by Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena
The gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday —the Sixth Sunday of Easter— with food for thought on what we can learn from Jesus, Toy Story and The Big Lebowski about abiding in love. Gnaw away!
Sixth Sunday of Easter: John 14:15-21
Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And 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.
“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. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 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.”
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
As we talked about last week, this is the first part of Jesus’ long goodbye to his disciples. He is preparing them for what is to happen both in terms of what they should do and be but also what they should expect.
When he says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” we remember just minutes before, he showed and told the disciples what “my commandments
are” when he washed their feet and said “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This new commandment of love is a daunting one … and it will become even more so when the disciples see Jesus go to the cross and again here those words: “Love one another just as I have loved you.” So Jesus also gives a promise along with the commandment — you don’t have to go it alone. He lets them know even before he heads to the cross that Pentecost is coming. That what Paul would later sum up in Romans 8:38-39 (“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.) is true. That those who commit to the self-giving life of Christ will not be left behind or orphaned, but will see that Christ is with them always.
A few things to chew on:
“I will not leave you orphaned.” One of our greatest fears is not heights or spiders or public speaking or even death … but being left alone. Not a fear of solitude but a fear of being abandoned. Conversely, the worst fears are conquerable, the worst addictions are conquerable if we know we have someone with us. In the penultimate scene of Toy Story 3, Woody and Buzz and the rest of the toys that have been through so much together are in a pile of trash moving toward a firey furnace. One cries out “What do we do?” and they look at each other and just start to grasp hands. They believe they are at the end, and what makes it even a little bit bearable is going through it together. Jesus doesn’t promise that it will be easy or even that we will be able to do it. All he promises is “I will not leave you orphaned.” He promises we will always have a hand to hold, arms to lie back in, and a presence of love that will never leave.
In John, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of Truth,” in other words, the very essence of God. That’s makes Jesus’ promise extraordinary. Our faith is not that those who walked and talked with Jesus somehow got an experience of the divine that was greater (or “truer”) than ours … but that the Holy Spirit in our midst, far from a watered-down version, is every bit as much the very essence of God that the Word made flesh, Jesus, was. That when we lay our lives on the table in the Eucharist with the bread and wine it is the same thing as sitting at that table in the upper room. The “Spirit of Truth” urges us to see not just with our own eyes but with the eyes of faith that can behold “things unseen.” The Word that was made flesh in Jesus is not just a story of the past but a living reality in the present and future.
Later on in John, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and when Jesus answers yes, he says either “feed my sheep” or “tend my lambs.” Love of Christ is an active love. We don’t earn God’s love or favor by actions, but we show our love of God, we show that we are “living in Christ” by how we love.
This week, spend 5-10 minutes each day with this passage, particularly where Jesus 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.”
Then think about one small thing you can do each day to show your love for Jesus by loving those whom Jesus loves, the rest of the people we share this creation with … and even creation itself. One small thing you can do for no other reason than as a love offering for Christ. Then as you lie down to sleep that night, review and see if Christ was revealed to you at all in the loving.
I imagine there are times when all of us have felt alone. Think about one of those times for you – a time when you felt abandoned by and apart from everyone. Then as you journal, reimagine that experience. Reimagine that and trust that God was indeed with you the entire time. That God was feeling what you were feeling, that God was intensely present. Trust that God experienced that with you. How does that change the experience for you?
The Spirit Abides
“The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.” – The Stranger, The Big Lebowski
One genre of movies is the “action hero” movie. The two words go together — “action” and “hero.” A character whose power comes in her or him doing something.
The Big Lebowski has become a cult classic in part because it’s main character, “The Dude,” is pretty much an “inaction hero.” His life philosophy is summed up in his exchange with The Stranger in the bowling alley. “The Dude Abides.”
The Dude Abides.
As someone wrote in a psychological analysis of “The Dude” (isn’t the Internet wonderful?)
The Dude represents a perfectly imperfect individual. An individual that is confident and content with himself. The Dude does not judge himself or others. He is at peace with both his capabilities and limitations. Good enough is good enough for the Dude.
Jesus doesn’t talk about the Holy Spirit as an action hero. Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit abiding. Just being with us. Completely confident and content. Maybe the Holy Spirit is like The Dude.
Sound strange? Consider this:
Have you ever been with someone who is suffering, or just got some horrible news, or is just going through a rough time … and not known what to say? Have you ever avoided someone you care about going through one of those things for the same reason? Had being with them feel like climbing a huge mountain because you felt helpless and useless and weak in the face of their struggle?
If you have, you’re not alone. We’re taught to be “fixers,” and when we can’t we feel like failures … and also have to wrestle with the fear of saying the wrong thing and making things worth.
And yet these words from Jesus about the Holy Spirit give us great hope in those times. He doesn’t say “You know him, because he fixes you, and makes everything OK.” No, Jesus says, “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Abiding is an amazing gift. It is the gift of just being with. The truth is most of us, when things are going really badly, don’t expect our companions to fix it. But we do expect them to companion us … to be with us … to abide with us.
Jesus says “Love one another as I have loved you.” and then he talks about his continuing love in terms of abiding. Loving each other and the world that way is one of the greatest ways we can live, one of the truest ways we can follow Jesus. Whom can you abide with today? Whom can you ask to “abide with me?”
The Dude is called an antihero, a slacker. But the Dude gets presence, and so does God.
We could learn something from both of them.
Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday.
Collect for Sunday Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.
Mike Kinman is the Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena. “Gnaw on This” is a weekly publication.