If You Love Me, Keep My Commandments

As we heard in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to his disciples before departing from them at the end of his earthly ministry, a time when the disciples were a bit unnerved that the one whom they have followed will be leaving them and they will now be in charge of spreading the Good News, of doing what Christ has done. They will not have him there to be with them to give them guidance, to give them counsel. So you might imagine their nervousness, similar to the nervousness that churches often experience when they do not have a pastor and they must rely upon each other for the vision and the future of the church until the new pastor comes. Some of you may have been through that before here at Grace or another church. We may not know where to go and things may be a little uncertain. So we can identify with the disciples that the leader, who is supposed to be guiding them in their path to ministry, is now leaving them.

But listen to what Jesus says to them. 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments.' Jesus explains further, and then says, '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.' So, 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments, and you will have God's love, and you will have my love, and I will be revealed to you.' But if that were not enough...and I skipped over some parts in there deliberately...we come back to the Advocate, the Spirit. And Jesus says, 'I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while, the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.' He says, '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 you.'

Words of comfort from Jesus about what it means to love him and to love God also say, 'But even with these things, I will leave with you the Spirit, the Advocate that God will send, and I will help bring to you. And that Spirit will be your guide and will be your light in the world and it will show you the way to go. It will teach you the things to do. It will let you be my people. It will help you to keep my commandments. It will help to keep you in God's love and in my love.' Powerful words when we combine them together. Think about what they are truly saying to Jesus' disciples some 2,000 years ago and to us today as Jesus' modern-day disciples. All of us here in the church are disciples, whether we like to think of ourselves that way or not. We may not be the twelve apostles who walked with Jesus and did as Jesus did. We may not even be the twelve who sit on the Consistory and act as those who walked with Jesus, Pastor and Consistory walking together. But we are all disciples. We are all called into this form of service, of serving God and serving one another as Jesus would have us to do.

This weekend, our youth answered that call in serving God and in serving Christ who asked his disciples to gather the people to sit down to have a meal because the people were hungry. Jesus was responding to their hunger and asked his disciples to respond to that hunger. And our own youngest disciples among us responded. And so I'd like to invite them to come forward at this time to share their experience of discipleship in living out without a meal in their 30-Hour Famine.

Every day, 29,000 children under the age of five die from hunger and preventable illnesses. More than half of all children's deaths are related to hunger and malnutrition. Millions of children suffer from measles and blindness due to an easily-preventable Vitamin A deficiency. Each night more than 850 million people go to bed hungry, most of them women and children. We invite you to participate in a simulation called 'Health in the Village.' You are in a village in the so-called developing world. You live in one of the impoverished areas of Africa, Asia or Latin America. To show you the challenges that many people face, we are going to ask you some questions. Please stand if you are able.

  • Does anyone need glasses for reading? If so, raise your hand. You would probably be illiterate because glasses are rarely available. Put your hand over one eye and keep it there.
  • Has anyone ever broken a bone in their upper body or arm? If so, raise your hand. Now put that arm behind your back. You would have restricted movement because people with the skills to set the break are in short supply and the bones wouldn't heal right. A note on the ratio of doctors to population: 1:350 persons in the United States while it is about 1:10,000 in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Has anyone ever broken a bone in their lower body or leg? If so, raise your leg. You must also be physically limited because the skills to set the fractures are in short supply.
  • Has anyone needed a blood transfusion to stay alive? None is available due to lack of refrigeration and equipment. It is a two-day walk to the nearest hospital. You would likely die. Please sit down.
  • Does anyone know a person with HIV or AIDS? 89% of HIV-positive persons live in the developing world with only one-fourth of them having access to AIDS treatment drugs.
  • Is anyone here 65 years or older? In the developing world, the average lifespan is 64. In some countries it is much lower. You can sit down now.
  • Has anyone ever had major surgery without which they would not have survived? Such surgeries often available only in urban areas. You would likely be dead. Please sit down.
  • Have you ever had mumps or measles? In the developing world, as often in our inner cities, what are for us fairly benign childhood diseases often kill those already weakened by malnutrition. You can sit down.
  • Are you female? In many parts of the world women only eat after all the men and children are fed, leaving women weak and much more vulnerable to illnesses. The weaknesses contribute to maternal mortality. In the poorest of developing countries, the rate is 100 times what it is here. If you are a woman, sit down.
  • Has anyone had diarrhea? An inconvenience and discomfort for us, it is deadly for many in the developing world, especially children. There are over a billion people lack access to safe drinking water. You can sit down.

And that would be everyone!

As we just had a moment of fun and listening to all the facts that these youth have learned, we have to recognize that they too were called by the Spirit, the Advocate, to be part of this program, enduring 30 hours with no food. And though that may have seemed like a long time to the youth and those who participated, that is only a very small experience of what people face and feel around the world every day. And though we got much humor out of the things that sat us all down, we have to remember that this is real for many and that many sit down not by choice, but sit down because they have no choice.

These youth are trying to make a difference in our world. I want to encourage them by saying, "Each one of you makes a difference with every little thing that you do.The same goes for the rest of us as people of faith. When we listen to Jesus' command to love God and love one another as he loves us, then we do reach out to help. We do reach out to make a difference. The world is in a global emergency. With the lack of grain on the market because of being used for making fuel and other things, prices have doubled, tripled and quadrupled in the markets where the people are the poorest. So even more people will die this year than the 29,000 children under five per day that we just heard a few moments ago.

So pay attention to your news when you hear about the effects of the higher prices for simple grains of rice and corn and staples that are used in the developing world just so people can survive. And realize how important it is for us to be moved by the Spirit to follow Christ's command and love one another and help in the ways that we can. What you do will make a difference. Each one of us can probably save at least one life for one day. So it's good for us to know that and to inspire ourselves to that. We have been blessed by being born in this country, that we have affluence, and that most of us have not gone hungry and probably have cupboards and refrigerators with food in them. To be able to have that gives us incredible blessing, and with that incredible blessing also comes incredible responsibility in faith. So let us be inspired by the Spirit to do that which God calls us to do as people of faith. And I thank our youth because seeing them take part in these things is an inspiration to me as a pastor, that there is definitely a future for the church and a future for your lives of faith in Jesus Christ.

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve