Was Jesus Christ the Son of God born in a lowly stable so that you would have more rules to follow? Did Jesus Christ go around teaching and healing and casting out demons so that you would have more rules to follow? Did Jesus Christ die on the cross so that you would have more rules to follow? If you followed the rules well enough, would God love you more? Do you prove your love to Jesus Christ by following the rules? Is that the point of being a Christian, following the rules?
No. No. No. No. No. And no.
The gospel lesson for today is open for people to make all kinds of mischief on these questions. Years ago, the old sinner heard, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The old sinner hear these words and clapped his hands together gleefully and said, “Aha! I knew it!! I knew I had to do something! I knew God’s love wasn’t free! I knew that all of my efforts weren’t in vain!” The old sinner loved nothing more than the idea that he had to add something to God’s grace in order to be right with God.
Here is what the old sinner did with today’s gospel lesson. When he heard, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” then he thought, “If I don’t keep the commandments, then I won’t be loving Jesus. And if I don’t love Jesus, then I’m in trouble!” And then he pondered these things in his head and he came to a solution, “If I keep the commandments, then I show my love for Jesus. And if I show my love for Jesus then God will love me and I’ll be saved!”
So, back in the day, the old sinner didn’t drink or smoke, he didn’t dance or play cards. And he showed up for church on Sunday. He knew these things didn’t save him, but they were proof that he was serious, that he loved Jesus. The old sinner knew that Jesus demanded obedience, and doing or not doing these things was keeping up his end of the bargain. And so he tied himself to the rules.
These days the sinner does things a little differently. The new sinner hears, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” and thinks, “The commandment Jesus is talking about here is love. I am supposed to love everybody.” The new sinner then goes about and tries to love everybody by making sure that they don’t feel judged. The new sinner goes around and tries to tell people that sin isn’t really sin. Because if people feel guilty about their sins then they won’t feel loved. For this new sinner, the worst sin is judgment. And so, keeping Jesus’ commandment is shown by non-judgment and inclusivity.
The new sinner justifies himself by being tolerant of everything. The new sinner becomes a kind of slave to the Jesus’ commandment to love one another. But the new sinner doesn’t trust God to love those sinners just as they are. And so he tries to protect them by covering up God’s law and replacing it with lots of affirming and loving language.
All of this is malarkey, of course. The old sinner and the new sinner absolutely refuse to get it. They desperately try to stay in control. The old sinner wants to be holy enough to deserve God’s grace. The new sinner wants to get rid of sin altogether so that others won’t be condemned by it; the new sinner is actually trying to protect other people from God by changing his rules! But they have both misunderstood.
When Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” he is not giving you a rule to follow and he certainly isn’t saying that there’s no such thing as sin. He is not calling into question your love for him and demanding that you provide some proof, some kind of action on your part.
No, he is providing reassurance. “If you love me, and I know that you do!, then you are going to keep my commandments. I am going to be pleased with you. You are going to do so well. I will be sending you the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will be at work transforming you. He is the Spirit of truth and he will teach you. You’re not going to be orphaned, trying to work this stuff out for yourselves. No, you’re going to love me and the Father is going to love you and I’m going to love you. We’re family. So don’t worry about it. Don’t get bogged down in it. Trust me, it’s going to be okay. Because I live you are going to live too.”