Abide in Love

  • Acts 10:44-48
  • Psalm 98
  • 1 John 5:1-6
  • John 15:9-17

I was just in Saskatoon this past week for the LTS Study Conference. I have to admit that I really didn’t think I knew much about the topic of discussion, and I wasn’t really going for the speaker (who, it turns out, is a very engaging person). For me (and I suspect a few others), the study conference at the seminary is as much about the people who gather there as it is about the presenter and the year’s topic. These people, who have been a part of my own journey through seminary, are my colleagues, classmates, companions, champions, and confidants. I go, primarily, because I get to see them: my friends. I can’t speak for everyone, but I had a wonderful time. The presenter was incredible and the discussions were amazing, but I am amazed at how quickly those who have gathered come together in camaraderie and friendship when we are living lives so far apart from one another.

Wherever I looked during those three days, there were clusters of clergy, talking, laughing, or sitting in peace with each other. There was much noise as the masses mingled and caught up on the past year’s lives. We tell each other stories of our past and our present. We ‘shop talk’ and touch on the joys and hardships that we have and are experiencing. In a few short days together, we abide with one another, and new friendships are formed and old friendships are strengthened. At the end of it all, I find myself filled to the brim with good things, refreshed, and ready to come home again with renewed energy.

It is easy for me to see the interconnectedness of our church at functions like the conference. We are all branches extended into the world from the vine, Jesus Christ. However far apart we are, we are all connected through Christ. These kinds of gatherings act as much like the parts of the vine where one branch extends into a number of new tendrils and shoots. Of course, this image might be a theme better suited to last week’s sermon. However, today’s gospel text is also a continuation of that theme. This is the second part of the first section of John 15. And we have this sentence to shape the remaining words: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. This sentence has captivated me.

As God has loved Jesus, so has Jesus loved us. The verbs in this sentence are passive. In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is neither a do-er or a be-er, but is acted upon by some other agent or by something unnamed. Jesus is loved by God, and we are loved by Jesus. God is the first actor, whose action is acted upon and for Jesus. In the same way, Jesus is the actor whose action is acted upon us. But the sentence doesn’t end there. There is a “yes, and” quality to this structure. Jesus is loved, and loves. We are loved and, we find that at the end, the sentence concludes with an active verb. We are to be actors also. We are to abide, actively, in the love of Jesus, that is also the love of God. That is it. We aren’t told to go out and do something – not yet, at least. We are told to abide.

Far too often, I have a tendency to want to do. If a favour is done for me, I look for an opportunity to repay it. If someone is in need, I look for how I can help alleviate it. If I am anxious, upset, or worried, I clean my house (which is in a constant state of need), look for a new house problem to fix, or tidy, or plan for new things to do. I am happier doing. We usually use the word ‘abide’ to mean things like trusting in, accepting, or obeying. This form of abiding is actually ‘abiding by.’ Abiding by is our doing. Abiding by God’s commands and Jesus’ commands is our doing.  Acting in accord with something or agreeing to or obeying only works in the verb phrase ‘abide by’. We have a tendency to jump ahead to the actions of our doing. But something very important happens before that action. Before we get to the action of what it means for each of us to abide, Jesus is telling us, simply, to abide in my love. When we abide, we discover that it’s a state of being not an action that we tick off the list of to-dos.

Abide. Be close to Jesus. Last week I had said that to abide was to: Remain. Persist. Survive. Last. Stay. Live on. We embody all of this, we do this with God, as God has done, and continues to do, with each and every one of us. Abiding isn’t a static thing – it is an active state of being. We are actively present in God’s love. And this should both comfort and disturb us. God’s love is hard.

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. This feels so heavy and law oriented. Are humans capable of love if we are told, commanded, to love? I think of a rather pivotal moment in the film ‘Bruce Almighty’ where the character of Bruce, who has been given God’s job, by God, and has subsequently gone a little power mad, tries to repair his broken relationship with his girlfriend by telling her, commanding her, to love him as she walks away. It doesn’t work, at least not the way he wants it to. You see a frantic desperation in Bruce as he screams: “Love me. Love me!!!” And she has nothing but pity in her eyes as she looks back at him, her heart broken because of the love she has for him. I think of Jesus proving to the Pharisees and Sadducees again and again that the meticulous tallying of rule keeping, and commandment following, has broken the people apart and destroyed the love of that particular community. There must be something in Jesus’ words that find a balance between law and grace.

Jesus’ love commands an equal, generous, non-judgmental relationship with everyone. And, Jesus’ ways of love are never random; instead, Jesus’ love commands us to be intentional, sacrificial, and universal. Every day, with each person, and all situations we find ourselves.[1] This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Our state of being, our abiding in Christ’s love, in God’s love, is that we abide by the commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us: intentionally, sacrificially, and universally.

I have to tell you that this intimidates me. I know what Christ’s love for everyone looks like. To love everyone as Christ has loved me is a rich and deep call – but “Christ’s love is the love of even the hardest kind. We’ve been through the days of Holy Week – we’ve seen that burden.”[2] But we’ve also been to Easter and seen the incredible victory that comes into and out of that love. Jesus love did not stop at the tomb. As David Lose puts it:

“Love does indeed call at times for sacrifice, but sacrificing for another and being less of a person isn’t the same thing. At its best, sacrificial love invites us to live more fully into the kind of person we are called to be… Jesus isn’t less of who he is called to be by laying down his life, but more. I know this is complicated, and again open to abuse — not all sacrifices are holy — but when I look at some of the loving sacrifices people have made for me or that I have made for others, we were never disgraced or devalued by making those sacrifices but actually lived more fully into who we were called to be.”[3]

When I look back to that first sentence of today’s Gospel, I realize that this sacrificial and intentional love is not all that difficult. If we open ourselves completely to God’s love and abide in it, we cannot help but move into the way of Jesus’ love. The state of being naturally generates the action.

Jesus said You are my friendsYou did not choose me, but I chose you. Jesus calls his disciples ‘friends’ and we are included in extension. We are friends. What makes us friends is that we love one another: that we are not merely servants; that we are not left to fend for ourselves in the darkness. Jesus shares what he has come to know from God and we have been chosen.[4]

Friends.

We have clear examples of this all around us. Take a moment to think of the friends you have had through the years. How many people in your life can you rely on in your times of need? Do you have people in your life that you would bend over backwards for, that you know you wouldn’t hesitate to be there for? Jesus is initiating that deep, deep, level of relationship with us. How incredible. I spoke of how important it was for me to get together with friends at the conference in Saskatoon. The people I see there are precious to me. But that gathering wasn’t just about connecting with old friends and reminiscing, or touching base with in a very real presence kind of way. That gathering was also about discovering all the new friends that are in the world. New friends, who are all a part of God’s creation, who are all on their own branches, and in whom I get to see and discover another form of Christ in the midst of the world. We are appointed to go and bear fruit – this fruit is not individual fruit. We are bearing communal fruit – the branches of the vine bear fruit as a whole.

We are told that we are given these commandments so that you may love one another. In other words, abide in God’s love, abide by God’s commandments, share in God’s thinking and see the world as God sees it. And God sees the world with passionate, loving eyes – loving in a variety of ways and in many different forms. It is possible that in each of these many ways, love can be glimpsed and witnessed to by each of us, just as God is glimpsed in each of us.[5] We are called to be friends, where we can abide in God’s love. When we abide in God’s love we cannot help but see all the other forms of that love in the world – Thanks be to God for the invitation, again and again, to be a part of that world. Amen.

[1] Larry Pattern, “Love, Illuminated…and Repeated” (http://www.larrypatten.com/2015/04/28/love-illuminated-and-repeated/), April 28, 2015.

[2] Katie Munnik, “Many Things are Called Love,” Presbyterian Record (http://presbyterianrecord.ca/2012/05/07/many-things-are-called-love/), May 7, 2012.

[3] David Lose, “Love & Obedience,” Dear Working Preacher (http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1533), May 6, 2012.

[4] Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt, “I have called you friends,” Dancing with the word.

(http://words.dancingwiththeword.com/2015/05/i-have-called-you-friends.html), May 3, 2015.

[5] Katie Munnik.

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