Yesterday, we held an elders’ retreat here at the church. We’re working on a few important ideas about how to strengthen our church’s commitment to Christ, His Kingdom, and His ministry in this part of Knoxville. It was an important start to a series of quarterly meetings which will help us seek God’s path for our congregation in the years to come.
It’s crucial that all our elders work together by discovering what God’s will is for our wee church. We have to keep focused on what God wants us to do for Him. Too many churches these days are being swayed by the culture around them. They want to fit in with society and use marketing ploys to bring people into their organization, but not necessarily the Kingdom of God.
15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.
At the moment there’s a controversy stirring in West Knoxville because an independent church has sent out fliers stating that they will give all their new visitors a $20 gas coupon for coming to their church. I don’t know what their true intent is with this gimmick, but they’re desperately trying to get people to walk through their doors using greed as their marketing tool. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the church was called The Cas Walker Memorial Church.
This is why it is important for our church elders to work on the direction that God is leading our church. If we don’t prayerfully look for God’s guidance, we’ll end up following market trends, which will lead us away from God and stop us from obeying Christ. We have to put Jesus at the center of everything we do. We don’t exist to please ourselves; Christ allows us to exist because we try to please Him.
When Jesus was speaking to His disciples in this passage from John’s Gospel, He was doing it just before He was arrested. He was trying to cram in as many lessons and as much advice as possible before He was taken, tortured and crucified. He knew that it was important to use the intensity of the situation to drive home some very important points that would become the hallmarks of the Early Christian Church. And, in this instance He said to them: if you love me, you will obey what I command.
Now, that’s normally what a mother says to an impatient child, “if you love me, you will do as I say.” Or perhaps a loving spouse may say it this way, “if you trust me, you will support me.” It’s laying down a special condition for the relationship to flourish. It’s not an ultimatum, it’s an invitation. It’s not about control, it’s about co-operation.
On this day, in the same year that our church was founded, way back in 1877, President Rutherford Hayes withdrew Federal troops from Louisiana. It was the last act of Reconstruction after the end of the Civil War. For more than twelve years after the war, the troops were in place to forcefully quell any rebellions, and to make sure that the Union did not fragment again. It took twelve years to maintain that peace and because the majority of Southerners all over the Confederate States laid down their arms, the Union remained intact.
It may not have been a perfect peace – the old prejudices wouldn’t really be removed for another 100 years, but it was a start of American people from all over the States beginning to love the Union and Constitution of the United States. The people proved that they loved America, as we still do today, by upholding the laws of this dear and precious land.
And so it was the same for Christ’s disciples, to prove that they truly loved Him, they had to keep His commands. And the same applies to our church today, which is why our elders came together to seek God’s Will and to follow Christ wherever He wants us to go.
16 And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-
During our conversations yesterday, our elders were asked the question: why do we want to bring people to Erin? It’s a good question because it makes us focus on what our intent, what our purpose is. Their answers were excellent: we’re here to bring people to salvation, to help them to learn more about Jesus, so that they can go out into the community and bring even more people to salvation.
Other purposes were attached to that answer: to help one another in times of trouble; to show kindness and love to each other; and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That last point raised a whole new question: what is the Holy Spirit and how do we seek its guidance?
When Jesus was talking to the disciples, He told them that God was going to give them a special Counselor, one who would be with them forever. The main role of the Holy Spirit was to give directions to the disciples throughout the rest of their lives as they went out into the entire world to preach the Gospel and teach Christ’s truth. The purpose of the Holy Spirit was to coach them day by day, situation by situation, and mission by mission so that Christ’s influence and teaching would grow in the world. And they successfully followed their coach because what started two thousand years ago with 11 disciples and dozens of others has now become a world wide church of 2 billion people.
That’s why it is very important for our church to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in all that we set out to do. It’s very easy to let go of God and embrace the world. It’s much harder to follow Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to set the course of where we are headed. But if we want to remain true to the Gospel and loyal to Christ, then we must be open to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our midst. To do other wise, is to follow a false gospel; to seek our own way is to walk away from Christ.
It’s like the baptism vows that we all took this morning. If we want to see them fulfilled in young Aaron’s life, then Steve and Tracy are going to have to keep coming to church and allowing Aaron to eventually go to Sunday School or Enrichment. But it doesn’t just depend upon them; we’ve got to do our share by maintaining this church, recruiting teachers of faith, supplying our classes, giving our resources, sharing our time and investing parts of our lives with young Aaron. If we do not do this, then how will Aaron grow up to be a Christian, a servant of the Lord, and a loyal subject in God’s Kingdom?
So we seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit in session and throughout the entire congregation to ensure that Aaron, and all other children in our midst will grow in faith and one day, perhaps as a teenager, he will confirm the promises that his parents have made here today. If we allow the Holy Spirit to coach, direct, and lead us, then these beautiful promises will be fulfilled.
17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.
Finally, after asking the disciples to show their love by following His commands and telling them that they will be gifted with the Holy Spirit, Jesus warns them that the world will not accept this experience. The world will be blind to the presence of the Spirit and will not accept the Spirit’s existence.
This is Christ’s way of telling the disciples that even with the Holy Spirit as their special Counselor, things will not be easy. Just because the Holy Sprit is with them does not mean that trouble will not come their way. In fact, in many cases in the Early Church because Christians were filled with the Spirit, they were harassed and hunted down, persecuted and imprisoned, arrested and executed.
And this should serve as a warning to our wee church. When we seek the Spirit’s counsel and do Christ’s bidding, obstacles and stumbling blocks are going to come our way. Things will not be easy if we seek to accept Christ’s truth, preach the Gospel, and share His message with the surrounding community. It will be hard to do so, because many hearts are hardened against Christ and the world does not want to be challenged by our faith.
April 27th is a date that has seen events which has led to people standing up for their rights and fighting the world.
In 1773, the British parliament passed the Tea Act, which led to the Boston Tea party later that year, which in turn led to the War of Independence.
In 1940, the Nazi leader Himmler ordered the establishment of Auschwitz Concentration camp, which led to the Polish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Allied Nations fighting against the fascists, which in turn led to the establishment of Israel for holocaust survivors and displaced Jews around the world.
And in 1989, almost twenty years ago, and how soon we forget, the brave students of Beijing took over Tiananmen Square in China, fearlessly walking in front of military tanks, in a noble effort to bring democracy to their nation. To this date, those same students are imprisoned in terrible conditions, which is one of the reasons that I will refuse to watch this year’s Olympic Games. How can we have an international sports gala and joyfully cheer on our athletes in a land where people of different political persuasions and religions are still being oppressed, subdued, and killed?
So, what have we learned today?
If we truly love Jesus, then we will honestly obey His commands.
When we need guidance for our lives and especially the church, we need to seek the Holy Spirit’s counsel.
And when we obey Jesus and follow the Holy Spirit, we should not expect the world to welcome us with open arms. Instead we should be prepared to stand up for what we believe in and not surrender our faith to the wiles of the world.
For as Christ says: Whoever loves me will be loved by My Father, and I also will love them and show Myself to them. And after all is said and done: is that not why we want to bring people here – to be saved from the world and loved by God? Amen.