EASTER 6C, SUNDAY, MAY 26, 2019 - The Rev. Andrew Suitter

If You Love Me, Then You’ll Do As I Say…

Love Love Love. As of late, it seems like love is all the rage in the gospel lessons.

Love one another as I have loved you.
The greatest commandment is to love one another.
The world will know that you are Christian by your love for one another.
Love one another.

Last week, we spoke about Jesus calling us to the very center of our faith. He told us that at the end of the day, at the very center of our faith, and of Christian living, is the idea that none of this matters if first we first do not love one another.

We spoke about how Peter defended his actions after a dream caused his heart to grow in love for God’s people and the world. And from this, we spoke about how our dreams and visions can help us bring our life into focus—and if you can remember your dreams—perhaps they help us unpack and explore some nuance in our life or lead us down paths of loving God’s people more generously, and with more intention.

This week, we find the disciples with Jesus and their anxiety is at a full level 10. They know their best friend, their leader, is leaving them. There is a teaching about the Trinity—about how the Spirit will come and be present with them—when Jesus is no longer with them—and inspires them with such words as—if you love me then you will do what I say.

I remember my grandparents using tactics like this. “Andy, do you love Grammie?” she would ask. “Of course I do, Grammie. Why?” “Well, if you love Grammie, you will help her with the dishes today.” Or it could be any other task that she needed help to complete. It was annoying to me when she would say that because I knew that she raised my mother, and my mother always said you cannot,…… should not, manipulate people with love. Afterall, the Apostle Paul says that “Love is patient and kind and does not demand its own way—,”and so just as I am surprised by my grandmother using these words when I was younger—I too am surprised by Jesus’s words today. “If you love me, then you will do as I tell you to do.”

Part of me wonders if this is another common parenting tactic—parents help me out—be honest. Is the request as it is so that in doing what we have been asked to do--we are ultimately spending time with someone we love? Is agreeing to do what we have been asked to do out of love for someone really more of a testimony to a loving relationship than a manipulation of feelings? It doesn’t seem far fetched in my mind that someone we love could actually want to spend time with us. It does not seem far fetched to me that someone we love would want us to be intentional about our choosing to spend time with them, too.

In our gospel lesson today, we see the realistic confusion of a changing relationship. John goes on to talk about God and the faces of God that we see and celebrate as God the creator, Jesus the redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as the sanctifier.  John is quick to highlight the relationship among the triune God and that to these friends of Jesus, who are in fear of and mourning the departure of their friend—Jesus is reassuring them of his ongoing presence—but in another form.

In the words of Golden Girl Sophia Petrillo: Picture it: The Ancient East, year 1. The disciples are gathered once again, and they are not only hearing about this new way that they will relate to their friend, but the reality that he is going away is at its heaviest. I see their sunken shoulders and sad faces, as much as I can see their vulnerability completely exposed. Jesus says, “A friend will come to you. That friend will walk beside you, above you and within you. That friend, the Holy Spirit, will defend you and remind you of all that I, Jesus, have taught you.”

 One of the things that I am most sure of in this life, is that God works through the canon of American music to minister to my soul. Sacred music, for me, is not the only canon worth singing and including in our worship. I think the fingerprint of the Holy Spirit is on so much in the world and when we can celebrate it, its even better.

The song that has been in my heart all week after reading and wrestling with these passages is Carol King’s 1971 hit, You’ve Got a Friend. She writes:

When you're down and troubled
And you need some loving care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon i will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night

If the sky above you
Grows dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind begins to blow
Keep your head together
And call my name out loud
Soon you'll hear me knocking at your door

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there
You've got a friend

Now tell me there is not a lot of Jesus in that song. Friendship with our God implies that we will communicate with our God—when the sky above is dark—when we are down and troubled—when we are joy-filled and exuberant. Such communication implies that we have a desired connection to the Holy Spirit who leads us time and time again to God’s peace, to the kind of peace that comes not from the world but from Love himself that sustains us—and grounds us.

 This week, our passage in Acts invites us to engage yet another vision-this time its Paul’s vision. Paul was, as usual, on a mission to share the Good News of Jesus and was traveling throughout Asia Minor and Europe. He was compelled to go to Macedonia but instead he ended up in Phillipi—talking with a woman called Lydia.

Now, Lydia was a very successful businesswoman from Thyatira living in Philippi. She was an independent woman—she sold purple cloth, ran a household, and worshipped God faithfully. Paul wasted no time in preaching the gospel of Christ to Lydia and the women of her household and it is reported that they all accepted this Good News and availed themselves for Baptism.

From the get-go, Lydia operates from an open heart. She took a risk being willing to host this group of gnarly men traveling the world and committed to doing what she could financially and materially to support the work of God that changed her life—ultimately becoming a pillar of the early church.

What we don’t hear in the rest of today’s lesson, is what goes on to happen for Paul. Next, Paul is sought after by an enslaved girl; he performs an exorcism which upsets a lot of people and gets hism in front of the magistrate. Paul and his friend Silas are beaten and put into prison—but prison even didn’t stop Paul from preaching. He converted the jailer—and the jailer and his newly converted family offer the men hospitality and medical care. When Paul and Silas left the jail, they immediately returned to Lydia’s house; but unfortunately, this is all we know of Lydia and her ministry.

When Jesus tells us, “If you love me, then you will do what I tell you to do,” it can be intimidating. It can be intimidating to think about the risks that can come with preaching the gospel, loving the world, and being faithful to what we know best. Paul and Lydia highlight that quandary and leave us with some soul searching. The work of ministry is difficult. It requires sacrifice, forethought, planning, vision casting, and taking chances. It requires us all to step up and discern. It is a call to deeper self-examination, to careful attention about how it is we spend our resources, our valuable time, and the hospitality we offer to this world.

The work of ministry bids us to do all these things and more—however we are not called to do this work in isolation. Community is at the very heart of the Christian identity from the early church on to today. Paul and Timothy traveled together. Lydia and her household of women were changed together. Jesus and the disciples made a life together.

Too often these days, our lives are dictated by the demands of our often-over-scheduled children; our hour plus commutes to the city; and busyness of all sorts. We have lives that require our everything and we are pulled in every direction. We are called to live in this world—however—we are also called to usher in the kingdom of God together. When one of us falls, another lifts us up. There is a working relationship here and it cannot be one sided.

We are not a Country Club. We are a community founded on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are a community of broken people trying to make it in this rat race and we excel, and we fail beautifully. The time we share every week is a blessing. It is a finite amount of time and it requires a lot of sacrifice to be here. It is the one time a week where we can gather, break bread, worship, learn, and further piece together the work that God has begun in our lives, and it is a place to come when the storms of this life are rough. It is a place to come when life is good, and we need to offer our thanks and praise.

It is a time to gather and figure out how we do this Good News thing, together. How are we further changed by it? How do we further engage it and share it with the world? How do we hold the love we have for God, for one another and this world in one hand—and our ministry and service in the other?

This week, I have had the joy of seeing our Sunday School rooms used throughout the week for hospitality and shelter through the Family Promise program. As I have walked the hallway to my office, I pray for the names on the welcome signs. I pray for the traumas that have allowed for their homelessness; the anxiety that comes from being on the receiving end of basic needs—and knowing that a permanent home is just around the corner; I pray for the churches hosting these families, that they offer compassion, dignified care, and safety; and I pray for all the new homes that they will soon be establishing and all the new memories they will be making together.

I am so pleased that our church is a safe place for these families to come. I am pleased that my office is used in this ministry—and I am grateful for the shake up this brings to the walls of this house—because it reminds me that we are all in this together. Many of you welcome the families with hot meals, offer to stay the night as a means of support, and give of your time to offer meaningful hospitality. By your participation, it feels like we all participate. You all provide the safe space, the hot food, the utilities, and the open door that enable us to offer this ministry. I am grateful and proud to be a member of this community—of this community of Lydias.

If today sparks anything in you, I hope that its Lydia. I hope that her open heart, her hospitality and her zeal for ministry sparks something in you. I hope that she is able to engage you in asking some essential questions about life in the season ahead.

What excites you about this beautiful world? How has God uniquely gifted you to care for this world? How can we support one another to do this work of loving the world?

If you love me, you will do what I have asked you to do.

I am so glad I spent that time with my grandmother—that she cared enough about me to make those memories—and that serving alongside her helped shape the ways in which I see the world, and in turn, love it.

You are the church, my beloveds. Love one another, serve one another, and care for one another. The world is hungry, and you have just what it needs. Amen.