Rev. John Morrison
Reading John 14:15-27 (NRSV)
During my first couple of days back here at Canberra Baptist, I had quite a detailed orientation with Belinda. A re-orientation, I guess, seeing that I’d been here previously and this is a comeback.
We discussed some of the changes over the last 2 years, what was happening around the place now, and what I’d be doing during my interim.
Preaching, of course, was one of our agenda items. We discussed various options – following the lectionary as usual, preaching on a topic or book of my choice; doing something on the church goals; or some combination of those options over time.
It made sense to speak on Australia Day last Sunday. We now have 3 Sundays before the Church Anniversary and then the Church Camp. What I’m planning to do is speak on the 3 goals in our goals statement. I believe Belinda has done that previously, but the beginning of the year seems to me to be a good time to refresh our memories and reflect a little more on them.
I haven’t put them up on the screen, because they are on the front of the bulletin, as usual.
“Led by the Spirit, we will explore together what it means to follow Jesus today, build an inclusive, caring community, and share God’s love and justice in words and actions.”
I was actually around at the end of 2017 when this statement was developed by the Diaconate.
My recollection is that we were getting fairly close to agreeing on a 3-part statement pretty much as it is now, but without the words “led by the Spirit” at the beginning.
Then the observation was made that the first goal mentions Jesus, the third goal mentions God, but there was nothing about the Holy Spirit.
Why not make it more Trinitarian by changing the 2nd goal to something like
“build an inclusive, caring community through the Spirit” or “led by the Spirit”?
In discussion, we agreed the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit is needed in all 3 areas.
So in the end, we put “led by the Spirit” as a preamble.
And that’s what was adopted by the Church.
Some of you may remember that this isn’t our first comeback. I was invited back to speak at the 2018 Church Anniversary in February 2018. (Very different weather conditions then, I recall> We almost didn’t make it because of flash flooding.)
On that occasion I spoke on those 4 introductory words “Led by the Spirit”.
Today on speaking on:
“Led by the Spirit, we will explore together what it means to follow Jesus today.”
I’ll be referring mainly, but not exclusively, to John 14:15-27.
This first goal is about discipleship; about being a disciple of Jesus. The Biblical word “disciple” means follower or learner.
When Jesus called his 12 disciples, he called them to follow him. And he called them to learn from him. And they did literally follow him and learn from him for 3 years.
Both those concepts are embodied in that first goal.
- “to follow Jesus, today”
- “explore together what it means” – that involves learning.
A helpful synonym for “disciple” is “apprentice”, although a disciple is a bit more.
Being a disciple is about being progressively transformed through the following and the leading into the likeness of the master.
And that’s especially the case when it comes to being a disciple of Jesus.
Obedience and Love
In our Bible reading from John, Jesus is talking to his disciples, (towards the end of the Last Supper it seems), and he’s talking to them about discipleship.
So this is a good passage for us to refer to as we explore what it means to follow Jesus today.
There are a couple of things Jesus keeps repeating and emphasising – love and obedience.
V15, v21a, v23a, v24a
I think we are pretty familiar with the idea of obedience when it comes to discipleship.
And it is an important aspect of it. That’s clear from this passage and many others. For e.g.,
Jesus’ Great Commission to his disciples – “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do all that I have commanded you…”
One big difference for us today, compared with those first 12 disciples, is that Jesus is not physically with us, and we can’t physically follow him around.
Following Jesus for us, today, however, still involves following his teachings – being obedient in that in sense.
As important as obedience is, what about the other thing Jesus emphasises in our reading – love?
Discipleship is not just about obeying Jesus, it’s also about loving Jesus.
To emphasise the obedience without a matching emphasis on love leaves discipleship dry, sterile and subject to graceless legalism.
Think for just a moment about Judas, the only disciple who failed his apprenticeship.
What was his problem? Obedience? Or was it love for Jesus?
“I’d go as far as saying that the obedience that ought to characterise our discipleship comes from love. Maybe that’s going a bit too far.
But certainly the two go together and interact to build each other up.
But herein lies a problem.
My love is imperfect – certainly compared to Jesus’ love for me (which is total, patient, faithful, kind, selfless, persevering etc). My love is not always like that!
I love Kristine, but imperfectly. I love our boys and our grandchildren, but not perfectly.
I love Jesus, but my love fails.
My obedience is also imperfect. I don’t always do what God wants. I don’t always do what Jesus said – deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him.
Maybe my obedience is imperfect because my love is imperfect, as much as I try to make it otherwise.
Paul expressed a similar dissatisfaction in his own life. Romans 7
V15: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
V18b, 19a: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
Ever felt like that? Want to be a faithful disciple, obeying Jesus, loving Jesus, but…
Well here’s some good news.
God has promised the perfect help we need for living the disciple life to which we are called. God has given us the Holy Spirit.
Paul goes on to talk about the difference the Spirit makes in the very next chapter (Chapter 8).
And our reading in John also deals with it.
I’ve mentioned 2 things that Jesus repeats and emphasise in our passage – obedience and love.
Here’s the 3rd – the Holy Spirit. V15,16
Love and obedience are connected, and the Holy Spirit is connected with both.
The Holy Spirit, as you know, is part of the Trinity
- Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the traditional expression
- Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer is another way of expressing it.
The mystery of the Trinity is reinforced here.
- Jesus says he will ask the Father who will send the Spirit (v16)
- In v18 Jesus says it is he who will come to them.
- V20: “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
- And just to make it all clear (or not), v23: ”Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we (Father and Son) will come to them (as the HS) and make our home with them.”
My point here is the very nature and power of God is available to us to help us live the disciple life.
The term used here twice (v16,26) is Advocate or Helper (footnote). Or Comforter, or Counsellor.
The Greek word is paracletos. para = alongside (as in parallel, parachurch)
Cletos is from the verb to call.
So the Holy Spirit is the one called alongside to help.
Do you get the picture? – the struggling disciple, plodding on, 2 steps forward and 1 back. The HS comes alongside, puts a consoling and strengthening arm around them and whispers “lean on me”
But that’s not the full picture. In fact, it’s an inadequate picture.
The Holy Spirit indwells the believer.
Not just alongside to support, but within to empower.
Not just alongside to work with us, but within to work through us.
Being a disciple of Jesus today is difficult. In fact, impossible… if we try to do it on our own.
But fortunately we don’t have to.
The one who calls us to live the disciple life also helps us to live it by providing the Holy Spirit.
In 2010, Kristine and I travelled to Malawi to spend some time with a member of our church who was serving there as a missionary nurse with Global Interaction.
She was working with the Yao people, a poor Moslem minority people group.
I was with her when a young village boy asked: “Are you a Christian?”
Her answer surprised me a little initially. She didn’t confirm or deny, but just said:
“I’m a follower of Isa (Jesus)”
She later explained that she avoided using the term “Christian” because of the cultural baggage that went with it.
Their preconception of a Christian, unfortunately, was a Westerner from a Christian Country who drinks, dresses immodestly, blasphemes and lives immorally.
She didn’t want any of them to be Christians in that sense, but true followers of Jesus.
I’ve thought a lot about that since. And you know what?
Increasingly, I want to be known as a follower of Jesus.
And increasingly, I want to be known as someone who is being led by the Spirit of Jesus.
And I want to be part of a community of faith exploring along with me what that means today.
How About you?