May 5: The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for May 5, 2024 was preached in response to John 15:9-17 based on the manuscript below.

We pick up this week,
where we left off last week.
That’s not what always happens
when we use the lectionary.
Last week we heard Jesus tell the disciples
“I am the vine;
you are the branches.
If you remain in me and I in you,
you will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing.”
Jesus concluded,
“This is to my Father’s glory,
that you bear much fruit,
showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
John Scholar Raymond Brown
suggests that what we hear today
John 15.9-18
is an interpretation
of Jesus’ conclusion last week.
What does it mean
to bear much fruit,
showing ourselves
to be Jesus’ disciples?

The very short version of that is
“Love is a verb.”
Jesus continues his teaching
not with more metaphor or parable
about vines and branches,
but just teaching.
“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…
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 beloved.
You are my beloved
if you do what I command you.”

You might have noticed
that I didn’t use “friends” here.
Raymon Brown,
in his personal translation of this passage
uses “beloved.”
I like it because it pushes us
beyond asking
“What friends are we supposed to
lay our lives down for.”
The answer to that,
like “Who is our neighbor?”
is everyone.
Throughout this farewell discourse
the night before Jesus’ crucifixion
Jesus really pushes the theme of love.
The love he’s trying to impress on the disciples
is love as a verb.
Beloved conveys that
in a way that “friends” doesn’t.

All through this discourse
Jesus is telling the disciples
to love one another.
This is his new commandment.
Not to love the way we’re used to,
not to love when it’s convenient
or when it feels natural,
but the way he’s loved us.
God’s love for us
made known to us in Jesus
isn’t just a feeling of affection.
This love is one that gives.
For Jesus it’s giving up
some of his reality
to be human.
Then it’s giving up his life
to experience the fullness of being human
and defeating death
through that same love.

Like Jesus told us last week,
we can do nothing apart from him,
he says that the same is true of him!
Think about how much love that is
emanating from God who created all that is.
But Jesus can only love us
because he’s stayed in his Father’s love.
He’s abided.
He charges us to do the same,
love one another
not with just affection
and not as we’re prone to
but as he and the Father have loved us.
He tell us how to do that, too:
abide in his love.
This is how we get anything done,
this is what 1 John says conquers the world.

It’s not going out and slaying people
who disagree with us or refuse to convert.
It’s showing such love through our actions,
love through our self-giving
for our beloved
as we’re called to love everyone
as Jesus has loved us
that the world is changed.
Jesus has come that we might have life
and have it to the full,
and the fullness of life is only known
through loving God
and showing that love to the world.
We can’t show that love to the world,
can’t be part of God’s changes in the world
through Jesus’ resurrection
unless we’re abiding in Jesus’ life and love ourselves.

Abiding in Jesus’ love
and keeping his commandments
isn’t following a list of rules.
For Jesus in John
these are the same thing.
Loving one another,
and knowing that we are God’s beloved.
Jesus doesn’t call the disciples servants
but calls them friends,
calls them those whom he loves.
He calls them beloved
in a context where he himself
has served them.
Jesus commands them to abide in his love
that they may conquer the world
through the love of God.

Abiding in God’s love is pretty difficult
even if we have great spiritual practices.
Our monthly labyrinth walk
is one way of abiding in Jesus:
setting your intentions,
journeying to the center,
resting and centering,
and making your way out.
Just showing up here each week
or as often as you can
is a way to abide in Jesus love.
Even if I don’t always communicate
just how much God loves you, us, and creation,
hopefully the words of the liturgy
can carrying you along
to reflect on God’s ultimate love.
Bible study,
Daily Office,
and so many other practices
can be ways of abiding
in God’s love and presence.

This abiding isn’t just rest
but it does require rest.
In our breakneck world
immersed in hustle culture
rest is discouraged
even as “self-care” trends on Instagram.
Josh Teis said on Twitter,
“When work is an idol,
rest will feel like a sin.”
When I saw a comic of that
I did a little jig at my desk.
“When work is an idol
rest will feel like a sin.”
It’s hard to abide in Jesus
when a step of that abiding
feels like a sin, huh?

As we continue through Eastertide
the church is inviting and encouraging us
rather than scolding us and judging us
to produce fruit that will last.
Jesus has defeated death.
We don’t have to do that.
We can’t do anything
except through Jesus.
In Acts today Peter recognizes
that the Holy Spirit comes to some people
before they’re baptized!
It’s not on us
except to stay with God
and share God’s gracious love.
“As the Father has loved me,
so I have loved you;
abide in my love.”

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