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Easter 6 – John 14:15-21 May 17, 2020
Rev. Carla Wilks at Mount Seymour United Church
Last Sunday – Mother’s Day – was my Grandma’s Birthday. She would have been 104. She died 34 years ago, when I was only 12, but I remember her – and this time of year, around her birthday I remember her the most. She and I always celebrated our birthdays together because mine was the day after hers. A memory I have of my Grandma was that whenever I was home sick from school, I really looked forward to being able to phone my grandma during the day and talk to her on the phone. I’m sure I could call my grandma any time I wanted to – but I have this fond memory of calling her in the daytime on days that I was sick. As I was remembering this and writing this, her phone number even popped into my head. It is so interesting the things that we remember. 34 years ago she died, yet I still remember her phone number from when I was 12 years old. This same Grandma was involved in the Camp Committee at Camp Olave, our Girl Guide camp on the Sunshine Coast near Roberts Creek. You may have heard me say that Girl Guide camp is my favourite place in the world. I grew up going there every year, and now I take other Girl Guides there every summer. Aside from the fact that I’m usually there with 150 girls, I feel such a sense of peace when I’m in that place – in those woods, in those familiar camp shelters and on that beach. It is another place that the spirit of my grandma’s memory is alive in me – as it was one of her favourite places too.
When I visited Japan in high school and University, one of the interesting things that I learned while living with a family there, was how they honour their loved ones who died. In their house they had a shrine, where they had photos of their parents and grandparents, and they would give offerings of rice and other food to place at the shrine every day. The way they explained it to me was that they believed the spirit of their ancestors to be alive and so they would give them an offering of food every day. It was their way of remaining connected to the ones they love.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses the words for love 57 times. Today’s passage begins by saying “if you love me and obey the commandment I give you…” The commandment he is referring to is the only commandment that Jesus gives to his disciples in the Gospel of John. Unlike, in Matthew, nowhere in John does Jesus command us to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, or render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives only this one single commandment in chapter 13, the chapter just before today’s passage. It is this: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In today’s reading from John, the risen Jesus is telling his disciples that once he leaves them, the Spirit of truth will remain to guide them in all they do. Jesus has left them with the one instruction – to love each other as he had loved them. And how will they remember how to love each other? By the Spirit who would be with them.
You have probably seen the WWJD bracelets – WWJD What Would Jesus Do? The Spirit was to be the constant reminder to the followers of Jesus, like a WWJD bracelet – a reminder of what Jesus would do in any particular situation – a reminder of how to love each other in the unconditional way that God loves each and every one of us, how to follow the ONE commandment that Jesus gave them.
When we need to make important decisions in our lives or difficult decisions, how do we experience the Spirit of Truth for us? Consider a time when you had a big decision to make. How did you know what was the right decision for you? It might have been a feeling that you got – or maybe someone’s voice in your head, guiding you in a certain direction – or maybe the wisdom of a family member or friend or someone you saw for wise counsel.
These past two months there have been many times that I needed to access the Spirit of truth for me in helping me to make the right decisions about what to do. I think a lot of the decisions that we have to make on a daily basis these days are ones that help us to decide how to love others in the best way that we can. How to live out that ONE commandment that Jesus gave his followers. I try to limit my visits to the grocery store to once a week. So in my house, where there are five of us, that takes working together and some careful planning. So when I find out when I get home from the grocery store, that we are out of yogurt, in the past, I’d go the next day and get yogurt. But now I think – can we make do without? – Do we have other food that people could have for breakfast – yes… I don’t need to make that extra trip out. Is the most loving thing that I can do for others to go back to the store? Well, I think those in my house who eat yogurt would say yes, but in considering the wider community and trying to minimize my interactions, I think for me, the answer would be no.
That’s a simple example, but it becomes more difficult when we think about slightly expanding our household bubble, as Dr. Bonnie Henry tells us that we can do over the next few weeks. But – she is inviting us to be very careful. Expanding our household bubble by just one person, then exposes that person to my entire household and our contacts, and us to all of their contacts as well.
So she tells us we must be very mindful of who we are expanding it to. Are they in a high-risk age category? Are they immunocompromised? Are they an essential worker? All of these things make these decisions very difficult.
Sometimes the ones we want to expand our household to the most, are the very ones that we also want to protect the most because they fall into those categories. I saw my parents last weekend for a backyard BBQ. It was great to spend time in person with my family – but we kept our distance.
Though I have a hard time believing it, and I think they do to, they are in a high risk age group, and my dad had treatment for cancer this past year, so the way that I decided I could best love them, was to keep my distance and not give my mom a Mother’s Day hug.
As a community of faith – it is so important for us to connect with each other. And in order for us to show love for each other – normally that would mean gathering in community. These days – the very way that we show love for each other and protecting each other’s well-being is by NOT gathering in person. We have discovered over these last two months that we are able to connect with each other in other ways beyond the walls of our building.
Our BC Health Minister Adrian Dix often says in the daily briefings, that we need to work together, we need to follow the rules, and that we need to do it for the ones we love AND for the ones that we don’t know.
This is the commandment that Jesus was talking about. He was not just talking about loving the ones we know – but also the ones we don’t know. The Spirit of truth helps us to discern how we are to love each other, the Spirit is always present to help us be able to discern values of justice, mercy and peace, which are the values that Jesus taught through the example of his life and through his stories. The Holy Spirit is not restrained by ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality, and it guides us to places beyond our own limitations that are imposed by our bodies, experiences and judgment.
What does it mean to love one another in these days? Sometimes it means connecting with people who are feeling isolated. If you get that feeling that you should call someone or write them a note… do it! Perhaps that is the Spirit sending you a message. Loving each other these days might mean taking some of the money that you may not be spending on gas or dinners out and donating it to First United or to the Food Bank, helping those who are being hit harder by the pandemic than you are personally. Or maybe the Spirit is nudging you to spend some time writing some letters of advocacy for a situation dear to you, and that is how you will show love for others. How will you show love for others in the week ahead?
Just as I have experienced with my Grandma, 34 years after her death – after a loved one dies – the love remains. Love extends beyond the bounds of birth and death. Christ invites each one of us to share that love with the ones that we know and the ones that we don’t know. The Spirit will guide us in the way of love. Thanks be to God