6th Sunday of Easter
Sermon preached by Karen Cuffie May 10, 2015. Mother’s Day
Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17
Our youngest son’s Godparents, Andy and Anita live in Exton, PA now, which is just outside Philadelphia. But we met them in Connecticut when our children were young. They are a very special couple. We don’t get to see them very often, in fact the last time we saw them was when our son got married almost three years ago in Chicago. Before that it had been about five years. But when we do see them, it’s as if it was yesterday. We pick up where we left off. Time and distance just don’t get in the way of our relationship. Do you know what I mean? Do you have some friends like that? I want to tell you about the very unique way that Andy and Anita celebrate Mother’s and Father’s Day – which is a glimpse of why they are so special. On Mother’s Day, Anita gives Andy a gift – because if it weren’t for him, she wouldn’t be a mother. And on Father’s day. . .you know what’s coming. . .Andy gives Anita a gift, because if it weren’t for her, he wouldn’t be a dad. It’s a mutual relationship where they honor each other and the love they share. This is how they live out their lives with each other, even today. I would describe their love as “abiding love.”
We heard the word ‘abide’ at the very beginning of the gospel passage this morning. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” What does the word ‘abide’ mean to you? dictionary.com says that it’s a verb meaning to remain or stay – to continue in a particular way. The Greek translation of the New Testament uses the word μενω, which is also defined as remain & stay but it is further translated as live, dwell, last, endure, and continue. Let’s substitute those words for the word abide in Jesus’ sentence. See if it makes a difference in your understanding of what it means to abide. If you’re comfortable, close your eyes and imagine that Jesus is speaking directly to you. Remain in my love. Stay in my love. Dwell in my love. Live in my love. Continue in my love. What an amazing invitation!
I need to give you some context for today’s Gospel reading because I think it adds a great deal of weight to what Jesus is saying to the disciples at that time. The passage we just heard is part of a what is called “The Farewell Discourse” in the Gospel of John. It’s a farewell speech of sorts that begins at the end of chapter thirteen and goes to the end of chapter seventeen. He had a lot to say. . .
Jesus is explaining that he will be leaving them and what to expect when he leaves. He knows how hard it is going to be for them and is preparing them, knowing that they live in tense times. Persecution by Roman authorities was becoming more frequent, and conflict between Gentile and Jewish Christians and between Christians and Jews was intensifying. So, in that context, you can imagine how much Jesus wants them to hear and understand his words. They are more than important. One could even say that their lives depended on paying attention to what Jesus was saying.
Jesus used his own relationship with his Father to demonstrate not only his relationship with them, but also the kind of relationship they should have with one another. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. . . love one another as I have loved you.” This is Jesus’ commandment, but it’s not a conditional clause the way some might understand it. He doesn’t say “if” you keep my commandment, “then” you will abide in my love. No, what he’s saying is something more like, “by keeping my commandment to love one another, you are abiding in my love. You already ARE.
Jesus modeled this obeying and abiding relationship with his Father to show the kind of relationship he was inviting them into. It is an intimate relationship. Think of a mother who’s just given birth and holds her baby to her chest. It’s that kind of intimacy.
There’s another part of this abiding love invitation – Joy. Jesus told them that he wanted his joy to be in them so that their joy could be complete. Keep in mind, all this is coming out of Jesus farewell speech. Joy in this context seems out of place and yet, Jesus connects them. Joy in the midst of sorrow.
I’m gonna throw one more Greek word in here because it might help explain this
apparent contradiction. The word for joy in the Greek New Testament is χαρα. Another greek word that comes from the same root is χαρισ which means grace, kindness or mercy. What if the joy that Jesus is referring is from God’s grace rather than something we choose to feel. Have you ever tried to convince yourself that, because you’re a Christian, you should be able to find joy in whatever your circumstance – good or bad? I have. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade – right? I’m not so sure. I’m not saying that’s a bad attitude to take, but I do think there are times when it just isn’t realistic. You can’t fake joy. We can’t always choose to be happy in the midst of grief or despair. But. . .through God’s grace, we can experience joy even in the worst of times. It just happens. It’s part of the abiding love package deal. When we love one another, we are also abiding, living and remaining in God’s love, and when we dwell in God’s everlasting love, we can experience the joy of Jesus in us. I can’t completely explain it and certainly can’t prove it, but I can give you a personal example from my own faith journey.
The first time I heard the hymn “Abide with me” I fell in love with it. I was probably nine or ten and had been attending a Baptist church with a friend from school and her family. At that time, my home life was a mess – lots of serious dysfunction. Singing the very first verse of the hymn was transformative for me. The words gave me more comfort than anything else in my life at that time.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Somehow, even at that young age, I knew exactly what “abide” meant and that God was available for abiding in. The verse became a personal prayer. My home life didn’t change, but I did. The joy I felt from God’s love led me to be baptized in the church. To this day, I call on that hymn for comfort. It’s one of my favorites.
One profound way that we love one another and abide in God’s love is when we come to the altar to share the Eucharist. This is a time for us to gather and remember Jesus’ obedience to his Father, the pain and the joy, the sorrow and love. The author Henri Nouwen writes about the chalice of consecrated wine: “The cup of life is the cup of joy as much as it is the cup of sorrow. It is the cup which sorrows and joys, sadness and gladness, mourning and dancing are never separated. . .we have to hold the cup in our hands and look carefully to see the joys hidden in our sorrows.”
Jesus’ invitation to abide in his love is an open invitation. Any time, any place. You don’t have to dress up, you don’t have to bring anything, just come as you are. Bring your sorrow and he will give you joy. Abiding in God’s love means that we are keeping God’s commandment to love one another.Take a generous amount of time this week in your hectic and harried lives to love one another and abide in God’s love. Stop what you’re doing for a moment and breath. Close your eyes and imagine that Jesus is speaking directly to you. Remain in my love. Stay in my love. Dwell in my love. Live in my love. Continue in my love. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”