Love One Another- Sermon for May 17, 2020 – Pastor John

Sermon for May 17, 2020

     Have you ever been working online and then this question will be posed “Are you a robot”. In case you may have noticed I am not a robot. But in our times robots are very much in use. We have heard about robotic devices that work on assembly lines in factories. These robots have taken the place of human beings on the workforce. But there is research and development of robots that function not so much in a ‘factory-assembly-line-way.” There is even talk now of robot pastors and priests. Robots as pastors can say prayers, give blessings, and even preach sermons. They don’t need to be paid. Are some of you getting interested? A researcher said “A robot priest will never die; it will keep updating itself and evolving. With what is called artificial intelligence we hope it will grow in wisdom to help people overcome even the most difficult troubles.” Just think of it, Pastor Robot, properly programmed will never be in a bad mood, never make grammatical errors in speaking, and will find appropriate Bible verses in high speed, a matter of seconds. Pastor Robot can be programmed to say the right words at funerals and weddings. Since Pastor Robots never die there will never be a clergy shortage.

Now don’t get too excited since such robots replacing human beings in the pulpit are early in the development stage. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is not true. The catch is found in the term “artificial intelligence”. There is nothing like a flesh-and-blood human pastor. They have many foibles but then they understand the power of forgiveness. They may stumble with their words but then greater than words is the reality of compassion. They may stumble, crumble, and bumble, but they learn the humility that the Christian faith is a community where we encourage and build up one another. As Christians we are not ‘programmed’ but we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus and love as he taught us to love.

In the gospel lesson for today, the 6th Sunday of Easter, we continue our reading in the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel. Last Sunday Jesus commanded us to believe. This was not a “do so or else” kind of command. Instead Jesus was concerned about his troubled followers: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” A columnist in the New York Times wrote that America’s sense of well-being has never been lower.” Of course the reason centers on the disruption caused by the Covid-19 virus and its virulence and viciousness. Jesus’ words always are appropriate for the spirit of our times. Jesus was not asking what was humanly impossible, that is never be troubled. By calling for our trust he is inviting us to cast our troubles on him. Jesus promised that in the Father’s house are many rooms, and that his mission was to prepare a place for us. This is not only a future reference of heaven, but also a place of refuge for us now on earth. The Psalm for today spoke of all kinds of troubles afflicting the faithful yet “you have brought us out to a spacious place.” I think of this spacious place as the spacious welcome and room enough for all love of God. Interesting is a translation note that the same word in the original Hebrew language is found in Psalm 23 where it is translated as “overflows”: “my cup overflows”. The cup of God’s burden-bearing compassion never runs dry. Like an alert waiter filling our empty glasses with wine during fine dining, God is ever refilling us with his steadfast and rescuing love. For faith Jesus commands look to him: he revealed the truth about God, God never interested in condemning, complaining, and cursing, but God ever at work rescuing and redeeming.

Now in today’s reading we heard Jesus gave a second command: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Earlier in the gospel of John Jesus gave his followers what he called a new commandment: love one another. This commandment does not sound like anything new. But Jesus continued, “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The love of Jesus for his followers was described in the Gospel of John as “to the end”, meaning complete. How can we love like that? In last Sunday’s gospel Jesus gave us the gift of prayer saying “I will do whatever you ask of me in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Certainly we don’t think of prayer as a blank check for material blessings. Prayer is the gift of connection and conversation with Jesus, seeking to live in ways that reveal the Father’s love, or glory, for the world. Today’s text spoke of a further promise and gift.

Jesus said “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. This is the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in and among you.” Jesus promised another Advocate. Jesus himself is called our Advocate in the First Letter of John, chapter 2: “If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus our Advocate in our sinfulness: not accusing but coming to our side to be for us and never against us, offering himself as sacrifice on the cross to take away the sin of the world. Here Advocate means rescue. Did you read a wonderful story of rescue in last week’s News Review. A lady became disorientated and lost in the dark and ended up trapped in the water of marshy land. The Three Lakes Fire and Rescue saved her through much exhausting searching and determination. They knew they could not give up or wait until morning because the situation was dire. They needed to come to her side and had to carry her out. This story reminded me of Jesus and his determination to reach us even the depth of sin and guilt and rescue us through his extended arms reaching all sinners from the cross.

But now we have from Jesus the gift of another Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Here the word Advocate could be translated counselor or comforter. This is so because the Holy Spirit was called the “Spirit of Truth”. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and so the Holy Spirit will be at work to guide us ever to Jesus. Martin Luther liked to call the Holy Spirit our teacher because through the teaching of the Gospel we learn that Jesus is not a dearly departed founder of a faith. The Holy Spirit reveals a living Lord and Savior who is for us with forgiveness, living hope, and 24-7 peace that surpasses all understanding. Later in the 14th chapter of John Jesus will promise the Holy Spirit will teach us and remind us of all that he taught. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus not only as our Advocate when we sin, but also teach us the ways Jesus would have us live and love. There was a picture gallery in last week’s New York Time featuring medical professionals on the front-lines treating Covid-19 patients. I was moved by testimony of the doctors and nurses. Many of them said they cried when patients died, often without the presence of loved ones to comfort them. But amid all the pictures of doctors and nurses there was a Catholic priest. He wears the same personal protective equipment the medical staff wears. But on his gown he drew a cross with a black marker so people would know he is a priest. He said he goes through just as many gloves as the doctors and nurses. Patients want to hold his hand as so many are walking through the dark valley of the shadow of death. He tells people “Don’t be afraid. You are going toward the light. Have faith that God is with you. Don’t be afraid.” He said “It’s a medical situation, but it is also about the soul.”

You and I may not be on the front-lines of treating desperately ill people. But we know of people who are afraid. We can tell them God is with them. And then speak of Jesus’ wonderful promise, “I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you.” May the Holy Spirit empower us, the church, to tell people in fearful times, ‘God has not abandoned you. Cast upon God your troubles because God has compassion for you.” We do not have to take a marker and draw a cross on our shirts. We have received the cross in baptism. The New Testament lesson for today from 1 Peter said “Baptism saves us not just as water washing dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” Thursday of this coming week the Church celebrates the Ascension of Jesus. Jesus is no longer visible as a human being but has returned to heaven as victorious Lord of all. Yet may Jesus be visible through his people, the church, loving others as he loves so all may know the grace, power, and mercy of Jesus’ love. A wonderful friend of mine made me masks. They have wonderful promises from Scripture on them. We wear masks as a sign of social responsibility….the word we often hear is ‘to mitigate’ the spread of the virus. Wearing a mask may be inconvenient, possibly uncomfortable, yet they are freeing. Freeing in the sense that we understand freedom as serving one another. It was Luther who said yes, we are free, subject to none, but we are also slaves, that is servants of Christ for the good of others. So I wear a mask not only to mitigate virus spread, but also the Scripture verses remind me to share and spread the mercy of God.

No, we are not robots. The Holy Spirit sees to it that we are not slaves to fear but are affirmed in our baptismal identity as precious children of God, led by the Spirit to serve Jesus through the power of his presence and love.