May 21, 2017 – If you love me

Easter 6 May 21, 2017   Psalm 119 (Portions in hymnal), 1 John 3:18-24,

John 14:15-27   If you love me

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One of our daughter’s favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof… (Maybe some of you’ve seen it?) There’s one particular scene in Fiddler our daughter Rohi likes to frequently reenact – in which Tevya, the husband, asks Golde, his wife, “Do you love me?” And he has to keep asking – because she acts as if this is a ridiculous question. He says: “Golde, I’m asking you a question…Do you love me?” She says “You’re a fool” He says “I know… But do you love me?”

And this is a musical – the two of them are singing all the dialogue back-and-forth to each other – which sounds better than me retelling it. But I remember this scene vividly mostly because our daughter likes to keep asking, often with dramatic flair, many times a day, “Daddy, do you love me?” “Mommy, do you love me?”

And after I’ve said “yes, I love you” a time or two, but still Rohi keeps asking “Do you love me?” … I tend to go into Golde-mode – and try first, ignoring the question, then deflecting it, saying: “Honey, I’ve got work to do.” Or “Rohi, it’s time to get back to your studies.” Or, “We were trying to have a nice conversation at the dinner table… Please don’t keep changing the subject…”

But Rohi, like Tevye, won’t give up… And sometimes she reminds me a little of Jesus… Who we hear asking three times today, “Do you love me?”

Actually he doesn’t quite ask like this… Til the end of John’s gospel, when he does ask the apostle Peter, three times, “Do you love me? Do you me? Do you love me?” Here today Jesus speaks in declarative sentences, not questions. Though I think the “do you love me?” question is very strongly implied – As Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Then, a moment later, says, “The person who knows my commandments and keeps them – that’s who loves me.” Then when a disciple asks a question, Jesus says a third time, “Those who love me will keep my word – (and) – my Father will love him– (and) we’ll make our home with them.” Adding “Not loving me means not keeping my words.”

Jesus says “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (If you don’t, you won’t.) And maybe it’s a lawyer-ly side of me… But… I have been wondering this week – what does Jesus mean by “keep my commandments?”

Because I’ve been remembering how in Matthew’s gospel Jesus says he came to fulfill all the law and prophets, not abolish them. And Rabbis of old added up all the ‘thou shalt’s’ and the ‘thou shalt-not’s’ in the First Testament and came up with 613 commandments. That’s more commandments than I can track.

And I know the Ten Commandments are considered a summary of all the other commandments. And we know – when Jesus is asked ‘what’s the most important commandment?’ He says “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind… And a second is like it – you shall love your neighbor as yourself….” Another summary of the law…

But here in John’s gospel Jesus says – “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Plural… And again in Matthew he says –  heaven and earth will pass away before even a letter or a dash-of-a-letter-of-the-law will pass away…

And Jesus is talking commandments, plural today – with not a word about which commandments he means – or does not mean. Though…

A little earlier (John 13) Jesus may be giving us an interpretive clue, when he says,“A new commandment I give to you – that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you also should love one another….” Here, we notice, he says we should love one another – rather than “you must” or “you shall.” Though he also still calls this “my commandment.” Not “my suggestion.”

Then later (John 15) Jesus says again, “This is my commandment – that you love one another as I have loved you.” Adding now: “Greater love than this has no one – that they lay down their life for their friends. You’re my friends if you keep my commandments…” And he concludes, saying “I’ve given you these commands so that you may love one another…” May – not must. But again, he still calls this “my commandment.” Not “my suggestion.”

So I have been puzzling… over what exactly Jesus means… when he says – “if you love me you will keep my commandments.”

And I keep remembering Tevye and Golde in The Fiddler on the Roof. As our daughter keeps asking “Daddy, do you love me?” And reminding me how the scene continues, as she sings the part of Golde…who finally answers her husband, singing: “Do I love you? For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes – Cooked your meals, cleaned your house – Given you children, milked the cow… After twenty-five years – why talk about love… now?”

And Tevye talks about the two of them being in an arranged marriage, and not having even met each other till the day of their wedding… As he sings: … “my father and my mother… Said we’d learn to love each other – And now I’m asking, Golde – Do you love me?”  And she sings back: “I’m your wife – “ And Tevye sings: “I know –  But do you love me?”

And Golde sings –  “Do I love him? – For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him – Fought with him – starved with him – Twenty-five years (I’ve shared my life with him) –  If that’s not love, what is?”

And he sings–  “Then – you love me?” And she sings –  “I suppose I do.”

And he sings–  “And I suppose I love you too…”

(And they sing together now)–  “It doesn’t change a thing – But even so – After twenty-five years – It’s nice to know.”

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Reminding me – love is about faithful relationship, much more than rules. We need to emphasize this a lot – especially in times and situations when there are too many rules… But in times like this – where so often it feels like there are no rules… We also need to emphasize the need for rules – even in our most intimate relationships. When more than half of all marriages now end in divorce, and spouse abuse and child abuse and neglect continue unabated, we need all the more to understand our need for commandments. (Rightly understood.)

We need to remember even the basics of right behavior are not entirely intuitive. There is a lot about living that we need to be taught. And we always seem to need reminding of our need for regular practice of what we’ve learned… We all need instruction in all the basics of being human. And we all need the spiritual practices of prayer – bible reading – worship – generous giving – and service to others – the practices of old that help us know and remember how to interpret every rule… in the light of God’s love, in every situation.

We need to be able to interpret all the commandments in context. We need to know how to love every neighbor in context. This week I heard about a friend’s neighbor who helps another neighbor, an elder, who lives down a very long driveway, taking her trash and recycling barrels out to the street for her every week…I’ve been reminded that some of you have made it a habit to check on family members, friends, and neighbors frequently, to be sure they are alright. I know some of you make it a regular practice to work at knowing your neighbors… Starting perhaps with just warm greetings, working up to invitations to coffee or tea…and church.

We love one another better as we get to know each other better. Know each other’s various personalities, needs, and spiritual gifts and graces…

Likewise, we love God better as we get to know God better. Know the universal, all-inclusive love of God for one and all. Know also God’s personal, particularized love for each of us… It’s only as we come to know that God knows and loves us… better even than the very best wife or husband, parent or child or best friend… Better by far than we know ourselves… that we really learn to trust God, and begin to know not only our need, but our strong desire to do God’s will…

Which is probably why, when Jesus says, “love one another as I have loved you”–  he calls this his new commandment. Letting us know we should hear this commandment differently…. On one hand, love is the very oldest commandment. Now Jesus also makes the commandment all new – by making us part of his family. Adopting us. Marrying us. Living with us. These are among the ways Jesus talks about our intimate relationship. Telling us he will ask, and God the Father will send the Holy Spirit, and together they will take up residency in us and among us…

Jesus says the Holy Spirit “abides in you and will be in you…” Jesus says “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them, and make our home with them…”

God is alive and living in us, Jesus says. And we come alive… when we realize we are alive in God…

Yet so often I feel a little like Golde in the movie… So caught up in all the day-to-day-details… that I catch myself acting unaware… that I really am alive in God, and God really is alive in me… And God loves me. And I love God. But when God asks “do you love me?” Too often it’s as if I’m not really hearing…

Sometimes I also feel like Tevye in the movie. Obsessing over whether God really loves me. Even though of course I know God loves me in one sense. I know God loves everyone.  But I want to know Jesus loves me – also even in the particular-peculiar-to-me-ways in which I hope to be loved… And probably my wanting to know for sure what Jesus means by “keep my commandments” has to do with me getting too caught-up in trying to understand… with just the rational-thinking-side of my adult brain engaged – forgetting how Jesus says we need to believe with the faith of a little child – And – with all our grown-up heart, mind, body-soul engaged as well. Which, thankfully, is something our daughter Rohi’s good at reminding me of…

And thankfully Jesus says, “I will send you another Friend – another Advocate – the Spirit of Truth – the Holy Spirit… Who will teach you everything and remind you of all I’ve said to you.”

Which is again a very good thing – because like Tevye, who probably knew all along, but needs to hear it said aloud – like our daughter, who also knows the answer, but wants to hear it yet-again – like them, I too need to keep being reminded of the love of Jesus. Who has not left us orphaned. Who has sent the Holy Spirit who lives in us now… and reminds us…of all the particulars of Jesus Christ, Lover of our souls. Healer of our every ill…

Who commands us to do the very thing we most want to do…deep in our hearts.

To love him… and love one another… as he has loved us…

In the fullness of his love… beyond measure …

Thanks be to God. Amen.