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If You Love Me

John 10:11-18

The Rev. Jon Roberts

6 May

2012

Grace Episcopal Church

Monroe, LA

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, 15 as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.”

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The Exhortation of the Apostles, James Tissot 1886-1894

If you love me, keep my commandments. We hear our Lord speak these choice words in our Gospel today.[1] If only, if only, we could keep his commandments.

Albert Einstein once said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the universe.” What if we failed to keep Jesus’ commandments? What if our Good News this morning instead was this: “If you love me, it’s alright to cut out my commandments.” How comforting to make life a little easier.

In 1922 the Episcopal Church proposed to do a little cutting. It was a very controversial moment for our national Church. There was a growing number of outspoken Clergy and Laity alike who thought long and hard about doing this. The article in the New York Times was written in April of 1922. The article read, “Ask Church to Cut Ten Commandments.” Apparently the Episcopal Commission on Book of Common Prayer requested General Convention to curtail the ritual of reciting the amplification sayings, for the Ten Commandments. The reason, they say, was to shorten the time of Holy Communion. The liturgy simply went on too long and needed some revision. Afterall, they had to beat the Baptists to the Piccadilly for lunch.

Here are the first two examples:
Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them; for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and show mercy unto thousands in them that love me and keep my commandments. Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.
Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all that thou hast to do; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God. In it thou shalt do no manner of work; thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, thy cattle, and the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it. Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.

The initial excuse for cutting out the commandments is that, “We get it.” “Let’s now move on with life.” The longer message by the Church, amplified in that ancient ritual is no longer necessary to today’s times, some say. This is where human stupidity enters in. This is where human arrogance is manifested. For the sake of brevity, we cut corners. All we have done is to make the inroads toward worshipping other images. By shortening our time in church, we simply reposition our time elsewhere. Why is it for so many that Church on Sunday is an obligation, yet hours spent on the field of sports, the libraries of education, the resort clubs of relaxation and the hammock in the backyard, are justified and preferred? Perhaps it makes life easier, more comfortable, this way? From sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday, only the Lord shall we worship. Only the Lord shall we devote our humanity. So how do we deal with this in our busy schedules? What is the solution to this problem so that we are inclined to keep His commandments? First, don’t say one thing and do another. ]

One day, a woman pulled up to a red light behind another car. The driver of the car in front of her was talking on his cell phone, and shuffling through some papers on the seat beside him. The light turned green, but the man didn't notice. The woman began pounding on her steering wheel and yelling at the man to move. The man still didn't move. The woman went ballistic inside her car, ranting and raving at the man, pounding on her steering wheel and dashboard. The light turned yellow. The woman blew the car's horn repeatedly, as she yelled and screamed curses at the man. The man finally noticed the commotion. He looked up, saw the yellow light, and accelerated through the intersection just as the light turned red. The woman was beside herself, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection. As she was still in mid-rant she heard a tap on her window and looked into the face of a very serious looking policeman.

The policeman told her to shut off her engine and step out of the car. The red-faced woman obeyed, speechless at what was happening. The policeman then arrested the woman and took her to the police station where she was booked and placed in a cell. After a couple of hours the woman was escorted back to the booking desk where the original officer was waiting with her personal effects. The policeman handed her the bag containing her things, and said, "I'm really sorry for this mistake. But you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn and screaming and cursing. Then I noticed the “Choose Life” license plate holder, the “Follow Me to Sunday School” bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally I assumed that you had stolen the car. Have a blessed day!"

If you love me, keep my commandments.[2] This is twofold. First, don’t say one thing and do another. Second, love the unlovable. The person that frustrates you. The person that ridicules and criticizes you. The person that is your complete opposite. You can blow the horn a little to get their attention, but don’t let it incline your heart to worry, to get frustrated or angry at them. The world in which we live is always touching humanity and it is always touching divinity. Like Einstein said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity;” whereas he was uncertain about the universe, we attest that God is in control of it.

What is more telling is that God loves us enough to be patient and true to His word. He continues to visit us by His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals the truth found in Jesus Christ. Jesus shows the way to the Father. By keeping God’s commandments to love Him and to love each other, we have it all in sync. This helps us avoid being bumper sticker Christians who don’t live up to what they advertise. The Holy Spirit will tap on the window from time to time of those who have lost touch, and to point them back to God. Those words cut out of the commands say God will visit the sins of the 3rd and 4th generations that “hate” Him. Those that are inclined to only follow their own self made pursuits, unattached to prayer and supplication, will be arrested in this life. They will find it hard to truly rejoice.
We are inclined to rejoice in keeping only God’s graven image, to keep the Sabbath holy, to resist coveting what others have, and finally, to rest in God’s love. We are inclined to do what we say, and we say what God wants us to do. Remember the words of our Lord who said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

[1] John 14:15
[2] 1 John 3:16-24

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