John 15:9-17 6th Sunday of Easter Ascension / Oxford 10/5/15
Love one another
[Jesus said] “As the Father has loved me, so have I 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:9-17 ESV)
For us a week has passed since we heard Jesus speaking about vine and branches, the vinedresser (his heavenly Father) and the bearing of fruit, the pruning to bear more fruit, and where there is no fruit the throwing away of the branch and it eventually being burned. For Jesus that night as he came down from the Upper Room and heading towards or in the Garden of Gethsemane, it is only a breath before Jesus further explains his picture and what abiding in him means.
Last Sunday I pointed to the simple truth that Jesus’ message isn’t just a pretty picture to keep in our minds but is a reality enacted where the vine of words, water, bread and wine – ie. where Jesus is present – branches out as people hear Law and Gospel, receive Baptism, eat Holy Communion. To abide in the vine – in Jesus – is to be in contact with God’s Word, with Baptism (once and the subsequent returning to it daily in repentance and restoration), and with Holy Communion. To claim to be a Christian and to ignore the vine – Bible, Baptism, and Holy Communion – is to be a withering branch.
As I mentioned last Sunday, these words of Jesus are nonsense, meaningless, more than, that cruel and deceitful if the vine is dead but we listen to these words nearly 2,000 years after they were spoken precisely because the vine is alive today. Yes, Jesus died less than a day after saying these words but his grave is empty because he has been raised to life again by the vinedresser – Jesus’ Father, whom we usually call ‘Our Father’ or ‘Our heavenly Father’ and not ignoring the mystery of the Trinity simply ‘God’.
Jesus goes onto explain what this abiding in him is all about; what the vine and branches picture leads us to; why we should want to stay in this relationship and not do our best to get away. You see, just being part of an organisation or part of a body or linked together is not by itself a good thing for all the sense of belonging one might feel or experience. The vine might be a strangler vine; the organisation might be self serving and the parts virtual or literal slaves; the body might be nasty and the parts themselves trapped. The dimension of abiding is only of comfort and to be sought when the outcome is good, wholesome, beautiful, life affirming and with Jesus we find love and joy and obedience – and unexpectedly, friendship (not between peers but strangely between the powerful and the powerless).
To abide in Jesus and his Father is to encounter love and this is a critical perspective to bring to one’s understanding of God. There is no reason whatsoever that people should love God or that be the fundamental relationship with him. Muslims submit to Allah. Both Hindus and Buddhists seek enlightenment that this world is a shadow of a greater reality and that in truth we are part of the Divine. Aboriginal religions seek to know the stories of their ancestors or deities. Jesus talks about the key relationship between him and his Father as love and that relationship is extended to creation and to its rescue when creation – when we – go bad. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …
Such love is not an emotional free-for-all but action that is governed by what is best for the other. This sort of love is sacrificial and is bounded by parameters or borders – ie. whatever is best for the beloved. We know this on Mother’s Day when the family makes Mum what she would like to eat rather than what they would like! Such love – because it is action based – not feeling based – it is commitment and choice rather than emotion and ephemeral – is grounded in words. The lover listens to the beloved and, unless there is a very good reason not to, would seek to behave in ways that are in harmony with what we’re being told.
Relationship issues between people who love each other are often about negotiating the respective needs or requests of the beloved and after a while – in marriages, families, long terms friendships, we know what to ‘do’ to show love and so our actions speak volumes when we do these actions and when we don’t do them. The deeds of love become a vocabulary in themselves after a while. We’d prefer them not to be imposed but they can become our commandments of how to love the other person.
No one forced the Father to rescue us. No one forced the Son to rescue us. Yet in the mystery of the Trinity, God set about rescuing sinners for it is the Father’s will that all people be saved and it is the Son’s will to do it and this is carried out – occurs – when the Son obeys the Father and trusts him that it is his will that needs to be done.
We bristle at being told what to do. We’re suspicious when the words ‘commandment’, ‘obedience’, and ‘love’ are in the same sentence or mixed together in some way – yet Jesus on the night before his death – as he lived and died according to the Father’s will and for us – as he obeyed the Father revealed God’s love within the Trinity and for us. That is why Jesus can then give us a commandment – not a request, not an option, not a ‘if you’ve got nothing better to do’ but a command to abide in his love, to keep his commandments, and to love one another.
And the paradox is that sinners hear this as no freedom and imprisonment whereas in truth it is joy for us as we: 1. try and understand that this brings joy to Jesus ‘that my joy be in you’, and 2. joy to ourselves ‘that your joy may be full’. The life that has received God’s love in Jesus and wants to share that love with the world by looking to serve and do what is the loving thing is a life that can know true joy. Who doesn’t smile when we see kindness extended between people? Who isn’t uplifted when we see people help others and not for gain? We know this sort of lifestyle is good but we fear it in the long term; that it can’t be sustained – because we’re not perfect; and it shouldn’t be sustained – because people might become lazy and dependent on us. That misses the point for what abiding in Jesus calls us to do is to do the loving thing for others – to sacrifice – and that may mean saying ‘Yes, I’ll help you’ and helping, serving, whatever – but it might also mean saying ‘No, I won’t help you as you want but I’ll help you another way’ – and that might mean by making them be accountable for their actions. When we were in the Outback people would come to our house regularly for handouts – always wanting money. We didn’t give money – except on one occasion when Charlotte did – but we gave food, water, rides, bought a bus ticket or two – whatever we thought was what was best to give and not usually what they asked for and I think we did the loving thing each time.
There is no limit here except what is best for the other. And that means that it just might happen that the ultimate sacrifice is what is required for those around you. I don’t know what the context would be – though this verse ‘Greater love has no man than this …’ is often used in military contexts – but Jesus is pointing out that love – sacrificial love – is unbounded and unfettered – so that not even death can intimidate it.
And then Jesus drops the bombshell – breaks the social norms surrounding rabbi and disciple and makes things personal by extending friendship to those who abide in him, those who receive his love and share it – and not only with him but also with the Father. God actually calls those in a relationship with him friends – not pets, not servants or slaves – and in this case not even children for even adult children are still children to their adult parents – but here the relationship is based in love and choice not obligation – friendship that is deep and abiding – among those who do things for each other – and that is how Jesus presents prayer.
Prayer is thus communication between friends where each knows that the other will do what is best and that shapes what is asked just as it determines what is done in answer to prayer for the goal of both is that the fruit of love abides.
Today’s verses from Jesus present us with almost an impossible vista – Christians receiving God’s love, living in it by serving others, and praying so that God’s love will be seen in the world. We get so caught up in ourselves, in our lives, in getting by, in trying not to sin or be good in some way that often God can seem remote and faraway – and we don’t just accept that God is good – but on this night before he died, Jesus reminded his disciples that they are loved by God and, in turn, almost the only thing that counts – it could be summary of how Jesus’ disciples live – is that they love one another. Of course in doing that we show we’re loving God. What an amazing way to live!
- John 15:9 - 17