Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
The Love Boat (sing along ). You remember The Love Boat? Where, in the span of an hour that may have represented a week in the lives of the people on the boat, people found love or repaired a broken love, and all was well. It was incredibly sentimental, much as the song communicates. John’s letter today is a veritable love fest, too! The word love or loved is used (granted, math was never my strong suit) 26 times in 14 verses in 1 John today!! We are surrounded by love. But, this is not the schmaltzy love found on the decks of the Love Boat. John 4 makes the famous yet bold claim that “God is love.” God may be other things, but one thing God is, says John, and that is love incarnate and He can be nothing if not love.
And he goes further and defines this notion by saying God is love means, “…he sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.” Boom! God’s love is this – sacrificial, eternal, present, full of energy and life and, by the way, saving and redemptive.
Jesus calls himself the vine in John today and we are the branches. It is a truly loving and powerful way of thinking of ourselves in relationship to Christ, the divine love. The vine brings all the nutrients, water that the fragile branches need to produce the flower, then the fruit. Jesus in the source of perfect love that can nourish us, giving all that we need so that our love, the result of Jesus’ love for us, can blossom into life, actions in the world, and a hope that can be contagious. Without the source of love and life we can do nothing and will wither and die. We must have love to live and true love - love that is not a breeding ground for fear – is challenging without the divine light giving it the strength to grow.
When we think of ourselves in that way, with Jesus’s love in the midst of all love, then we begin to pursue love in a different way. We pursue love that is healthy, mature, hopeful, lasting, and is a blessing to us and to others. Pursuing God that is love can only produce love that will be strong enough of be a light to others. Intentionally allowing ourselves to place Christ in the midst of our relationships with others is part of beginning to see ourselves in a whole new way.
We know that fear gets in the way. Our pursuit of things in the world that are not of God tends to foster fear. Most of the evil in the world is fear masked as something else. The desire for power and control – is fear. Anger or prejudice toward those of different races, countries, or religions – is really fear of being corrupted, taken over, marginalized and, because of fear, we can allow ourselves to hate and be indifferent, which are the opposite of love, really. The presence of the God who is love begins to chip away at our fear because God does not wish us to be afraid. The world can be a world of fear and in that world, when we pursue the ends that are contrary to God’s will, grabbing for power, security, and wealth can trump the love of God.
There is a wonderful scene from the movie, Paul, Apostle of Christ that really shattered me, in a most wonderful way. A Roman prefect, who was ruthless toward Paul in the beginning, has softened his stance, but is puzzled. He has told Paul he is not convinced that what he says about Jesus is true. Paul says that is okay, he is not trying to convert him. It is Christ, not a human evangelist, who breaks down our resistance. Paul should know, right. The prefect wonders how Paul can go so calmly to his death, which is imminent; nothing can stop it. Paul dips his hands into a container of water and says something like this. “This is life. Most people are pursuing this,” and he raises his hands out of the water, as the water runs from his hands until it is empty. “Those who follow Christ pursue a life that is like the ocean; endless.” To me that is the love we have, the love we seek in Jesus. A love that is infinite, powerful, and never-ending. The ocean never really ends, it just picks up in another place. And there is really only one kind of love for one who would know Jesus more fully and that is the love of Christ that is represented in Resurrection. All love – the love of a wife or husband or child or father or mother; the love of a best friend; the love of a beloved animal or sacred space. Love has a different intensity, a different vibe depending on how it is represented but, if God is love, then love is God’s gift and we are called to see God in it. Believe it or not, that little change in our thinking and understanding may transform the nature of love, for all of us.
We are not capable of perfect love but God is and the more time we spend in the shadow of God’s love the stronger we will be to share the love that is inside us. Love will then be between us and the other, not fear. Love builds us while fear tears apart. We are called to love those that the world may call enemies, for our Lord commanded it to be so. We love the least of these, particularly those who are hard to love, hard to be with, hard to accept because of …. whatever. John says that if we claim that we love God but continue to hate, despise or disregard any of our fellow humans, then maybe the truth is we really don’t know God at all. Love your enemies, hate those who persecute you. Thanks, Jesus – that is not all that easy. I am still working on that one, Lord, how about you? We are all works in progress but love is the only way that the world will change, the only force that can stop hatred and apathy. It is hard to be apathetic when we are in love; and God calls us to be instruments of love in this life, pathways of loving for others.