Of Freedom, Love and Pain

May 3rd, 2014

John 14:15-21

Preaching on Memorial Day weekend is difficult for preachers. A good many of those who attend American worship come with the expectation that the service will, in some way, focus upon military veterans. This is a perfectly fine thing for the country to do, but the church, in a spiritual sense, is not national territory. When we gather to worship God as known in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our focus should be on the biblical God rather than upon nationalism of any sort. We come to Christ’s house to honor and praise God, not nations. So, recognizing that this country is remembering its veterans this weekend, for this hour of worship we will also seek truths of God that go deeper than any nationalism.

To learn of the God known in Jesus Christ is to learn of a God who loves us enough to set us free. Unfortunately, because of this freedom, terrible things happen. We live always in the deep puzzle of love, freedom, and pain. God loves us. We are free. Pain is all around. God did not make us puppets, and our freedom is often misused. This holiday reminds us of the sometimes terrible cost we pay for our freedom. Wars and rumors of wars are the long human story. That story can be one of self-sacrifice and heroism, but it is also a story of the death of the young and the maiming of the innocent. For countless centuries, human beings have tried to settle their differences through violence. That is a choice our freedom offers us. God could have created us in ways that prevented us from choosing violence. But to do this, God would have had to make us puppets rather than free. This is a holiday that remembers the cost that comes with our freedom to choose violence.

One of the reasons God gives us the gift of freedom is because the God who loves us will not coerce our love in return, but wants it given back freely. The God who loves us invites, but does not force, our love in return. Yet this is a costly freedom that leaves us at liberty to make war, deal drugs, drive our cars drunk, and countless other horrors. In a world so full of hurts like these, one of the things that we must always learn when we come to worship God is that God is not the author and the source of the violence and the pain of life. God is the one who loves us into freedom—even at great cost.

Our Gospel lesson offers us another truth about God’s love. We reciprocate God’s love by keeping Christ’s commandments. The God who loves us wants us to love back by keeping Christ’s commandments. This is a choice our freedom offers. It is important to understand this clearly. God is not primarily interested in a mushy, syrupy love. Rather, God wants our love shown in the actions of our lives, in the ways we love God, self, and others through following Christ’s commandments.

To love God is to use our freedom wisely. To love God is to choose the Christlike way. To love God is to imitate the deeds of Jesus. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). How easy and cheap it is to claim to love God without accepting the hard tasks of keeping Christ’s commandments. Our world and our churches are full of people who want an easy love, love that makes no demands, love of feeling rather than action. Our Gospel lesson makes it clear that a meaningful love of God is shown through a life lived in harmony with the way of Christ.

This understanding of our use of freedom is vastly more robust than simple affection for God. It is infinitely more demanding. It recognizes we have the freedom to reject Christ’s commandments. If we are honest, we know that our freedom has largely been misused and abused. Much of the terrible pain of the world is the result of our choice to follow our own way rather than the commandments of Christ.

Finally, our Gospel lesson promises that those who love God by obeying the commandments of Christ will have help. Jesus speaks of sending the “Advocate” (14:16), which is generally understood as being the gift of the Holy Spirit. An advocate supports and defends us. In our culture, advocate is another term for an attorney who stands at our side and offers counsel and support.

But Jesus’ words suggest another understanding of the work of the advocating Holy Spirit: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever” (14:15-16). The Advocate is sticking up not so much for us, but for Christ’s commandments, advocating for our faithfulness to the way of Christ. When we make beginning efforts to keep Christ’s commandments, we are rewarded by further encouragement to grow in the keeping of those commandments. The Advocate advocates not for us, but for Jesus. The Holy Spirit reinforces our least desire to follow Christ. Our free choices to love God by obeying Christ are encouraged and empowered by the Spirit’s presence, urging the choices for good.

On this weekend when the nation honors those who have paid a terrible price for humanity’s choice to follow its own way rather than the way of Christ, we are reminded of the gift of God’s love. We are reminded of God’s gift of freedom. We are reminded of the invitation to love God by obeying Christ’s commandments. We are promised that each right choice will be empowered and reinforced by the Holy Spirit advocate. Let us love God by choosing the way of Christ.

comments powered by Disqus