May 17, 2020
If You Love Me
If You Love Me
(IYLM or IULM)
Watch Sermon Video Here
When I was doing Christian education and youth work in the 90’s, the popular Christian slogan was, “What Would Jesus Do?” All the hip kids had WWJD bracelets in bright and perky colors. The expression was to remind us to be Christlike and to live our lives asking how Jesus would handle certain situations. Of course with a bit of theological discernment it becomes apparent that we are not Jesus. If we see a hungry group of people we could personally feed maybe one or two of them. We can’t make a feast out of five loaves of bread or a piece of fish. And according to the bible that is what Jesus would do. So what would a fitting alternative question be?
Our interim pastor in the late 90’s, Ron Smith, told me he wished the sentiment was, “What Would Jesus Say?” instead of what would Jesus do. Nigerian-American writer Enuma Okoro pretty much says the same thing. She thinks a more fitting alternative might be IYLM, “If You Love Me.” It’s the phrase that begins this week’s text from John’s Gospel. It’s echoed later in the gospel when Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?” IYLM certainly doesn’t run off your tongue like WWJD, but it could make us stop and ask what’s at stake with our next move as we try to live our lives as Christians. And as I was writing and reading this sermon I kept stumbling over the IYLM letters, so I am going to say IULM – If U Love Me. I figured that would be easier for us Hoosiers to remember.
Our gospel passage this morning opens with the poignant moment of Jesus trying to make something plain to the disciples because he will be leaving them soon. He is asking them to embrace the love he has lived among them as the goal for their own lives. As he is coming to the close of his earthly ministry, he can only speak of love and the assurance that the God he knows so intimately as Father will continue to be with them through the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth – otherwise known to us as the Holy Spirit. The Advocate will be with them and help them recognize that God’s love is what is most true.
John’s gospel was written in an age of empire and imperialism. And yet we find in this gospel a strikingly different claim about the power and order that love brings to life and relationships. It is hard to imagine a sharper contract to an imperial definition of power and dominion than the life of Jesus. Choosing to see reality through the lens of love in the midst of empire is challenging. So Jesus reminds his friends that the Advocate – the Holy Spirit – will be with them and help them in their efforts to live a life shaped by love. This difficulty is not unique to the Johannine community. Many of us know the challenge of empire don’t we?
Jesus uses the word love fifty seven times in the gospel of John. Add to that the word “friend” which is translation of a Greek word for love, as well as the fact that the primary disciple is an unnamed person called “the beloved disciple,” and I think we might say that the Fourth Gospel is all about one issue. And our lives are all about our response to that… “If you love me,” IULM.
Our text for today begins and ends with love. In verse 15 Jesus declares that if his disciples love him, they will keep his commandments. And what are those commandments? Well there is only one in the gospel of John. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (13: 34-35) I think John would have agreed with Presbyterian minister William Sloane Coffin’s claim to his fellow Christians: “If we fail in love, we fail in all things else.”
If you love me, IULM, is an open-ended phrase that invites us to think about how our lives of faith intersect with a world that does not always recognize God. How do we keep God’s commandment when we are faced with people and policies that promote injustice and inequality? And is it our duty to love all people regardless of whether they value the tenants of kingdom living or honor the ways of God, or Jesus? I think we will find the answer to that is yes – we have to remember we are always taught to love our enemies. Which is why “If you love me” is helpful because it invites us to draw on the Advocate whom Christ has given us for strength, instruction and power. It is the Spirit of truth who reveals to us God and God’s ways.
Our text for today is a command in itself. It is a call from God to duty and obedience. But it also reads like a personal letter to a loved one. We’ve all heard those words from someone we loved. “If you love me…” Imagine how that sentence would end if it came from someone you cherish, someone you want to please, and not at all in a manipulative way. When you love someone you want to please them and show them you love them, even if you don’t always count the costs. Jesus is using a familiar formula. It’s about give and take, with both parties needing to put in the effort. If you love me, do this, and I in return will do that.
We all come to the bible with our own personal histories and our own understanding of love and relationships. We all have complicated human experiences that mold us as people, as lovers, as parents, as friends and as Christians. These shape how we read scripture and how we imagine God. But what I hear in these verses is a Jesus who wants us to do what’s best for us and for others – to adhere to the life he calls us to. It’s like I hear Jesus asking me at the end of each and every day, “In what ways did I or did I not love today?” And I don’t hear that question as a way to force me to love, or to make me feel ashamed if I did not love the best that I could have that day. Because I know this gracious and merciful God is not one to force us to do things. Jesus expects obedience and mutual love, but he offers himself through invitation, encouraging us to do what we must to receive him.
And I also hear: “If you love me, all I am asking is that you keep my commandment. All I am asking is that above all else you try to love one another, if for no other reason than because you love me. And I love you, and I am in the Father, and you are in me, so I am in you.”
Really, I think this passage and so much of the gospel of John is just about Jesus asking the question, “Do you love me?” And if you do, how does that make a difference in the way you live your life?
So if we love Jesus, and if you want to wear the cool, colorful bracelet that says IULM – because who wouldn’t? – then Jesus calls us to show love and hospitality to all those who are made in the image of God. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, he went on to say, “if so, feed my sheep.” In a time of pandemic if we love Jesus we protect others by wearing a mask when we go to the store or the gas station. If we love Jesus we are aware and respond to the suffering and vulnerability of others around us.
If you love me, calls us to love others as Jesus has loved us, with a kind of love that expects and calls to be loved in return. If you love me, IULM, and the life those four letters call us to, is only possible because of the power of the Advocate that Jesus has given to us. Let the Spirit of truth be among us. Amen.
www.christiancentury.org, Living By The Word, Sixth Sunday of Easter, by Enuma Okoro.
“Feasting on the Word,” Year A, Volume 2, Sixth Sunday of Easter.
www.workingpreacher.org, Commentary on John 14: 15-21, by Jaime Clark-Soles.