Sermon Seeds: Coming to You
Sunday, May 14, 2023
Sixth Sunday of Easter | Year A
(Liturgical Color: White)
Listen to the Podcast
Acts 17:22-31 • Psalm 66:8-20 • 1 Peter 3:13-22 • John 14:15-21
Coming to You
Unfailing Love (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl A. Lindsay
What does love look like? According to Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Some hold the old cliche, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” as truth about love. Love as a verb reflects the idea that love is action—demonstrated, and realized. The Beatles told us, “All we need is love. Love is all we need.” An established tenet of the Christian faith asserts that God is love.” That’s good news.
Jesus spoke on love extensively and robustly. When asked to identify the greatest commandment, Jesus did not choose one. He distilled them all into one with two parts: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. In the focus text, the linking of love and commandments continues to be an emphasis. John’s narrative does not quote from the Old Testament in the same way as the synoptic writers, but his allusions are clear if subversively introduced.
The gospel opens with the Prologue, which contains Jesus’ origin story. Unlike the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, with their subsequent genealogies, John defines Jesus as the eternal Word coming into the world. Jesus may have been birthed, but he was not new. The Word was with God in the beginning. John reminds us that Jesus participated in the creative acts delineated in Genesis 1; the Creator comes to us as creature in John’s account.
Further allusion to the divinity of Christ is found in the seven “I Am” statements, particular to John’s gospel:
“I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51)
“I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12)
“I am the gate.” (John 10:7,9)
“I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
“I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11, 14)
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
“I am the true vine.” (John 15:1, 5)
These statements remind us of the encounter that Moses has with the Holy One at the burning bush. When Moses asks, God’s name, the Holy One, instructs Moses to identify God as “I AM.” As Jesus declares himself with these “I am” statements, he amplifies the name given to Moses. The Word expands the revelatory aspect of his mission in the world. In these statements, Jesus not only points toward God, he asserts his divine nature.
John intends for his audience to know and understand the Word as Jesus and Christ—the human and the divine—the promise maker and the promise fulfilled. (In addition to these statements, the seven signs also support this claim.) In this section of the gospel, the Book of Glory, Jesus shares the Farewell Discourses. Unlike the Sermon on the Mount or Plain found in Matthew and Luke or the pithy parables shared in all the synoptics, John recounts long expository reflections and teachings from Jesus. John 14 is firmly situated within the Farewell Discourses of the Book of Glory in John’s gospel.
The material contained in John 13–17 is unique to this Gospel. The underlying perspective of the farewell discourse is different from the first half of John’s Gospel, which narrates Jesus’ ministry to the Jews, with his followers playing only a minor role as disciples of Rabbi Jesus. The farewell discourse, on the other hand, presents Jesus’ mission to the world, based on his cross-death and carried out through his followers in the power of the Spirit. The underlying assumption is that Jesus has been exalted; thus, he will answer prayer offered in his name, send his Spirit and direct the mission of his followers, and take his disciples into the loving and unified Father-Son relationship. The disciples have risen from lowly helpers to partners in ministry.
Andreas J. Köstenberger
In part, the focus text reads as a commissioning in the vague way that Jesus communicates in John as opposed to the more explicit commissions found in Matthew and Luke’s Acts of the Apostles or even found later in John 20. The repetition of the theme of mutual abiding resonates in this preparatory discourse, in the prayer in the garden (John 17), and the post-resurrection commissioning (John 20). The farewell discourse prepares the disciples for the dual departures of Jesus–first the temporary one following his death and then the permanent one following his ascension. In the latter, the separation is physical only as the promise of the Spirit tempers the pain of loss with expectation of a new way of being and abiding.
In the first half of this Gospel, John’s treatment of the Spirit has largely resembled that of the Synoptics. Like them, he included the Baptist’s reference to Jesus as the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:32–33; cf. Mark 1:8 pars.) and emphasized that the Spirit in all his fullness rested on Jesus during his earthly ministry (1:32; 3:34; cf. Luke 4:18). Moreover, John stressed the Spirit’s role in regeneration (3:5, 6, 8; cf. 1:12–13), worship (4:23–24), and the giving of life (6:63). But as in John’s presentation of Jesus’ followers, his adoption of a post exaltation vantage point leads to a vastly enhanced portrayal in the farewell discourse, where the Spirit is featured primarily as the παράκλητος ( paraklētos , helper, advocate [14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7])  and as “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13), two closely related terms….Just as Jesus is portrayed everywhere in John’s Gospel as the Sent One who is fully dependent on and obedient to the Father, so the Spirit is said to be “sent” by both the Father and Jesus (14:26; 15:26) and to focus his teaching on the illumination of the spiritual significance of God’s work in Jesus (14:26; 15:26; 16:9).
Andreas J. Köstenberger
The mutual abiding means as the Source sends the Word and the Spirit, the Word and Spirit send the disciples, who will transition from students to teachers, followers to leaders, and apprentices to partners. Leadership transitions do not occur often in the New Testament. Again, John’s account is reminiscent of Old Testament writings, particularly found in the Pentateuch (or the first five books of the Bible). At nearly every point of transition of patriarchal and matriarchal leadership, God renews the covenant first implied with Adam and Eve, generally articulated with Noah and his family, and fully revealed with Abraham and Sarah. The covenantal promise can be distilled, as Jesus seems to do here, with the promise of abiding presence. It was renewed explicitly with Isaac and Jacob. Even as Joshua ascends to leadership following the death of his mentor, Moses, and prepares to lead the people into the Promised Land, God assures him with the promise,
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
Jesus echoes the same sentiment in the remarks contained in the passage with the assurance that he is “coming to you.” Of course, his presence will be mediated by the Spirit in the future.
It’s important to note that John did not write to the community at the times these events took place. Rather, he wrote decades later to a community far removed from the immediacy of these actions and in the midst of persecution and theological dispersal. He crafted his message not as a reporter but as an apostle and commentator. His structure and narrative speak to a people in need of both hope and assurance not only that these events happened but also that Jesus had not abandoned them. If Jesus were not God but only a perfect human being as some were coming to believe, his physical absence would have been a permanent departure rather than a transition in form. John’s gospel presents the ministry of Jesus in alignment with the experience of the disciples who lived at the time of his writing:
John identifies the manifestations of the Spirit in the midst of persecutions and trials in the disciples’ mission (as in the Synoptic Gospels) with Jesus’ ministry. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is described as under trial; John seems to say that the persecution his community presently suffers is comparable to Jesus’ own trial. Through this identification, Jesus is standing for the community. Through these shared circumstances of persecution and harassment, the community and Christ become one through the Paraclete. Thus the Paraclete is the Spirit that leads the community to concentrate on life here and now. God’s history and future plans are manifested in their life, burdened with persecution and missionary work. Here and now, in the life of the community, the past and the future are integrated. The Paraclete transformed the present time (in which the community experienced the presence of Christ amid its persecutions) into God’s time (an eschatological time).
John’s gospel begins with eternity and never departs from it despite transitory circumstances. Through it all, love is the tether that holds it all together. Jesus begins this portion of his speech by asserting that to love him is to keep his commandments. Well, his commandments are to love. To love Jesus is to love God and neighbor as yourself. To love Jesus is to abide in God and to have God abide in you and to abide in one another. That is what love looks like: the Holy One coming to you.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“He asked if I had planned to live in the North. I said I didn’t know, and he said Louisiana is where I belong. That I should think about being here and being who I am.”
“And have you?” I wasn’t sure if I could bear to hear his answer. I already knew I wouldn’t live anywhere that wasn’t Catalpa Valley. I wanted this dirt always beneath my feet, the sounds of pelicans and bullfrogs in my ears. I craved the rhythm of the land’s seasons, of planting and harvesting. If Christian didn’t want to live here, I could not follow him.
He seemed to know what I was thinking and took my hands. “I have never felt more like myself than I do here,” he said. “And I’m bound and determined to live as who I am. I will be here, and I will be who I am.”
–Sophifonia Scott (Wild, Beautiful, and Free: A Novel)
For Further Reflection
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”— Elie Wiesel
“The tide of hope approaches us and recedes from us as we stand on the mortal shore – some of us wait for it to arrive, some chase after it, but we all vanish into the sunset and our footprints in the sand fade in time. The feet of infants replace ours, and the dance of the tide commences anew.” ― Stewart Stafford
“Some people come and go and are forgotten. But there are other people who share a part in our destinies. They come, they go, but they are never forgotten. They come, they go, but even after they go… they’re still here. They never really went anywhere.” ― C. JoyBell C.
Köstenberger, Andreas J.. John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2013.
Park, Kyung-mi. “John.” Daniel Patte, Ed. Global Bible Commentary. Nashville: Abington Press, 2004.
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
Invite the gathered community to consider the question: Who needs your faith community to come to them with an abiding presence?
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (email@example.com), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
Acts 17:22-31 • Psalm 66:8-20 • 1 Peter 3:13-22 • John 14:15-21
Find the full text here: https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=44