May 17, 2009

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie

John 15:9-17

I’ve been thinking about LOVE all weekend. A young couple in our congregation, Greg Mergen and Kim Lund, got married yesterday so I got to preach on the classic wedding text of 1 Corinthians 13 — the “love chapter”. You know the one. In the middle of it, the apostle Paul describes what love is:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

And whether it’s the Corinthian Christians trying to love each other despite their differences and conflicts, whether it’s married couples trying to love each other through all the ups and downs of life together, or whether it’s any of us Christians trying to put love into practice in our lives, it seems like an impossibly high standard to live up to.

We do try though, don’t we? We try to get along with our co-workers. We try not to snap at our kids. We try to be friendly to the neighbours next door. And we smile at the bus driver or the store clerk or the person passing by on the street. Sometimes we try, at least, when we remember…

But often when we get to church on Sunday… that’s the time when we think about Jesus’ commandment to love. And that’s when we notice how little loving we’ve been doing. We pause to confess our sin, and our hearts feel heavy – weighed down with regret, bowed down with guilt.

We remember our own impatience with our spouses. We think of the way we complained about our colleagues behind their backs. Nasty words spoken of other drivers, neighbours, bosses, or in-laws come to mind. Not to mention the way we turned away from the homeless person on the street, or the indifference we showed towards hurting or hungry people throughout the world today.

Sometimes we come to church and we think, “I’ve done it again! I can’t do this LOVE thing that Christians are supposed to do! It’s the greatest commandment. That’s what Jesus called it, and I just can’t seem to get it right!”

I’ve heard people talk about going to church and feeling just like that. They go to church every Sunday because that’s what they’ve always done, and they leave at noon feeling really terrible about church, about God, and mostly feeling really terrible about themselves.

And I say this really hoping that you don’t leave this church after the service feeling like that. If you do, then perhaps we have been failing in our task of proclaiming and sharing the good news of God in Jesus Christ. Because it is GOOD news!

Our Christian faith is not about a bunch of rules that we have to follow in order to get into heaven. And it’s not about a bunch of doctrinal things that we must know by heart and believe without a doubt. The Gospel text today makes it clear that our Christian faith is a way of being and living in the world in relationship both with God and with the people around us.

Last Sunday’s text gave us the wonderful metaphor of Jesus as the vine, and us as the branches — connected both to God and to one another. It’s even better than the jugs of water that I talked about with the kids this morning because when you’re connected to the vine you don’t need to keep coming back to the jug to get a re-fill of water or a re-fill of love. As branches that are connected to the vine who is Jesus, we have a constant source of nourishment.

Jesus says, “The Father has loved me, and I abide in that love.” Jesus lived in constant connection to God. He didn’t just check in on the Sabbath day when he went to public worship. But he spent time in prayer and study, and lived each day in relationship with the God who loved him.

All the loving that Jesus did in his ministry… when he touched the sick and healed them, when he spent time with the outcasts and those who were despised by others, and when he got down on his knees to wash the feet of his friends… I think he did all that loving out of the overflow of the love he was receiving from God the Father.

And Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” We are invited to drink up the goodness of Jesus’ love for us. We are God’s beloved children, made in God’s image, and worthy of God’s love. When we leave church on Sunday morning, that should be the message resounding in our ears. We should hear it in the scriptures, in the prayers, in the preaching, and in the music we share. And most of all, we should be convinced of our belovedness by the way we are treated and cared for in this place. We should leave absolutely overflowing with love to share throughout the week.

And sometimes, that’s exactly what happens. And for that we give thanks to God.

But Jesus didn’t use the metaphor of the jug and the little cups. He talked about the vine and the branches — a system where we don’t just come back once in a while to get filled up — a system where we stay connected all the time, like a hose to a tap.

We can tap into that source of love by staying connected to each other beyond just sitting together in church. We can take time to get to know each other and to care for each other beyond what happens here on Sunday mornings. We can support each other in times of struggle, and we can celebrate together in times of joy. We can listen to our Christian friends, and share our lives with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Reflecting on the fact that Jesus has called us friends, author Paula Ripple writes these words: “It is not the easy words we say, nor is it the gifts we give that make us friends. Friendship invites us to share not only bread broken, but our brokenness. Friendship invites us to share not only wine poured into glasses, but our lives poured out… We remember Jesus best when we are faithful to our lives and when we share in faithful friendship.”

We can also tap into that great source of love by staying connected directly to God… through prayer, through bible study, through attentiveness to God. We can let God be a part of all the aspects of our lives — our work, our family, and our friends, as well as our church.

Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And Jesus had such great love for us, overflowing from the Father’s love, that he gave his life for our sake… so that we would know God, so that we would have life, so that our lives would overflow with love until God’s kingdom would come.

May God continue to graft us together into the nourishing, sustaining vine that is Jesus, so that we may truly love one another as Jesus loves us. Amen.