If ye love me, keep my commandments (St. John 14:15).
There is a beautiful simplicity to our Lord’s definition of love this morning. Compare Christ’s words to a recent article in Psychology Today: “Love is bigger than you are. You can invite love, but you cannot dictate how, when, and where love expresses itself. You can choose to surrender to love or not, but in the end, love strikes like lightning: unpredictable and irrefutable. …Love does not come with conditions, stipulations, addenda, or codes. Like the sun, love radiates independently of our fears and desires.” How many people would agree with this therapist and her amateur philosophizing rather than Jesus? How many self-identified Christians would much rather believe in this mash-up of metaphysical gibberish instead of the clear concise revelation that true love always begins with obedience to God? I only share this quote because it perfectly encapsulates the utterly and completely disordered reality our chaotic world holds out to us as normal. We read here that, somehow, we are all sovereign, all perfectly in control of our lives, but, if we want, there is this swirling, abstract force called “love” we can tap into; a force which just happens to be a cheerleader for the selfishness which ruins lives and corrodes souls.
Do we really want a formless, shapeless love whose only rule is, “Do what feels right?” What if our feelings and emotions and desires themselves are infected by the same poisonous air which prepares and nurtures people to commit whatever acts of evil we don’t like? Isn’t that a much more reasonable assessment of human performance through the ages than the adult fairy tale which begins with the heedless following of our desires and ends with a page reading, “And they lived happily ever after?” The Son of God knows us, and He knows only too well our epic, centuries long failure to truly love God and one another, and so He sets down a simple definition of love which should drive us to our knees in repentance and supplication and hope. We learn here that love is not defined by the unreliable whirlpool of our emotions or the semi-regular sexual revolutions of the bored and privileged; no, any real understanding of love must center on real action directed toward the God who is Love. That is tremendously good news; love is not some unfeeling force as indifferent to us as a hurricane or a tornado; rather, true love is personal because love is an attribute of the personal God. God’s love, the love we are called to share in through our sacrifice and obedience to His will, becomes about so much more that desire or pleasure or security—real love is always about salvation, always about re-directing the confused and lost human soul back toward the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Recognize that this divinely revealed reality changes all of our relationships for the better. Our love for our children stops being dependent on a biological imperative or whether or not they call us on Mother’s Day, and instead, is grounded in facilitating a stronger eternal relation between us and God. Our love for our spouse no longer rests on how they make us feel when the light hits them the right way or whether they’re a good earner, but instead, rests on a husband and wife’s mutual alliance to serve the living God until death tears us apart and God puts us back together again. The hard reality Jesus reveals is that we can’t ever really love without obeying God; we can’t really love anything unless our love is directed at the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Ghost. Any disordered love divorced from God may make life seem less horrible, it may make us smile or scream in passion, but it will inevitably fail to transcend the limits our fallenness puts on love. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy because their love—unmoored from God—wasn’t enough to transcend death; the play is a haunting classic because the same is true of all of us. The only thing capable of beating back the madness of a broken humanity is the Trinity’s rescue mission of love. The Father loves the world, and so He sends His only begotten Son to die for it; the Son loves the Father, and so He volunteers to die for our sins, and the Holy Spirit we celebrate today has come to give us new hearts to die to this world and live in the dangerous and radical and sacrificial love displayed by the Godhead—no matter the cost.
Again, Jesus knows us in a way our family and friends will never know us, and so He promises to guide us into truth and love through God the Holy Spirit. He knows focusing all of our love through obedience to God will be impossible without the Spirt of truth remaking our hearts, setting apart our souls and bodies for the great love which lies before us. The Holy Ghost has come into the chaos of our hearts in the same way He first moved over the creation—to create order and peace in the swirling madness; He has come into our hearts so that we might know God and begin to share in the dynamic, life-giving love of the Trinity. Jesus tells us that we shouldn’t be surprised when the world doesn’t organize itself around this assured hope, around the true love known in communion with God through the Holy Spirit. The world cannot order itself around this reality because the world “… neither sees Him nor knows Him.” This means Christians will always be dealing with people and organizations who are missing out on the key for understanding reality, the light which illuminates the dark room out of which philosophers and scientists and non-profits and think tanks and political parties are all trying to escape. These men and women might be able to tell us fascinating and interesting details about the room, they might be able to give us its dimensions or chemical makeup or how to divvy up the space more equitably—all kinds of fascinating and life-enriching details which truly showcase the glory of the room’s creator—but humanity will never escape the darkness we have made except through the light of Christ made known to us through the Holy Spirit. He is the One making us more and more like the Christ who has forever established Himself as the standard for what is real in the world by claiming to be the way, the truth, and the life. One doesn’t have to accept that standard, but this freedom is simply the freedom to continue to live in darkness: to be a slave of false choice. Truth, just like love, is not a thing to be conquered or consumed; rather, it is something to be received and obeyed and learned through a life of discipleship—a life of sacrifice in service to the greatness which stands behind everything. It is this work which the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Advocate has come to offer the humble, penitent souls chosen to help save the world. As we read in Isaiah, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3).
And so, it is right that we celebrate the Holy Spirit and the church which would not stand without Him, but do we really appreciate the church God has given us? Do we appreciate it the way a ship-wreck survivor might appreciate the wooden beam he clung to until the rescue boats came, or do we appreciate it in the same way we appreciate a good Kroger they built next to our house? Do we love the church because our God has chosen its thin walls and weak men, its tap water and cheap wine to confound the world and challenge us to cling to the eternal realities which only God can provide, or do we go to church to follow the “good person” checklist we are doomed never to complete? The answer to those questions can only be found in the sacrificial love we obediently display within these walls, within our homes, and within the false temples of God’s enemies. To quote Anglican Archbishop William Temple, “When we pray ‘Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,’ we had better know what we are about. He will not carry us to easy triumphs and gratifying successes; more probably He will set us to some task for God in the full intention that we shall fail, so that others, learning wisdom by our failure, may carry the good cause forward. He may take us through loneliness, desertion by friends, apparent desertion even by our God…He may drive us into wilderness to be tempted of the devil. He may lead us from the Mount of Transfiguration to the hill that is called the Place of the Skull. For if we invoke Him, it must be to help us in doing God’s will, not ours. We cannot call upon the ‘Creator Spirit, by whose aid the world’s foundations were laid’ in order to use omnipotence for the supply of our futile plans. If we invoke Him, we must be ready for the glorious pain of being caught by His power out of our petty orbits into the eternal purposes of the Almighty, in whose outward sweep our lives are as a speck of dust. The soul that is filled with the Spirit must have become purged of all pride or love of ease, all self-complacence and self-reliance; but that soul has found the only real dignity, the only lasting joy. Come then, Great Spirit, come. Convict the world; and convict my timid soul.”