Gospel: John 14:15-21
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.  18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Orphaned

B  Good morning, Everyone!  It’s a beautiful day!

M Yes! It’s a beautiful day, and your grampa’s all moved in, and your family’s gotten bigger!

B  My family’s not any bigger, we’ve just got more of us in one place!

M Oh. Right…

P   It’s okay, Munchie.  We knew what you meant.

M Um… I was wondering…

P   What were you wondering?

M Well, I was listening to the story, and there’s a word I don’t know…

P   What word was that?

M Jesus say, “I won’t leave you orphaned.”  What does that mean?

B  You don’t know what an orphan is?!?  Didn’t you ever hear of “Orphan Annie?”

M I thought that was her name…

B  It’s what happens when you don’t have any parents…

M Like Peter Pan?

B  And Cinderella, after her dad died.

M And Snow White…

B  And Oliver!

M And Bambi!

P   Whoa! Whoa!  Whoa!  Yes, all those are orphans, which means that they don’t have any parents.

B  But they’re stories!

P   Yes, they are stories, but they are all based on things that really happen.

M That’s scary!

P   Yes. It is.  But what was it you told me Jesus said?

M He said… he said…  He said, “I will NOT leave you orphaned”!

P   That’s right. So Jesus was giving a promise, not trying to scare everyone.

B  He wasn’t saying our parents would never die, though.

P   He wasn’t saying that anyone was never going to die.  He himself was about to be crucified.

M What did he mean then?

P   Jesus was speaking about a different kind of family, not just parents and children, not even adding the grandparents in there.  Jesus was speaking about God’s family.

B  You mean Mary and Joseph?

P   Well, Jesus’ parents are part of the family, but so are the two of you.  So am I.  So are your parents and grandparents.  In fact, anyone might be a part of God’s family.

M But what did he mean!?!

P   Jesus was the leader of all the disciples, the leader of the family of God.  They called him Lord and Master.  He made decisions for the group, taught them, and shared God’s love in all the communities they visited.

B  But he was going to be put on a cross—and killed.

P   Yes, Jesus was going to die, and the disciples would no longer have him as their leader.

M Kind of like losing your parents…

P   Yes, kind of… but Jesus said he would NOT leave them orphaned.  He promised to send the Spirit of Truth to be with us, to inspire us to continue to do the works of God as God’s family here on earth.

B  That means we all have each other!

M Even when we can’t be in the same room together!

P   Yes, that means we can count on God’s Spirit to be with us, and to guide us, and to raise up leaders who will help to guide the church in this world, even when scary things happen.

M That’s why it’s a beautiful day.

B  That’s why it can be beautiful every day!

P   You got it! Let’s pray.  Thank you, God, for this beautiful day.  Thank you for bringing us into your family, so that we are never really alone.  Thank you for giving your Spirit to guide us in Jesus’ name.  Amen

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I have to admit that I don’t like the phrase that I’ve chosen as my title very much.  Even though it comes right from the words Jesus said in today’s Gospel reading, the phrase brings to mind for me so much that has been abusive in this world. How many people have been prodded into doing something they’d rather not do with the words, “If you love me, you will”?

It helps if I turn it upside down.  It helps if I imagine a child trying to use these words to convince a parent (or someone else in charge) to let them do something that might not be so good.  “If you love me, you’ll let me eat ice cream every day, for every meal!”  If the person in charge really loves the child, that person knows that capitulating to that argument is the opposite of love.

It’s more difficult when the children grow older, and can be expected to have accumulated some wisdom behind the demand.  “If you really love me, you’ll trust me to have figured out what’s best, and you’ll let me do what I want!”

And when we become adults, how many of us are still using the same argument?  “If you really care about me, you’ll let me do it my way, you’ll give me what I I’ve determined I need!”

We could hear Jesus’ words that way.  We could imagine Jesus to be an authoritative despot who says, “Obey my rules or else!

It might sound ludicrous to some of us, but there are people who see God primarily as the rule-maker who judges the guilty and finds them unacceptable.

So let’s look at how Jesus deals with the commandments, particularly in the gospel from which we read today.

In the eighth chapter, the scribes and Pharisees approach Jesus as he is teaching at the Temple, bringing with them a woman caught in adultery, declaring that the law commanded she be stoned.  They asked for his response.  He didn’t respond right away, but bent down and wrote something on the ground which is not recorded for us.  Then he stood and stated that anyone among them without sin should be the one to throw the first stone.  The elders walked away first, and were followed by the rest, one by one. Jesus, also, refuses to condemn the woman.

In chapter 10, Jesus speaks of a command he has received from his father, to shepherd the people by laying down his life for their sake.

At the end of chapter 12, Jesus speaks of not judging those who fail to keep his word, because he says he came not to judge, but to save.

Chapter 13 brings us to the point at which the other gospels relate the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Here, instead, Jesus is shown washing the feet of his disciples, even Judas.  Jesus tells them to care for one another, even if it means washing each other’s feet. A few verses later, Jesus names a new commandment, that they love one another.

This brings us to today’s reading, where Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”

Chapter 15 says that we will abide in Jesus’ love if we keep his commandments, and repeats, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

If we read the entire Gospel of John, we cannot in good conscience believe that Jesus speaks as an authoritative despot requiring blind obedience to a bunch of rules.  If that were so, he would have commanded the woman be stoned according to the law, rather than convincing the others to refrain from that act, and then releasing her.

When we read the entire Gospel of John, we realize that the commandments of Jesus are not even plural—not really.  The commandments of Jesus are one commandment, that we love one another, so that the whole world can be saved.

The other gospels say that, too, in quite a different way, but today, we hear it this way.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” which means that you will love one another.

How do we best love one another today?  Sometimes, our love for one another will mean that we wear a mask, in order to keep as many of our own germs to ourselves as possible. It may mean contacting one another in different ways, and congregating not at all or in smaller groups for shorter periods of time.

Our love may also include reaching farther than those with whom we interact regularly.  Lutheran Disaster Response is working in many ways today, among them are several responses to this ongoing pandemic.  We’re active in Oregon, providing relief assistance to families most impacted.  In Illinois, we are assisting with basic school supplies, and mental health checks for students.  In Pennsylvania, we’re helping to provide food and relief supplies for vulnerable populations, as well as providing relief in struggling communities.  In New York, we’re helping to support 16 congregational feeding ministries in areas severely impacted.  In New Jersey, we support an additional 12 of those feeding ministries.  That’s in addition to the many ways congregations are active around the world, loving their neighbors, obeying the commandment(s) of Jesus.

If you love Jesus, then you will love one another. It may not be easy in this time (if it’s ever easy!), but your love expressed in various ways is one way in which Jesus saves the world.

For this we give thanks, in Jesus’ name.