If you love me….
If this, then that…..
There’s this website: ifttt.com, which is an acronym for “If this, then that.” The website is a community of users who have all contributed what are called “recipes” for setting up simple commands to create technological shortcuts with email, smart phones, etc. The recipes involve an initial action (If this…) which serves as a trigger to make something else happen (then that).
As you scroll through the recipes on the website, you will see that many of them are designed to help people manage business communication, organize projects, and generally be more productive. Others are perhaps a little less essential. They include commands such as:
If there will be rain tomorrow, send me an email reminder to carry my umbrella.
When I leave work in the afternoon, send my spouse a text saying I’m heading home.
And there is even one that says:
When I get to church, remind me to silence my phone.
The purpose of this website, as they put it, is “to create powerful connections with one simple statement,” which I think is applicable to today’s reading from the Gospel of John.
In this reading from what is called Jesus’ farewell discourse, Jesus has just finished his last supper with his disciples. Judas has left to betray him. Jesus gives final words of comfort and hope to his disciples, preparing them for the long day ahead. A full one third of John’s Gospel is devoted to the 24 hour period before Jesus’ death. Time seems to slow and almost come to a stop in this scene. There is nothing like it in the rest of the Bible.
Jesus tells the disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In Chapter 13, he has told them about a new commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” And again in Chap 15, “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for this friends.”
It is interesting to think that Jesus’ commandment is to love. Can you command someone to love? We don’t usually consider love as a response that can be ordered or directed. An employer dealing with two contentious employees can require that they work as a team but he can’t make them love each other. A teacher with two confrontational students can insist that they behave in class but she can’t make them love each other. And, as every parent who has made a long car trip with two fussy kids in the back seat knows, you may get the older to temporarily stop picking on the younger (or vice versa), but neither one is going to feel too lovable towards the other for a while. We can control behavior but we can’t override feelings.
Not only that, but the commandment Jesus gives is a new one: “Love others as I have loved you.” It is no longer enough to follow Mosaic law and love others as you love yourself. Now you must love others as Jesus loves them. You must be willing to lay down your life for them.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
If this, then that….
For the disciples and for us, it must be our love for God which motivates our obedience to this commandment. Our love for Jesus results in our conformity to his commandment. Perhaps that seems like too abstract an idea for how to treat others in your daily life.
Think for just a moment about a person in your life who loves you, believes in you, and always expects the very best of you. It might be a parent, grandparent, spouse, child, mentor. It might be someone alive today or someone from your past. How does this person’s presence in your life affect your behavior and actions? Doesn’t the thought of this person always elicit the very best from you, not because you fear punishment or are coerced, but because of love? You want to be that best version of yourself that they believe to be true. You could almost say that this person represents Jesus in your life.
And so the next question must be: where is Jesus himself real in your life and how does that impact your daily walk? Does your love for him motivate you to be your best self for others?
Does this sound like too much to carry? Too high an expectation?
If these things happen–If you love me and keep my commandments– then, Jesus goes on to say, something else will also happen.
I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.
The Holy Spirit is alternately described as a Helper, Counselor, Advocate, one who encourages and strengthens. This is also new. The Spirit of God came upon believers in the Old Testament but did not stay. Jesus describes an abiding relationship, one in which the Spirit remains with and in believers. Controlled, strengthened, encouraged by the Spirit, we are guided into the will and work of God. One of the prayers we make at Baptism is that God will teach the newly baptized to love others in the power of the Spirit. It is through this daily indwelling that we are empowered to love others as Jesus loves them.
Jesus says he will not leave us orphaned. We do not serve, as Paul said, an “unknown god” but one in whom we live and move and have our being. We celebrate Baptism because, in the words of the Prayer Book: “In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. We are adopted as God’s own children, incorporating us into the holy Church and making us worthy to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.