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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service; click on the video camera icon.
May 9, 2021
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Basis for this sermon: https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=1766
Grace and peace to you from our risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s a preschool at the congregation I served in Phoenix. And on Fridays during the academic year, I had chapel time with the kiddos. We sang songs and learned Bible stories and talked about the things they might see in a church. And their favorite thing that they might see in a church is water – mostly because I splashed them with it, and you really can’t go wrong doing that with preschoolers.
But when we talked about why the water was important, I told them that it’s one of the ways we can touch God’s love for us. And that no matter where they go, no matter how many mistakes they make and no matter how mad someone might get at them, whenever they touch water, they can remember that God loves them. That Jesus loves them. No matter what.
One Friday, I expanded that a bit and told them that not only does Jesus love them no matter what, but that Jesus loves everybody no matter what. And I said, “Everybody, everybody, everybody (arms out). Even the people who get grouchy or who don’t share all the time like they’re supposed to. Jesus loves everybody.”
And one of the kiddos asked, “Even the bad guys?” And I said, “Yeah, even the bad guys.” And another asked, “Even the monsters?” And I said, “Yeah, even the monsters.” Jesus loves everybody.
In U.S. culture, we tend to throw the word and idea of “love” around lightly. We use it to describe our feelings about everything from French fries to cars to places we’ve traveled…you name it. And when we tell someone that we love them, we may or may not have a full appreciation for what that means.
But on the night before Jesus died, when he told the disciples to love one another as he loved them, it wasn’t something he said lightly. He wasn’t telling them to just be nice to each other or to act as if they loved each other.
He commanded them “love one another as I have loved you.” And that command and the love it embodies are rooted in the depth of the agape love that God has for us.
When Jesus spoke these words, he knew what was coming for both him and the disciples; Judas had already betrayed him and Peter’s denial of him was imminent. Jesus knew that during the chaos of the coming hours and days, it was critical for the disciples to stay together because the easier thing to do would be to run and hide. And the only way for them to stay together was to love each other.
And the only way for them to do that was to remember and to trust that Jesus loved them. Not on a superficial level, but at the very core of their being. And for them to truly know his love for them, they had to abide in it. And that’s what Jesus invited them to do.
To abide means to rest, to cling to, to make ourselves at home. And when we abide in Jesus’ love, he offers comfort, security, and a place in which we can thrive as his followers. That sounds easy, right? Just resting in Jesus’ love like that? Almost like if we do it we’re being lazy.
But what it really means is acknowledging that Jesus loves us beyond measure. And recognizing that his love for us is what allows us to genuinely love one another and keep his commandment. That’s life-changing.
What would happen to us, and to the church and the world, if we lived into Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he loved us? It’s risky to ask that question, because the answers potentially take us to places we’d normally avoid. If we had our way, we’d play it safe all the time and choose the people we love based on our own preferences.
We know it’s easy to do things out of love like buy diapers for Eastside Baby Corner, and to fill backpacks for kids in need, and to host people who are experiencing homelessness. And charitable actions are needed because they fill the gap. But to love one another as Jesus loves us goes a step further.
When that agape opens our hearts, it creates a well of compassion and hunger for justice so urgent that we’d rearrange our lives in order to pursue it. And we have to ask ourselves do we even want to do that and, if so, where do we start?
To that last question, Jesus offers a simple answer: “Abide in my love.” Remain in it and trust in it. Jesus’ love isn’t our example that we try to live up to, it’s our source. It’s where our love originates and is deepened and replenished. In other words, if we don’t abide in Jesus’ love, we can’t love others.
And when I say that, I don’t mean the romantic love or feeling of affection that we might have for another person. And it also isn’t a love that condones abuse or exploitation.
This love is an action that confronts the things that are wrong in our world, the things that tear others down. It forms and informs the way we are in the world and empowers us to act. It’s a love that reminds us what we’re called to do and who we’re called to be.
When the preschool kiddos asked if Jesus loves even the monsters and the bad guys and I told them, “yes,” I also told them that that means he tells the monsters and the bad guys that what they’re doing is wrong. That hurting people isn’t what Jesus wants us to do, ever.
But when we love each other the way Jesus wants us to, not only do we just not hurt one another – we also seek to stop people’s pain. And that isn’t as easy to do. Because acting out of love to stop people’s pain puts us into those places we’d rather avoid. It means we do things like hold our family members accountable when they tell racist jokes, even if no people of color are in the room.
It means we support people who are trying to leave an abusive relationship. We confront our loved ones when their addiction puts them at risk of harming themselves or others. And we help people get help if they’re in a mental health crisis.
None of those things are comfortable things to do. And abiding in Jesus’ love, believing in and trusting Jesus’ love for us, doesn’t mean we’ll love each other perfectly all of the time.
But when we abide in Jesus’ love, when we rest in that place of comfort and security, we remember that he doesn’t only love us when we do things right and love one another. We remember that Jesus also loves us even when we make mistakes or when we hurt each other.
The love that Jesus’ love creates and nurtures in us is developed over a lifetime. It becomes part of who we are as we abide in it. It’s the love that strengthens us as a community. And it empowers us to act on behalf of others and reminds us of what Jesus calls us to do and who he calls us to be in every circumstance. Thanks be to God! Amen.