obedience

John 14 v 23-29
Acts 16 v 9-15

Introduction

Are you an obedient person?
There are laws and rules that we are supposed to obey and sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. I was once in a car which was driven from Liverpool to Birmingham and we got there extremely quickly – when asked if he had broken the speed limit my friend replied
“I only went over the limit once… but I made sure I stayed there all the way”
Obedience is something which impacts our lives every day – we have to keep the rules of the land otherwise anarchy would follow.


Context

Those of you who were here last week will recall that Annette preached about “love” – we were thinking about how we are told to love just as Jesus loves us.
The passage from John’s Gospel that we have heard this morning carries on from the passage that we heard last week and the theme of love continues.
The disciples are all gathered together, with the exception of Judas who had already left to go and betray Jesus to the Pharisees. This morning’s reading is part of a very long passage which takes place at the last supper before Jesus is handed over to Pilate. This whole part of the Gospel is Jesus preparing and teaching the disciples, assuring them that when He is no longer with them physically the Holy Spirit will come to them to be God’s presence.
As we think about the readings this morning I want to focus on the relationship between obedience and love and in particular that one verse in the Gospel where Jesus says
“Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them”

Obedience

The Bible is full of stories of men and women who were obedient to the call of God in their lives. They put God first and obeyed what they believed what God wanted them to do – often in unpromising circumstances and not always in accordance with the conventions of the time.
The list is long :–
Moses obeyed God and took the Israelites out of Egypt.
Ruth stayed with her mother in law Naomi out of respect for God.
Jonah obeyed God – eventually after he got swallowed by the whale.
Peter obeyed the vision he had to go and preach the Gospel to non-Jews.
It is obvious that one of the hallmarks of being a follower of Jesus is obedience – I read this quote which sums it up
“Jesus calls his disciples to unconditional obedience for the whole of their lives… To obey God is to find the fulfilment of our lives”1
It is important that we realise that believing in God is not the whole picture. As an American writer Jim Wallis puts it
“The great tragedy of modern evangelism is in calling many to belief but few to obedience.”
It seems to me that the true nature of the disciple can be seen by the way in which she or he is obedient to the teachings of Jesus. Obedience to the teachings of Jesus flows out of love.


Obedience flows From Love

When we were bringing up our children we expected them to be obedient.
Sometimes I have to say our expectations were not met. There is a conundrum isn’t there?
We expect to be obeyed – we expect it to happen and yet we know that really obedience comes from establishing a relationship.
Consequently without showing love we could not expect to be obeyed – sometimes this demanded that we took tough decisions – sometimes I am sure I didn’t do the right thing.
However out of love for our boys we tried to be consistent and to make sure that they knew when we were expecting them to follow the rules this was because we loved them. At the same time we would hope that they were obedient not out of fear of punishment but because they loved us and wanted to maintain that relationship.
In our Gospel reading we hear Jesus telling His disciples
“Those who love me will keep my word”
or in another version of this verse it reads
“If anyone loves me they will obey my teaching”
The same sort of relationship which we seek to have with our children is in play.
It would be a weird relationship if someone told you that they loved you and then did all the things that they knew would make you mad or sad – or maybe that is the way of such things!
“If anyone loves me they will obey my teaching”
This of course begs the question as to what teaching Jesus is talking about?


Obeying the Teaching

I wonder if like me you often forget some of the teaching of Jesus, we fail to be obedient, and then miss the opportunity to see God’s Kingdom extended.
Being obedient can be a huge challenge.
In the reading from Acts this morning we heard a remarkable story of how Paul had a vision that he should go to Macedonia and in obedience to that vision the group he was with left Troas, took a boat and went to Philippi. Apparently at that time there was no synagogue in Philippi because there were less than the ten Jewish men needed under the rules to start one. This was therefore an unpromising place to go to teach about Jesus. There was no Jewish tradition which Paul could tap into to explain how the prophecies of the Old Testament were being fulfilled through Jesus.
However as we heard Paul and those with him were able to speak to a group of women including Lydia and so began the church in Philippi – a church that would become hugely important and influential in the early years of Christianity.
I don’t know about you but if I woke up after a dream and thought that I was being told to go and start a church in a foreign country I would be very sceptical indeed.
And yet in obedience Paul went and God worked and the Kingdom of God spread further afield.
So when we think of being obedient to Jesus’ word or teaching it may not be in terms of jumping on a plane or a ship to go to the other end of the world. The challenge may well be much smaller than that.
When we someone looking lost on the street what do we do?
When we someone in tears at our place of work what do we do?
When that homeless person asks us for change then what is our response?
When we hear someone being abusive to another what do we do?
When we see unfair treatment of a group of people what do we do?
When we hear politicians stirring up hate what do we do?
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel we are reminded just what the teaching of Jesus means in practice. Let me read you from that passage
“And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
It may not be the big things that we think we have to do. That small act of kindness or compassion is done in obedience to the teaching of Jesus to love our neighbour. And in that moment we reveal that our hearts are set on loving God and acting in obedience to His word.


Obedience and Love Today

As I thought about this passage and the idea of obedience and love it seemed to me that this is classic Kingdom of God theology. It turns upside down the thinking of the world. We heard last week Jesus telling His disciples
“I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This is the teaching that is at the heart of the Good News of Jesus – this week we hear Him say
“If anyone loves me they will obey my teaching”
It is the Gospel of love that we are called to be obedient to.
How amazing it would be if in this time of huge upheaval in our nation the church were recognised as a place where love is shown. How life affirming and life changing it would be if we as the people of God were indeed know as those who love others.
This week’s European election was fought along the lines of hatred – hatred for those of different ethnic origins – hatred for those who don’t share the same world view. Jesus teaches
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”


Conclusion

This is a time where the church needs to stand as a beacon of love in a world which is riddled with hatred. We cannot do that on our own.
Let’s pray
Almighty God our Heavenly Father we thank you for that you first loved us.
We ask that as we go about our lives that you would empower us by your Holy Spirit to be obedient to you; that you would enable us to love you with all our heart, soul and mind and that you would empower us to love our neighbour as ourselves just as you have loved us.

Amen

Christ Topping, Reader

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