First Congregational Church
May 6, 2018
Sixth Sunday in Easter
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A husband and wife were shopping and couldn’t decide which jacket to buy their granddaughter, so they asked the young salesman. “If you were buying a jacket for your girlfriend, what would you get?” The nice young man said, “A bulletproof one. I’m married.”
Glen Phenix of NC, told the tale about sitting on a flight next to a woman. Ever the charmer, Glen asked, “Does the airline charge you extra for sitting next to good-looking men?” “Yes,” she said, “but I wasn’t willing to pay.”
There is a beautiful saying I’d never come across before, attributed to Sitting Bull. “Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love.” Bill Nye, the Science Guy said, “Winter lingered so long in the lap of Spring that it occasioned a great deal of talk.” And it was the great baseball guy, Sandy Koufax, who said, “People who write about spring training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball.” And of course, there is Alfred Lord Tennyson’s take on spring; “In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
Maybe it was the inspiration of Tennyson that caused the lectionary people to chose the passages for this morning. If you had the desire to look up the list of lectionary Gospel passages for the month of May, although all of them come from the book of John, they are completely mixed up in terms of sequence. And the Epistle - or non-Gospel, New Testament readings - are also a complete jumble.
So to give us a little more context, the passage from John comes on the heals of Jesus’ teaching about him being the vine and we being the branches. He spoke about pruning dead wood so that we could put forth good fruit in our labor for Christ’s kingdom. Our passage describes that fruit.
The epistle of 1 John implies that there is more than one, and in fact, there are three little notes from John, in addition to the Gospel attributed to his name. 1 John was written between 95 and 100 AD from Ephesus, probably to counter the issue of docetism, which is the belief that Jesus did not come "in the flesh", but only as a spirit - like a ghost. In addition to Jesus’ humanity and divinity, the letter also deals with ethics and love and fellowship with God. (read)
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
1 John 5:1-6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
Thank you, Cecelia and Rick. Dwight Moody was a 19th century American evangelist connected with the Holiness Movement, who founded a church, a school, Moody Bible Institute and Moody Publishers. He was as famous then as Billy Graham was in our last century. In his collected Anecdotes, he had the following account.
“In Chicago a few years ago a little boy attended a Sunday school I know of. When his parents moved to another part of the city, the little fellow still attended the same Sunday school, although it meant a long, tiresome walk each way. A friend asked him why he went so far, and told him that there were plenty of others just as good nearer his home.
"They may be as good for others, but not for me," was his reply. "Why not?" she asked. "Because they love a fellow over there," he replied.”
Moody ended his account with this. “If only we could make the world believe that we loved them there would be fewer empty churches, and a smaller proportion of our population who never darken a church door. Let love replace duty in our church relations, and the world will soon be evangelized.”
Before I go on, I should probably mention that this sermon is perhaps not for each and every person here. But, I’m guessing that you’ll have to wait until the end to make that conclusion.
I’ve thought long and hard about this idea of loving like this. It’s not the kind of love between teenagers or even newly weds, and it’s not the kind of familiar love between people who are friends and have similar backgrounds. In fact, this kind of love that Jesus was talking about was a new category, a kind never heard of before.
The kind of love that Jesus was talking about - that John wrote about in both passages for this morning - is Agape love. World renown Christian theologian and Anglican minister, J.I. Packer said that “Agape draws its meaning directly from the revelation of God in Christ. It is not a form of natural affection, however, intense, but a supernatural fruit of the Spirit. That it’s a matter of will rather than feeling (for Christians must love even those they dislike). It is the basic element in Christ-likeness.”
I’m guessing that most of us would nod our heads in agreement with this idea, but what - and/or how - does this actually come about? The answer to this question is important, because we can’t fake it - really. We know if we’re faking it, and certainly God knows if we’re faking it. How can we love genuinely, especially people with whom we have issues?
Maybe the first thing is to be cognizant of Jesus’ second line in John’s gospel: “remain in my love.” If we aren’t remembering Christ’s love - demonstrated in his sacrifice for us - then we’re going to be easily lead off the course of agape love. And we have to remember that this is, as Packer said, an act of the will, so this may take some retraining of our brains and hearts - firstly of God’s love as being the foundation of everything that we do - everything.
Then I think, keeping within the lines of what we know God sees blessing is another part of the passage from John 15. It doesn’t mean following each and every commandment of the Bible, word for word. In fact, we can’t do that, because some of the commandments conflict with each other. So we have to keep that large picture-overall idea that God has for God’s people - of love and grace and mercy.
As we wrestle with those things, they still don’t get us to the actual loving of those around us, especially those who rub our fur the wrong way or feel like a burr under the saddle. I don’t know if this is Jesus approved, but it seems to me that the very first step we can take in loving all of God’s people - particularly those with whom we have issues - is to treat them all with the same respect that we would treat a stranger that we bump into at the store or meet going into a building. Offering everyone the simple pleasantries of “Excuse me” or “Pardon me” at least gets the hard-to-loves into the human category. And for some people and some instances, that is going to be a huge step. Sometimes acknowledging that a person has the same right to breath air as we do is a big deal. And if that’s not a problem for you, then you can pray for those who do have those hurdles, that their hearts can take the first step in Christ’s command to love.
And maybe after moving our heart to the place where person or persons X, Y and Z have the same right to breath, then we can step up the challenge by hoping or praying for that person or individuals, that they would have a good day. Or a good night’s sleep. Or some other goodness. And if we aren’t in that place then we can pray for those who struggle with that step. And in all simplicity, it really is the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12)
And as long as we’re talking about really touchy stuff here, I might just as well jump in with both feet to say that there is that other anecdote that comes in to play, perhaps even before any or all of my simple machinations: If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all, which, by-the-way, includes what you say with your face and body language, too. What we say non-verbally is not only audible to the person we may consciously or unconsciously be aiming our little daggers, but to those around us, those who are casual onlookers of what is happening around them, and perhaps most especially with our younger folks. They, like adults, see how we reflect - or don’t reflect - God’s love and Christ’s commands to love.
Down in our hearts, I think each an every one of us really wants to be a great person after God’s heart, even if we don’t realize that we may not be doing very well in that category. And while it may be a noble thing to love neighbors with the love of Christ, there is an even higher reason. Jesus said it in the gospel passage; that when we love as Christ has loved us, then we aren’t servants doing God’s work, but we become Christ’s friend. It goes from a one-way relationship to a two-way relationship, a relationship that looks for the well-being of each other; even the willingness to defend each other.
We don’t become Jesus, because he is not our equal nor are we his. But it is certainly a relationship that is more fulfilling and meaningful than a wag of the tongue or a nod of the head. Far more, filled with divine qualities. And it is God’s real desire for us. That is God’s desire for all of God’s people - those we like, those we don’t, those we know, those we don’t, those who make us feel good and those who don’t. So let us get to work in this season of ground-working and planting.
God of Life and Love, we start this week, maybe a little unsettled, perhaps having had our boundaries and edges encroached in ways that aren’t always comfortable. So help each of us to grow in love - especially in that Agape love that takes us into such a different plane of existence. Forgive us, when we have failed in loving others as you love us. Forgive us when we’ve done that unknowingly, but for those times of deliberate pain, we ask for your mercy and grace to rectify any hurt that may still linger. And help each of us so desire that relationship of interactive friendship with Jesus, that it becomes not just our goal, but our passion. Thank you, for loving us to such a degree that out of the overflow of your love, you sent Christ, your proof of love toward all of humanity. In thanksgiving for all that you do and are, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.