Sixth Sunday of Easter — May 5, 2024

"All manner of things are not well," writes Carol Holbrook Prickett. "Yet, I have seen nothing more rule-breaking, more transforming than God’s love ... and the people who carry it to one another."

John 15:9-17
Year B

When my childhood pastor’s daughter was about 8, she told her mom she wasn’t going up for the children’s sermon anymore. “The answers are always the same,” she said, rolling her eyes. “God, Jesus, Love. It’s not even hard.”

She wasn’t wrong. Sometimes it does feel like the answers in church are always the same, no matter what the question is: God, Jesus, Love.

If you have been working through the readings from the Gospel of John in Eastertide, you have already preached plenty of love. Perhaps you find yourself reluctant or even resistant to preaching love again. Across the pages of Scripture, though, God makes it clear that love isn’t optional in the Christian life. Jesus makes it a command — the command, even: “Love one another as I have loved you,” he tells us in John 13:34, and there’s no wriggling out of this one, no tricky Greek to trot out or contextual hoops to jump through. Jesus says what he says: obedience to Christ means loving like he loved.

It would have been nice if Jesus had commanded us to act like we loved each other. Maybe we could fake our way through a discipleship like that. But Jesus demands more. “I am giving you these commandments,” he says, “so that you may love one another.”

Jesus calls us to love wholeheartedly, generously, truthfully — and that’s hard. That costs us something because love doesn’t solve everything. It isn’t some magical potion that makes our days easy and our relationships a breeze. Love can be helpless. Love can hurt. Love takes it out of us, and it doesn’t always – always – give back.

We’ve all loved people who were difficult to love, who we pour more into than we get back from. We’ve all been in situations that love couldn’t cure — you can’t personally love someone out of cancer, depression or addiction. Sometimes it can seem like we, individually or as a church, have been loving and loving and loving and loving and not really getting anywhere. It’s painful, and it’s exhausting.

Author Debie Thomas writes about her own struggle with Christ’s “impossible” commandment in Journey with Jesus. After noting the limits on her own ability to love, she asks,

[W]hat can I do? Where must I begin? Jesus offers a single, straightforward answer: “Abide in my love.” Following on the heels of last week’s Gospel, Jesus extends the metaphor of the vine and branches and calls us once again to abide. To rest, to cling, to make ourselves at home. Not simply in him, but in his love.

My problem is that I often treat Jesus as a role model, and then despair when I can’t live up to his high standards. But abiding in something is not the same as emulating it. In the vine-and-branches metaphor, Jesus’s love is not 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 divine love becomes possible. Jesus commands that we make our home in Jesus’s love — the most abundant and inexhaustible love in existence.

It is easy to berate ourselves for not loving enough, but love is never a fruit of guilt. Only love creates love. So when we find ourselves feeling like we need to love more, perhaps what we really need is more love — and we know where the source of all love is.

Thomas’ words reminded me of those of another faithful woman this week, one of my favorite medieval mystics, Julian of Norwich. She lived in the 1300s when she was far more likely to hear theologians and preachers speak of God’s judgment and wrath. Yet Julian was convinced through a series of visions, and her own tenacious faith, that God held her and indeed of all humanity in love.

In Revelations of Divine Love, Julian wrote, “God showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked on it with eye of my understanding, and thought: What could this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for little[ness]. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts, and shall always last because God loves it. And so everything has its Being by the love of God.”

It was Julian’s ability to trust in God’s love that led her to pen the famous promise: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

All manner of things are not well. You and I both know that. Yet in all of human existence, I have seen nothing more powerful, more life-changing, more rule-breaking, more pain-healing, more transforming, and more saving than God’s love … and the people who carry it to one another.

So yes. The answers are always the same: God. Jesus. Love.

Questions for reflection

  1. How do you “find your home” in Christ’s love? What “dwelling time” can you take this week?
  2. Most congregations describe themselves as loving. What specific examples can you lift up of members of your congregation following Christ’s commandment to love?
  3. If the greatest love is “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13), how do you see that happening in your congregation? In your community? How are love and generosity intertwined?

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