Reflection 17th September: Sermon Series – The Farewell Discourse

Reading John 15: 9-17

Church Newsletter 091723

So this week is the third week of a series we are doing on John chapters 13-17 in which we are reflecting on Jesus final meal with his disciples before his crucifixion.
It is a part of the Bible that I have spent much time with this year. As I have said in the tradition of the desert mothers and fathers, at the beginning of each year I ask for a word. A word to ponder and wrestle with over the year. This year the word I felt I was given is Abide from John 15:4. “Abide in me as I abide in you.”
However, this word and theme appears throughout these 5 chapters and so I have been reflecting on them as a whole.
What John does in these chapters is quite different to the other 3 gospels. In the synoptics Jesus begins with what now know as the institution of the Lord’s Supper but John with Jesus washing the feet of the twelve. An action that was pre-figured by Mary in chapter 12. This foot washing is followed by Judas leaving to betray Jesus which we discussed in the first week. Then Jesus tells the 12 he will only be with them for a little longer and gives them a new commandment, to love one another as I have loved you. Peter asks where Jesus is going and Jesus tells him, “where I am going you cannot follow.” Peter, ever headstrong promises to lay down his life for Jesus, to which Jesus tells him that, rather than this, Peter will in fact deny him three times.
Given all this we can understand why the disciples hearts were troubled. None the less Jesus says, “do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” He then assures them, “in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” and promises to go ahead of them to make a place for them. Concerned they do not know where this is, Thomas asks Jesus how can they know the way. And Jesus responds with the well known words, “I am the Way and the Truth and Life.” And last week we reflected on what life on this side of eternity looks like in this case.
Jesus then promises to give them an advocate to be with them, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.
And then in what is now chapter 15, Jesus, drawing on a well-used image from the Hebrew Scriptures, describes the relationship between the Father, himself and the disciples as that of a vine grower, a vine and the branches. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower,” He says. “He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
And then we get to today’s passage which begins, “as my Father has loved me so I have loved you; abide in my love.” I have been wondering a bit about this. How did the Father love Jesus and how did Jesus love his disciples?
Well, God’s love for Jesus and Jesus love for his disciples is demanding, even dangerous. It prunes, cleanses, moulds, forms and challenges. While, it is full of presence and power and healing and awe, it does not protect Jesus and the disciples from all pain. Rather it strengthens and sustains them through life and suffering. While, it calls for the ultimate sacrifice, it also promises the ultimate joy.
In today’s world, but probably always, many of us are filled with anxiety and fear.
The world has many different ways of dealing with that. Much modern psychology but also ancient Stoicism tells us that to avoid unhappiness, frustration, and disappointment requires a certain detachment, indifference even to the things of the world. The task is to accept every thing and every moment for what it is. That is perhaps a simplification and there is a time and place for this. Paul in Philippians (probably in conversation with the Stoics) speaks of learning to be content with whatever he has.
But the gospel response to deep fear and anxiety is love. As Christians we are called to be angry about injustice and to grieve death and destruction. We are called to feel more not less. While detachment and distraction might help us avoid some unhappiness, frustration, suffering and disappointment, it is only deep love that will lead to joy.
The love of Jesus Christ is not just an emotional, cozy feeling, but a conscious decision to put yourself on the line and risk everything for the other. There is something of a paradox here because we are called to create safe places, safe churches. We are called to care for and nurture each other and even ourselves but the truth is the world is not always a safe place and Christianity is no promise of protection from that. At times we are also called to venture from the safety of our own community into the broader society to see that it is transformed by this sacrificial love that Jesus modelled for us.
But how do we do this? Just because Jesus commands it does that mean we can just do it? Well returning to the vine-and-branches metaphor, Jesus’s love is not just our example; it’s our source. It’s where our love originates and deepens. Where it replenishes itself. In other words, if we don’t abide, we can’t love. Jesus’s commandment to us is not that we wear ourselves out, trying to conjure love from our own easily depleted resources. Rather, it’s that we abide in the holy place where human love becomes possible. That we make our home in Jesus’s love — the most abundant and inexhaustible love in existence.
And here we have yet another paradox: we are called to action via rest. Called to become love as we abide in love. The commandment — or better yet, the invitation — is to drink our fill of the Source, which is Christ, spill over to bless the world, and then return to the Source. This is our rhythm. Over and over again. This is where we begin and end and begin again.
And so again this morning let us take a moment to do that, to abide in the love of God as we ponder the reading and the words spoken today.

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