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Love God and Do What You Want – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Acts 14: 19 – 28
Psalm145: 9 – 14
John 14: 27 – 31a

When I was 7 or 8 I made a book of coupons for my mother, which I presented to her on Mother’s Day. Each coupon was good for something different. One was for taking out the garbage. Another was good for breakfast in bed. I don’t remember what the other ones were good for, but the idea was that she would take out one of the coupons, return it to me and I would do whatever the coupon was good for. Curiously, she never used them. I found the coupon book years later among her things. My hunch is that my book of coupons said more to my mother than any number of breakfasts in bed.

Each of us have different ways of showing love. We might be one of those people completely comfortable telling another I love you. Or we might be one of those whose love for another is shown, not so much in words as in deeds: flowers, acts of kindness or generosity, thoughtful gestures, small favours. That may be the way we show love.

However we do it, in order for a relationship to survive and thrive, whether that relationship be between friends or spouses, partners or neighbours, workmates or even nations, it is vital that we show the other they are valued, honoured, respected, and loved. It’s important for the other to know how we feel about them. It’s also important for us to be able to expresses those feelings. So too is it important for those around us to know the depth and extent of our interconnected web of relationships.

If this is true for our relationships with one another, it’s also true for our relationship with God. Just as it is important for us to let another know that we honour or value and love them, so too it is important for us to show our love for God. The problem is that the local florists don’t deliver to heaven, at least not yet, so we need to figure out another way to manifest our love for God.

Like our relationships with one another, the way we manifest our love for God is different for different people. Just as we have different ways of saying I love you to the people in our lives, so there are different ways of saying the same to God. For Jesus, his way of manifesting his love for God was a life of obedience: I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.[1]

Obedience is not, and indeed has never been, a very popular concept. For some it is experienced as an abdication of responsibility and a sign of immaturity. We even say in our Rule of Life that the vow of obedience is fraught with risks. In the name of obedience human beings have gladly abdicated responsibility and taken refuge in passivity and conformity.[2] Children are taught to do what they are told, simply because they are told to do, and history and even our personal relationships are littered with examples of damage done as a result of blind obedience. While such behavior may be a kind of obedience, it is not love, and nor is it how the monastic tradition understands obedience. Again our Rule reminds us that monastic obedience gives us constant practice in letting go of attach­ment to our individual preferences and learning to trust in the wisdom of the community. It trains us to be resilient and prompt in responding to the Lord in the here and now.[3]

For obedience to be an act of grace, it needs to be the free act of a mature individual. It needs to be an act of love. I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. What marked Jesus was not that he did what he did, because he was told to do so, but because he loved, even to the point of death. As the Letter to the Philippians reminds us, Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.[4] His obedience even to the point of death was his free act of love in response to the One who said of him: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’[5] In Christ, love met love, and not even death could defeat it.

As followers of Jesus, our vocation is to learn to love as Jesus loved, with the kind of love Paul described in his First Letter to the Corinthians: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.[6]  It is this kind of love that St Augustine of Hippo speaks of when he tells us to love, and do what you want.[7] If we have the kind of love which Jesus had, the kind of love of which Paul speaks, the kind of love which Augustine tells us about, then nothing can spring from it but good,[8] for to have this kind of love, St Augustine tells us and be a bad person is impossible.[9] With this kind of love, we will truly fulfill the words of the prophet Micah: what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?[10]

It was this perfect love for the Father which inspired Jesus to do all that God commanded him. But what exactly had God commanded Jesus? To be nothing less than the herald of the coming reign of God, a reign of justice, mercy and healing. When the disciples of John the Baptist come asking Jesus if he is the one who is to come, or should they look for another, Jesus is clear: ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.[11]This is exactly the work which Isaiah tells us God will do when Israel is restored. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.[12]

To love as Jesus loves is to be obedient to what God commands. Like Jesus we too say I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.[13]And what does God command us to do? To love as God loves, for God is love.[14]

If it is true that we are to love as God loves, what might that love look like? Again St. Augustine gives us a clue. He says: If you would see God, here is what you should imagine: God is love. What sort of face does love have? What shape is it? What size? What hands and feet does it have? No one can say. And yet it does have feet, those feet that carry people to church. It does have hands, those hands that reach out to the poor. It has eyes, those through which we consider the needy: “blessed is the person,” it is said, “who considers the needy and the poor.”  It has ears, of which the Lord says, “He that has ears to hear let him hear.”[15]

If the world is to know that we love the Father, then like Jesus, we must do the works which God commands us. As they say, it’s not rocket science, but in a world which so easily discounts the poor and marginalized, we need to be constantly alert to ways in which we can speak with the authority and claim of Jesus, for like him, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon [us], because he has anointed [us] to bring good news to the poor. He has sent [us] to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’[16]

To be a disciple of Jesus is to discover the grace and freedom of obedience, doing all that the Father commands us, not resentfully, or even dutifully, but lovingly.

To show love to another, we might give them a book of coupons to be redeemed for any number of things, as I did for my mother those many years ago. Or we could simply say I love you. To show our love for God, we will want to learn to love as God loves, who stretched out [his] arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of [his] saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit, [Lord] that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.[17] If we are to love God and do what we want, as Augustine suggests, then what we will want is to be like Jesus.

 

[1] John 14: 31a

[2] SSJE, Rule of Life, The Spirit of Obedience, chapter 12, page 25

[3] Ibid, page 25

[4] Philippians 2: 8

[5] Matthew 3: 17

[6] 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8

[7] Augustine of Hippo; Sermon 110 on 1 John 4: 4 – 12, paragraph 8

[8] Ibid, paragraph 8

[9] Ibid, paragraph 6

[10] Micah 6:8

[11] Luke 7: 22

[12] Isaiah 35: 5 – 6

[13] John 14: 31a

[14] 1 John 4: 8

[15] Augustine, Sermon 110, paragraph 10

[16] Luke 4: 18 – 19

[17]BCP 1979, page 101

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1 Comment

  1. Ruth West on May 23, 2017 at 21:54

    Br. James, I love this sermon! Love is the key. I remember a sermon my husband preached using the words of Augustine of Hippo. If we are obedient in love, we don’t have to go around holding our breath for fear of offending. We can “do what we please” as our thoughts and actions will be guided by His Spirit in loving Him.

    My own son made me such a coupon booklet one Mother’s Day. It meant so much to me, I saved it for many years, and probably still have it. It was far more meaningful than roses or candy!

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