeds wrought in God or in darkness.
There are a few words in John 3:21 that are particularly interesting and instructive. Those words say that, “He who does what is true comes to the light.” Doing truth is what brings a person to the light. This interests me because I usually think that doing good is what brings a person to the light. Good is a deed, not truth. I think of truth more as a matter of belief or thought.
But a Hindu friend of mine made a remark once that struck me deeply. And the remark was about a word for truth. In school, I was taught that the Sanskrit word dharma means truth. So the teachings of the Buddha are called dharma. But my Hindu friend translated the word differently. She said that dharma means righteousness. So instead of an intellectual thought, or truth, dharma means right action.
This led me to ponder. Isn’t that what truth really is? Truth is the right way to live. Truth is the lamp guiding our steps. Truth is right behavior spelled out for us.
I’m saying much about doing truth because it brings us back to our reading from John 14 that we heard this morning. Jesus says that if we love Jesus we will do what he commands. “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we keep Jesus’ commandments, we will receive the Counselor, the Advocate, who is called “The Spirit of Truth,” and the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of Truth dwells with us and in us. It is the truth, the righteousness that we live out and do, that is this Spirit of Truth,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you (John 14:15-17).
Likewise, Jesus’ word embodies the love and righteousness of God. When we think of a word, we think of an idea. Again, we are tempted to think of something intellectual when we think of words. But Jesus says that his words are life, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Jesus says that loving Him means keeping His word. This is the same thing that Jesus said about keeping His commandments. Jesus says that if we love Him we will keep His commandments; and Jesus says that if we love Him we will keep His word. The parallel language means that Jesus’ word and Jesus’ commandments are one and the same. And it gives life,
If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:23-24).
This is the same word that is spirit and that gives life.
There is a Native woman I know who said something very interesting about her spirituality. And her comments will bring all this home. She said that in her tradition they don’t speak of a religion. They talk instead about a way of living. And I think that everyone present at that interfaith gathering agreed with her. The representatives of every tradition that was there that day agreed that religion was really a way of living. It is certainly the case with this religion. There is that famous statement from Swedenborg, “All religion relates to life, and the religious life is doing good.”
As I said at the beginning of this talk, not every Christian agrees with this. There are many who think that believing in Jesus is all you need. I remember talking with a chaplain at the University of Alberta. I told her that we believe something very simple that I though every religion teaches. I said we believe that salvation is believing in God and doing good. She surprised me with her answer. She said, “Paul is ambiguous when it comes to the issue of good works.” Well it looks like this sermon is about to morph into a discussion on Paul, so I’d better wrap it up now. In any event, however ambiguous Paul might be, I don’t see the same ambiguity in Jesus. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:23).
Lord, you have instructed us to keep your commandments if we love you. And Lord we do love you. We ask only for knowledge of what your commandments are, and the strength to put them into practice. We seek to learn your words in our study of the Scriptures. And we seek to learn your words in our church, through our experiences in the world, through our conversations, and through meditation. Your wisdom is infinite. And we can never cease in our efforts to grasp your infinite truths. Give us to love your words and your commandments. And give us the power to carry them out in our daily lives. For that is showing love to you.
And Lord, we pray that you bring peace to this troubled world. May those who harbor ill will for their neighbors learn to understand and see the fellow humanity that they share. May those who strive against each other see that they are like in their wishes and in what they want for their land and nation. And may warring factions find their way to peace.
Lord, we ask for you to heal those who are sick. As you worked miracles of healing when you were on earth, how much more can you work healing miracles now that you have risen and have all authority in heaven and on earth. Grant all who are in need your healing love and power.