Friday, May 18, 2012

Sermon - Sunday, May 13, 2012 - Church of St John the Evangelist.

John 15:9-17
May all the words I speak which come from God find a rich soil in which to be planted. And may all those which do not be speedily forgotten"
In keeping with our theme of Poetry in Theology, a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
The glory of Friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when they discover that someone else believes in them and is willing to trust them. 

As we near the end of this Easter season, we’re hearing again in this mornings Gospel the words Jesus spoke on that Maundy Thursday evening to his disciples. Jesus was spending his last few hours with his friends, his disciples, those who were so close to him the past few years. They were his closest and most trusted friends, they had sat at his feet, listened to his teachings, they saw him perform innumerable miracles. 
And here tonight Jesus despite knowing what will happen to him personally over the next few days continues to teach them and offer comfort to them and encouraging them, all while he is trying to prepare them for what is to happen to him. And he gives them a command...twice now, as we heard, Jesus commands his disciples to love each other. If you listen, you notice that Jesus is at this moment focusing only on their relationship with one another He’s not talking about their relationship with the people around them in the community or the world. It’s important also to understand that Jesus is giving them a command. This isn’t something optional for the disciples, nor a polite “can’t we all just get along” suggestion. It’s a command to them.
Looking at the disciples, does it really surprise us that Jesus would command this of them? These disciples were brothers and friends, and had known each other for many years. This seems like it would be an easy command to obey wouldn’t it? You’d assume that if anybody would be able to love one another, it to be the disciples. 
Remember what happens to you when you assume...
In this “Maundy Thursday” meal setting, if we look back and reread the story before and after this chapter and verse, we see the true nature of our human “being.”  Even at the table this night, the disciples were being they’re typical selves, being humans, arguing over which one of them was the greatest. Some were angry at James one moment and then John another time. Many times there seemed to be more of a spirit of competition between the twelve disciples than a spirit of love. Knowing he was witnessing a classic example of humanity in action, Jesus commanded them to, “Love each other”; and he defines what true love really is, telling them “Love each other as I have loved you.” 
Jesus goes on and explains it in detail to them “No one has greater love than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” true love to the extreme, isn’t it? True love, shown later in the willingness of Jesus to give up his very life for those that he loves. 
This true love is not simply about giving up one’s life to die for another, it is also about giving up your life while you’re still living. True love is giving up the things that we love the most here on earth for our loved ones. It’s giving up our wants and our desires in order to help and serve our fellow brothers and sisters. It’s about putting others before ourselves. Jesus is emphasizing here that true love is not about taking. Love is all about, and only about giving. True love is give, give, give... not give, and then always take.
I hear this command to “love each other,” and I know I don’t love like this. As I look at my relationships with others I can always find room for improvement. My life is filled with remembrances of give, but then also take; and sometimes take and take again. My friends, how are you living into this “simple” command Jesus gave us? With those in your family? With those you work with? With those you dislike or have issues with? With the people sitting in the pew right next to you.   We don’t always love like Jesus commands us to love, do we? It’s easier to pretend to be nice to someone and then gossip about them once their gone. It’s easier to hold a grudge against someone than it is to offer full and free forgiveness isn’t it? Its easier to walk away than it is to work together. The spirit of vestry meetings or meetings between students and the leaders at school can turn into two competing sides, one versus each other – each siding not wanting to give, give, give, but to get, get, get.... get their own way. Even in the midst of worship at times there may exist a spirit of lovelessness.
Yet as I look at the people all around me in my life, and as I look out at you here now my dear friends I see people that are capable of the True love that Jesus commands. I’ve been a recipient of that love here. As I think about the people I’ve grown to love here at Saint Johns and at EDS, I see the very face of Christ we’re supposed to look for; and I hear the call to love like Jesus tells me to love. I see the opportunity God places before us all to work together to grow his kingdom here, and to grow in community together. We are called here in this place not to wither away, but to bear fruit and give; give true love to those sitting in the pews next to us and those around us in the world. 
Larry Peters, in an article for the Alban Institute entitled “Getting By” comments that “Many congregations are tempted to “play it safe” during times of stress.  That during time of unprecedented change in our culture today, “we may be tempted to try and survive the tough times by holding steady, hunkering down, and fending off any thought of change and possible upheaval, even in the midst of what we may be calling a planning process. Our traditions point us to our tendencies to enshrine what we are so used to doing. In doing so we forget the examples of the past found in scripture. We forget that it shows us examples where a people of faith can be frozen in what is or what used to be... often at our own peril. We look back in fear for safety instead of looking forward for opportunity and for purpose.” As a people of faith we are called to engage in what Larry Peters describes as “a venture forward, toward being changed as a congregation, instead of merely making changes in what we do to survive” 
We are called here as a people of faith to venture forward my friends.... to work together in that spirit of true love Christ shows us, to proclaim the Gospel in and around this parish, making a lasting impact in the lives of SO many people. This call to bear fruit, fruit that will last forms the basis of the mission of this parish. The mission of this church is not a matter of words only; the community around us must see the unity and love in this parish, proof of the need for this place and of the reconciling ministry of God, and the need for Gods kingdom in this world.
I know all too well that I don’t always love others as Jesus has commanded me, yet I know I must keep trying, always. Jesus said: ”You did not choose me but I chose you; I appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.”  Not an optional request... Jesus tells us this in plain and simple fact.  Why do we find it such a challenge to live into this command when in fact it really is so simple? What do we need to do now here in this parish, to begin to bear the fruit that Christ calls us to bear? Questions worth finding the time to repeat and think about. May God grant us the time to ask ourselves these questions, and grant that our life together here show that kind of fruitfulness.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” - as we proclaim here every Sunday, Good news indeed.  AMEN

© Harry Walton  2012