Sermons 2008
What do you mean, if? Easter 6A, 27 April 2008, John 14:15-21

Home | Light and Love, Christmas 1B , 28 December 2008, John 1:1-18 | The light and the darkness, Christmas Day, 25 December 2008, John 1:1-14 | What would you see? Christmas Eve, 24 December 2008, Luke 2:1-20 | What did you say? Advent 3B, 14 December 2008, John 1:6-8. 19-28 | A refining fire, Advent 2B, 7 Dec 2008, Mark 1:1-8 | Alert, alert! Advent 1B, 30 November 2008, Mark 13:24-37 | Where will we stand: sheep or goats? Proper 29A 2008, 23 November 2008, Matthew 25: 31-46 | The talents to...? Proper 28A, 16 November 2008, Matthew 25:14-30 | Choose this day, Proper 27A, 9 November 2008, Joshua 24:14-25; Matthew 25:1-13 | All Saints A, 2 November 2008, Matthew 5:1-12; 23:1-12 | Holy or not? Proper 25A, 26 October 2008, Matthew 22:34-46 | Things: God's or Caesar's? Proper 24A, 19 October 2008, Matthew 22:15-22 | The wedding and the allegory, Proper 23A, 12 October 2008, Matthew 22:1-14 | The vineyard and the rock, Proper 22A. 5 October 2008, Matthew 21:33-46 | Deference and disobedience, Proper 21A, 28 September 2008, Exodus 17:1-7; Matthew 21:23-32 | Be content, Proper 20A , 21 September 2008, Matthew 20:1-16 | Only one true church? Proper 18A, 7 September 1008, Matthew 18:15-20 | Be content! Proper 20A, 21 September 2008, Matthew 22:1-16 | Be content! Proper 20A, 21 September 2008, Matthew 20:1-16 | Holy Name and Holy Ground, Proper 17A, Exodus 3:1-15; Matthew 16:21-28 | What's in a name? Proper 16A, 24 August 2008, Matthew 16:13-20 | Dogs? Proper 15A, 17 August 2008, Matthew 15:10-28 | Time to get out of the boat, Proper 14A, 10 August 2008, Matthew 14:22-33 | Who, me? Proper 13A, 3 August 2008, Matthew 14:13-21 | LIKE what? Proper 12A, 27 July 2008, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 | Good seed, bad seed, Proper 11A , 20 July 2008, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 | Watch the Farmer, Proper 10A, 13 July 2009, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 | Easy Yoke? Proper 9A 2008, 6 July 2008, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 | Baptism of David William and Anne Tyler, Proper 8A, 29 June 2008 | The Twelve or the Dirty Dozen? Proper 6A, 15 June 2008, Matthew 9:35-10:15 | Jesus likes sinners?, Proper 5A, 8 June 2008, Matthew 9:9-13 | Lawlessness or not? Pentecost 3A, Proper 4A, 1 June 2008, Matthew 7:21-29 | What do you mean, if? Easter 6A, 27 April 2008, John 14:15-21 | Comforting words and St Thomas, Easter 5A, 20 April 2008, John 14:1-14 | Ordinary good shepherds, Easter 4A 2008, 13 April 2008, John 10:1-10 | Light for clarity, Easter 3A, 6 April 2008, Luke 24:13-35 | "Blessed are those who....", Easter 2A, 30 March 2008, John 20:19-31 | Hallelujah! He's alive! Easter Sunday A, 23 March 2008, John 20:1-18 | He had it all, Palm Sunday A, 16 March 2008, Matthew 26:14-27:54 | Lazarus: Waiting for Jesus, Lent 5A, 9 March 2008, John 11:1-45 | Miracles Physical and Spiritual, Lent 4A, 2 March 2008, John 9:1-41 | Living Water, Lent 3A, 24 February 2008, John 4:5-42 | God's unselfish love, Lent 2A, 17 February 2008, John 3:1-17 | Temptation, Lent 1A, 10 February 2008 | Ash Wednesday, 6 February 2008, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 | They heard the Lord call, Epiphany 3A, 20 Jan 2008, Matthew 4:12-23 | Come and See! Epiphany 2A, 20 January 2008, John 1: 29-42 | Remember Your Baptism? Epiphany 1A, 13 January 2008, Matthew 3:13-17 | We Three Kings, The Epiphany, 6 January 2008, Matthew 2:1-12

Easter 6A 2008 John 14:15-21

What do you mean if? At first reading, the words of Jesus in this passage from John are not very inspiring. "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." The problem is that little word "if." Haven’t we heard our grandparents down to our grandchildren, and people who talk as though their love for us was conditional. "If you loved me, you would do this or that.” "If you loved me, you would NOT do this or that.”

Among the smallest words in English, this two letter “if” is extremely powerful. It appears in English translations of the Bible about 1600 times. The Greek of the New Testament, hean (ean)))), meaning if, unless, except, provided, is used by Jesus about the relationship between himself and his followers as being conditional, only in this “If you loved me, you would do what I tell you to do” sense of if. It is a strong, absolute sounding, “If….”

What strikes about today’s gospel passage is that it seems to conflict the unconditional, no matter what love Jesus has been demonstrating elsewhere in the gospels toward his disciples.

One commentator has observed that on the first Easter morning, Jesus simply spoke her name to the brokenhearted Mary Magdalene.

When the disciples were hiding behind locked doors in fear, Jesus simply stood there among them, sorrowful that they were unable to trust the good news brought to them by the women that morning, but not wasting any time with recriminations or scenes of righteous indignation. And later to Thomas Jesus said nothing conditional like "If you really loved me you would know me without my having to show you my scars."

And on the road to Emmaus, Jesus, in the guise of a stranger, repeated what he had so often done with his friends and disciples while walking along the road: he taught them the meanings of scripture. He deliberately recreated the Last Supper while they were at table together: he took, blessed, broke, and shared bread. Once they recognized him, Jesus did not say, "Well it took you long enough." He simply vanished, leaving them to rejoice now.

These post-Resurrection appearances strongly suggest that the risen Jesus loved his disciples unconditionally. Yet suddenly in today's reading, going back to a time immediately before his arrest in Gethsemane, we have the big "if." There may be absolute, unconditional love for us on God's side of things, but on our side, Jesus poses a condition: if you love me, you will obey my commandments. The conditional paired with the imperative.

These words may have been written down by Saint John late in the First Century to strengthen the weak hearted in the newly taking shape Christian Church in the face of the power of the Roman Empire as the persecutions began to occur.

The clue, of course, also lies not so much in "if" but in "obey." We need to know what commandments John wants us to obey at this point. Are we to understand the whole tradition of commandments, from Sinai on down, or are we to understand it as the new commandment that Jesus handing over to his friends in John 13:34: "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another even as I have loved you"?

This is a distinction without a difference when we consider the Ten Commandments in the Sinai covenant tradition as a gift that describes a life for humans consistent with the life God wants for us. It is better to think right from the start that God's Sinai commandments guide us and guard us in learning how to love him and each other. It is therefore not so much the absolute conditional and imperative "if you love me, you will obey," as it is the present tense "By loving me, you are obeying my commandment to love one another as I have loved you, to love God with all you are and have, to love your neighbor as yourself."

When we follow this guide and guard, we in the embrace of the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit is what helps us to see and respond to God's life in Christ in ourselves and each other. By assuring us of the continuity of God's presence in our lives, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit is also assuring us of God's absolute and unconditional love, now and forevermore..

In the powerful words of St. Paul, we may therefore be sure that nothing, "neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come ... will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus."


-- Adapted from a sermon for Easter 6A 2008 by The Reverend Angela V. Askew (priest-in-charge of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, New York),