Sixth Sunday after Easter 5/9/21

Sixth Sunday after Easter 5/9/21

John 15:9-17

[Jesus said to his disciples,] “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

I a big fan of superhero movies and have enjoyed the new series offered as off-shoots of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I recently finished The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that, in part, chronicles the transitions the position of Captain America from one superhero to another. The one being newly elevated to this position does not have nor want access to any serum and states, “The only superpower I have is that I believe that things can be better.”

The power of God’s love, is not a superpower given to people through serums and insect bites, but it is a power given to everyone. A power that transforms lives, communities and creation.

Love is the most difficult thing, but it is also the most necessary thing. 

  • Love is the antidote to human shortcomings because the lack of it constitutes the source. 
  • What if we considered the restriction God places–eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil–not as a test of obedience, but as a missed opportunity to show God love? 
  • How many of us have asked a friend not to do something without explanation…and considered it a gift and confirmation of friendship when the friend honored that request on the basis of the relationship alone? 

When I was in seminary I was watching a movie, that for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it, but there was a joke told that kept ringing in my head this week. The joke is: Do you know what the biggest miracle Jesus did while he was on earth? He was a 30-something with twelve close friends. 

I know, it’s not the most theologically astute piece, but it brings up an important piece for the week’s Gospel reading. Jesus is continuing to outline the relationship between God, himself, and his followers and to name the joy and love that he desires his people to experience. While explaining this to them he notes the transition that has happened. 

This transition is a movement from the people knowing him (their God incarnate) in a master/servant relationship to now knowing him in a friendship relationship. The difference, Jesus says, is that he has made it known everything that the Father has shared with him. As adults we like to put distinctions on our relationships. Some people are our colleagues, other are our family, others are acquaintances, others are people we “know of,” and then we have our friends. 

We like to qualify our level of connected-ness before claiming folks too much. So, how do you decide who your friends are? Who do you claim as “friends” outside of your class yearbooks and your social media list of folks?

I love Jesus’ second to last line when it comes to this friendship relationship he names with folks, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” We all have a few friends who chose us and there wasn’t any choice we had in it right? It is a beautiful thing to be chosen, even if it isn’t exactly what we wanted from the start. That is what God has done for us time and time again through Jesus Christ. God chooses us, not just as servants, but as friends. God loves us and invites us into deep relationship, not only with God’s self, but with one another. When we enter into that human relationship we have this greatest commandment that ends our Gospel lesson for this week and that is to love one another. Christ shows us by example how to love and let love in. God does not qualify our relationship with the Holy, or hesitate to name how much our God knows us or how connected we are. 

Instead God shows us that friendship empowers us to abide with one another, to love one another, and to live more fully into our community and into our God together. 

This week we have yet another example of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon unexpected leaders in the book of Acts. One of the largest controversies in the beginning of the early Christian days was the inclusion and/or exclusion of the Gentiles. The life-long Jews who were following Jesus expected the Gentiles to accept all of their practices and laws, and sometimes outright excluded Gentiles all together because they were religious outsiders. 

I can hear it now, “But this is how we have always done it! If they haven’t been following these rules and doing it this way for their ENTIRE lives, how on earth could they be a part of this wonderful, exciting, and life giving thing? They haven’t paid their dues!”.

Consider the moments of Jesus’ ministry that garnered large crowds–the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the five thousand, and the entry into Jerusalem are three examples, but they reflect how his teaching, care, and promise generated attention. It seems to me that so much focus on the church being relevant has been preoccupied with creating recipes for substandard fruit rather than cultivating the soil and planting seeds with the radical, abundant, overwhelming, and joyful love of God. 

  • If we functioned from love, of course, we would be more inclusive and welcoming with our worship styles. 
  • If we lead with love, our stewardship campaigns would benefit from an increased spirit of gratitude and generosity. 
  • If love were our primary metric, our budget would be more community-serving than self-serving. 
  • And, rather than sparking internal discord when adapting to the changing world around us, we’d be making paths in for the kingdom of God on earth and spreading the joy of love.

Part of the joy of love comes from knowing that this is not an exchange of a commodity, but the giving and receiving of a gift. God is not looking for a transactional relationship even though the last part of this passage has been misinterpreted to indicate that if we only use the name of Jesus, our prayers will be answered. Here too, Jesus emphasizes the relationship and this assurance flows from the abiding in Christ’s love.

The love that Jesus offers is truly that “gift that keeps on giving.” That reference doesn’t come from scripture, it’s a relic of an ad campaign that’s nearly a century old. But it is like a vine, with branches that are properly cared for, planted in fertile soil, nourished with Living Water, that grows, spreads, produces new branches, and ultimately bears fruit. Who wouldn’t receive that gift? Who wouldn’t become that gift?

Last week Don and I were wrapping up Confirmation this year with Rowan talking about Baptism. Don told a story of Paula’s family having children by birth, and children by aodption. He used that to illustrate the way God looks at all of us in baptism as children that he CHOSE to be part of the family.

Jesus illustrates that kind of love when he said: “You did not choose me but I chose you.” I also have been adopted and at a much older age of 25 when it became official. I had be a the Stewart family’s life for 10 years by then, but for some legal reasons it made sense to officially make the adoption happen. 

They had all been my family for many years already but I must admit of the day the judge made it all official it was one of the most powerful and meaningful experiences of my life. One of the things that made it so powerful was that we had chosen each other as family. My biological family was never to properly care for me and protect me the way parents should. But by the grace of God, I found a family, who had two birth children already, and they all CHOSE me to be their family.

Sophocles, the Greek tragic play-writer, defined it well when he said: One word free us of all the weight and pain of life; That word is love.