First Reading Acts 17:22-31
Second Reading 1 Peter 3:13-22
Gospel Reading John 14:15-29
Sermon “Abiding Together”
One of the great themes in the Old Testament revolves around the covenants God made with the Patriarchs of Israel and after the Exodus with the nation itself. Early on in Genesis 12:1-3 NLT  The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.  I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
Now a covenant supplies the basis for a relationship. It normally outlines the responsibilities of both parties. For instance, marriage is such a covenant that defines the relationship between two people over a lifetime. God’s covenants are far broader and eternal. In the case of Abraham, God says that if Abram will trust God, leave his homeland and journey to a new land, then God would bless him, give him many descendants and further, God would bless the world through him. This was the beginning of God’s relationship with Abram and through him – eventually the creation of the nation of Israel. Many more covenants would come with the patriarchs, with Moses and with the fledgling nation at SInai, with the Judges and the Kings and on down through history. God’s relationship with Israel is described in many ways – Sheep and Shepherd, Bride and bridegroom, a chosen nation and the people of God.
All of these speak of the special and close loving relationship of God with these people. Sometimes it was faithfully and lovingly returned, sometimes not. But God was always faithful. And all through the prophets and the Psalms there runs hints and promises of yet another even more intimate relationship yet to come, promising that God himself would shepherd his people and that one would come named Emmanuel, meaning God with us.
The Gospels tell us that story. They tell us how Jesus came to be born of Mary – heralded by angels, but largely ignored by everyone else; about his baptism by John and his heavenly Father’s voce from heaven, proclaiming him as his son. They tell us of his ministry of teaching and healing with the people of Israel accompanied by his disciples. Our reading this morning comes from near the end of the Gospel of John, in a section we call the upper room discourse. It happened on the evening of the Last supper, just before his arrest and crucifixion. Jesus is preparing them for his departure from this earth; for his death yes, but after his resurrection, he would only be with them for a little while – 40 days in all before he ascended back to heaven. These are words that they would only understand later, in the light of the resurrection and with the aid of the Holy Spirit.
They too, take the form of a covenant – defining an eternal relationship between Jesus and all who believe in him as Lord and Savior. There are promises to be kept on both sides – not burdens, but responses born of a divine love and grateful souls.
Jesus tells them: (John 14:15-16 NLT) “If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. The promise is conditional – based on our loving acceptance of his Lordship in our lives. Lets look at that part first and then we’ll look at Jesus’ promise next.
First Jesus says “If you love me, obey my commandments.” First of all, this is not obedience from a guilt trip. Its is not the same as me telling my grandma that I didn’t want to clean up my room and her saying that if I really loved her, I would do it. There are three possible meanings that can be offered here, and I think all three offer at least a portion of the intended truth: The first is as a command. Do this! Obey.
Certainly Jesus has said something like this before that same evening when he instructed his disciples after washing their feet: (John 13:34-35 NLT) So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” Commandments are not optional, it is how his disciples are to define themselves. Jesus said: “If you love me, obey my commandments.” It is simply expected by our Lord.
“If you love me, obey my commandments.” Some of the ancient manuscripts give this as “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” Which opens up more ways to hear this. It is what a disciple who loves their Lord will want to do. If our heart is in tune with our Lord then we will want to see things as he sees them and respond as he would want us to respond. Love implies trust and caring, so the commandments of Jesus are meant for our well being and to draw us closer to him – so naturally, that is what we try to do. Finally, we can go the next step and hear this as an observation – it what tends to happen. “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” It’s who we are and because of that, it is how we behave.
Now the other part of the covenant is critically important in the light of the events that are about to transpire. Jesus will be killed, and rise again on the third day, but he will not be staying long after that. So what happens to the loving bond with his disciples when he returns to his Heavenly Father? Jesus assures them that the story is not over – it is simply beginning a new and even more marvelous chapter. Jesus promises: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.” Now the word that the New Living Translation renders as “Advocate” comes from the
the original Greek word : “Paraclete” This Greek word has a literal meaning of – ‘one who is called to be alongside of you’ -It is used to indicate several sorts of things: an aid, a helper, a councilor, an advisor, a comforter, even a legal advocate. In this instance it points to the mission that Jesus fulfilled and is still engaged in – Emmanuel – God with us! Even now – in a new way. As Jesus tries to explain later, it is even better for the disciples that this happens in this way. While Jesus was engaged in personal ministry, he was bound by the human form – he could after all only be in one place at one time – even if he could walk on water! But now through the agency of the Holy Spirit – the Paraclete – The Spirit of God is still in intimate relationship with the disciples but now no longer bound by space and time. Relationship is the themep – they will not be abandoned at the ascension.
The remainder of the passage can make our heads spin if we are not careful. What does Jesus mean when he says things like (John 14:20 NLT) “When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
‘I am in you and you are in me’?!? Here is where we need to step back and appreciate the work and thoughts of those who have gone before us and helped us think about God as the Holy Trinity – 3 in one – 3 Persons, one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, as some put it. All of this is God, one substance, yet known to us through three distinct persons. Most importantly to this passage, these persons are in relationship with each other and also with us. Relationship seems to define who God is. It is wonderful beyond understanding that God is so determined to be in relationship with us that the Son of God took on human form to be with us and as we will talk about next week, is still in that form and relationship – wounds still visible – and that self giving love still very much in evidence.
If we peek ahead to the next chapter, Jesus will give his disciples yet another way to think about their relationship with Him. He says: (John 15:1-5 NLT)  “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.  You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.  “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
Jesus is the vine and we are the branches – what a wonderfully mutual way of picturing our relationship – we are distinct and yet part of the same thing – as Paul would later put it – Romans 12:4-5 NLT “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” This helps me understand “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” Christ is truly present with us NOW by the power of the Holy Spirit. Abiding with us, teaching us, reminding us and guiding us – in love. If you know of someone who needs to hear how much God loves them – you’ll tell them won’t you? We are witnesses to the eternal and ever present love of God expressed through Jesus Christ, his son and the continuing present of the Holy Spirit, until that glorious day when we will see him face to face.