Sunday, May 6, 2018

To Bear Fruit that Lasts John - John 15:9-17

Today’s Gospel reading has us again abiding with God.  Living out the Great commandment to love one another “that our Joy may be complete!” Jesus lifting his followers claiming and proclaiming I no longer call you servants but “I call you friends”.    So Lovely, what a beautiful concept it calls to mind the old hymn Oh what a friend we have in Jesus…  A friend of Jesus a friend in God….
Let me share this Fred Craddock story….
Fred explains that for some reason he had never preached on this verse before and he found himself a little nervous;
“From servant to friend – do you welcome, will you accept this promotion?...
I must acknowledge that my trembling before john 15:15 has an antecedent in a sermon heard almost twenty years ago on a kindred theme: Abraham was called a friend of God James 2:23 The preacher, a large man, made painfully awkward by a number of maladies, including poor eyesight, moved to the pulpit and read in crippled speech his sermon text James 2:23.
His opening words were, “Abraham was a friend of God. I’m sure glad I am not a friend of God.” His sermon was an explanation of why he was pleased not to be a friend of God.... (Fred goes on to explain)
I cannot recall being so engaged in a sermon… He recalled the story of Abraham, pilgrim and wanderer, who, after years of homelessness, died and was buried in a land not his own. “Abraham was a friend of God,” He said; “I’m glad I’m not. “He then spoke of others who had been called friends of God, faithful in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword. He concluded with Teresa of Avila, remembered by the church as a friend of god. He recalled her begging in public to raise funds for an orphanage. After a series of setbacks- flood, storm and fire repeatedly destroying the orphanage- Teresa in her evening prayers said to God, “So this is how you treat your friends; no wonder you have so few.” The sermon closed with Counsel: if you find yourself being drawn into the inner circle of the friends of God, blessed are you. But pray for strength to bear the burden of it.”[1]
Oh what a friend we have in Jesus… Cradock’s story does make one pause
One way this Easter season can be described is "trekking through John's Gospel!" This passage is more of the same of last weeks passage it is a continuation of Jesus’ farewell speech. So, we are still on the move, called to abide in Christ’s love. To make our Home in Christ and allow Christ to make home in us.

This part of Jesus teaching opens with as the father has loved me so I have loved you and ends with I am giving you these commandments so that you can love one another.  A Nice pair of Book ends. But the opening verse does make me ask or ponder and wonder: how has Jesus loved us as God loves Jesus? What is this mirror image supposed to tell us about Jesus' love for his people, the love in which we are to abide?
Well there are some things we learn as we have walk with Jesus through the Gospels… “God’s love towards Jesus is demanding, full of presence and promise, rich in public displays of God's power. It prunes, cleanses, molds, forms, challenges, and supports Jesus in his ministry. This is the love of Jesus Christ in which we are invited to abide.”[2]
This is the Love we are called to live into, a love fully and completely around us at all times Challenging us to do better, to be better. This love we are called into is full of the promise of being welcomed home into the eternal love that is God.
Jesus emphatically says the road of abiding consists in keeping his commandments (John 15:10). So what is Jesus’ commandments he is requiring us to keep? This is the little trick in John…John assumes his readers and his community know the stories of Christ including the great Commandment. Jesus again urges his disciples to do this since he has kept God's commandments, and the results of such abiding, the results of that love were observable in all he did, and we can still live into that presence today!
One commentator reflects that in the first two versus of this reading we can imaging “a parent leaning over a young baby, with smiles, trying to elicit smiles, and with gestures encouraging the baby to do the same as the parent.”  Of course, how many parents recall trying to get their baby to smile and they get everything other than a smile?  Jesus knows we are human. Yet, Jesus' use of himself as the model for love, and for commandment keeping, is anchored in daily life. One imagines his encouragement: "You can do this! You can do this because I have done it, and I am here to show you how to do it."

“Verse 11; “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” This, this is an odd outcome, this is not one would expect to hear…the results of keeping Christs commandments is Joy--joy. And not just any joy, but the joy of Jesus the Christ, a complete joy. I would even venture to say an incomprehensible joy. But what does this mean?  What does this Joy look like? I believe it means an exuberance of faith that nothing can destroy. It means a deep-seated sense of happiness that is not merely emotion alone, but also a lively pleasure in the things of God. It is such a deep-rooted joy that even in the most challenging of times we can find a comfort or even a bit of holy sarcasm…remember Teresa’s prayer…in the face of extreme adversity she can comfortably come to God and say so this is how you treat your friends…
This passage gives a view of what we are truly called to as Christians
… these words of Jesus effectively combine human action, the fulfilling of his commandments, love God with your whole heart and Love your neighbor, with a radical human emotion as their effect, Joy! Abiding in Jesus the risen Lord is not a matter of grim-faced respectability or dour commandment keeping −it is a joy, a holy hilarity!
Right here is the great commandment as Jesus reminds us is "that you love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12). love one another. Jesus extends the depths and extent of this love by saying the greatest expression of love is dying for one's friends.
Let me say this… there are many ways of dying that do not require a cross.
Giving up time or a want, so that another may be happy, sacrificing a meal so another may eat, walking a little further down a road so one does not have to be alone. These are all little deaths, deaths of one’s own ego. Sacrificing of our time, talent and giving up our many ways of being self-serving and becoming self-sacrificing truly this is laying down one’s life for their friends.
Biblical commentators have pointed out some interesting issues of which to be aware of in verses 12 and 13. In these verses, Jesus is speaking of love between and among friends. What about the enemies? The strangers? Would one die for love of these as well? Well, well, well, what about that…if we love our neighbor no matter who that is…how can they be an enemy.  Often one is heard to ask who is my neighbor?  Who am I called to love, who is my friend that I am called to love? Well…mm mm…ok who is my enemy, who, I mean really who is your enemy? Who is so excluded from our world view that we can truly claim them as an enemy. In Mathew we are reminded you have heard love your neighbor, but I say love your enemies.
In this day and age, we may feel we have enemies at times, but do we really? Aren’t our true enemies empire? Perhaps our enemies are attitudes of what mine is mine and what yours is mine, or attitudes of superiority which can easily be seen in white privilege and male dominance or the way society may scapegoat a particular ethnic population. The list could go on and on. But we do not, as Christians, have people as enemies. I believe we have behaviors, attitudes and egos to resist and hearts and minds to change!
 Jesus reminds us “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”, Jesus then clarifies how he regards his disciples. They are not strangers, nor merely disciples, and certainly not just servants: they are friends.
Jesus notes the reason he calls them "friends" is he has shared the riches of all he has with them, in terms of his relationship with God. "I have made known to you everything..." (John 15:15). Here Jesus' offer of the intimacy of friendship is overwhelming. To live in the love of Jesus, Jesus the Risen Lord, is to be invited into friendship with God. There it is, we are invited. Through the Gospels Jesus has made known to us everything as well and so we are called to be friends of God.
Friends of God. The reality of friendship with Jesus offers in full disclosure is this; To know the Risen Christ is to know the heart of God. Then Jesus reminds us we did not choose Christ but Christ choose us…We were chosen just as the disciples are chosen John 15:16 and then we are reminded of what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Christ…Go and bear fruit ...fruit that will last.
We are recieving something we did not create, go searching for, or earn on our own. This is pure grace…the gifted-ness of God.
But there responsibility attached to the work of fruit bearing. Not only are we to do it, but we are to bear "fruit that will last."
Bearing fruit means making wise choices and decisions for the work of and on behalf of God. It means acting thoughtfully over a life time; discerning what thoughts, words, and actions best serve the intentions of a loving God in this world.
Let us Pray as we continue to grow in God the we be that loving presence of Christ, just as Christ is that loving presence in us. So that all around us one by one hearts and minds may be changed, bent towards the arch of love. That truly is fruit that will last!

[1] The collected sermons of Fred B Craddock189-190
[2] Sermon seeds

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