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Posted on May 17, 2020 by Kathy Miller

Commandments  (6th Sunday of Easter)

 

I looked up the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” this week. I’ll get to why in a little bit. I wanted to see if “fake it ‘til you make it” had originated in the AA tradition, which is where I’ve heard it in connection most often. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is the idea that by imitating behaviors, those behaviors will at some point become natural to you. So, for example, if you are lacking confidence, you would try to act like you are confident and eventually you will really feel confident – or at least you won’t have to fake it as much.  What I found is that the version “fake it ‘til you make it” became popular in the United States in the 1970’s, but, there are variations of this idea throughout history going back as far as Aristotle’s who said, “to be a virtuous man, you must first act like a virtuous man.”

Which brings me to today’s scripture: Jesus’ big final speech in the upper room with the disciples.  He washed their feet and told them the greatest commandment is to love one another the way he has loved them.  In today’s passage, Jesus emphasizes this commandment by saying “if you love me, keep my commandment.”  A traditional interpretation of this is that in order to prove our love of Jesus, we must love one another.  In other words, to love one another is an order from Jesus, a mandate.

Which at first seems fine, even a reasonable request. Our first instinct is that we’d like to do that – we’d like to love people for Jesus.  But, as soon as we wade into the practice, it gets harder and much more complicated, very fast. We find ourselves asking for exceptions pretty quickly.  Like Jesus, maybe you didn’t mean all these people.  Maybe I can skip the people who have hurt me or people I think are strange? Surely there must be an exception for people who post terrible things on Facebook or believe things diametrically opposed to me?  There must be something else we can do about people who get on our very last nerve or people who make us uncomfortable? 

And then there is that whole love your enemies thing. Oof. But the commandment doesn’t offer exceptions.  So, then we might ask ourselves, well, can love be ordered?  Can we be commanded to love?  Isn’t love a feeling we either feel or we don’t?

Perhaps, we can be commanded to act like we love each other.  Imagine the child told “apologize to your brother for hitting him and tell him you love him too.” The child may say he loves his brother, but the tone he uses doesn’t feel all that genuine.  This translates to grown-ups, too.  When someone’s love isn’t genuine, when they are going through the motions, we can tell.  It is hard to fake real love. 

Which is why I was thinking about that “fake it ‘til you make it” approach this week.  Maybe, if we don’t feel love for some people, then perhaps we could try to manage something that looks like love by imitating Jesus’ actions. Jesus gave plenty of examples of what he thought love should look like.  Jesus loved by feeding and healing people; listening deeply to others; not judging people who were different from him; paying special attention to those being overlooked, ignored or seen as less than human.  He loved by calling those in power to care for the marginalized and poor and calling out practices that were corrupt.  He loved by being humble and compassionate and forgiving. So, we could pick any of those examples and do our best to act that way, whether or not we really feel the emotion of love. This is where the question, “what would Jesus do?” could be so helpful to us.  We could ask that question and then try to imitate the answer for ourselves, whether or not it is what we feel.

And likely, that would be worth quite a lot.  At the very least, it is a darn good place to start. I mean if everyone would try just this much – just trying to fake like we love each other - a lot might be different.  And there is evidence that loving action can sometimes lead to loving feelings. You really can sometimes fake it, ‘til you make it.

But the problem comes when we read past the first part of the commandment.  Jesus doesn’t just say “love one another.”  He says, “love one another, the way I have loved you.”  We’re supposed to love one another the way Jesus loves us.  And I don’t think most of us imagine Jesus faking love for us - just going through the motions.  I mean I can imagine Jesus giving me a serious eye roll now and then, but still, it’s rolling eyes in love.  But, ultimately, it is hard to imagine that the kind of love which causes someone to die willingly on a cross is an action rooted in anything but true love – the real emotion, a deep and committed love.  

But then this commandment just starts to feel impossible.  Doesn’t Jesus know we have found it easier to put up barriers?  That we don’t really like being vulnerable with others?  Does he not see our instinct to emphasize differences and get angry and hold grudges; be resentful and judge each other? 

It turns out, yes, Jesus does know this about us.  In fact, Jesus knows we cannot possibly do this alone, because he didn’t either.  Jesus was empowered with God’s Spirit within him and when it came time to leave this earth, his greatest gift to us was to leave the Spirit with us. 

Pastor David Lose writes: “Jesus uses a specific and distinct word to describe the Spirit in John’s Gospel: paracletos – literally, one who comes along side you… perhaps its most literal translation is simply “advocate,” the one who pleads your case, who takes your side, who intercedes for you, and who stands up for you.”[1]

Often the Holy Spirit has been understood as the advocate who will go to God on our behalf and make the claim to God that we are worthy of love despite all our faults.  But don’t we believe God already loves us no matter what?  Why would we need the Spirit to convince God to love us?

So, “perhaps it’s actually the other way around. Perhaps it is the Spirit who intercedes on God’s behalf before us. That is, perhaps the Spirit is the one who comes to remind us of our identity as children of God…Or… advocates for us (by) reminding us of Jesus’ promise to be with us.”[2]

In other words, the Spirit Jesus leaves with us does what Jesus did while he was on earth.  The Spirit advocates for us to remember how much God loves us.  When we feel like we are the worst version of ourselves, when we are broken or suffering or feel worthless, God’s Spirit comes to insist that we are still blessed and beloved by God.  The Spirit advocates for us to see ourselves the way God sees us. 

And why is this important for Jesus’s commandment to love one another?  Because loved people, love people.  People commanded to love others, maybe, maybe not.  But people who know they are deeply and powerfully loved?  Well, those people might just love each other without any commandment. 

The people who loved Jesus when he walked this earth loved him because he loved them first.  He loved them without fear, without judgment, without barriers; and with great vulnerability, because he first knew himself as a beloved Son of God. God’s Spirit rested inside of him in a place nothing on earth could touch.  Which is why he says, “in a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  He is telling the disciples how connected the Spirit will still keep us.  God’s Spirit is within us always, and when we come to accept that, in the deepest parts of ourselves, when we truly know we are loved fiercely, by a love we can never lose, then the natural response will be for us to love others – not because we are commanded to do it but because it is what loved people do. 

Of course, because we are not Jesus, we sometimes forget this love; we forget about the Spirit or we ignore or turn away from the Spirit because we get too tired or too busy or too full of grief or anger or shame.   So, there will be days when the best we’ve got is faking it, going through the motions, doing our best to act in loving ways.  And there will be days when we don’t even have that.  Days when we act without love and let our tiredness or busyness or grief or anger or shame take over our actions.

But when open our hearts to the love of the Spirit?  When we take the time to center ourselves in the Spirit’s presence and to share our hopes and fears and listen for the Spirit’s guidance and wisdom?  When we learn to trust that we are loved beyond measure by God?  Then, the Spirit invites us to do things like: find permission to rest our tiredness and be renewed in God; or to slow down our busyness and listen for God’s wisdom; or to hand over our anger, our shame, our fears to God. 

It is in those moments we find ourselves empowered and encouraged by the Spirit, and we learn to love genuinely, no faking it necessary - just find that our eyes can suddenly see others with the love we feel.  And through practice and failure and forgiveness, we grow towards a love that can even extend to our enemies.

So, let me act as a conduit of the Holy Spirit for this short moment and remind you that God’s love for you is great, magnificent, unchangeable, unstoppable, full of forgiveness and grace.  God loves you completely.  You.  Just as you are.  And if you love God back, even with your questions and doubts and fears and pain, then I wonder how you will love others today? 


[1] Lose, D. (n.d.). Spirit Work.

 

[2] Lose, D. (n.d.). Spirit Work.

 

 
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