Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Living Spirit

Sermon for May 20, 2018

Read Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Acts 2:1-21  ....

The Spirit is such a strange concept, isn’t it? There’s not really a very clear definition of spirit, and a lot of times we get an image of a nebulous ghost type of being. Websters says that it is: an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organism or a supernatural being or essence. Which I guess is a definition, but doesn’t go very far to explain what the Spirit is, does it?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Two Ways

Sermon for May 13, 2018

Read Psalm 1 and John 17:6-19

Guest Pastor Susan Frost

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Commanding Love

Sermon Notes for May 6, 2018  
Read 1 John 5:1-6 and John 15:9-17 ....

Our scriptures this week pick up where we left off last week, continuing with both Jesus’ goodbye to his disciples in the gospel and the letter of 1 John. So perhaps it is unsurprising that they continue that theme of love.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Vines and Branches

Sermon Notes for April 29, 2018 
Read 1 John 4:7-21 and John 15:1-8....

Even though we are on the far side of Easter, this passage actually comes right before it. Jesus is speaking to his disciples during the Last Supper here in John in what comes to be known as the Farewell discourse. It’s all about leaving his disciples with words of comfort and hope in the midst of troubled hearts and worried souls. So why does Jesus go off on this strange tangent about vines and pruning?

Why? Because the vine is an image that intimates profound dependence. Profound reliance. Because life is nothing without belonging, without intimacy, without relationship.

Jesus first unpacks this image as it describes his relationship with his Father before he moves to how the image might portray his relationship with the disciples. This is key for the mutual abiding at stake between Jesus, the Father, and the disciples. Jesus is the vine, "my Father" is the vine grower. Like any good vine grower, the Father tends the vine with care, pruning where necessary so that it bears as much fruit as possible. At the forefront of this image is the theme of dependence.

The vine needs the vine grower as much as the vine grower needs the vine. The vine needs the vine grower for its optimal growth and production, even its abundance. It will produce more fruit, fruit in abundance, if cared for. The vine grower needs the vine to produce, to make abundance possible for sustenance and life. The mutuality assumed in this image is essential especially at this point in the story. Jesus knows what’s next for him and is trying to warn the disciples what is coming.

The image of the vine offers a picture by which the disciples may see themselves as able to do as commanded because of their connection to the vine. Remember, Christ is telling them that he is leaving them and that they have to continue on his work. Continue doing Jesus’s work! That would be overwhelming to anyone I think. But here he is saying that they won’t be alone.

 The English word "abide" is a rendering of the Greek word μένω (meno). It is a word often used in the New Testament. It means "to hold out," "to stand fast," "to stay still," "to remain," and "to endure." It has to do with the permanence of God in our lives. God is not one who is with us when we are performing well, and who abandons us when we struggle. No, God is always with us; sometimes challenging, sometimes comforting, sometimes strengthening, but always with us.

And who is God? As we learn from the first passage, God is love. While we may have overused the phrase until it almost is meaningless to us, it is actually a profound statement. God is the source of all love. The basis for all love is the love of God. That love is sufficient and complete. God loves us and therefore we should love one another. God so loved the world that he sent his son to be the sacrifice for our sins; therefore we should love each other.

When we love, whether it is God or each other, we are connected to the vine. We are connected to God.

So in this passage, Jesus is not commanding us to get and stay connected to him (or else!), but reminding us that we are meant to connect with him just as he desires to connect with us. It is his presence in our lives, and the way it strengthens us spiritually and emotionally and even physically, that makes all the difference in the world. When he abides with us, and we abide in him, we become new beings. When we are connected and filled with love, we bear more fruit. Our prayers are answered. God is glorified. We become his disciples.

Now before we become too prideful, remember the flip side of this coin. It is when we strike off on our own, ignoring our need to be connected with the branch that gives us life — that is when we stop bearing fruit. When we lose our connection to God, our lives whither and die. When we try to live without love, without connection or dependence, we become less than we are meant to be; less than what we can be.

I think this is less intended as a threat about what happens if you don't abide in Jesus but more a metaphorical description of what actually happens when you are not in God, in love.  You end up cut off, withered, useless, like the branches and scraps we clean up from our yard and haul away or burn.

And before there is any confusion, this is the kind of love that the Greeks called agape here. This love isn't the kind of love that you feel deep in your chest. It isn't the rush of excitement of a new relationship, or the comfort of years spent with another. It isn't the affection of friendship. This kind of love Jesus calls us to here isn't a feeling at all. It is an action.

Agape is a love that is marked not by warm feelings but by rather stubborn, unwavering commitment. A decision to treat another person as though they were as important as ourselves. By this definition, we don't have to like someone to love them. Which is good, because there will always be people in the world that we don't like. People that we don't get along with. We don't have to like them. We just have to love them.

Jesus isn't calling us to pretend to have feelings we don't. Jesus is calling us to treat everyone else as though they matter as much as we do. That they are equally loved as a child of God. Because they are. That person who cut in line at the grocery store. The friend who betrayed my trust. The guy who hit my car and drove away. All of them are just as beloved of God as I am. I don't have to like them, but I do have to treat them as well as I treat myself.

The more we can work towards that. The more we seek to love God and each other, the richer and more fruitful our lives will be. And the more that we cut ourselves off, the more that we shut down those relationships, that dependence, the more our lives will wither and grow barren. It’s not a threat coming from Jesus here, but an explanation of how love works. How God works.

Like it or not, we are all of us dependant on God and one another.  All of us need love in our lives, and the more we embrace and accept who we are as the branches, more our lives will thrive.  So as you go out into the world this week, remember that you are branches, rooted in the love of God and sharing that fruit with the world.