Big Big Love

Written for and delivered at First Pres Apopka (Advent 4)
Primary scriptures: Ephesians 3:14-21; John 15:7-17

It was a funny thing to come back this week to scriptures I had chosen back around Thanksgiving. At the time, I had no idea where the Holy Spirit would lead us, as we explored Hope, Peace and Joy on our way through Advent. Turns out these fit in quite nicely as we think about our relationship to the love we celebrate at Christmas.

This portion of the gospel according to John is both beautiful and confounding with its repetition and looping around. The six verses that immediately precede our reading this morning begin with “I am the vine, you are the branches…” and they provide the familiar image of God as the one who tends the vineyard, planting, watering and pruning.

Sprinkled throughout this gospel, but particularly in this chapter, is the greek word MENO – usually translated abide.   We see it here when Jesus says “if you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

Meno can also be translated into English as remain, stay, reside or endure. But rather than choosing, when you hear abide, add all of them onto the word, kind of like when the flavors of a soup or a sauce marry as they cook – the combination of herbs and spices adding depth and richness that adding a single spice just can’t.  With all that in mind…

As Jesus encourages his disciples to abide in in him and to allow his words to abide, Jesus is describing our relationship with God, the one to whom we go in prayer. If we remain in Christ, our relationship with him endures. It is genuine and not fleeting. And if the words of Christ remain in us, reside and stay deep in us, we will come to fully understand these words and obey his commands.

When we are in a genuine relationship and obedient to the the teachings of Christ, we are much more likely to be seeking those things that God desires in us and for us. We can be assured that God will honor those wishes. After all, when we pray Thy Will Be Done, the answer will surely not be NO.

When we remain in right relationship with Christ, the true vine, God is glorified in our asking, and God is glorified in the fruit that we bear as a result. God is glorified by the things we do, say, and pray for – because they are the fruit which reveals that we are Christ’s disciples.

Jesus goes on…  “Just as God has loved me, I have also loved you. Abide in my love”

Jesus longs for us to remain in his love, so that we might experience the fullness of God’s love, Not the edges, the hem of God’s love, but wrap ourselves in the deep middle of it –  just as he has. We abide in Christ’s love by loving one another as Christ loves us.

What does that look like? Christ demonstrated his love for the disciples who were closest to him when he took on the role of a servant and washed their feet.

Christ’s love is humble and offered in service of others. Christ’s love is also steadfast.

By this point in John’s gospel, Jesus has told his followers more than once that he will be required to lay down his life in obedience to his Father’s command.  When he says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” they should understand what he is saying, not only about his future, but theirs.

The love that the disciples are to have for one another, the love they are to demonstrate to the world and in the world, is the love of self-sacrifice.

The love that we are to have for one another, the love that we are to demonstrate to the world and in the world, is the love of self-sacrifice.

Because that is the love that Christ has offered to us- his friends.  And yes, we can claim that relationship because all who keep the commands of Christ are his friends.  It would be a mistake, in light of the whole of his teachings to think Jesus is describing an exclusive “inner circle” of special friends.

Anyone and everyone who loves God and loves their neighbor is following Christ’s commands.   All the other laws and commandments – whether the ten that Moses brought down the mountain, or the long scroll that is Leviticus, or the many doctrines and guidelines passed down to us by our faithful reformed and presbyterian forbears…   all of them point to our human need for clarity, for ways to show we are getting it right…

Christ’s commands are more interested in the intent in our hearts, our humility before God and our willingness to serve and love others ahead of our own desires.

Jesus didn’t keep any of this hidden from us as some sort of secret knowledge.  His life and ministry as documented in the gospels are as clear on this mandate as are his words.

Jesus demonstrated that keeping the Sabbath is important, but not at the expense of those in need of healing and restoration.  And he demonstrated that associating with lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes and others who considered unclean or unsavory may have been scandalous to the leaders in the synagogue. But the law of love and the compassionate heart of God compelled our Christ to see these men and women as neighbors, as friends – worthy of dignity, worthy of his presence, and worthy of our love, as well.

We speak of death as the greatest sacrifice.  In times of war, crisis, or disaster we honor as heroes those who put themselves in danger in hopes of keeping others from harm.  That kind of selflessness requires more than altruism. Even if we are unafraid of death and “know where we’re going”, we place a high value on life and remaining among the living whom we love and who love us in return.  To lay down one’s life is about as big a sacrifice as one can make.

But when we consider the sacrificial love of Christ, we must again add another layer, another flavor.

In order to become the infant child borne into the world by Mary, Jesus had to step out of timelessness into time.  He had to step into a specific place and into a finite life form with a finite life span. For the Son of God to become fully human, take on flesh and be born on Earth, he had to empty himself. Even as he remained fully God – how is another mystery of faith  – he was separated from God in a way that allowed him to experience human suffering and sorrow.

Yet even in this fully-human state, Christ remained in God, endured in God, and demonstrated how to abide in God while walked among us, while he hung on a cross, and even when he returned to God’s side to advocate on our behalf.

When I consider his sacrifice and obedience, and then when I compare the sacrifices I have made in obedience to God… heck, even when I think about the sacrifices I have made on behalf of my child or my husband…

I got nothin.

This is what makes the prayer we read from Ephesians so compelling…I can’t think of a prayer I would rather have spoken over me…

The first portion is asking, from the great abundance of God’s glory, that we would be empowered and strengthened through the work of the Holy Spirit so that Christ might dwell within us through faith. Remember, we love because Christ first loves us, and it is the Holy Spirit who first awakens us to the truth of that love and then makes it possible for us to respond to the love Christ offers.

The second part of the prayer is a big so that… You might have noticed by now that I’m a big fan of so that’s.  After all, they are the pay off, the reason for all the untangling and digging deep into what these writers are saying, SO THAT we can know what it means for the way we live…

And here it is –
SO THAT,  having responded to Christ in faith, being rooted and grounded and firmly established in Christ’s love, we might begin to wrap our minds, hearts and very lives around just how big God’s love is – for us.
So that we might know how high and wide and long and deep God’s love is for the world.
So that we might know how Christ’s unifying, hope-giving, joy-inspiring, self-sacrificing love is bigger than anything we could ever imagine.

How much does God long to see us carrying hope, peace, joy and love out of these doors and into a world filled with despair, strife, anxiety, pain and hate?   So much that all we have to do is love God and ask… and the one who is able to do abundantly more than we can ever ask or imagine will be at work. In us and through us.

Let’s get to work…  Pray with me:

 

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