I have never been very good with conditional clauses, either at observing them or living by them.
Oh, I’ve had a go at it. As a parent you pretty much have to be. “If you clean your plate, you can have dessert.” That was the standard phrase I heard growing up, and one that I probably inflicted on my children as well. It’s a classic conditional clause. If you do this, you will get something in return.
“Clean your room, and you can go hang out with your friends.”
“Start saving early, and you can retire at 62.”
“Eat a high fiber, low sodium diet, and you’ll live longer, feel better, reduce your risk of heart attack, diabetes, and stroke.”
All of those are conditional clauses, and all carry with them a promise of reward attached, but not a one of them ends up being terribly motivational!
So then, how am I to take the Gospel lesson and make of it something that inspires and motivates? Here comes Jesus spouting conditional clauses to his disciples as they share the Lord’s Supper. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments, and I will ask the Father and he will give you another advocate to be with you forever.”
Here is the problem with the Gospel for today. It is what Jesus says, but it isn’t very motivational!
Be honest here, how many parents used the conditional clause on their children to get them to clean their plate, and had it fail miserably. Some kids won’t be coerced! They don’t like those peas, and it doesn’t matter what you promise in the future, or if the bucket of ice cream is sitting there on the table and everyone else is enjoying it… they are just NOT GOING TO EAT THOSE PEAS!
How many were rebellious in their youth and would rather have found away around the cleaning of the room, or just gone out with friends anyway, leaving their parents to stew in the failure at getting them to clean their room?
Here is the deal, I have always found it odd that Jesus uses this language with his disciples at the Lord’s Supper knowing in John’s Gospel how bad they are at follow through! If this is a conditional clause, Jesus holding the carrot on the stick in front of us, it is a monumental failure. We just don’t respond to this well!
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments….” The disciples couldn’t even keep watch with him in the garden without falling asleep! Keep his commandments? Not a chance!
And if they couldn’t do it after having three years of intensive face time with Jesus, what are the chances we will be able to do it??
I hear this Gospel lesson, and for me it sounds like the grating of my parents voice. Yeah, right, do this, and I’ll get that. Tit for tat, is that how God works too? Like everything else in this world?
No. God does not work the way this world works.
This is not a conditional clause, although it sounds to our worldly ears like one! We have to tune our ears differently to hear it not as this world hears it, but the way God and the Spirit hears it.
“If you love me you will keep my commandments…”
What if this is not a conditional clause, but a statement of fact? “You WILL do this.”
This is Memorial Day Weekend, the time when we honor those who have gone before us. We particularly honor those who gave, as Lincoln stated eloquently in his Gettysburg Address; “the last full measure of devotion”… their very lives in support of the cause for which they were called to war.
It is a curious thing, what one will do in time of war, or under extreme circumstances.
We need go no further than the reports out of Joplin Mo. to find people doing extraordinary things for others, but the witness there is that such acts of love, devotion, heroics, or self sacrifice do not happen because of conditional clauses.
I doubt very much that the man who threw himself on top of his wife and child in the bathtub and who died of his injuries as the tornado flailed sharp objects at and over him was thinking to himself, “If I do this, they will love me.”
I doubt very much that any number of the stories of heroic actions in time of battle by soldiers of every rank, began with a conditional clause.
“If I take this chance, lead this charge, mount this defense,I’ll get a medal. I’ll make the history books.”
No, there is something else at work in all of that. You take the chance, you lead the charge, you mount the defense because of the love you already have.
You throw your body over the spouse not to get something, but to give something away, your very life if you have to, so that that which is already in you can have the power to do what you already know that it can do. Save.
“If you love me, you will end keeping my commandments.” That’s what Jesus is saying to his disciples, because that Spirit of God is already there in them and at work.
Oh, they may fail and flail around a bit. They may deny and try to step away from the task to which they have been called, but Jesus won’t let them do that for long.
“I will not leave you orphaned…” he says.
I will not have you feeling unloved, abandoned, or left to your own devices in this world. Jesus says. When the time is right, when the need is there, when the moment comes, you will love me and you will keep my commandments, and I will send that advocate, that Spirit, to strengthen and support you in that task.
It is not a conditional clause that Jesus gives us today.
It is an unconditional promise!
On that day (Whatever that day may be, Jesus says,) you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and I will reveal myself to them.”
You already have it in you, that Spirit.
It was given in your Baptism.
It longs to love, and serve, and to keep those commandments that Jesus came to show and live.
But, that Spirit, that love does not do what it does out of a sense of obligation, or out of sense of getting something in the end for your trouble, and religion, “church” gets it terribly wrong when it tries to motivate people in that way.
“If you do this, you’ll get to heaven, have a rich full life, get a reward, be successful, etc, etc.” All those “theology of glory” temptations that are just the voices of this world trying to make of faith something that it is not, an obligation, a thing to do, a set of rules to keep, or a conditional clause.
No, here is the deal, and on Memorial Day weekend you have a unique glimpse into it. If you love Jesus, you will keep his commandments, because you cannot help yourself from doing it. They have soaked into your bones.
The same child who would not eat their peas, will eventually reach out and touch their parent’s hand, and would gladly do anything now to keep the touch of death at bay.
I you love me, you will keep my commandments.
The rebellious teen that would not clean their room will one day show up at a stranger’s house after the tornado has ripped through to start picking up the pieces.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
The soldiers who once competed against each other for every little task, will put themselves in harms way for those they do not even know, and for whom no one may ever even know what they have done.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
This is the way that the Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus sends works. Not with coercion, or reward, or with some promise of easy and better things in the future, but with the very compassion of Jesus himself residing within us, who will not let us do anything less than what he himself has done.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. With my love, my Spirit within you, you really won’t be able to stop yourself.