Monday, April 30, 2018

Abiding, Take Two

Yesterday in John 15:1-8, we heard Jesus invite (command?) his disciples to abide in him. By abiding in him, they are enabled to bear much fruit. The bearing of fruit is the basis for judgment, but any who abide in him are the true disciples who, though pruned through hardship, bear much fruit. This coming Sunday, in John 15:9-17, we continue that theme and see how that abiding is lived out by Jesus' disciples. Easter 5 is an exploration of the abiding concept, but Easter 6 is an explication of abiding in practice.

Right at the beginning of Sunday's gospel lesson, we see how Jesus is going to transition from theory to application: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love." The key for disciples is to remain, dwell, linger, abide in love. More than abiding in Jesus, more than remaining connected to the vine, disciples are called to abide in Jesus' love. This, Jesus continues, is part of the reciprocal process of keeping his commandments: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love." Jesus has kept the Father's commandments by abiding in the Father and the Father's love, and the disciples are called to do likewise.

But there's more.

What does the keeping of Jesus' commandments look like? Narrowing all of his teaching down to one simple but incomprehensibly difficult commandment, Jesus says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." There's that "lay down your life" commandment, again? Sound familiar? We've been exploring it for three weeks in the epistle lessons from 1 John.

God is love, John reminded us yesterday in 1 John 4. We are to love as we have been loved, he taught us two weeks ago in 1 John 3. And what does that look like? Back on 4 Easter, in 1 John 3:16-24, we heard John's words about this same thing: "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?" Jesus command, therefore, that his disciples should lay down their lives for one another is not abstract or metaphorical. It is literal. We give up our lives--our identity, our possessions, our self-interest, perhaps even our ability to draw breath--for the sake of the other just as Jesus has. How is this possible? By abiding in the love that Jesus has for us, the love that the Father and Son share, and the love that animates the Church.

This is a tall order. Finally, I'm preaching again. For the last two weeks, I've been wishing I had the chance to preach on the love commandment, and now it's my turn. We are to love one another as Jesus has loved us. I know from experience that we can't do that without that divine love abiding in us. But how do you tell someone that following Jesus means laying down one's life for the sake of others without preaching a false gospel of effort--one clearly rejected by the readings from Acts and 1 John as well as the collect for this Sunday? Maybe it's a good thing I've had a few weeks to think about this. I'm going to need it.

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