This is the preaching draft for the sermon for Easter VI, 2015. Sermons are never given in the way they are written, for much happens in the delivery that can’t be predicted. But this is what I was working from. Blessings and peace, Pastor.
Abide in Love
Easter 6 May 10 2015
Just as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you;
abide in my love.
Abide: it comes from words that have to do with staying.
Stay with me, remain with me, dwell in, live in my love, says Jesus.
Eugene Peterson translates this in his wonderful
paraphrase bible: make yourself at home in my love.
Here, in the 15th chapter of John,
the writer repeats the word abide over and over.
It began last week, with the image of Christ the vine,
on whom we are the fruit-bearing branches.
Abide in me, as I abide in you;
you cannot bear fruit unless you abide in me.
Those who abide in me bear much fruit.
Apart from me you can do nothing.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish.
This week, the Gospel reading continues
the language of abiding—of staying and remaining,
of making ourselves at home in God’s love.
This week more is revealed as
Jesus opens it up in a further teaching:
Abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments,
you will abide in my love.
As Jesus is, so we are.
Here is the commandment, in case you were wondering,
and it is only one: Love one another just as I have loved you.
It’s not a love that looks like the relation between master and a servant.
It’s not the kind of love, which isn’t really love at all,
where power is used to dominate in any way;
it’s a radical equalizing love.
Jesus says, in a stunning move away from hierarchies,
away from kingship or Lordship language, or controlling language,
“I name you my friends.”
You are my friends when you abide in my love.
I’ve told you everything you need to know—
I’ve chosen you to be my companions, my friends.
As Jesus speaks of it,
friendship is a reciprocal connection—there is mutual abiding,
mutual at-homeness, mutual indwelling.
Just as the Father has loved me, I have loved you,
abide in my love, love your neighbor, go and bear fruit.
The commandment is a way of life, a mutual abiding.
Loving our neighbor begins with God loving us first,
just as the life of a branch begins on a Vine.
And as John draws the image here,
all is interconnected. My capacity to love my neighbor
is a direct expression of God’s abiding love,
and Christ’s indwelling love;
it’s a direct expression of being at home in God’s love.
Love can’t be commanded; that is true, whether it’s God’s command
or the demand of another—it can’t be commanded because love arises in freedom.
Love, it turns out, is a gift.
Gift implies the freedom to offer
and the freedom to receive.
As we grow more and more at home
in God’s gift of abiding love,
that experience undoes so much
inside that keeps us from our neighbor,
whether the neighbor is a member of our family,
or someone in our community,
or the citizens of a far country like Nepal,
or a city like Baltimore or Ferguson.
It undoes the visible and sometimes invisible
walls we build based on race, class, ethnicity, or gender,
or any other kind of wall built on difference, power, privilege, or prestige.
The abiding love of Christ, that soul-friendship
undoes our inner and outer divisions;
it undoes shame, it undoes our false separations,
it connects all of us as children of God.
In the weeks after Easter,
all of our readings direct our imaginations, our hearts and minds
and our actions to the experience of what it is to live
as people of the Resurrection.
I think we forget sometimes
that the Gospels are all written after the Resurrection.
And they reflect the experience of those early communities,
of what it means to be a Christian, to follow Jesus in a new way,
in the absence of a living walking breathing historical being named Jesus,
yet, in the presence of the Risen Jesus, a wholly new form of experience.
It meant and means, therefore, a wholly new way of life.
This image of radical abiding, where Jesus names us friend,
comes directly from Jesus’ followers’ experience of resurrection life—
They wanted to tell us, as people who carry the memory
and the experience, of what it’s like
to live with the presence of Christ in our midst, Post-Easter.
Here is what it is, what we have experienced—the abiding of Jesus’ presence,
which we knew in historical life, has moved inside,
has made a home in us, and it has also become
the source of life that flows out through us—
from God’s love to the love of Jesus to the love of neighbor;
it’s one outpouring, moving in and through, outward
into the world, moving outward in bread and spirit,
in water and Word, carried into the places we live.
Wherever we are, Christ is—and Jesus says that, too, in John,
Where they are, I will be. Where you are, Christ will be.
All of John speaks of this radical abiding:
Jesus is light of the world—and light goes everywhere.
Jesus is the bread of life—and bread feeds everyone.
Jesus is the living water—and the water is poured out for everyone.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd—and the shepherd cares for everyone.
Jesus is the Vine—and the Vine gives life to everyone.
I call you my friends, Jesus says, and that invitation to friendship
with Christ, the Risen Christ is offered to everyone.
All are images of God’s abiding presence with us
in and through all that we are and experience,
this abiding loving presence in whom we live and move and have our being.
John, as a Gospel writer (or writers)
is interested in images of God;
he wants to make God as accessible as he can;
he uses metaphors accessible to the people he’s teaching.
Vineyards and shepherds are a part of their lives.
If we can’t relate to one of the images,
perhaps we can relate to another.
We live in another world, another place and time.
The invitation for us is to see the living Christ, here in our midst,
in new and enlivening ways.
We might have different images or experiences of God’s abiding love.
Maybe this week, we can pay attention to the ways we experience God,
and the abiding love of God in our lives.
In closing, then, I’ll share one of my images of abiding love.
The biblical writers sometimes use maternal imagery for God.
They sometimes see God’s love as mothering love,
as a creative, birthing power in the universe.
They also speak of the intimate experience of God’s love
a mother’s tender love of her child.
On the day I left California
I paid my last visit to my daughter’s house,
to say good-bye—to her, and to Jacob, her new baby.
She was sitting in a chair holding him.
Jacob had been waking up all week—you know it’s quite a thing to be born,
and it’s tiring—so he had been sleeping so much.
It takes time to wake up to life,
to the world around you.
If you can only see sixteen inches in front of you,
it takes even more concentration to wake up.
That morning, Jacob was really waking up.
My daughter was holding him in her lap, facing him.
As she was looking at him, he began to look back at her.
his eyes opened wide; his face became very quiet.
There they were, just looking at each other.
Then, after a while, Jacob fell asleep, sitting up.
But while he was looking at her,
Jacob was abiding in his mother’s love,
and she was abiding in his.
And all the world was there.
Everything he needed was right there.
Just as God has loved me, so I have loved you,
says our dear Lord,
Abide in my love.