John 15:9-17 / Easter 6B / 13 May 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. – John 15:9-17
Today’s reading from John continues Jesus’ “I am the vine, you are the branches” saying. Joined to Jesus, you are a fruitful branch; apart from Jesus you can do nothing. The “fruit” which Jesus is speaking of is “love.”
Follow the flow. From the Father to the Son to you. As the Father loves the Son, so the Son loves you. And now the invitation: Abide in my love. Stay there. Rest there. Dwell there. Hang in there. Be loved by Jesus as Jesus is loved by the Father. This is where “love” begins – not in our hearts, not in our decisions and choices, not in our initiative. It begins in the heart of the Father and His love for the beloved Son. It flows to you from the Son by way the cross, the font, the altar, His Word.
To abide in Jesus’ love is to “keep His commandments.”’ Be careful now. Very careful. If you hear that the wrong way, you are going to turn this into a Law instead of a gift. The word “keep” is not the word “obey” but “cling to,” treasure, hold fast to. Like a “keepsake,” something that you value greatly and won’t ever trade away or let go of. “Commandments” are not like the ten commandments of Moses. Jesus didn’t come to give commandments. In the end, He only has one: Love. But the “commandments” we are to keep are the very gifts that bring His love to to us. Baptism, the Supper, His Word. Those are His “commandments,” His tangible gifts that join us to Him in love, and through Him to the Father’s love. And they are “not burdensome” as John says, not the way the Law of Moses is burdensome.
So to put it all together: To abide in Jesus’ love is to cling to His mandates, to trust His Word and cling to His promise in Baptism and Supper, and in so doing to abide in His love for you. When you abide in your Baptism, that is, by daily contrition and repentance you drown and die to self in Jesus’ death, when you abide in Christ’s word of forgiveness, when you abide at the Supper of His Body and Blood, you are abiding in His love. And there’s a promise from Jesus: His joy will be in you, and your joy would be filled up to overflowing.
It helps to think of yourself here as old man and new at the same time, the way Luther said, “simultaneously righteous and sinner.” The old man hates anything that has to do with God’s love in Jesus. The old man wants everything His way. When someone says, “I don’t need Baptism to be loved by God,” or “I don’t need the Lord’s Supper to abide in Jesus’ love,” that’s not the new man talking. It’s the old man, who does not love God or wish to be loved Him. And that’s what we fight all the time. And it’s why Jesus has to put it in the form of a mandate or commandment, because our old sinful natures know only commandments. And so Jesus needs to say, “Do this in remembrance of me,” even though the new man, our new natures in Christ, don’t need to be told this, and don’t really need to do anything to remember Jesus.
We need to understand this about ourselves, that we are under constant tension between our sinful flesh, our outer man who does not want to be loved in this way, and our new, inner man in Christ, the “new you” who delights in the gifts of Christ. Our old sinful natures need to be subdued, disciplined, told what to do, instructed, and ultimately mortified, killed by the Law. But it’s not so that we die, but that we live, that our fruit might abide forever, that we might abide in God and His love forever.
Jesus sits with this group of His chosen disciple in an upper room around a table on the very night that He is going to give His life for the life of the world. He knows them and how it is with them, even better than they know themselves. He knows they will deny Him, betray Him, abandon Him. But He loves them. He lays down His life for them. He calls them not “servants” but “friends.” Friends. He reminds them that they are not sitting around that table because they made all the right choices and chose Him. He chose them. He took the initiative. It may have seemed to them at the time that they chose Him, but in reality Jesus chose them long before they ever knew or met Jesus.
And that’s how it is with us as well. We may think we chose Jesus and decided to believe in Him. For many people, that’s how it subjectively feels. For some us, myself included, we have no conscious moment when we decided to follow Jesus. We’ve just always been doing it since our Baptism which happened at a time we don’t consciously remember. In fact, I would say that the baptized baby is one of the greatest illustrations of what Jesus is saying here, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” The little baby who is brought to Baptism by his parents did not choose Jesus, rather Jesus chose him. And even those of you who came to faith in Christ as adults were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, so any choices you made came after God’s choice of you in Christ, His chosen and beloved Son.
That’s the heart of God’s love. He takes the initiative. He chooses. He loves. He loves the loveless, His enemies, sinners, and calls them His friends and shares His table with them. He lets them in on the “inside story,” the intimate conversation between Father and Son. “All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” This isn’t something the Twelve did but something they received. Access. Privilege. Friends of Jesus status. Whatever they ask the Father in the name of the Son, He will grant it.
That love of God comes to us too. We aren’t sitting in that upper room with the disciples , and in hearing this text, we are eavesdroppers on this conversation between Jesus and His chosen apostles. But you and I have been incorporated in that intimate conversation between Father and Son as well. We’ve been baptized into it; declared to be children of God, members of the family, “friends of Jesus” with the same access to the Father in prayer. And the same love from Father to Son to disciple to one another.
When we say that word “love” we automatically think of feelings and romance. But love is far deeper than that. The Greek word is agape, and it’s not really a feeling but an act of will. The apostle Paul wrote a wonderful description of it in his first letter to the Corinthians. He says agape is patient and kind. It isn’t jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude. It doesn’t insist on getting its own way; it isn’t irritable or resentful; it doesn’t rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Agape bears all things, trusts all things, hopes all things, patiently endures all things.
This being Mother’s Day, one might think of a mother’s love for her child. She endures all the changes in her body for nine months and the pain of childbirth all for the sake of her child. She quite literally lays down a significant portion of her life to bear, feed, and nurture her child. She may not always feel like doing it, in fact, there are times when she doesn’t feel like doing it at all, but a mother she is and mothering is what she does. Thank God for mothers, not only today but every day of our lives. At her best, she is a visible sign of what agape looks like. She is a sinner too, in case you’ve forgotten, so in love forgive her where her love has failed to make through to you. She loves through the sinful flesh just as you do. Only Jesus can love perfectly.
With all this “love” talk the past two week with love being the good fruit of faith, you might be tempted to think, “I’ve got to get to work on loving others,” and that would be true. We all fall terribly short in the harvest of love, precisely because we’re asking the old Adam infected by Sin to love with the love of Go, which is a tall, and in fact an impossible order.
Jesus knows that, which is why He says to His disciples, “these things I command you so that you love one another. In other words, don’t focus on your love, because the harder you look, the less you’ll see, the less loving you will be. Instead, focus on Christ and His love for you and for those around you. It’s one of the oddities that seems counterintuitive at first. We think that if you want to improve in some area, you focus on the area you need to improve and practice and work on it. And that’s generally true when you are talking about mastering skills such as free throws or putting or almost anything we do. But love isn’t a skill one masters. Love is the fruit that forms on a branch that is joined by faith to the Vine and draws is life from Jesus.
In other words, fix your eyes on Jesus, His love for you. Abide in His love. Keep yourself in the stream of His forgiveness. Realize what a wretched mess your life really is, and how utterly failed your attempts at love have been. Receive the tokens of His love, His death and life, His body and blood, His Word and Spirit. All this without any merit or worthiness on your part.
In the rite of private confession, there is this sentence: “I have not let HIs love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed.” This is how we love with the love of God, by letting His love first have its way with us and then having that love, which knows no bounds, overflow to those around us. And when love fails, it’s because we’ve gotten in the way, our old sinful natures have clogged up the flow of love from God through us to others.
I have great patch of olalleberries this year. I finally got it right and built a strong trellis and raised them vertically. I now have a literal wall of olalleberries. That wall of vine and branch doesn’t look like much. Just a bunch of green leaves and very prickly, thorny branches. But when it’s bearing fruit, there’s nothing more lovely (and tasty) than that wall of olalleberries. Usually I try to avoid it so I don’t get snagged or scratched, but when its bearing fruit, that corner of my garden is the most wonderful place to be. Most berries never make it into the house. I just enjoy them right there on the spot.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. You are ever a child of God. But when the fruit of Jesus’ love, when agape appears, when you love one another with Jesus’ love for you, you are seen for who and what you really are. A disciple and friend of Jesus. Chosen in love to abide in His love and to love one another.
In the name of Jesus,