6th Sunday of Easter
(readings Acts 10:44-48; 1st John 5:1-6; John 16:9-17)
The first verse of the letter from John literally says: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been begotten of God, and everyone who loves the Begetter loves the Begotten. All of us are ‘begotten’ of God through our faith. The close bonds of the faith community are family ties. Jesus, summarizing the Torah, said loving people is connected with loving of God. This is fundamental to being church! Jesus is the First Born Son. Our relationship with God--the Father--is, therefore, our relationship to God His Son--Jesus.
Last week we heard two of our graduating seniors preach on the Vine and the Branches. This week, we continue with that same chapter (16) of John and the importance of bearing fruit.
The vine is a grapevine. It is also a Biblical metaphor for Israel [see Psalm 80:8 God took the vine out of Egypt and planted it in the land. Hosea 10, Isaiah 5, Jeremiah 2, and Ezekiel 15 also refer to Israel as the vine.]
God planted the vine to bear fruit. That vine “failed” in its task. Jesus has come to remedy the situation. He is the vine. He is the Messiah King who stands in the place of Israel. Paul says that in Christ we are grafted into Israel, we share in the identity of the people of God, the children of God… Our membership is a corporate reality: we do it together. Hence, as I John says, “we love God and obey His commands.” Love and obedience do not gain redemption, they do not earn salvation. Love and obedience is the response to salvation. It is how those redeemed for God in Christ live the new life of grace. Love and obedience can free us from the limitations we suffer in a fallen and broken world. No longer reliant on ourselves, we are led by His Holy Spirit---a Spirit of Truth and a Spirit of Love.
Abiding in Jesus is a living connection. It is ecclesial (or Churchy) to its core. While ‘individual’ faith is possible in isolation (although even faith has a church connection) love is not. One cannot love others in isolation. Real love requires other people; flesh and blood interaction. Love is, after all, not a warm affection for imaginary friends. It is rather, the difficult business of seeking the best for those who may not be always agreeable. Love feels wonderful, but it also hurts. Love is more than a feeling, it is a cruciform commitment. True love requires that we lay down our life for our beloved---each and every day.
This is why love is central to Jesus’ farewell address to His followers. He knows that love and obedience (keep my commandments) are central. And pay attention, He doesn’t say love and obey; He says, “as I have loved, as I have obeyed….” Jesus the Role Model defines love and obedience.
What is the result of this love and obedience? Joy. Jesus wants us to know complete Joy. Often times, obedience is described in joyless terms. We get the impression that God wants us to never have fun.
Remember, the branch is dependent. It has no power to live on its own. When we buy grapes we refrigerate them, there is a limited shelf life. There will be no new grapes. A branch produces grapes by being connected to the vine. Jesus is the vine, the church is the branches. The church is the body of Christ because of the vine and branches. A branch is an extension of the vine--so we extend Christ to the world. In us and through us Jesus saves. That is the source of true Joy. Jesus speaks of joy and suddenly sacrificial love, a love which dies for the beloved. That is the mystery of joy. How can He be happy to die? How? Because it is obedient to the mission from His Father. For Jesus, dying is more joyful than living because dying accomplished His Father desire. Dying to open the Kingdom to His beloved followers was a joy. The cost was not as great as the benefit.
WE are Jesus’ friends, His partners in the apostolic ministry of salvation. The fruit for which God planted Israel, is now the same fruit which we, the Gentile Israel in Christ, must seek to produce. Branches do not have to work to produce fruit; they work to stay connected. Our work is to hold on to Jesus, to abide in Him as He abides in us--in prayer, in Scripture study, in generosity with time, talent and treasure, in living lives which are worthy of the gift we have received.
Jesus’ message to them at the last supper is intended for us as well.
We, too are commanded to love one another.
We too are commanded to bear fruit and glorify the Father.
We too have the option of abiding in Jesus, in love, like a branch of the vine.
We are doing it now and we can continue to do it, better and better.
And it will be a joy.