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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Monday, April 25, 2005

Monday in the Fifth Week in Easter

John 14:21-26

Question: How many mothers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Answer: None. “Oh, don’t mind me, honey; I’ll just sit here in the dark!”

These little jokes do amuse me. Of course, like most jokes, the amusement factor stems at least in part because of the truth it contains. In this case, it’s an unfortunately familiar form of emotional blackmail that I suspect we’ve all heard at one time or another.
  • If you love me, you’d know what I need without asking.
  • If you love me, you’ll understand.
  • If you love me, you’ll let me.
It struck me, as I was reading today’s Gospel, that this is one way you could hear Jesus’ statement. “if you love me, you’ll keep my commandments, and be loved by my father.” As though he were saying that we needed to prove our devotion in some way, in order to earn God’s love.

However, as Winslow lecturer Stephen Fowl would say, that is an interpretation which “does violence to the text.” It doesn’t fit with the message we hear elsewhere in scripture of God’s unconditional love, and the unearned, unmerited grace that God offers through Jesus Christ.

So instead, I think Jesus is simply stating a fact here. He is acknowledging that those who follow him, who keep his commandments, do so out of love. Obedience is not the way to earn God’s love; rather, the product of God’s love, and love for God, is obedience.

I’ve had occasion to give some thought to the nature of obedience lately. As most of you know, I took some vows of obedience, among others, a little over a week ago, when I was ordained to the diaconate-- along with Jeff and Rebecca. At the rehearsal, our bishop took a certain humorous pleasure in that. I can still see him sitting in the chair, grinning as we practiced. We didn’t do the whole of our vows then, but one thing did work its way in, every time. It sounded something like this:

"Jane, will you be loyal . . . yada, yada, yada. . . and obey your bishop?"

And yes, eventually I promised that I was willing and ready to do so. Later, Ed pointed out in his sermon that we were taking vows based on an awful lot of trust; that, no more than any other ordinand, we really didn’t know what we were getting into. Nor could we, really. And yet there we were-- standing before God and the community assembled, and making these promises, as disciples of Jesus have been doing ever since he walked out of the dessert and started saying, “follow me.”

We make similar vows of obedience when we are baptized, or when we stand and renew our vows in the words of the baptismal covenant.

Question Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Answer I do.
Question Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Answer I do.
Question Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
Answer I do.

So the question becomes, what does that look like-- that obedience, that keeping of God’s commandments?

Well, let’s start with this: despite what you may have heard (and certainly what I have heard upon occasion) I do not believe, that it entails passive, unquestioning submission to authority. "Christian" does not mean "doormat." Think about this: Mary is an icon for obedience, but she asked for explanations from the angel before she agreed to anything. As Susie noted in her homily last week, Mary Magdalene was both gutsy and forthright-- and fully obedient, as she first took risks the apostles would not take, and then when she testified to what she had seen at the tomb, even when the others refused to take her seriously. Jesus is the ultimate example of obedience to the Father’s will-- obedience that included breaking the laws of the Torah, upending the furniture in the Temple, and calling out the religious authority (that “brood of vipers”) in no uncertain terms.

So, our obedience-- the keeping of God’s commandments in love to which Jesus urges us (at the last supper, the eve of his own greatest act of obedience) is not silent, mindless “doing what you’re told;” not at all. What it is, is downright risky stuff.

  • To face head-on the questions, doubts and sometimes outright hostility that comes with saying, “yes” to a call to ministry.
  • To directly disagree and even argue with that bishop I love, and have promised to obey, because I owe both him and God we both serve the respect of nothing less than an honest accounting.
  • To embrace the soldier, when an angry peace protester calls her murderer-- and then to stand and speak against war, when blind patriotism calls you traitor.
  • To care for and respect the homeless and unwashed, as well as the smugly comfortable. The criminal, as well as the victim. The abused, and the abuser. All those “inappropriate” souls who make our tidy Christian road so messy and hard to walk-- and who carry the face of God in their lives.
“If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my commandments.” Risky stuff indeed. But my brothers and sisters, we are promised God’s unfailing love in this work, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in all that we do for the love of Jesus. And look around-- we are also given one another, as guide, and goad, and gift on the journey.

So let us begin.


Blogger Susie said...

Nice job... i'm sad i missed it in person!

April 27, 2005 7:35 AM  

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