May 6, 2018

6th Sunday of Easter Year B

John’s Gospel is again chosen for the Gospel reading this Sunday – a continuation of Jesus’ teaching from last week about the vine and the branches.  In this week’s lesson Jesus repeats his teaching from Chapter 13 when he gives the new commandment, to “love one another as I have loved you.”

Think for a moment about people you know who are devoid of love.  They are not loved by anyone, and they show little but unkindness to others. They are the types that are likely to say, “you have to earn my love.”  But rarely do others make the mark, so they go through life as cold, perhaps even brutal people, who have no connection with most of us.

Sometimes we can take on that persona as well:  when we are especially stressed, tired, exasperated, or overwhelmed, we may not feel disposed toward loving others, and we are likely to feel undeserving of love from others.

John’s Gospel illustrates how God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that the world might not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16).  Which reminds me of an adult Sunday school class I attended in another denomination.  The teacher was a rather stern man who obviously had the one correct answer to all the questions he put to the class.  Whenever anyone asked a question back he would invariably say “John 3:16” which was his stock answer for everything.  I was trying to figure out how this answer applied to the questions people were asking, and finally decided I was in the wrong class!

Today we get an outline from Jesus about how this idea of love unfolds: he offers some models by title.  We have to fill in the rest, but it does get us started what it means to “abide in my love.”  Let’s look closer.

The key is found in Jesus’ phrase,” as I have loved you.”  This is Jesus’ basic teaching about who God is, modeled by God’s son who came into the world as a human being.

Here are some examples of what Jesus says to us about how we are to love based on his witness:

1. We are to love as servants to one another.  In the foot washing on Maundy Thursday Jesus illustrates this by washing the feet of the disciples.  Our world is very oriented toward hierarchy, where bosses don’t wash the feet of employees.  But Jesus shows us our witness is a challenging reversal of that picture.  We serve one another in ministry regardless of rank or station.  We feed and care for the poor because they are our sisters and brothers, and because Jesus commands it. 

Our local food bank distributes food two days a week to many       people.  We never have trouble getting donations of food or funds to support it.  But the real joy for me is seeing people who    volunteer to serve when we distribute food and cook meals to serve to the community.  If you ever have an opportunity to serve do it.  You will be glad you did.

2. We are to love through forgiveness.  The practice of forgiveness is not limited to the rite of reconciliation in the Prayer Book.  It is a standard among us and with all whom we associate.  It is not something to be earned or achieved, and it can involve hard choices.  “How can you forgive somebody like that after what they did to you?  We know our own behavior and rejection of God. His consistent love and forgiveness are experienced each time we come to the Table.  Our job is to express that love and forgiveness to the whole world, and most of all to those who think they are condemned for their actions.

When one of us seeks forgiveness from another, there are to be no conditions.  Forgiveness is not conditional. It is not a power to be withheld.  It is a repeatable act, not limited to several times, but “seventy times seven,” and it is always a growing experience for us in how God’s limitless love      restores us to others.  While this doesn’t negate consequences for our wickedness, it does require           we set aside our temptation to a mean response and focus on healing that restores our broken hearts.  It is best done with prayer and awareness of our own failure to forgive others that often causes the most pain in our lives.

3. We are to love through restoring relationships:  In Jesus own ministry he heals those who are estranged from God, and sometimes their neighbor.  On the night of his arrest he allows Judas to sup with the disciples, even though he knows what Judas is about to do.  He does this because he desires to hold Judas in the fellowship, hoping it will turn him.  In the end Judas decides otherwise, but the possibility of reconciliation is hope to him just as it is to each of us.

The Church’s mission is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”  That is what we are taught in our Catechism.  This is hard work, but it is our work.  We are not here to condemn, but to restore.  We are not here to exclude, but to bring together.

4. We are to love through the redemption of the world.  We are partners in God’s plan, the project of redemption.  Jesus prepared his disciples to embark on this plan, and we read about it every Sunday in Eastertide.  In today’s reading Peter is astonished to discover the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Gentiles, the unbelievers, and as a result they invite him to stay around for a few days.  

Our invitation is to the world, to the towns and cities in which we live, to the people who struggle to provide hard answers to complicated issues.  In the workplace we behave as willing partners to do good work that demonstrates our best efforts.  In school we see others as friends and seekers, and we offer our support in each others’ struggles.

Vickie is a woman I met several years ago.  Her vision was to start a recovery house for women who suffered from addiction.  She wanted to do it based on the Magdalen House model, of which        there are several in NW Arkansas. BUT, she wanted to do it in a small town that has limited resources.  Through prayer and visioning and patiently telling her story to others, Jeremiah         Recovery House is now a reality in Green Forest, Arkansas.  It houses up to five women who can live in the house up to two years as they work on sobriety and begin to rebuild their shattered lives.  They learn from each other and from their mentors how to be servants to one another, how to forgive themselves and ask forgiveness from others they have harmed, and they have the opportunity to restore broken relationships with family and friends.  This is how Vickie sees the mission of Jeremiah House – redeeming the world one person at a time. That is how we should see it, with Jesus as our strong redeemer, leading us all to love the world.

What I find for myself is that when I am most vulnerable to bad news, when I am most discouraged by the awful things we do to one another, when I am feeling the bonds of love slip away, that is when I need to connect with this Gospel and find places to live it out.  You never have to look very far, not even outside your own family or community.  And if you are not able to discern where you can serve ask Jesus to show you.  Your joy will be in finding it and serving the one who commands it.