Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Gospel: John 15:9-17

A reading from the Gospel of John.
Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus said:] “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.”

The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer


As I was growing up I had good friends whose fathers just hated being around other Christians. They were nice well-intentioned men and had raised my friends to love God. But they just couldn’t stand going to church or being around other Christians. They found them/us boring, judgmental and irredeemably close-minded. My friends’ dads had a lively connection with the Earth and the world but no fellowship with neighbors.

On the one hand, I understand their perspective. Churches can be tough places because they are filled with humans! Spiritual abuse (often dismissively referred to as “church hurt”) exists and is more prevalent than we wish. 

On the other hand, while acknowledging that churches can be difficult places to navigate, we also don’t have the luxury of writing off parts of the body of Christ. That simply is not in our job descriptions as Christians. Instead, we are called to love and care for our fellow humans—as difficult as that may be—because Jesus has shown us the way.


In the book of Acts, the Spirit has done the unthinkable: The Holy Spirit has continued to march way out past comfort zones. The Spirit fell on Jews from all over the world at Pentecost and then on Samaritans with Peter and John’s visit. The Spirit was present as Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. And now, Peter has even preached the message of Jesus to Romans. And the Spirit no longer waits for baptism! The Spirit sheds gifts on everyone at the blessed event, including all those in Cornelius’ household before they were baptized.

At several points the disciples could have rationalized and even quoted Scripture to try to halt the Spirit’s progress. 

  • Surely Samaritans weren’t part of God’s people. They don’t believe the right things about God! 
  • Surely a eunuch wouldn’t receive full acceptance into God’s presence. They transform their bodies in ways that were against Torah! 
  • Surely a Roman, part of the brutal occupying force that murdered Jews at whim, would not receive a welcome into God’s people. Cornelius gave charity, to be sure, but he didn’t resign his commission or join the fight against the Roman occupation. 

God includes all those who don’t make any sense.

We don’t get to limit or direct God’s Spirit to only interact, bless and receive people whom we think are worthy. These aren’t small issues. Religious identity, bodily/sexual expressions, even being on the wrong side of international violence and occupation are not a barrier for the Spirit’s inclusion. We don’t get to be more selective than God.

The author of 1 John puts it more succinctly: The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In the readings for this week, the author continues the rational outworking of knowing God. Jesus has been born of God, therefore everyone who loves the parent will also love the child born of the parent. Loving the Father necessitates loving the Son. And loving the Son means loving and following his commandments. But what are his commandments?

Jesus declared to his disciples that keeping commandments is intimately linked to remaining in love. Jesus said he kept his Father’s commandments and remained in his Father’s love. We, likewise, are to keep Jesus’ commandments in order to remain in his love.

Before my Lutheran Christians revolt and stop listening—of course Jesus is gracious and forgives sins. We cannot, by our own power, earn or disqualify ourselves from God’s love. After all, Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, which proves God’s love for us. Yet, in a classic paradox, Jesus says that remaining in his love is up to us, by following his command to love one another just as Jesus loves us. Jesus goes on to talk about how he loves humanity and how we are to love each other: sacrificially. The one who lays down their life for their friend has the greatest love.

Circling back to Acts, there is a certain kind of dying to self that Philip, Peter and John do when they go to baptize and welcome the Spirit to that suspicious and religiously weird community of Samaritans. There is a certain kind of dying to self when Philip goes out of his comfort zone to join a Bible study and host a baptism for someone with different skin, a different nationality and different private parts. And there is a definite dying to self when Peter and the Jews with him recognize that God even loves and welcomes the Romans who oppressed their nation.

Being a Christian is difficult. Loving people who are different—and not just different but radically opposed—is difficult. But that’s what Jesus calls us to, and then does. That’s what his disciples did. And that’s what Christians have done throughout every generation. Loving—the seemingly impossible kind that costs us deeply—isn’t optional.


So here is my problem with the notion that the church is supposed to be a “fill-in-the blank community.” Every church I have served has people that are different and difficult at times. But they belong to us. They are part of our household of faith. We believe that they are with us because Jesus has called them here. We believe they have things to teach us that we cannot learn from anyone else. So we love them, as difficult as that sometimes is. I am mighty proud of our church for that very reason. Consequently, if you are to be a part of our church, you must learn to love them too.

As I know I have said before, one of the big mistakes we American protestants make is overselling the church and underselling Jesus. Look to the religion section of any local paper and you will find churches advertising their friendliness, lively worship, community activism, youth programs, couples’ groups, singles groups, quilting groups and other niceties. 

The programmatic welcome mat is out. Our own ELCA advertises itself on its website as a church that “embrace[s] you as a whole person–questions, complexities and all.” What we do not say on that website, though perhaps we should, is that we expect the same in return. If you cannot embrace difficult people, which each of us are at points in our lives, then our church is not the place for you. 

  • We won’t always be the loving and affirming family you never had. 
  • We won’t always be a place safe from insult, hurt and rejection.

If you want a community where everyone affirms you, everyone strives to meet your needs, everyone makes you feel comfortable, accepted and at ease, then I recommend Sandals, Club Med or a yoga retreat in the Poconos. Church is not about making you feel at ease and comfortable in this way. It is about making you a saint.

Jesus tells his disciples, “[t]his is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” It grates on our modernistic ears when Jesus uses “love” and “commandment” in the same breath. Love cannot be compelled, can it? Love should be given freely, spontaneously and without coercion. Otherwise, it is not truly love, is it? That is a bunch of Hallmark fantasizing. The love Jesus is talking about is a matter of action, not words. As John the Evangelist pointed out to us last week, all the pity, compassion and love we might have for our hungry siblings is empty sentimentality if we do not come across with something into which those siblings can sink their teeth.

Love is a spiritual discipline. It develops with practice. Sometimes before you can love someone, you have to act like you do. You need to put up with a lot, forgive a lot, try and fail a lot before you finally begin to know people, learn their stories, understand their struggles and see them for the unique and fascinating individuals they are. 

It takes a long time before understanding breeds compassion, compassion breeds caring and caring grows into love. 

Love is not something you fall into. It is like learning a musical instrument. A lot of practice lies between picking up the violin for the first time and the concert performance. Abiding in love is really hard work. If you are not up for that, church may not be the place for you.

I meet a lot of folks these days who accuse the church of hypocrisy because we do not live up to the love we profess. In such encounters, I feel very much like Inigo Montoya from the movie, The Princess Bride, who famously said “[y]ou keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” If Christians are hypocrites because they do not meet the standard of love to which they aspire, then every Olympic athlete competing for gold, but who comes away with silver or bronze instead is a hypocrite. Every student who ever aspired to get an A but managed only a B is a hypocrite. Hypocrites, according to this warped understanding, are people with high aspirations pushing them to become better, stronger and more courageous than they are. In fact, hypocrites are those who claim to have reached aspirational goals that they have not actually met. They are people who pretend to be better than they truly are. To be sure, there are hypocrites in the church as there are everywhere else.

A more honest portrayal of the church would be to say that we are a community of flawed people who have been embraced as whole persons–questions, complexities and all by a God who loves us completely, freely and unconditionally. We strive, often with only limited success, to love as we have been loved, to follow Jesus in giving ourselves to humble service and truthful witness in word and deed. 

I invite you to join us on our journey to becoming the people our God would have us be. But be prepared for hurt feelings, insults, rejection and misunderstanding. That is all part of abiding in love with people who have not yet got it quite right, but are getting there little by little. This is boot camp for learning love.


Again and again, Jesus tells us to love each other. He knows how much we need each other’s love. As a church, we don’t devote much time to Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven and in a way, that’s a shame. It would be a perfect opportunity to remind ourselves that Jesus leaves his mission in our hands. We are the ones who must work towards concrete actions in the physical realm. We are to go forth and bear fruit.

You may not be feeling like you’re in a loving space right now. Pretend that you are. Make the effort that it takes not to snap at your troublesome colleague. Pray for the people that annoy you. Leave love notes for your family members. Say please and thank you more often. Look for ways to make play dates with God and with the world.

You will likely find yourself transformed by your own actions—and hopefully, you’ll find the world transforming around you in response to your loving kindness. And in this way, you can be the nourishment that the world so desperately needs, the branch that delivers God’s love to the world.