Abide in God’s Love
Abide in God’s Love
What does love look like?
In many ways love as Jesus describes it in our passage today is love in action. Less an emotion and more a tangible act that we undertake. What the passage makes clear is that God’s love is important, central to the message of the gospel.
Scripture: John 15: 9-17
As always a special word of thanks to our vocalists in leading us in the singing of hymns: Diana Carr, Janet Leadbeater, Rob Lenters, and Brian MacInnes.
Abide in God’s Love
Our passage from John’s gospel should be an easy one to preach on. It’s all about love and loving one another. God’s love for us and creation is at the heart of scriptures, it is the root of the gospel story, it is why Christ lived, died and rose again. God’s love for us and desire for goodness in our lives.
Jesus wishes for our joy to be complete, to remain in his love and to allow his love to remain in us. For us to simply love one another. Of course, anyone who has been in love, knows that often loving is a far more difficult task. Yet, love comes as the command.
Further challenging our thoughts on love as they relate to this passage in John’s gospel are the many ‘if’ statements, which make it appear as though Christ’s love is conditional. I will only love you if you keep my commands. Love in this respect doesn’t appear to be unconditional, as we might expect it to be from God.
Rather, God’s love appears to only be granted if we follow a certain set of rules. We might ask is salvation in Christ conditional? Do I have to keep following the rules, what happens if I break one? Do I have to go as far as Jesus indicates, to lay down my life for one’s friends? What if I’m not willing to do that, does God still love me?
This passage can be difficult to interpret and make sense of and historically has been seen in different ways. When it was first written, followers of Christ were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. It was very reasonable to suspect that one might have to lay down their life for a fellow believer. To protect them or perhaps beside them. To die for a friend, just as Christ died.
During the Great War and World War II this passage was used to remind soldiers about the war they were participating in. To instill a sense camaraderie between soldiers, to enable them to fight together and to remind them of who they were fighting for back home.
Still we chaff at this passage in scripture. Life is good, gifted by God and we don’t want to die or give that up. So why does Christ tell us that this is the greatest aspect of love, to lay down one’s life? Might there be other ways to do this?
A simple passage about love, abiding in Christ’s love and loving one another suddenly becomes a bit murky. Abide in my love, we should take these words of Jesus seriously but we question what it looks like and we wonder about the conditions put on that love.
On the surface a passage about love should be easy to write a sermon about. Today is Mother’s Day, and within the Presbyterian Church in Canada we refer to it as Christian Family Sunday. Even that is problematic, after all what does a Christian family look like? My family is different than yours, are we allowed to come in families of different shapes and sizes?
Loving shouldn’t be so hard and yet it is.
This year I will be a commissioner to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. This is the annual meeting of the church, where our policies, beliefs and decisions are made. I received what is known as the book of reports this week. The reports are in the neighbourhood of 300-500 pages, because it’s all electronic it’s hard to get a sense of the exact page count. One of the critical reports that is coming before the church are what is known as the Remits on sexuality. These deal with the inclusion of LGBTQI individuals within the church. Whether they can be elders, ministers and whether minister can perform same-sex marriages. It has been a highly contentious debate within the church for the past several years.
One of the reports that exists beside these Remits is the report from the Special Committee re LGBTQI Listening, which is also known as the Rainbow Communion. This report is 117 pages and it is difficult to read. Captured within this report are the painful words and memories of individuals who have experienced less than love from the church. I am only partially through the report but it speaks of sadness, pain, exclusion from family and church, loss, addiction and death, both physical and spiritual. It is difficult to read and yet it is essential reading. This is my command: Love each other. It should be easy and yet experience tells us the opposite.
I am an affirming minister. I believe in the inclusion of all people regardless of gender, sexuality, race, nationality, social or economic status. We are all loved by God and called by God to love one another. That might sound simple and trite, yet I cling to it. At my ordination, the story of the Good Samaritan was preached, and I cling to that. Love God, love your neighbour. Because as difficult as it is to do that, it really should be that simple.
I have mentioned that I’m reading the book The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns. A book about letting go of proper doctrine and beliefs and instead trusting in God. Enns writes, “’Knowing’ has been in charge for so long, we forget all the other stuff we read in the Bible about how we are to act toward each other.” (Enns, Peter. The Sin of Certainty, 2016 p. 149). I trust in God’s mercies, in God’s love for me even when everything around me is telling me the opposite, even when it doesn’t make sense, I cling to that love. If I trust that God’s love is there for me, if Christ’s words abide in my love apply to me, then I also trust that the apply to all people.
Abide in my love says Jesus and we should take those words seriously. But what about all the ‘if’ statements, what do we do with those? Well, if the message of the gospel is conditional, then I am not sure that it is good news at all. Scott Hoezee writes, “if the soundness and consistency of my love is the key to being in good with God and with Jesus, then I have good reason to be afraid of my eternal destiny. I could not get saved on that way of reckoning things and I cannot stay saved that way either.” (Scott Hoezee)
God loves us, no matter what.
Being together in the body of Christ makes all of us friends and neighbours, our lives together matter. Our life together in Christ matters.
What does it mean to lay down your life for a friend? Must we always take this as Jesus meant it, to die for a friend? What are the implications of the claim that Jesus is making, that love is seen supremely in self-sacrifice? Does self-sacrifice always mean death, or can it mean something else? Giving, in a tangible way of ones time, money and resources. Dedicating yourself to something at personal cost. Can laying down your life, mean stepping up to the plate and going to bat for someone else who also needs to hear and feels God’s radical love.
Our passage speaks to the relationship Jesus wishes to have with us. The relationship of a friend.
Jesus says, enter into my joy. Abide in my love and love one another. As followers of Christ we are called to trust this message and live it out above all others. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
Donate to St. Andrew's
Thank you for visiting St. Andrew’s. It’s our prayer that this sermon was helpful to your walk of faith. We would ask you to prayerful consider donating to the mission of St. Andrew’s. You can make an online donation through our website.