Worship was just amazing in Bemus Point and Mayville. Every once in a while I get inspired to try something. Well...Sunday it worked! I did a couple of things that were different. The emphasis of the readings and my sermon was on Jesus loving us. It was such an important point to make, that during the passing of the peace, I had the worshippers exchange God's peace, but had them add "Jesus loves you!" People were smiling and seemed to be genuinely touched by this reminder. God is good.
This is the gospel text from Sunday, May 10, John 15:9-17. Immediately after I declared, "The gospel of the Lord and the people responded, "Thanks be to God," this is what they heard. You should have seen the response. Heads were bobbing side to side as everyone sang out, "All you need is love..." Below is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy's and St. Mark's.
I don't know if we have any Beatles fans in the congregation, but I couldn't resist using those lines of the song, "All You Need is Love." Did any of you notice how many times the word love in any form was used not only in today's gospel, but also in the second reading? Do you think just maybe God is trying to us something?
Whenever we are in any of John's writings, we will hear love as the hallmark. It is said of John, that when he was quite old and had difficulty walking, he would be carried into a gathering of believers and all he would say is, "Love one another."
Let's take a look at what that means in today's gospel. Jesus tells his disciples to make themselves at home in his love.This week, I am again using The Message version of the Bible because it spells out so very clearly what Jesus is saying about love and his relationship with the disciples as he approaches his suffering and death on the cross. Rather than, "abide" in my love, we have, "Make yourselves at home in my love" and "remain intimately at home in my love" (vv. 9-10a), which is really what "abide" means.
The key word in this gospel passage is "abide" or "live in." Making ourselves at home in Jesus' love characterizes a relationship of trust, knowledge, love and unity between Jesus and God. Where do we fit in? The love of Christ is the location, the arena, the sphere of Christian living.
When we think of love, we think of that warm feeling we have when we think about or are around the object of our affection. However, in scripture, love is not a feeling or a synonym for "like." Love in the Bible involves acting for another, even at the cost to self. Jesus fleshes this out a few verses later when he tells the disciples that love for another is measured by God's love for the world and Christ's love "which carried out in full and final obedience that love of God" (Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year B, 265).
What in the world do commandments have to do with love? The word translated from the Greek as "keep" is tereo. It has more of a sense of "holding dear" than simple blind obedience. This obedience is a free and joyful response of love.
Remember Maundy Thursday when Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to "Love one another?" It all starts with God the Father. The Father loves Jesus and Jesus loves his disciples the way the Father loves him. The way to remain intimately in God's love is to love one another. As believers, we are not called to do anything other than what God has done in Jesus Christ and what God wills to do through the lives of believers.
Jesus calls his disciples friends.True friendship is rare today in our society. We deal with competitiveness in a mobile society where people experience fragmentation of life. People typically are more isolated than in the past. When someone refers to another person as a friend, they are often speaking of someone who is a mere acquaintance. In this kind of quote friendship, ingredients of deep relationship, empathy, support and mutual struggle are often lost.
It is no small thing to be the beneficiary of true friendship. Any of us who have ever had that very special friend with whom we could share anything--good, bad or indifferent and still remain friends--knows what that means. This friendship love Jesus speaks of isn't one where we can just sit back, relax, and revel in it. It takes commitment from our end. It is a call to lay down our lives for one another, to put our life on the line for our friends, who are Jesus' friends. When Jesus speaks of friends, he is really saying, "those who are loved."
Joy is a result of being in a love relationship with Jesus. We can experience joy while living in the world within the constancy of God's love. That is how we know the joy of which Jesus speaks. Joy's source isn't the circumstances of our lives. Joy's source is God, who is sometimes described as joy. In Matthew 25:21, 23, the good and faithful servant was told, "Enter into the joy of your [Lord]."
Jesus chose his followers.The gospel is all about what God has done, is doing or will do. God needs to be the subject of our sentences. We did not choose him in spite of what some songs say. We have not decided to follow Jesus. He was loving us and working in our lives before we were ever aware of his presence. God always makes the first move.
It's special to be chosen, isn't it? For some of us that were not terribly athletic in school, the choosing of members for a team sport was a humiliating experience. If only just once, could I please not be the last person picked, was my constant thought.
Jesus chose the disciples and he has chosen us as well. I don't have to be the smartest, the cutest, the most eloquent or exhibit any other quality to be chosen. This is one kind of team that the picking process does not create anxiety for me.
We had nothing to do with being chosen. In baptism, God calls us his own. For those of us who were baptized as infants, we know that we had nothing we could bring to God to make us good enough to be made his own.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of being the speaker at a women's breakfast at Tree of Life in Jamestown. They wanted me to tell my story. As I was preparing, a verse from Jeremiah stood out, which I shared with the group as I told my story. It seems appropriate for this morning as well, "The Lord told the prophet Jeremiah, 'Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you'"(Jer. 1:5).
What are those holy plans? They are the results Jesus is looking for--fruit that doesn't rot.Jesus is commissioning his disciples, putting them into the world. Just as a marriage relationship often bears fruit in the form of children, so the disciples' love relationship was to bear fruit as well. Only this was very special fruit because it would not rot. It is the fruit of bringing more people into God's family by sharing God's love, by going and doing works of love. "Fruit that won't spoil" (v. 16) attests to the continual presence of and union with God and Jesus.
Jesus has let his disciples in on everything. He has made God known to them. Because of that, they can pray and will have their prayers answered because what they will is bathed in the knowledge and love of God.
This extends to us as well as followers of Jesus. However, I'm going to qualify this. It does not mean that we can go up to everyone who needs healing and say, "Be healed!" It does not mean that we can pray away violence, poverty and all the other ills of our world. I am not saying that these things cannot happen because when God decides to do something, anything is possible. It's not a question of how much faith we have, any miracle or answer to prayer is done by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as he chooses, when he chooses. The bigger reality of God's answer to our prayers is often us; by engaging in good works in our community motivated by his love.
Above all, we need to remember the root command to love one another.
Jesus sets the bar high for his disciples and for us. He is not only the example of how to live in God's love; he is the one who empowers his disciples to live a genuine Christian life of love and service.
St. Augustine nicely summed up our love relationship with God in this way, "Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved." Amen.
Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year B
Beverly R. Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B
InterVarsity Press, New Testament Commentary
New English Translation notes
Gail R..O’Day, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX: John.
Brian Stoffregen, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/John 15x9.htm
Sundays and Seasons