Chosen in Love to Love John 15:9-17
“This is my commandment . . . . . . . . . love one another.” Ordinarily, when people obey a command, there may be fear or resentment. If a police officer – or “Copper,” as my beloved, Darleen, loves to say: “Copper, 3 o’clock!” – if one pulls me to the side of the road, even if it is for my own safety, I usually react with a cold sweat & butterflies in the tummy, much to my beloved’s delight, because she thinks I’m gonna get my just due & she wants to see the copper nail my behind! But it is different with the commands of God, because the commandments are linked to God’s love. And for some reason, it’s quite a bit different from the rule-keeping notion. How??
Wellll . . . . , let’s take a cut at this from a completely different angle. Lutheran theologian & historian, Martin Marty, printed a snippet entitled, “Good preachers work without a net.” The strange act of preaching, is comparing a preacher climbing into the pulpit & watching a tightrope walker climbing onto the platform as the drum roll begins. The 1st clears her throat & spreads out her notes; the 2nd loosens his shoulders & stretches out one resin-soled foot to test the taut rope. Then both step out into the air, trusting everything they have done to prepare for this moment as they surrender themselves to it, counting now on something beyond themselves to help them do what they love and most want to do. If they reach the other side without falling, it is skill but it is also grace – a benevolent God’s decision to let these daredevils tread the high places where ordinary mortals have the good sense not to go.
The question is asked: why preach?? Because the preacher is in love with the language of their congregation & the words of God. But more than that, the preacher makes the long, lonely climb up the steps to face the tightrope again because they themselves are in love. The struggle for the right words to say isn’t just a quibble over syntax; it is the sweet agony of announcing to the world that one is shamelessly taken and loved by that other, namely God in Jesus Christ, who is being talked about. And this final quote from Marty: “But I am also in love myself, which means that I am deeply involved in the messages that I bear. I do not speak for myself, but I do. I am one of the crowd down in the bushes, & the longing I put into words is my own. When the holy vision speaks, it is my own heart that is pierced.”
Jesus says, “As God has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love . . . . This is my commandment . . . love one another as I have loved you.” All of Christ was given for us. Because we are connected, because we abide in Christ & Christ in us, because we are baked in the same cake with Christ, we love with all that we have & are, with that same mix of risk & confidence & hesitancy & the fumbling of a tightrope walker or preacher.
Hang on . . . there’s more. Some of you may remember my telling this during this past midweek Lenten time, & I dare say may need a retelling because I think it fits. My faith roots from Brooklyn were set within the Haugianer & old United Norwegian Lutheran Church, one of the sources from which a few, a precious few of us have sprung. I know those Norskies have been characterized as a passle of pious prudes who believed they’d catapulted themselves into the arms of the Almighty under their own steam. And those actions tended to give my faith forebears a kind of I choose-Jesus-as-I-choose-pears-over-pickles cast. But when given to reflection, it was Luther’s meaning to the 3rd article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel . . . . .” that lay in the marrow of their bones.
The same’s with us, whether we know it or not. In other words, none of us are Christian, & this congregation did not come into existence because we willed it, because we vowed to become religious, pious & good, because we chose to love as Christ commanded, but because God in God’s infinite love & wisdom chose us, loved us 1st & appointed us & equipped us. What we are on the vine, abiding in him, & what we have been is God’s work alone.
We can talk ‘til the cows come home of giving our heart to Jesus, of our deciding for Christ, of even deciding to affirm our faith, but the greater truth of the matter is that we are here & this Christian Church of which we are part exists because God first loved us & not the other way around. And we’ll still be God’s whether or not we’re scattered to the 4 winds & whether or not we feel the breath of the Almighty at our back.
God’s word works on its hearers – you & me – does things to us, destroys sin through forgiveness, puts to death our old unbelieving self-centered lives & raises us as new creatures to lives of faith.
Today’s wonderful gospel reading from john brings to mind an experience I had while serving in the Norwegian Church in Oldtown Fredrikstad, Norway, which is south of Oslo by 60 miles. I was visited one day by two Mormons – it’s always two. Some time prior to those visiting Mormons at my door, the Mormon Church asked permission from the Church of Norway if they could come to Norway for missionary work.
Unbeknownst to the Norwegian officials the Mormon representatives were looking through the church records in many of the parishes and were taking names from the death records and baptizing those people into the Mormon Church. The baptism of the dead is a part of the Mormon practice. There is one obscure verse in the entire bible in 1st Corinthians 15:29 that references some of the Corinthians who practiced this baptism on behalf of the dead. Why the Corinthians did it is still unknown. When the Church of Norway officials discovered this the Mormon visitors were immediately expelled from Norway. After some time the Mormon Church appealed and were allowed to enter Norway again for the sole purpose of missionary work, nothing more.
Hence, the visit of those two Mormon boys at my front door, speaking very “flat” poor Norwegian. I invited them in and offered them a light supper, acquainted them on the makeup of the Norwegian populace, being mostly part of the Lutheran Church, etc. I guess the primary reason for my hospitality was to speak English with some Americans. The conversation shifted to their prostelyzing, of course. They were picking texts out of the bible and the book of Mormon – proof texting, we call it – to drive their point home, referencing to their three levels of heaven based on how good you were, or not, to get to one of the levels. The goal is to get to the highest level.
The texts were quoted in Norwegian, to make their point to the Norwegians in their own language. I finally countered with offering some texts of my own in both English and Norwegian. I read them from Ephesians 2, “By grace you have been saved, and this is not your own doing lest anyone should boast,” and then, from today’s gospel in John 15, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last . . .” Whereupon they blurted out, “But, but, that’s, that’s absurd!!” And I said, “Of course it’s absurd!! Who else but a loving & caring God would say & do such a thing!” Their response was, “Well, we gotta go. Thanks for the supper.”
By grace through faith you’ve been chosen in love & in your baptism you received the Spirit – all of the Spirit – no matter what your Mormon or Pentecostal or Two Seed in the Spirit friends think. And ever since, ever since, everything you’ve lovingly done is as members of his body, is as fruit on the vine, abiding in him: pulling teeth, removing gallbladders, taking temperatures, teaching English, plowing through math, checking water meters, screwing nuts on bolts, making a million, or making enough to get along, washing dishes, fixing, or learning to fix meals for the family, providing soup, shelter & care for the poor & homeless, for the women in Elizabeth Gregory Home in transitional housing and the day center – all of it you’ve done in Christ, for Christ, to Christ.
But lest you get a bit puffed up, remember this fruit bearing is something Christ gives, not something you do, trying to prove you’ve done something for Jesus on your own hook. The same Christ who loves you & abides in you has chosen you & appointed you & equipped you so that you’ll bear fruit & he’ll make it last . . . . . count on it!
This body, this church, this vine, is nothing but one grand whopping testimony of the truth that none can come to the Christ unless God lovingly draws them. To have been that, just for a brief moment in the world’s history, even if it’s been for 100 years or more, that’s as much as any congregation should ever dare to be & that’s more than most congregations will ever have the chance to be. Especially now, when we are mulling and praying over the opportunity of a co-location experience with the Methodists, as well as being on the cusp of calling our new pastor.
All of this couched within Bishop Kirby Unti’s descriptive words of “Disruptive, Bold, Life-Giving, Adaptive Change.” Not many congregations ever get the chance, let alone the opportunity to experience that. Through you & me God wills to reveal God’s loving heart, & through you & me God hands on the power of holy love. Why? Simply put, we are abiding Easter people, branches on the vine, chosen in love to love, living some 6 weeks after that bright Sunday morning when once-dead Jesus was brought forth from the tomb, the day when life stepped over the boundary of death & started planting life. That’s why. Amen.
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 5-6-18” name of the sermon.