7th Sunday of Easter: "New Teacher"
Revelation 21:1-2; 22-27
John 14: 23-29
In the gospel today, Jesus said, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words.” It is a pretty plain and simple message. If we do not love Him, we do not keep His word. Even if we are intellectual or knowledgeable, even if we pray and are pious, but if we have no love, then, whatever we do amounts to nothing. St. Paul said in 1Corinthians 13 to re-quote, “Even if speak with the tongues of angels and of men, even if I move mountains, even if I give away all my possessions to feed the poor, even if I give my body to be burned, even if I sell bestseller books, even if I have thousands of followers in social media, even if I am a celebrity preacher, even if I have a big Church, even if I have big projects and ministries, IF I don’t have love, then, I am nothing.”
Jesus said, “He who does not love Me, does not keep My Word.” At the Last Supper, as Jesus was giving His last words to His disciples, the most important thing that He left with them was, “A new commandment I give to you: love one another just as I have loved you.” It is not what we accomplish or the impressive feats that we accumulate for ourselves. It is not the feathers in our cap but it is: did we love or not?
Jesus told the story about the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee was praying to God, “Lord, thank you for making me holy, not like that tax collector who is a sinner.” The tax collector, who couldn’t even look up to God, was beating his breast saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner.” In Jesus’ eyes, the tax collector went home more justified than the Pharisee. Again, it is not about accomplishments but the question: did we love?
The prophet Micah in chapter 6 verses 6-8 said, “With what shall I come to the Lord And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves?7 Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” Has the Lord have a desire for burnt offerings than for kindness and mercy, to free the bonds of wickedness, to lose the bonds of slavery and bondage?
Christianity 101 is the Summary of the Law: love God with all your heart, with all our soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength; and your neighbour as yourself. The love of God is synonymous to love of neighbour. A young theologian said, “The message of Jesus is so much bigger than little groups of humans accusing each other of being wrong or claiming they have the right take on a book.”
The message of Jesus of love is so much bigger than our arguments, our proving ourselves right. It is more important to love than to be proven right. This is what forty thousand denominations should understand because each one is claiming that they are right. We will be known as Jesus’ disciples not because of our right theology, but because of our love.
Jesus’ message is simple: love one another; and if we miss this, we will miss everything else. Love is the foundation of everything. Love is the reason for us existing. Love is the reason for us doing things wherever we are. God is love and God lives in us. We are reminded by the Holy Spirit of what Jesus said. We think that if we are spirit-filled, this means that we can speak in tongues, prophesy, pray for the sick and they will be healed and perform miracles. We think it is having a great following and having a lot of members because one’s eloquence demonstrates the Holy Spirit. These things are good, but what Jesus said was, “The Holy Spirit will be sent from the Father to remind you of what I said, that is, to love one another.”
To me, the first proof of being spirit-filled is if we remember what Jesus reminds us of to love one another. Christianity is not about what we know, but it is about whether we love. To be led by the Spirit is to be reminded of what Jesus said. The Holy Spirit’s role is to remind us of what Jesus said to us and to teach us of it. The fruit of the Spirit is greater proof of being filled by the Holy Spirit than possessions of His gifts. The first on the list of the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE. All the other things after love – joy, peace, patience, kindness… - stem from the very motive and nature of God which is love.
Our plan for the Church is LOVE one another. This is the direction and this is what we do. Our mission is to know God and to make Him known. According to St. John, God is love, and he said this twice in his Epistle. To know God is to know love. To make God known is to make His love known, and this is where we are going.
What is my personal plan? It is to be able to teach people love. We started a Feeding Ministry because I believe that when we come face to face with Jesus, He will not ask us these questions: “What degree did you finish?” “How many members did you have in your Church?” “How big is your Church building?” “How big is your income?” What Jesus will ask are these: “Did you feed Me when I was hungry?” “Did you clothe Me when I was naked?” “Did you visit Me when I was in prison?” “Did you give Me a drink when I was thirsty?” “Did you give Me hope when I was hopeless?” We all know that Jesus meant that if we do it to the least of His brothers, then, we do it to Him. If we don’t do it to the least of His brothers, then, we don’t do it to Him.
The first Pope was asked by Jesus, “Do you love Me?” It was not: “If you are going to be a leader, what is your plan?” To love Jesus is the most important thing. All the other things will follow. I am not saying that the other things are not important, but first things first – the foundation, which is to love.
In Revelation 2, Jesus was addressing the church of Ephesus. He told them this, “I know your toil and your hard work. I know your perseverance and your steadfastness. I know that you have not grown weary. You work hard.” When I read this, I was reminded of the Cathedral of the King. I know you, Church, and in thirty-two years, I have seen your perseverance, your steadfastness, your hard work and you have not grown weary through all that we have experienced. Jesus asked the Ephesian Church, “But I have this against you, you have lost your first love.” In other translations, it says, “You don’t love like you used to before.” May that not be said of us by Jesus. If we have lost our first love, may we go back to it because to Jesus, it is the most important thing. It is the genuine concern for His brothers.
Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love Me? Then, feed My sheep. Love them. Tend them.” Our plan is to go back to our first love. Remember how excited, how zealous we were to give of our all? We started again the Feeding Ministry so that hopefully, we can once again understand what the real purpose of the Church is. We are not just doing Church work; we are supposed to be doing the work of the Church. Church work is just having programs and activities and ministries. The work of the Church is to be a witness of love, to demonstrate God’s love through those programs and ministries. It is not just to have ministries and activities per se, but to demonstrate God’s love using activities and ministries. Sometimes, we get too busy that we miss the point of what we are doing. Sometimes, we get distracted by the work itself, when, the work is just a vehicle, an instrument, for a more important purpose, that is, so that people would receive our love through the ministry that we do.
Our plan is to get our hearts to loving again like we used to. It should be progressing. It is not just going back to the kind of love that we had before, but we need to grow more than the love that we had before. What about programs? What about ministries? What about the numbers? These things will follow. Seek first the heart of God, the kingdom of God and His righteousness, which is all about love, and all these other things will follow. Keep His Word first!
According to Psalm 37, even the wicked, even those who do not have love in their hearts prosper, their works multiply, but God said, “In a little while they will be gone,” because they are not built on a strong foundation of love and obedience to God’s Word.
We sing a song in the Lenten Season entitled “Eternal Lord of Love” where one line says, “So daily dying to the way of self, so daily living to the way of love.” We need to die ourselves first on a daily basis so that we can live to the way of love. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself; but if it does fall to the ground and dies, then, it bears much fruit.” Daily dying to the way of self, daily living to the way of love, and then, it will bear much fruit. Don’t worry about the fruit; worry of the sowing. It is inevitable that when we sow the right things, we will reap the right fruit.
Our Church is known for our praise and worship, but wouldn’t we like to be known for our love? For feeding the poor? For ministering to those who are in bondage? People will know that we are Jesus’ disciples by our love, not just for our talents. I know that we use our talents for love as well, but what should be seen is why we are using our talents, not the talent itself.
What is Christianity all about? We would rather be known as disciples of Jesus because of our love, our fruit. What is our work? St. Paul said, “Be careful of your works because it may turn out to be wood, hay or straw and they will burn when tested by fire. Your works should be gold, silver, or precious stones founded on love.” The first and foremost commandment is: to love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love our neighbor as yourself.” Learn the first things first, not the skills. It is not in what people recognize a person by; it is not one’s title; it is not one’s accolades or men’s praise. It is about loving God, doing things with all our heart and our mind. First things first!
Likewise, Christianity is not on walls or that which is in the end of our names. It is not in the spectacular things that we do or what men praise. It is in the heart, listening to the Holy Spirit as He reminds us of the more important things that our Jesus is concerned of – to have love of God in our heart and in our minds for this is just the way it is in the kingdom of our God.