“A Common Motive”
21 May 2017 – The Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
”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.”
I drive a lot;
About twenty-thousand miles a year by last count.
To make my time in the driver’s seat as productive as possible,
I listen to podcasts;
Short, recorded shows
Produced by people from all walks of life.
Listening to podcasts is how I stay up to date on technology,
Economics and public policy,
Religion and theology,
And, yes, even politics.
One of my favorite podcasts
Comes from the category of economics and public policy:
The non-fiction book upon which the podcasts draws its origin
Is described as follows:
“A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything.”
I highly recommend the book “Freakonomics”
And listening to the weekly podcasts.
Recently, the show host, Steven Dubner,
Interviewed Seth Stephens-Davidowitz,
Who has been doing extensive, life-long research about
What can be learned about human behavior
From the big data behind internet searches.
Stephen J. DUBNER: Here’s a question: how many men are gay?
Seth STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ: About 5 percent.
DUBNER: Does advertising work?
DUBNER: Why was American Pharoah a great racehorse?
STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ: Big left ventricle.
DUBNER: Is the media biased?
STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ: Yeah, it gives you what you want to read.
DUBNER: Are Freudian slips real?
DUBNER: Who cheats on their taxes?
STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ: Everybody who knows how to cheat.
One of his most startling conclusions
Is that people lie.
People lie a lot.
“People just are in such a habit of lying in their day-to-day life,
People lie to their partners or their kids or their parents,
That these behaviors carry over to surveys.”
Surveys cannot be trusted.
But the data behind internet searches can.
Lying is a problem.
Based on my own behavior and experience,
I intuitively thought that lying was a bigger problem than is publicly acknowledged.
Stephens-Davidowitz research confirms my beliefs.
Rarely have I spoken about this
Because I know I represent bits and pieces of data points,
And doing so amounts to a public confession.
Like the rest of us,
I have no defense.
Repentance is the only life-line I cling to,
Vowing to do better day by day.
Lying, of course, is a violation of the Ten Commandments
Handed down by God to his subject, Moses,
Speaking “face to face at the mountain, out of the fire.”
- Deuteronomy 5:4
The eighth commandment reads
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
- Exodus 20:16
It sits right there between thou shall not steal,
And neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.
Bearing false witness,
Is a violation of one of God’s many laws.
We might believe we don’t do it,
But big data suggests otherwise.
Our Gospel lesson for today begins with Jesus
Teaching his disciples,
And by extension, teaching us today, that
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
- John 14:15
Did you just feel the chill sweep across the room?
“Well of course we love Jesus!
Why else would we be here?” we protest.
Besides, “just who are you, Pastor Todd, to suggest otherwise?”
(I am nobody,
Other than a plain parish pastor
Calling my people to abide in Jesus Christ)
Frankly, I had not considered the revolutionary nature of
Jesus’ farewell discourse, in general,
Or this aspect of it, in specific:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
I had not thought about it much
Up until this past week.
I was content to leave these vital words of Jesus
To be confined to the funeral liturgy,
Where most of us pastors prefer to keep them safely tucked away.
However, this 14th chapter of the Gospel of John
Invites us to consider more deeply
The role of commandments and law
In the lives of the faithful.
When it comes to God’s commandments in the Bible,
An easy way to describe them is like this:
There are the Father’s commandments
And there are Jesus’ commandments.
Our Father, who created all things,
Commanded Adam not to eat of the apple.
He did anyways,
Ushering sin into the world.
To cleanse the world,
God sent the flood and spared Noah and his family,
Leaving the rainbow as a sign of a covenant between God and humankind
That God will never destroy humankind again.
Divine destruction is out.
God loved his children and doesn’t want to see them destroyed.
God was all about making a new plan.
To establish his Lordship of all,
God made covenant with Abram,
Who he renamed, Abraham,
Promising him, in short,
“I will be your God and you shall be my everlasting people.”
- see Genesis 17:5b-8
In a sweet deal,
God even promised to set aside land just for Abraham’s offspring.
Yet, our ancestors, Abraham’s offspring
Were a grumbling, backsliding sort of rascals,
Like most of us here today.
Divine destruction was off the table,
(remember Noah and the rainbow?)
So instead, the Lord gave to Moses to give to the people,
That all might live in peace,
Share in a just society,
And live in love and fidelity with God.
The Ten Commandments
Are deeply rooted in our Father’s love
And His desire for the best for His creation.
Yes, there are many other commandments in the Old Testament.
But, let me be crystal clear:
These “lesser commandments” are priestly extrapolations
Of God’s original;
Written, edited, and established over later generations.
You thought following the original ten was hard?
Just add in the following 611.
Go with the genuine;
Stick with the original ten!
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus said.
Then, there are commands that Jesus compliments
With His Father’s original ten.
Pay close attention to these, for they are directly from the Gospels.
Weigh them carefully,
And follow the words of Jesus
As a direct command from God’s lips to our ears.
One. Love the Lord, your God.
- Matthew 22:37
Any explanation needed?
With all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Simply love God.
Two. Love one another.
- John 13:34
Any explanation needed?
Love your neighbors because
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
– John 13:35
Love your neighbors.
Three. As often as you eat and drink together,
Do so in the memory of Jesus.
- 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Holy Communion reminds us that Jesus
Gave his body and blood for us,
That we might proclaim his death, resurrection, and return.
Is a gift of love.
Eat. Drink. Love.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Do you see a common motive developing here?
Can you see a common theme?
John reminds us about God’s love
In the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus:
“For God so love the world that he gave his only Son,
So that everyone who believes in him may not perish
But may have eternal life.”
- John 3:16
God’s punishment, drowning, death, and destruction
Is so Old Testament,
The Book of Genesis is never to be repeated again.
The Gospel’s lens
Is about God loving the world,
Giving the world the gift of His Son,
Saving all who believe,
Gifting all eternal life.
Jesus is a gift of love.
If it were merely about adherence to God’s commandments
Both the Father’s and the Son’s,
We each fail the righteousness test.
Remember, we all lie?
(Let’s not even think about starting a tally of our sins)
The former way to be made righteous
Was to be ceremoniously cleaned
and to make your animal sacrifice at the altar.
But, God is clear as a bell,
Speaking through the prophets Isaiah and Amos
Saying that he has tired of our sacrifices.
He doesn’t want them.
They don’t work anymore.
It is the Apostle Paul who wraps up our Gospel for us this morning,
In his letter to the church in Rome, when he writes:
“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ.”
- Romans 3:21-23
Good behavior has been replaced by Jesus Christ
As the only means of righteousness possible.
Jesus is our righteousness.
He makes our failures right.
He corrects our wrong turns and poor choices.
By his blood,
We are made clean.
Righteousness under the law leads to death.
We can never achieve perfection,
And the former ways of righteousness
Just don’t do it for God anymore.
God has given us a better way forward.
God has given us Jesus.
Jesus is a gift of love.
His love is a sign of the grace
God gives to us
Each and every day.
If you abide in God’s love, then you live in God’s grace.
And grace as a gift from Jesus leads to life.
I think about this a lot
As I consider the trajectory of the Church, in general,
And the United Methodist church, in particular.
We are a people organized by the efforts of John Wesley,
An English Rector who spearheaded
An evangelical revival in England and the American colonies.
In the past 300 years,
We have developed a unique Wesleyan culture.
We are Christians who have a great history of leading with grace.
Recognizing God’s love through Jesus Christ
Is the only way any of us can be
Redeemed, perfected, or be made righteous.
We can trust in ourselves, and fail.
Or we can place our trust in Jesus Christ,
And be made righteous.
A church anchored by moral adherence,
Is relegated to the rusting junkyard of decline and demise.
But a church anchored by faith
In the grace of God through Jesus Christ,
Is one that places love front and center.
A church anchored by faith
Is one that is filled with life!
Spirit filled life!
Love becomes our common motive.
Love is our DNA.
And there is nothing of this world
That can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ;
God’s gift of righteousness
To you and me.
Beloved, friends and neighbors.
Continue to lead with grace.
And leave the rest up to God.