John 14:15-21                                                5/21/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Since we are “Beating the Bounds” after our 11:00 service this morning, and it adds time to the service, my homily is shorter than usual, today.

First, what is “Beating the Bounds”? It’s an old Celtic celebration which was passed down to the Anglican Church in England, when on “Rogation Day”, which is today. the parish priest and people processed around the boundaries of the parish, chanting hymns, praying, censing, and beating the land with switches to chase away any evil spirits which might harm the crops that would then be planted. The switches were then burned in a big bonfire, and everyone joined in a feast. Many years ago we started “Beating our Bounds” here at Epiphany, followed by a picnic, and we’ve continued it. It’s fun. It links us to our Anglican and Celtic roots, and everyone thinks we’re crazy to do it.

Well, now I want to say something about our Gospel passage, because it’s one of my favorite passages. It comes from the Gospel of John, the gospel that was written later than the others, and probably written in what is now Turkey.

And I love this passage. First, John has Jesus talking to Philip. Now, some New Testament scholars feel that Philip was “slow.” He never fully understood what was going on, and his questions were very simple. If you read the text with this in mind, you see Jesus, in all of the Gospels, trying to help Philip “understand”. It’s like a parent talking to a young child.

Another thing we need to notice with this story is that it doesn’t appear in the other gospels. That means that the writer of John made up this story as a teaching tool. So, what is he trying to teach? John is doing two things with this story. He is trying to explain why Jesus gave this “new commandment”, and, he is trying to answer, “What is the Holy Spirit?”

Now, in our calendar, we haven’t gotten to Pentecost, yet, when the Holy Spirit comes. But Pentecost, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, would have been very familiar to the writer of John. And John’s big theme is that if you want to know Christ, and want to gain union with God, you have to do it through “love”. And it’s not good enough to talk about love. You have to “do love.” John’s idea is that by loving one another, we will love God. That’s pretty simple. But what does he mean by “love”? He means “caring”. I can’t love someone who does evil things and hurts other people. Don’t ask me to “love” that person. It isn’t going to happen. But I can “care” about that person, and perhaps hope that he/she gets the help he/she needs. And that’s what John is talking about: caring – passionately caring.

So, the opening sentence of our reading this morning could read, “If you care about me, you will keep my commandments.” I can honestly do that.

Now, there’s something else very special about this same sentence. John puts “loving (or caring)” before “keeping commandments.” And this is the very core of Anglican Theology. We can not earn God’s love – God’s caring. We already have it. And our response to that love is to do good works and keep God’s commandments.  And this is different from most other denominations and religions. They would say, “If you keep my commandments, God will love you. You can earn God’s love by living a good life.” As Anglicans our understanding is that we have God’s love. We can’t earn it. It’s ours. Now, our responsibility is to live our lives in response to that “divine love.” We don’t have the check list of do’s and don’ts so God will love us. We already have that love. Now we have to put it to work. We have to honestly care for each other, care this environment and creation, and care for ourselves.

That’s the theology of John.

That’s the theology of our church.

“If you love me,
you will keep my commandments.”

Amen.

Posted May 23, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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