In the Gospel lesson this week, Jesus is getting ready to say farewell to his followers. The disciples had been chosen and called, they had left everything behind to follow Jesus, and now Jesus is preparing them for his arrest, the trials, the beatings, the mockery, the long journey to the cross and the crucifixion itself. In the flow of John’s story, it is Maundy Thursday evening. Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet and shared his last supper with them. Soon, they will leave the upper room for Gethsemane, the site of Jesus’ arrest. Now, he is instructing them; preparing them for his impending death and for life without their master. For us, though, Jesus’ words also help us to understand how to live out the resurrection. In fact, Jesus and Paul show us what it means to “Live Relationship.”
I Live (adj) Relationship with God
How do we Live Relationship? It begins with having a “live” relationship with God. Jesus tells his friends,
All who love me will do what I say. My father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Jn 14.23
The words “make our home” mean much more than coming by for a visit, or bringing over some meat to grill on the barbecue. This is moving in. This is taking up residence. This is total commitment. When Jesus takes those scruffy followers, looks them square in the eyes and says, “Look, those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them,” Jesus is talking about a new hope for a new life for every one of them. And it is that kind of home that causes every last one of the eleven faithful disciples to go to the wall for Christ.
As we explore this sort of “Live” relationship with God, we have some questions to consider. What kind of home do we have? Now, I’m not asking for square feet. I’m asking about solid footing in Christ. What’s your spiritual home like? Do you love Christ? Really, do you love Christ?
Are you keeping the Word? Is what God has to say to you feeding your life every day?
Do you know that God loves you? Really, not in some button-slogan, cheesy, mile-long-and-inch-thick kind of way, but do you know that God sacrificed his son Jesus for your sake so that you could live with hope and assurance of new life?
Do you know that? If we do, then we have a live relationship with God! This “Live” relationship is grounded in an awareness of God and Jesus making their home in us. A “Live” relationship is one that is regularly being nurtured and fed and stretched; one that is growing and changing over time.
This contrasts sharply with a “dead” spiritual relationship. Jesus saved some of his harshest criticism for the religious leaders whose faith was like whitewashed tombs (Mt 23.27) pretty on the outside, but full of rot and decay on the inside. Dead relationship is one that is based only on the past: baptized and went to Sunday School as a kid, but haven’t been to a class or worked in ministry since.
III Live (vb) Relationship with Each Other
How do we Live Relationship? It starts by having a “live” relationship with God. It continues as we Live Relationship with each other.
One of the greatest spiritual challenges nowadays is being isolated from one another. We live in a world and culture where people are more technologically connected than ever before, but we seem to still be lonely. Email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest all have their purposes, but we aren’t pulled out of the isolation by electronic means.
You can see this another way by looking at the drivers on the road during rush hour. Thousands of people, going in the same direction on the same road at the same time, but each trapped in his or her own little compartment, not speaking, not smiling, not relating to another human being. And no, gesturing to another driver as they cut you off doesn’t count. Neither does talking to someone on your cell phone!
A sociologist named Phillip Koon did an experiment in which he picked 600 names at random from phone directories around the country, and sent all 600 of them Christmas cards. These were all perfect strangers, people he had never met before. In response, he received 117 Christmas cards, most with letters telling all about children and pets and events of the past year. One person wrote, “It was so good to hear from you because we see so little of you any more.” Others proposed getting together during their vacation next summer.
It’s a funny story, but tragic, too. Tragic that so many people are so incredibly lonely that they respond so eagerly to a greeting from a total stranger. But it’s tragic because it reflects us!
I suspect there isn’t a person among us this morning who hasn’t known, at one time or another, the gnawing feeling of loneliness; of isolation. There are old friends who have moved away; loved ones who have died; neighbors whom we’ve never met.
Of course we are not the first people to experience loneliness! King David knew about it – the Psalms echo with his agony:
I lie awake on my bed, I am like a lonely bird on a housetop . . . Turn to me and be gracious, for I am lonely and afflicted. Ps 102.7
Jesus knew about it – he died alone, wondering if even God had forsaken him. The disciples knew about it, too. That very night they felt the pain that comes when a close friend is leaving; and after the crucifixion, they huddled in their room, lonely, empty, aching from grief. Feeling alone can be a profoundly difficult thing to experience. And this is what we may fear most.
But Jesus’ promises mean that we will not be alone.
John in our gospel reading: Jesus, gives his disciples of every age the gift of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit who would give us a quality of peace in our lives unlike anything the world can give.
Paul, in our reading from Romans: gifts of the Holy Spirit are for the building up of the community / empowerment for ministry rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and grieve with those who are grieving when God’s people are in need, be ready to help them – social service activities in Roman world were a visible witness of how the early believer’s lived the resurrection in their daily lives. food distribution to the poor (Acts 6.1-7); caring for the widows / orphans when no one else would.
We “live relationship with God” as we rest in the relationship God desires for us and establishes with us through the life, death and resurrection of his son, Jesus. We “live” relationship with each other as we discover and use the Spiritual gifts God gives us to build up our church community, and to serve our neighbors, to draw them into the same “live” relationship with God that we share.