Scripture: John 14:15-21
One of the most common tropes found in Super Hero movies and comic books is the idea of a secret identity. The Super Hero’s non-heroic alter ego is often meant to be the last person that anyone would expect of being a crime fighter. Most super heroes wear some sort of mask or costume to hide their face and protect their identity, but one of the best known heroes does the opposite. Superman’s secret identity is mild mannered reporter Clark Kent, but when he needs to leap tall buildings in a single bound the way he switches to Superman is he removes his classes. That is the entirety of his disguise: put on a cape and remove his glasses. It has been a long standing complaint of Superman that somehow a single pair of glasses keep anyone from noticing that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. So of course psychologists did a scientific study in 2016 to see if glasses would be a good enough disguise. In this study participants were shown pictures of a variety of people in various poses and lighting conditions and asked if two pictures were of the same person or not. When the person was wearing glasses in one picture and not glasses in another picture the participants were less likely to identify the picture as the same person. The study concluded that even small changes to physical appearance can change our ability to recognize a person. So it might be a stretch that not a single person in all of Metropolis has ever put two and two together connecting Clark Kent and Superman, but the science does show glasses might be a more effective disguise than we have given them credit for.
Perhaps this should not surprise us. The idea that small changes can change our ability to recognize a person is something that has happened with our faith a lot. For over a century now, people have been obsessed with this idea of finding the real Jesus. There is an idea that by peeling back layers of tradition, scriptural interpretation, and cultural change that someone can find an understanding of Jesus that is more authentic than any other understanding of Jesus. This was an especially popular exercise for religious scholars and theologians in the nineteenth and early 20th century. They would emphasize a different aspect of Jesus’ culture or really focus on a specific set of scriptures. The problem is when these learned men went looking for the real Jesus what they tended to find was a version of Jesus that most agreed with what they wanted Jesus to be. This is still a problem today. For instance the political lobbyist group American Family Association has an article on their website entitled “Jesus was a capitalist”. Meanwhile the Huffpost website has a 2017 op-ed article entitled “Jesus was a socialist.” This is all despite the fact that as a first century Jewish man Jesus could not define capitalism or socialism because the concepts had not been conceived yet. Emphasizing small differences can completely change how once understands and sees Jesus. Mike Slaughter, United Methodist pastor at Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio, matter of factly points this problem out in his book Renegade Gospel. Slaughter wrote: “Let’s be honest. Most of us have taken the Jesus of history and recreated him in our own cultural, political, ideological, theological, and denominational bubble.” Given that, how do we ensure the Jesus we know, is the real Jesus and not an idolatrous Jesus of our own creation? This morning’s scripture helps give some guidance on how we can find Jesus.
This morning’s scripture is the direct continuation of the scripture we considered last week. I realize that some of you might not have been here, and those who were you might have slept once since then, so here is a brief recap of where we are. This scripture comes from what is referred to as the last supper discourse. These are Jesus’ last words to his closest disciples on the night before the crucifixion. In these final words, Jesus is direct and is trying to relay to the disciples what they need to know before he is gone. Last week, we read the first fourteen verses and one of the major things that Jesus emphasized in those verses was his relationship with God the Father. He stated that he is so connected to God the Father that he is in the Father and the Father is in him, so that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
This morning we picked right where we left off with verse 15. In this morning’s scripture Jesus continues to develop the connection that exist not just between him and the Father, but between him and the Spirit. Jesus promises his disciples that the Holy Spirit will come and be in them. Because the Spirit is in them, Jesus says, the disciples will be able to more fully grasp the relationship Jesus has with God the Father, and then get us to verse 21: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
It seems for far too long we have had it backwards. We go looking to find Jesus, and in doing so more often than not we try to find ways to get Jesus to fit in the boxes we want him to fit in. There are no shortage of instances that can be lifted up of people proof-texting scripture, of taking it out of context, and applying it in a way that it supports what they want to support. This is not the way to find Jesus, and it has never been the way to find Jesus. We do not need to go and find Jesus, because as this morning’s scripture states He will show himself to us. Jesus also explains how this will happen. He will show himself to whoever has his commands and keeps them.
This naturally leads to the question what are the commands of Jesus? That unfortunately is not the easiest of questions to answer. For instance, Jesus did state at one point that he did not come to abolish the law, the Old Testament commands, but to fulfill them. Then biblical commentators will bicker and nitpick exactly what teachings of Jesus rise to the level of commands. Instead of getting lost in those weeds, we can on a common denominator that just about everyone can agree on. In multiple gospels we find two commands that Jesus lifts up as the most important. In fact he says the entirety of the law, all of the other, Old Testament commands, as well as the message of all the prophets hangs on these two commands. These two commands are Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. So while we might be able to find a lot of different lists lifting up different scriptures of what Jesus actually commanded, these two are on all of them.
As followers of Christ one of our major priorities in life is to ensure that we are following Jesus, the real Jesus and not a caricature of our savior that looks like us and happens to endorse all of the talking point of our political party of choice. The most effective way to find Jesus is to keep his commands, because if we are doing that then Jesus will show himself to us. The very act of keeping the commands to love will make Jesus evident. In order to know that we have found Jesus in our lives, in order to have a blessed assurance that we know our savior, that we know God the father, and we have the Holy Spirit in our lives then we need to keep Jesus’ commands to love. Love God and love neighbor; If a preacher only ever preached on two topics then those are the two topics that they might never run out of material on. Anything I could add to that is only scratching the surface, but I do think there is a point about each of those commands that is most relevant to the idea of finding Jesus.
When we seek to love our neighbors as ourselves, then we will find Jesus because we will be doing exactly what Jesus was doing. Our scripture reading this week and last came from the fourteenth chapter of John, but in the fifteenth chapter Jesus defines what it is to love, “Greater love has none than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” On the cross Jesus gave us the ultimate example of love. When we love others in a way where we give sacrificially of ourselves to meet their needs. We love others in a way where we take time to notice them because they are worth noticing. We love someone like Jesus when we show them compassion and understanding without prerequisite. We love someone like Jesus when instead of making someone earn respect we respect someone’s dignity because they are a person of sacred worth.
When we love others in this way then Jesus is revealed not only to us but through us. Singer/song writer expresses how this happens in his song Less Like Me. When he sings, “Lord help me be a little more like mercy, a little more like grace. A little more like kindness, goodness, love and faith. A little more like patience, a little more like peace. A little more like Jesus, a little less like me.” When we love like Jesus loves, then we find Jesus as we become more like him. We choose who our friends are, and we largely choose who we recognize as a neighbor worth loving. On the cross Jesus chose the whole world. In following Jesus, may we be willing to stretch our circle a little wider and included those we may not be currently including.
Turning to the other command of love, the command to love God, this morning’s scripture gives us insight in how we can keep that command as well. As verse 20 states, “You will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me, and I am in you.” When we love Jesus, we fulfill the command to love God because Jesus is in the father and the father is in him, Jesus is God. The command is to love God with all of heart, all of our mind, all our soul-with our whole being. Once again I think musicians have best captured what it means to love Jesus with our whole being. Give me Jesus is a hauntingly beautiful song that arose out of the African Spiritual tradition. The first verse goes: In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus. Give me Jesus, give me Jesus, You may have all this world, Give me Jesus.
To love Jesus with our whole being, is to love Jesus more than anything this world has to offer. To love Jesus with our whole being is to say “Influence, power, privilege, prosperity, security, comfort- you may have it all, just give me Jesus. Give me Jesus. If our desire to know Jesus is that great, is that important to us, is worth that much to us then I have every confidence that we will without a doubt find Jesus.
A young pastor once asked Mother Teresa what advice you have to offer a young preacher. She said “Preach Jesus, the true Jesus, the real Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, and not a Jesus of people’s imaginations.” The world needs Jesus. People who are lost, hopeless, and staring into the abyss of death need to know the messiah who has defeated death. The world is full of people desperate for redemption and craving the freedom that only forgiveness can offer. The world needs Jesus. The true Jesus, the real Jesus, the resurrected Jesus. We need to stop looking for caricatures of Jesus, the Jesus of our political ideologies, and instead let Jesus show himself. May we keep the command of Jesus so that we find Jesus. May we find Jesus in how we love others, and may we find Jesus in how we forsake loving the world so that we can better love him. May we find Jesus, so that even though the world does not see him, they can see us and we can introduce the world to the savior it has long been trying to find.