“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…..the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.”
Jesus words to Judas are words addressed to all his disciples and indeed to us today. We are called not only to Love as we heard in last weeks Gospel but to the implications of that Love. Here it is spelt out for us in greater detail:
“Those who love me will keep my word”….. It seems clear enough and yet through the centuries the Church has often misunderstood what that means.
The word keep is a word open to misinterpretation – does keep his Word and God’s Word, for that is what Jesus says it is – does that mean observe it in everything that we do – follow its instruction and do as Jesus told us or does it mean to guard it, to keep it safe, to keep it to ourselves and not let anyone who isn’t in the Church have access to it?
Most of us would probably say its about following God’s commands and wishes for us as we engage with the world but very often in practice it has meant the opposite. We are inclined to keep God and God’s Word to ourselves and not always intentionally. We do it sometimes by putting up accidental barriers to communication with the world we are called to serve.
One of the greatest and worst barriers we construct is the one of language – we speak a language in church and in church circles that is quite different than the language we use in the rest of our lives. We throw around words like ‘Kingdom’ ‘Salvation’ ‘Redemption’ ‘Sin’ & ‘Judgement’ without either really understanding what we mean and certainly not explaining it to those outside the inner circle.
It is a kind of jargon or shop-talk that is every bit as effective in keeping the stranger away as erecting a barbed wire fence around the perimeter of our buildings. We don’t do it intentionally but we do it unthinkingly and it is something that clergy and congregations are equally guilty of.
There is often a demand to make the Gospel relevant – we don’t need to do that – The Gospel is already relevant – God has made it so but we as the vessels in which that Gospel is communicated must make it intelligible to the world in which we find ourselves.
That is no easy task either because the Church is increasingly alien to its own environment. We live in a digital culture which for better or worse is driven by a demand for instant and universal communication and transparency – It is no longer the privileged few who control the flow of information in society – we are all broadcasters, or can be if we want to through the medium of social networks. We may be uncomfortable with them, we may actively dislike them but if we do not engage with them we may as well close the doors. What is happening today is every bit as revolutionary as the Printing Press and it was the Churches early adoption of printing that ensured the spread and growth of the Gospel.
Keeping Gods Word today may actually mean entering into this new world of communication, collaboration and sharing. Like all new developments there is good and bad but it is the primary place where those who we seek to share the Word of God are ‘hanging out’ for want of a better word.
For those of us not at all comfortable with this digital world there are alternatives – other ways in which we can break down the walls around the Church so that the Word can permeate through our world. What does that look like ? – Quite simply putting Love at the centre of everything we do.
It means using Love as the litmus paper or test of the goodness of what we are doing. If we do this then we are told that God will come to us and make his home with us. That home is to be found wherever the Church, you and me, are active in his service in the world. People will always recognize and respond to a Church that does what it says on the tin – May we as disciples of Jesus and living stones of the Church of Christ be the walking witness of his Love in the world. Amen.