5th Sunday of Easter, year B, 2015 (preached 5/3/15)
first reading: Acts 8:26-40
second reading: 1 John 4:7-21
gospel reading: John 15:1-8
Today we celebrate a very happy occasion – the first Holy Communion of L___.
We didn’t look ahead of time at what the readings would be when we chose today as the date, but they’re perfect! Thank you Holy Spirit!
Today we hear about sharing the Word, bearing fruit – and what that fruit looks like. And this relates wonderfully to the gift we receive of Christ in Holy Communion.
In our first reading we have one of my favorite stories, and one that has brought me much comfort through the years. The story of Philip and the Ethiopian. Philip is called to share the gospel with this man who is searching for truth – and we have a baptism, the sacrament by which we are brought into the faith.
In our gospel Jesus tells us that he is the vine and we are the branches, that we abide in him and he in us – and that we are pruned so that we can bear much fruit.
But what does it mean to bear fruit? Ahhh… This we find in our second reading. And it is easily summed up in one word – LOVE.
It rolls off our tongue so quickly. It’s so small – deceptively small, because love is no small thing at all. In fact, love is the most important thing there is.
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Sounds A LOT like our gospel reading – all this “abiding.”
Jesus talks about us abiding in him and he in us – and our second reading talks about abiding in love/God and love/God abiding in us.
“Abide” is a verb. It means to accept or act in accordance with a rule or decision. To comply with, follow, heed, conform to or stand by.
So abiding in Jesus, abiding in love, isn’t something that “describes” our relationship – it’s something we DO, and something God DOES – and that thing is LOVE.
But what does it mean to love? How do we love in a world that seems so filled with hate and intolerance and disrespect?
It seems every time I turn on the news some new awful thing is happening – events caused and made worse by our human ability to be cruel to one another instead of loving. Either that or we’re confronted with natural disasters where we feel paralyzed by the destruction and death.
As with all things, we start with Christ. WE love because he first loved us. So what does Jesus’ love look like? How does Jesus “do” love?
He talked about love, but he also fed the hungry, healed the sick, welcomed and stood with those who were deemed “unclean” or unworthy by the religious authorities. He challenged those religious authorities when they were more concerned with rules than with people.
And even as he hung on the cross he forgave them and all of us. We have the cross as the supreme act of love – he died so that we could live.
Jesus saw us, little children, playing in the street, ignorant of the danger of the approaching car of sin – and pushed us out of its path, even though he knew it would cost him his own life. Because that’s what love does, it gives itself for the other.
But before he would journey to that cross, Jesus gave us another gift – as if the cross wasn’t enough (which it most certainly was).
Jesus gave us the gift we celebrate today – the gift L___ will receive for the first time – the gift of Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, the sacrament of the altar.
Even as he knew he was being betrayed, Jesus gave the disciples, and you and me, this mysterious wonderful holy thing, in which he becomes present for us and gives us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
This is what love is. This is how we “do” love. By giving ourselves for one another. By acting in ways that show respect and deep care for the well-being of the other.
We may not always like each other. We may not even KNOW each other. But real love – the God abiding in us and we in God kind of love – is love that acts without thinking if the other deserves it.
We may bicker with each other, even dislike one another, but I know for a fact that when someone is in true need here, we rally. That is love.
We see riots on tv – but we also see people helping one another, forming lines against the violent to protect the police, each other and one another’s businesses – and we pray for ALL involved, that peace will prevail and that people can respect one another and see Jesus in the other. That is love.
We see suffering in Nepal, people we don’t know and will never meet, and yet we’re compelled to send what we can to help them recover “because he first loved us.” That is love.
We give of our time and financial means to help folks locally too, and see Jesus’ face in the face of our neighbors. And we welcome everyone into our midst, with whatever baggage “they” bring, however different “they” are from us, with whatever questions and doubts “they” have – because we see Jesus abiding in “them,” just as Jesus abides with us. That is love.
Love is the thing that binds all of us together – so that in the end there is NO “they” and “them” – only “US,” growing out of God’s love for us.
A love Jesus showed every day of his earthly life, most especially on the cross, and in giving us the gift of Holy Communion.
May we be constantly reminded how we abide in that love, and how that love abides in us, both now and forever.