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John 14. 15-21

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TITLE:  God Made Visible               SCRIPTURE:  John 14:15-21

How do you know that someone loves you?  One way is to hear that person say, "I love you."  That isn't completely reliable, of course, because fakes and phonies know how to use "I love you" to manipulate and control.  But hearing "I love you" is a nice start.

Another way of knowing that someone loves you is to see how they act in your presence.  Do they seem glad to see you?  Are they kind and gentle?  Do they say things that make you feel better or things that make you feel worse. 

A college student wrote to Jeanne Marie Laskas, the Reader's Digest advice columnist.  The student's parents want her to focus on her studies and not hold a job while she is in college, but her boyfriend makes her "feel lazy and childish" because she isn't working.  So what should she do?  Laskas responded, "A boyfriend who makes you feel lazy and childish is a good candidate for ex-boyfriend status."  Well said

Another way of knowing that someone loves you is by watching to see what they do to make your life better.  Maybe your father wasn't good about saying encouraging words.  Maybe you never heard him say, "I love you" or "Well done!"  But did get up and go to work every day?  Did he make sure that you had a roof over your head and food on the table?  He could have done better -- but he could have done worse.

You ladies might know that your husband loves you because he brings home flowers -- or a nice card.  What if he were to write you a love poem?  Wouldn't that be amazing!  How about this poem:

       How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

       I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

       My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

       For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

       I love thee to the level of everyday's

       Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

       I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

       I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

       I love thee with the passion put to use

       In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.

       I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

       With my lost saints! -- I love thee with the breath,

       Smiles, tears, of all my life! -- and, if God choose,

       I shall but love thee better after death.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a husband who would write a poem like that for you!  My guess is that you would fall down in astonishment if he did -- or even if he would memorize a love poem and recite it to you by candlelight.

But "How do I love thee?" (From Sonnets from the Portuguese) wasn't written by a man.  It was written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning for her husband, Robert.  Robert was a poet too, but it was Elizabeth who wrote "How do I love thee?"  So maybe if you want a beautiful love poem, maybe you'll just have to sit down and write one.

How do you know that someone loves you?  Jesus wanted his disciples to know the answer to that question, so he told them.  This is what Jesus said.  This is the standard by which he determines whether or not we love him.  He says:

      "If you love me,

      you will keep my commandments."

That's sweet and simple, isn't it! 

      "If you love me,

      you will keep my commandments."

So what did Jesus command us to do?  There were several things, but the big one in the Gospel of John is this.  Jesus said:

      "I give you a new commandment,

      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" (13:34-35).

The love that Jesus commanded was agape (uh-GAH-pay) love -- that was the Greek word in the original Biblical manuscripts -- agape.  Agape love isn't some sort of sentimental feeling, which is the way that we usually think of love.  Agape love is love in action.  Agape love is love that acts in loving ways toward the other person -- regardless of our feelings.  Jesus wasn't telling us to feel warm and fuzzy feelings for each other.  He was telling us to act in loving ways toward each other.  He was telling us to encourage each other -- to help each other -- to take care of each other.

When Jesus gave this commandment, he was talking to his disciples.  He was telling them to love each other.  Each disciple was to love the other disciples.  When we apply this commandment to ourselves, Jesus is commanding us to love the other Christians around us. 

- He was telling me to love you.

- He was telling you to love me. 

- He was telling you to love the person sitting next to you in the pew. 

- He was telling you to love the guy on your committee who never shuts up. 

- He was telling conservatives to love liberals and vice versa. 

- He was telling us to love our Christian brothers and sisters in Uganda -- and China --and Katmandu. 

And then he tells us why loving each other is so important.  He says:

      "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,

      if you have love for one another"

In other words, Jesus was saying that we can give outsiders a glimpse of the heavenly kingdom by acting like Christians.  He was saying that we can give people a glimpse of God's love when they see us loving each other -- helping each other -- taking care of each other.  And when people see us loving one another, they will want to get in on the action, because they too want to be loved. Our love for each other will draw them to us-- and to Christ.

It isn't always easy to love one another.  In every church, there will be people we don't like very well -- people with whom we disagree -- people who talk too much -- people who never help -- people with bad breath.  The church is made up of sinners, and it isn't easy to love sinners -- but that's what Jesus asked us to do.  If you want to know what you can give Jesus, he has told you what he wants.  He wants us to love one another -- to act in loving ways toward each other even when we don't like each other all that well.  He wants us to do that, because it's important.  He wants us to love each other, because that will help to grow the kingdom of God.

In her book, God in the Dark, Luci Shaw tells of standing at her window and looking west on a wintry Saturday afternoon.  The sun was low on the horizon, and snow covered the ground.  Then a strong wind came up and started blowing the loose snow.  Listen to how Luci Shaw described that.  She says: 

      The snow "made the wind visible in a curiously beautiful way,

      like a fast-moving river of light,

      with the snow dust catching and holding

      the glints from the sun."

That's a beautiful image, isn't it -- wind made visible by snow dust.  We can't see the wind, can we, but we can see its effects.  We can see wind move the limbs of trees.  We can see wind catch a flag and hold it out straight.  The moving limbs of trees aren't wind and don't look like wind, but we know that it is the wind that is moving them.  The flag blowing briskly isn't the wind and doesn't look like the wind, but we know that it is the wind that holds it out straight.

But the snow dust, glinting in the sun and caught up in the wind, is different.  When we see the snow dust caught up in the wind -- moving with the wind -- we are suddenly privileged to see something of the wind itself -- to see the shape of the wind -- to see its swirls -- its ups and downs.  The snow dust, at least for a moment, makes the invisible visible -- gives us a glimpse of something elemental that we are not usually privileged to see. 

When I read Luci Shaw's account of standing by that window and seeing the wind made visible, I found myself wishing that I could have been there -- wishing that I could have seen what she saw on that wintry Saturday.  But I also realized that I did see it in my mind -- in my imagination.  The picture that she created not only made that snowy wind visible in my mind then, but I can see it again today -- and I will see it again tomorrow. 

Then Luci Shaw went on to say something else.  She took that image of the snow dust in the wind and made something even more wonderful of it.  She said that God is made visible in the lives of people.  She says:

      "God shines on them

      and shows us in their lives

      the way the wind is blowing."

And so Jesus said,

      "I give you a new commandment,

      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" (13:34-35).

If we can bring ourselves to love each other -- to help each other -- to take care of each other -- our lives will be like snowflakes illuminated by the light of God -- moving toward the kingdom -- helping people to see God living in us -- drawing them to us and to God.

Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine UMH #369

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling  UMH #384

There's Within My Heart a Melody  UMH #380

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