May 2, 2021: The Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for May 2, 2021, the Fifth Sunday of Easter was preached in response to 1 John 4.7-21 and John 15.1-8 and was based on the manuscript below.

How wonderfully this week,
our passages from John
and first John
complement one another.
Whether written by John
the beloved disciples
or those who followed him
in their church community,
both passages from the New Testament
speak to us
in the school of John.
On the night before he died for them
and for us
Jesus told his disciples,
“Abide in me as I abide in you….
Those who abide in me
and I in them
bear much fruit,
because apart from me
you can do nothing.”
Writing to the church broadly,
the author of First John says,
“God abides in those
who confess that Jesus
is the Son of God,
and they abide in God.
So we have known
and believe the love
that God has for us.”

The church
when both of these were written,
were dealing with people
who had confessed Jesus
and had fallen away.
They weren’t able to abide
in professing Jesus
as God’s son.
the church that stayed with Jesus,
was facing its own trials.
Those who were bearing fruit,
living God-filled lives,
were experiencing pruning.
trimming away,
to grow stronger
and know even more abundantly
fullness of life
in Jesus.

Despite Jesus’ best wish
and his direction to his disciples
we have not abided in Jesus’ life and love.
Jesus being the vine
makes us all branches,
rooted to the vine,
the source of our being.
Jesus assures us that we are cleansed,
that we have been washed in the waters of baptism,
At the same time that Jesus tells us we are cleaned,
he warns us
that there will need to be clean cuts.
Throughout its history
the church has failed so spectacularly
at abiding in Jesus’ love.
Racism, colonialism, and genocide
have been carried out
in Jesus’ name.
The author of First John
tells us that God is love.
There’s nothing loving
about killing other people
even in Jesus’ name.
There’s nothing loving
about enslaving other people
or stealing their land.
There’s nothing loving
about staying silent,
staying complicit
as we’re called to live Jesus’ life.

Learning our mistakes
not just from them,
is difficult.
The church has made so many mistakes,
struggled to abide in Jesus,
from the time there was a church!
It’s not that we ourselves,
here and now,
are messed up.
We’re all human,
and have always had trouble,
abiding in Jesus,
knowing the fullness of his life,
sharing the freedom we find
in Jesus the resurrected Christ.

Jesus knew that was going to be a problem.
The writers of John and First John
were seeing that reality of struggling,
60 years after Jesus’ ascension.
In his farewell address
Jesus tells the disciples,
“Those who abide in me
and I in them
bear much fruit,
because apart from me
you can do nothing.”
“Apart from me,
you can do nothing.”
Jesus is not only warning the disciples,
but assuring them
that they’ll be okay.
Having been grafted to Jesus
in the waters of baptism,
they are called to his mission:
to share the Good News of his resurrection.

The writer of First John
elaborates on this point
in expounding on God’s love and commandment.
“God is love,
and those who abide in love
abide in God,
and God abides in them…
“We love because he first loved us…
“The commandment we have from him is this:
those who love God
must love their brothers and sisters also.”

Yes, the church has failed,
in so many ways,
through so much time.
Yes, the church is still failing,
when last summer
parts of the body,
other branches on this vine,
valued insured property
over the lives of Black people
killed by police.
Ask any queer person
and you’ll hear the ways
the church continues to hurt them
even as we try our best.
Former subjects of the British Empire,
and forced converts to Anglicanism,
know all to well how the church
has failed to abide in Jesus’ love.

Apart from Jesus
we can do nothing,
and knowing those failures,
learning them
and working to rectify them
is one way of
abiding in Jesus.
Yet with Jesus,
whether those who called for abolition
or those faithful Chrsitians at demonstrations
or martyred by the church
for resisting oppression,
there is hope.
The church has failed,
but Jesus calls us back.
Being pruned,
collectively and inviditually,
being ongoingly converted
and reconverted
to follow Jesus
can hurt.
But when the vine dresser prunes us,
cuts back that which holds us back,
we’re able to better abide.
Jesus cuts back
so that we may better know his love.
Jesus prunes our hearts,
so that we may know his heart better,
and through him share the freedom
we have found in him.

God is love,
and those who abide in love
abide in God,
and God abides in them.

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