Our passage today paints a picture of a perfect ecosystem of love: God who is love, loves us, and because of this primary and preceding love we are subsequently able to love, and when we love we abide in God and God in us, and by this abiding and love we to keep the commandment to love one another. This is the ecosystem we Christians live within, the love of God which makes all other love possible and necessary. It is an ecosystem perfectly balanced to generate the fruit of the Spirit in order that our lives, those of our neighbours, and indeed the life of whole of the created world may flourish. When things feel out of whack, consider if we have somehow isolated ourselves from this ecosystem, and allow the pursuing and attracting love of God to draw us lovingly back in.
It is easy to conceive of commandments as onerous, exacting, and dry; a burdensome curtailing of what should be a freeing relationship with God. In this passage, however, Jesus remarks that his commandments are given so that the disciples may love one another; indeed this commandment is given to the disciples not within the framework of servitude, but of friendship. This commandment, like those throughout the breadth of Scripture, sprout from the same seed: God’s loving desire that we would order our collective lives in a way the precipitates love of God and neighbour.
This doesn’t mean that every commandment across Scripture needs to be followed in its literal sense; but I do think it asks us to approach commandments with a generous heart to ask how they might have appeared as an outworking of God’s desire in that community at that time, and to also use this lens to look at the commandments (written and unwritten) in our churches and society to test whether they too fit the brief of a gift given to help us love one another.
The book of Hebrews describes Jesus as our great high priest, and in this passage from John that priesthood is on full display. Jesus is praying intercession over his friends, praying that though he is about to depart from them physically they will be held eternally in the loving arms of the Father. Jesus also prays as one who knows the trials and testing of this world, as one who fully understands what his disciples will face (which is again in keeping with the teaching of Hebrews). The good news for us, is that Jesus, the great high priest, is also the Lord of Time, the eternal Son of glory, seated at the right hand of the Father to whom all authority over heaven and earth has been given, and this very same Jesus prays this prayer over all who follow after him - unbound by time and location. Jesus prays this prayer over you and me at every moment. This means that Jesus’ breathtakingly beautiful words: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine” are as true for us as they have been for any and all of God’s dearly beloved children.
The pouring out of the Spirit is a radically democratic event - young and old, slave and free, people of all language and cultures - there is no barrier to the radical in-breaking of the Spirit and the subsequent gifts and fruits that the Spirit brings. No particular cultural form, language, or identity marker is raised above another or required for adoption in order to experience the Spirit and receive one’s charge to proclaim good news. It is not that these particularities suddenly cease to matter or that we should stop celebrating their uniqueness, history, and beauty - it is just that the holy fire of the Spirit burns through any desire to elevate one over the others, to establish one as more befitting the work of God, to enforce one as necessary to adopt in order to experience the fullness of the Spirit’s gift or to use those gifts with authority.
Paul positions prayer as less about something we do (or the words we say) and more about what we are letting God do in us. Rowan Williams summarises: “prayer is God’s work in us. It is not trying to persuade God to be nice to us or to get interested in us. It is opening our minds and hearts and saying to the Father, ‘Here is your Son, praying in me through the Holy Spirit. Please listen to him, because I want him to be working, acting and loving in me.’” It is God’s Triune nature that makes this work possible. We do not know how to pray as we ought, Paul writes, and so the Spirit helps us in our weakness, interceding with sighs too deep for words. Prayer then, is less a conversation between an individual and a distant divine king, and more a movement of the Triune God happening within us – “God answering God in and through the one who prays” (Sarah Coakley). It is a call-and-response of the divine desire to see us grow into Christlikeness. This means the work of God in us is not based on our grit, holiness, or eloquence but resides solely in the power and relations of the Trinity. We never need fear that we don’t know how to pray. We never need a particularly holy (or ordained) person to pray on our behalf, we never need to worry that we haven’t been on enough retreats – for in simply attempting to pray, , the work of God begins within us; deep calls to deep, and we are transformed.
Rev Liam Miller is currently serving as Supply Minister at Forest Kirk Uniting Church.