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Easter 6A      
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church      
Lakeland, FL      
May 14, 2023  

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 2:13-22
John 14:15-21

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Risen Christ. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Once again today we have a Gospel reading from John as we have over several Sundays of this Easter Season. And today’s, like last Sunday’s, consists of words that Jesus spoke that last night he was with his closest followers. This portion of Scripture is referred to as the Farewell Discourse. It is some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples. Last words are important, as we’ve spoken before.

From the aisle of a plane over Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Todd Beamer said, “Are y’all ready? Let’s roll.”

Eric Garner begged, “I can’t breathe.”

Walter Cronkite said good-bye, “And that’s the way it is.”

George Floyd called out, ‘Mama!”

Stephen, the first martyr prayed as he was being stoned, “Lord, do not hold this against them.”

And so in today's Gospel, Jesus says goodbye to his disciples. We are back at the Last Supper, after he has washed their feet. Jesus knows of course that this is “good-bye” and, while the disciples have every reason to know this, some things are just too difficult to face.

Let’s look at what Jesus said in his last words to them. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he tells them. And that pesky word, “if.” Often it carries with it some degree of uncertainty. “We’ll have the picnic this afternoon IF it doesn’t rain.” Or, “I’ll see you tomorrow IF my flight isn’t cancelled.” But it can be understood as “because.” Some of you have heard me say this before, indulge me. When Earl and I were first married and I was doing that first load of wash and was folding his handkerchiefs, because of his severe allergies, he had a specific way that he wanted them folded. And he said to me, “IF you love me, would you fold them like this.” And what he meant was, “BECAUSE you love me, please do it this way.”

So Jesus said, “Because you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Words of encouragement and confidence and trust. And what are these commandments? Jesus lived by only two. Do you remember what they are?

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. And you should love your neighbor as yourself.

These are the two commandments Jesus lived by – loving God and loving people. And when you really boil it down, they are the same thing. Because we can't love God without loving our neighbor. And we can't love anyone else, without first loving ourselves.

Of course the key ingredient is Love. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church said this: 

“Think and imagine a world when love is the way. … Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all. And we are brothers and sisters, children of God.”


Yesterday, your church council met in retreat for several hours. We met to look at who we are as a community of faith, what are the strengths and challenges that we have dealt with over the past few years, how are we doing? What lies ahead for us? And one of the scriptures that we looked at was Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He urged them to recognize the various gifts that the Holy Spirit had given them as a community of faith. And he was clear that these gifts were given for the common good. The common good. A good, that frankly, I don’t see as very common these days. These days in which we each are out for ourselves, our ideas, our priorities. Me first. This runs counter to our life together as a whole.

We each are called upon to make sacrifices for the common good. When we live in a neighborhood, we are called upon to maintain our homes in a way that serves our community. When we drive, we follow the rules of the road even if our car is well capable of cruising along at speeds well in excess of the speed limit. At a four-way stop, we let the car to our right go first. We sacrifice for the good of our life together.

This is an expression of love. So what are we, as a nation or a community or a church willing to sacrifice for one another? What right might we be willing to yield for the good of another?

Over the days of covid, we were asked to sacrifice by wearing a mask in order to protect other people, even if we believed it was not necessary or looked foolish.

In our everyday lives, are we willing to give another a bit of grace when they take too long at the grocery check out? Or when that car cuts us off in traffic? Are we willing to endure inconveniences even if we think that we have a right to do otherwise?

Are we willing to let somethings in our daily lives slide – the housekeeping, the lawn, the chores, whatever – so that we can spend some time resting, playing, enjoying the company of a friend or neighbor.

Are we willing to sacrifice having the last word with someone with whom we disagree just to have a little bit of peace and harmony in our society?

Are we willing to sacrifice our comfort and well being for the life and health of others?

What, in the name of Jesus, are we willing to sacrifice for our neighbor? Because that's what loving them really means.

And, Jesus knew that we wouldn't always remember to do what we're told. Sometimes, we forget. And so he does something else. He gave us the Holy Spirit. We normally think of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In that version of the story, the Holy Spirit is full of drama and special effects, a rushing wind and tongues of fire. But today, Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit a different way. He talks about sending us “another Advocate,” or the “Spirit of truth,” or “the Comforter.”

In the old days that friend was called by another name, "the Paraclete." Paraclete means “one who is called to stand beside another.” More than anything else, Jesus is sending us someone who stands beside us. In our All Saints Litany, we call upon the faithful who have gone before us to “Stand here beside us!” And my friends, they do; they do, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they do.

In the First Nations’ Version of today’s reading, we hear that the Spirit of Truth will walk beside us on the good road. Think about that for just a moment. Just before he made his ultimate sacrifice for the whole world, Jesus pleads with us to love each other, to sacrifice for each other. And because he knows that there will be times in our lives when we forget to love, he sends us the Paraclete, the one who stands beside us. Someone to carry us through thick and thin, through good times and bad, when we are orphaned or grieving or lonely or lost. The Holy Spirit comes and stands beside us to give us comfort and strength.

The Holy Spirit comes in the form of a friend who places his hand on our shoulder, or in a few words of encouragement from another who is really trying to understand. The Holy Spirit comes in the smile of a child who walks into a room, or in the selfless act of sacrifice by a soldier. The Holy Spirit comes when friends and family gather to celebrate a joyous wedding weekend, or when they come to bury a loved one. The Holy Spirit stands beside us whenever we stand together. Bound to one another for the benefit of the common good. Because none of us were made to do this alone. We are created and gifted to one another in the bonds of love. “When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all.”

Beloved, we are people of the Holy Spirit, who walks alongside us. And, in our life together, we are called to make sacrifices because that is what Jesus would do. Because that is what Jesus did.

“I will not leave you comfortless,” Jesus said, “because the Holy Spirit lives in you.”

Out of your love for me, keep my commandment: love one another, sacrifice for one another, and the Holy Spirit will walk alongside of us, always.

Thanks be to God.