One day a little girl came running into the house to her mother, exclaiming: “Mamma, I love you!”
The mother hugged her little girl with a smile. “I am so glad you love me.” Then she pulled back and looked down at her daughter “I have had a hard day, and I am so tired. If you love me so much, will you wash the dishes for me?”
The little girl solemnly replied: “I do love you, mother, but not in that way.”
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
What a loaded statement Jesus gives us here. If we love him, we will obey his commandments. Do we love Jesus? absolutely. Do we always obey his commandments? Well… not so much.
Now, Jesus tells us, the greatest commandment is to love one another. That at their most basic level, all the commandments boil down to “love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a call to take care of the needs that surround us in this world, seeking to give drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, food to the hungry, comfort to the grieving, peace to the fearful, protection to the innocent, healing to the sick or injured or dying.
What this means is that as we enter into these acts of compassion and caring, we find opportunity to return to God a portion of the love that we ourselves have received. Now, Jesus doesn’t use this statement in an attempt to manipulate us into behaving a certain way. Instead, Jesus provides us with an image of what it means to offer our love in return. If we love Jesus, we show that love by loving others.
Unfortunately sometimes we do less than our best at showing our love in return, don’t we?
That doesn’t mean we don’t try. We try to love one another and care for one another and to keep God first in our lives. Well, until someone cuts us off in traffic and we feel less than generous about their behavior. Or when we come home after a long day and we see someone on the side of the road begging for something to eat. It is easy to rationalize why we don’t stop. After all, we are only human. And who knows what that person really wants the money for? But still, Jesus tells us to feed the hungry.
Jesus knows that we will struggle to follow his commandments. That we will have difficulty showing our love. Why do you think Jesus sends one after us to help us? He sends the Spirit to us that we might learn how to show this love. See, if it was just up to us, we would fall flat every time. We can’t remain perfect all day every day. Because we aren’t perfect.
Instead, we have what this version of the Bible calls The Advocate to help us to get through. Now, the Greek word here is Paraklete which literally means “someone who is called in”. This has been variously translated over time as “Counselor, Comforter, Advocate, Helper.” While all these terms are accurate, no one word actually covers this sense on their own.
Now, in the Greek court system, a person had to plead his own case, but he could bring along his friends as Parakletoi to influence the court by their moral support and testimony to his value as a citizen. They offered support and testimony. They offered guidance. The Spirit does not make our decisions, but instead supports us as we work towards making our own decisions. William Barklay describes it as “We often talk of being able to cope with things. That is precisely the work of the Holy Spirit. [The Spirit] takes away our inadequacies and enables us to cope with life.”
Jesus never guaranteed that loving him would be easy. That following his commandments would come naturally to us. But he said he would send help. He would make it so even when we stumble, the Spirit is there to guide us back to the commandments. Back to the way Jesus is calling us to. Back to love.
In a lot of ways, the Spirit is the most difficult to grasp of the Trinity. We often talk about the Spirit like a tongue of fire on Pentecost. We also call the Spirit a rushing wind, blowing through our lives. All of these images help to get across the sense of the Spirit. And here, in this passage of John’s, I think we get another sense of who the Spirit is. You see, Jesus calls the Spirit “another” Paraklete, to take his place when he’s gone. Which means that Jesus himself was the first Paraklete. He was the first one called in to guide and comfort us. The first one to show us the way. The Spirit was sent after Jesus to fulfill this same role. To behave like Jesus did for us.
Which means that we’ve actually seen what the Spirit looks like lots of times. Any time, in fact, someone stands up for another person. Any time someone acts like Jesus, or any time someone bears the love of Christ to another, we are seeing the Spirit in them.
The world may not see the Spirit, because the world is not looking for the Spirit. The world at large could see the Spirit at work, but
not realize what it was seeing. We see the Spirit because we are aware of Christ and the impact he had in the world and in our lives. Which means that on any given day you have the chance to show the Spirit to someone else in the world through your actions.
There is a phenomenon that has existed for years that has recently had a resurgence in popularity. It’s called a “Random Act of Kindness.” A random act of kindness is a selfless act performed by someone wishing to either assist or cheer up strangers. People pay for the person behind them in line at the drive-throughs. They leave flowers for people who have had a hard day. They put away shopping carts left in parking lots. They are showing love for people they have never met.
The amazing part about these random acts of kindness is that they spread. A number of academic studies have been done that shown that people who witness an act of kindness are much more likely to go out and do likewise. These aren’t just the people benefiting from the kindness that are repeating kind actions. All someone has to do is see someone else being kind, and they are far more likely to be kind themselves.
Not everyone may see that as the Spirit working in the world, but for those who know to look, the Spirit shines through in these acts of kindness. Sharing the Spirit doesn’t have to involve anything more than simply caring for another human being.
Amy Lee Freeman, director of Bethesda Cares’ Drop-In Center tells this story: “A slim, African-American woman I’ve seen once or twice before was standing at our coffee station, looking into a small container. She then approached our front-desk volunteer, and asked her if there was any sugar left; she wanted some for her coffee. Flustered, the volunteer jumped up.
‘Oh! I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize we’d run out, let me get you some!’ The volunteer went to the closet, re-filled the container from a 10-pound bag, put a serving spoon back in the container and set it on the table in front of the woman. ‘Here you go!’ she smiled.
But the woman didn’t reach for the sugar right away. She just stood there, staring at the little container. Then she looked up at the volunteer, and said, ‘Thank you. Thank you for treating me with dignity.’
The volunteer’s smile got even brighter. ‘Why, heavens! Of course! You deserve to be treated with dignity, we all do!’”
It didn’t take anything extra for that volunteer to treat the woman as another human being. But the impact was clearly enormous on the recipient. And the impact was so large, that Amy, who was only a bystander, remembered the incident and wrote up the story for others. When we see the Spirit at work in the world, we often feel called to respond in the same ways. The Spirit moves us to follow that kindness, that moment of care and share it with others.
Now Jesus said “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” He is talking about the very nature of the Trinity here. The Trinity is the dance of these three persons in relationship as one God. Jesus is one with the Father and works through him. And Spirit is one with Jesus and works through the world. And all of them are our one God.
In the passage today, Jesus is inviting us to be a part of that community. Just as Jesus is with the Father, we are with Jesus, and the Spirit is in us. When we reach out to one another with compassion, when we show love to another, even on days we are not feeling very loving, we show the Spirit to the world. They only have to know to look.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. We are being shown how to love our Lord today. And it looks a lot like loving the rest of the world. After all, the same Spirit that is in us, can be in them. When we show that care and love for our neighbors, we are loving Jesus in return. When we do for the least, we do for Christ as well.
So today, how will you allow the Spirit to work through you? How will your show your love for our Lord?