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The 6th Sunday of Easter; John 14:15-21

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

I was stuck in traffic leaving Toronto, back in BC (Before COVID) when I drove into the city quite often, and that was on one bumper sticker on a car in front of me. I thought it was a good question, but didn’t like the suggested answer on the other bumper sticker,

Honk if you love Jesus!

At worst I might get a noise fine, but I doubted that honking would lead to a conviction for Christianity, no matter how much I honked.

I remembered another bumper sticker that had been part of a hand-out kit for a General Synod back in the 1990s but then withdrawn because some good souls thought it was a bit “in your face”. That one read,

Tithe if you love Jesus. Anybody can honk!

That seemed like a better chance of conviction. Giving a significant fraction of income to the church, might be evidence of Christianity. But was it good enough? Is giving evidence of Christianity? Don’t non-Christians give to good causes? So then, what makes Christians different from other good, well-meaning, moral, law-abiding persons?

I kept musing, not coming to a satisfactory answer. Most Christian virtues can be found in other religions, or indeed in persons of no religion. What makes a person undoubtedly Christian? For that matter, what was it that makes me undoubtedly Christian?

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

So we just heard! And also,

They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.

That seems simple enough. Christians love Jesus and keep his commandments. But is it simple? What commandments, and how are we doing at keeping them?

In the traditional-language Holy Eucharist we hear the two great commandments that Jesus gave. The first one is,

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.

I won’t point fingers, but I’m not sure I always live up to that. Is God always most important in my life? I doubt it. Are there things, habits, friends, expectations of me by myself and others, or just plain human laziness that get between me and God? Almost certainly. Or maybe forget that “almost”!

And then there is the second great commandment,

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Elsewhere Jesus clarifies this, saying,

You shall love others as much as I have loved you.

Now at first that seems easy enough. I always try to treat others kindly and considerately. I don’t go out of my way to be mean to others; quite the contrary. I support my church and charity, and in that way support others less fortunate than me. Then comes the thought that Jesus didn’t command us to be nice, he commanded us to love others as much as ourselves. And if that weren’t enough, Jesus insists that we love others as much as he loved us.

Suddenly it’s not easy any more! As much as I love myself! I take good care of myself. I live in comfort and safety. Real hunger is far from my experience. My housing is more than adequate. I have all the clothing I need. And I know there are others for whom that is not true; here in our city, in our country, in our world. How am I showing that my love for them is as great as my love for myself, let alone as great as Jesus’ love for me? Is it enough to, in effect, send money? Does love, real love, demand more? Put that way, my efforts don’t seem like much!

Jesus’ love was ultimately expressed in his innocent death on the cross, a death endured and willingly embraced so that all humanity can live. How much of my own life am I willing to put on the line for others? How much of my comfort, security, well-being am I prepared to sacrifice for others, others that I am commanded to love as much as myself, and as much as Jesus loved me?

We seem to be getting a little closer at least to what it is that ought to make a Christian different from other well-meaning, moral persons. Jesus didn’t just give us moral rules to follow, Jesus didn’t just issue a prescription for the Christian life, but Jesus gave us a model; himself and his own life. Jesus often called his disciples to follow him, not only physically but spiritually. We are to be like him, and to live like him. It is in the person and life of Jesus that we find what is unique about Christianity, and should be unique about Christians.

When we read the Gospels to get a glimpse of the personality of Jesus, we find someone who cared deeply and passionately for others, and who put the well-being of persons ahead and above the demands of institutions. In the life of Jesus, we see a life that was lived sacrificially for others. Jesus did not consider himself, his well-being, or his safety and life in doing the ministry for which he had been sent by God. Over and over the Gospels show that Jesus is concerned only for others, and rejects institutions and rules when these interfere with his care for people. And finally, Jesus suffers cruel torture and humiliation, and willingly sacrifices his own life, so that all of us can have eternal life.

It is Jesus whom we confess was God incarnate. It is Jesus whom we confess as Lord and Saviour, and whom we are committed to follow in baptism. We claim to love this Jesus, and he bids us to show our love by following his commandments and living like him.

How does this affect me? The demands are obvious. In all my life decisions I must look to Jesus as a model.

I ought not live comfortably while others live in poverty. I ought not be silent and live in safety while there are political refugees denied that same safety. I ought not be silent while justice is denied to native peoples simply because justice would threaten existing institutions. I ought not accept the acquisition of more and more weapons of war. There are scores of wrongs, and injustices, and evils, that I ought not accept, because Jesus would not accept them. I ought to speak, to challenge, to act. I ought to risk my comfort, my safety, even my life. Jesus would!

And yet, most of the time, I fail in all of these, and I dare say so do we all! Do we not love Jesus, because we do not always follow his commandments? Are we not really Christians?

No! We are only human, and our ability to love is imperfect. We love Jesus, imperfectly; we follow his commandments, imperfectly; we love others, imperfectly. What we must not forget is that Jesus’ love of us is perfect, and that our failing to love him and follow him always has no effect on his love for us. We are baptized, we claim the name of Christians, and even if we fail on our side of the commitment, Jesus does not fail on his!

On our own we would be desolated by our failure to live up to our Christian commitment. On our own we would probably give up the futile effort to live a Christian life. But we are not left alone. Jesus himself has said that we will not be left alone, that he will come to us. He has asked the Father, and we have been sent the Spirit of truth, who dwells in us and with us. It is this Spirit we received at our baptism, and which we renew whenever we receive the Bread and Wine of the Holy Communion.

We are not perfect, and are not able to follow Jesus perfectly. Yes, within us lives the Spirit, but the Spirit lives in a human person. And so, while we may not be able, because of our frail humanity, to follow Jesus perfectly, we are able to know when we have failed. We are able to ask for forgiveness, knowing it will be given. That too is how we show our love for Jesus, by asking for forgiveness when we fail to love him fully. And we are able to pray for the strength to follow Jesus more nearly in the future, day by day as we pray in song just before our Communion.

We all know what it is that Jesus asks of Christians. We all know that we have failed, and will fail again to live up to these demands. Very simply, that is the nature of sinful humanity.

Yet there are some things that I could improve on. I don’t doubt that is also true for you. There is always a next step, a small step, an almost safe step, as we follow Jesus. I pray that I and we all have the courage to take it.

I started with a bumper sticker asking if we could be convicted in court of Christianity. As far as evidence of our Christianity goes, I hope we are all beyond honking because we love Jesus. On the other hand, if it came to a trial in a criminal court perhaps we could get off on reasonable doubt. I invite you all, and I challenge myself, to do what is needed to make that less likely.

Copyright ©2023 Gerry Mueller