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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Easter 6B May 6,2018

The "Love the One You Are With" Gospel

Your love, O God, is revealed among us in the gift of your Son Jesus, who laid down his life and bestows on us the joy of abiding in your love.  Baptized into Christ we pray that through the witness we bear you will bring forth fruit that will last and teach us, God of love, how to love one another.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 15:9-17

"The love of the Father towards the Son, and of the Son towards us, and of us toward God and our neighbour, are joined together with an inseparable knot: and there is nothing more sweet and pleasant than it is."

From the Geneva Notes by John Calvin.

"Not that God's choosing us is a panacea, as if none of the difficulties of this life matter. Rather, knowing that God has chosen us, loves us, and will use us gives us the courage to face the challenges and renews our strength to do something about them."

"On Being Chosen," David Lose, the Meantime, 2015.

"We preachers would do well to recall that the Greek words for 'grace' and 'joy' share the same root. Joy may very well be a feeling of grace, the emotion of grace, even the response to grace. "

"Choose Joy," Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

Let me simply begin by saying that this passage in John's Gospel messes us up!  Jesus' words to his disciples are clear: "God loves me, I love you, you abide in my love, you keep my commandments.  The commandment is to love others.  I have loved you and I lay down my life for you."  Then tying in last week's lesson about fruit - we tie up this unit nicely.

This messes us up because we deserve love, we want love, and so we skip down to the part that tells us how to get it. We see the word commandment and we see that we are to love others. Then we figure this doesn't mean everyone. So we are good. As in the song by Stephen Stills: Love the one your with.  And, that means we are good in God's eyes. We are good, we obey the commandment when we love the ones like us, whom we are with, that cause no ripples in our world view, and create no conflict in our life.  Love the one you are with. 

This translation of the "love commandment" into the "love the one you are with Gospel" undermines and rewrites (it revises) Jesus' teaching. 

But let us think for a moment about the world in which this Gospel takes place.  It was a world where the righteous were understood by the faith and teachings of Jesus' contemporaries to be people who are closer to God.  In other words like the young man who comes to Jesus and has obeyed all the commandments.  He is automatically assumed to be close to Jesus; we find out he has a little more to understand. 

And this is part of the problem we live in a world where we understand capitalism. If I am righteous and follow the commandments I will receive God's love. It is an exchange policy. 

The hiccup in this line of thinking is that we believe we can be righteous and earn God's love.  The problem isn't the economy but the fact that Jesus spends most of his time with sinners and not the righteous.

All people are created with an "irreducible need" for love and belonging.  We are "biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. " (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, 26)

The particular message of Jesus is that God loves sinners.  God loves sinners. These fishermen and followers of Jesus, the tax collectors, the women and men along the way were sinners. He ate with sinners. He hung out in the homes of sinners. He even died with sinners.  God loves sinners.  This is a radical message in Jesus' time.  Because it means that God is with the unrighteous. Jesus says, "I have come to find the lost sheep of Israel."  After prophesying that Jerusalem kills the prophets, Jesus says, "How long have I wanted to gather you in."  Jesus and Jesus' love is meant for the sinner.  This was a radical notion and many scholars believe that it was this breaking of clear righteous law that got Jesus killed.

What is worse is that this love for the sinner is agape love.  Some of you reading this might remember a small footnote from seminary or your philosophy class about the eros and agape.  The systematic professor who is still considered (in my opinion) to have accomplished a work of seminal importance on this subject is Anders Nygren.  In it there are a few bullets regarding God's agape love which are very troubling indeed - to the righteous!
  1. Agape is spontaneous and uncaused
  2. Agape is indifferent to human merit
  3. Agape is creative
  4. Agape is the entrance to philoi - fellowship - with God (Nygren, Agape and Eros, vol 1, 48ff)
For the righteous this is problematic.  You can't earn it and it is given to sinners.  No matter how hard you try you still can't get it and it is given to sinners who don't try at all.  It is creative and changes life for the sinner who receives it; did I mention they didn't do anything and God was giving this away free!  And, in receiving it do sinners become part of the family of God the friends of God.  Philoi is the word translated as friends in our text this Sunday.  So, agape invites all the sinners to the righteous one's party and that is REALLY uncool.

So here is what happens now.  What we do is that we now say, "Bishop Andy, You are right! I am a sinner. I am the worst sinner EVER!"  We immediately move quickly to the other side and try and create a new economy to earn God's love. We throw a pity party for our sin sick soul and we say "Hurrah!" we are saved by God's agape love because we are a really bad person.  In doing this we actually reverse the notion and begin to move ourselves into a place of earning the love again -- Causing God's love because we are sinful and gloating in the fact that we are more loved than the righteous. 

Then Jesus flips the table again.  He tells us the sun rises on the righteous and unrighteous alike.  It turns out when we read the scripture (all of it) that God loves the righteous too. 

The reality that is difficult to live into is the fact that we are not either sinner or righteous. We are constantly moving between the two.  We are constantly creating God in our image and trying to make God work for us.  As soon as we are too righteous it is good to be reminded that we are really just sinners, and when we are too sinful it is good to be reminded of the work of righteousness. 

...And, God's love is constant. God's love is un-caused. God's love is never earned. Yet somehow, in being chosen (like the disciples) we experience this love; the sinner and righteous alike.  We experience unearned, unmerited, and undeserved love.  Evidently the kingdom of heaven, God's family, the family of friends, are made up loved sinners and the righteous alike. 

Christian community, and especially when it opens itself up to outsiders, has to contend with the incredible leveling of God's agape love where in the sinner and the righteous are chosen alike.  The commandment to love is not for the sake of earning love, but rather for the living in love.  The love commandment then is what helps the sinner and the righteous live together. 

The love commandment reminds us that our brothers and sisters, the sinner and the righteous do not cause God's love, and therefore are to be loved by us as God loves.  We are to treat one another as though (as Paul says) there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God - nor separate our neighbor from God's love.

The love commandment reminds us that we didn't do anything to earn God's love and that is called grace.  Therefore, we are to give grace to others who are struggling along life's road trying to find a little bit of love.

The love commandment reminds us that we were invited into community which has been created by God so that we may safely struggle with our fellow human beings in a life lived between complete depravity and righteous living.

The love commandment reminds us we are bound to one another, not out of our action our out, but out of God's agape love.  We are united in our Christian fellowship, our friendship, not by what I do or do not do, but rather by what God does; which is love.  After all, it is God's nature to love.
 "The Gospel, like its blessed Master, is always crucified between two thieves -- legalist of all sorts on the one hand and Antinomians on the other; the former robbing the Saviour of the glory of his work for us, and the other robbing him of the glory of his work within us." - James Henley Thornwell

Some Thoughts on  I John 5:1-6

"Truly Christian faith conquers the world not by military might or doctrinal arguments or coercion, but by love."

Commentary, 1 John 5;1-6, Judith Jones, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"In Jesus, God came to walk in our shoes, to experience the fullness of our suffering, our struggles, and even our loneliness. God did this to make it clear that we are not worthless, rejected, unloved people. Rather we are all of us and every single one of us the focus of God's unconditional and irrevocable love."

"Defining Truth," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2015.

What we believe is that all those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ are adopted into the family of God. And, likewise they love not only God but fellow believers. As in last week's lesson what the author believes is that this love is a sign of the inner love we have for God. If we hate our fellow believers and work towards their end then we are indeed not living in God. 

We also know that we are not to take this for granted and that loving God and loving our fellow Christian is sacrificial and requires of us the giving up of our own self interest and good. This is the kind of agape love that the author is speaking about. 

This is what the author is speaking about when he talks about how baptism and the crucifixion are linked. We are indeed daily dying to one another as we seek to live out our god like relationship. In other words, we are to die sacrificially for the other. This is not a burden but instead a privilege. 

What a different kind of way of doing evangelism is this. We are not to go out and require of others to come and serve us or bend to our ego and rule. Instead we are to convert them, bring them into the family, chiefly by giving up ourselves to them. 

Is it no wonder that our churches shrink the more we chose not to give up ourselves for our neighborhoods and cities? The more we turn inward and away from the other the less like God we actually become.

Some Thoughts on Acts 10:44-48

"The question each church and denomination must answer is, will we have the courage, like Peter, to reject traditional distinctions made on the basis of religion or culture in favor of welcoming everyone into God's family?"

Commentary, Acts 10:44-48, Coleman Baker, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"While much is made of multiculturalism and racial diversity, the problem of classcism within churches—the discrimination against the lower class at the expense of the upper and middle class—continues to plague American congregations of all cultures."

"The Politics of Acts 10:44-48," Aaron Howard, Political Theology, 2012.

"God is saying to all who live beyond the barrier of separation from God: I have come to life in Jesus Christ and in the presence of the Holy Spirit to break down all that separates you from me."

Commentary, Acts 10:44-48, Richard Jensen, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

One of the beauties of reading through the Acts passages this Easter cycle is that they reveal the multiple ways of understanding baptism. 

Think about it for a moment. We already had the great preaching on the day of Pentecost. In this passage there is preaching, people are moved, baptized by the Holy Spirit and continue in community. We also read the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. He asks to be baptized and then continues on his way. He is the primary mover and the story is disconnected with community.

In our story today people are already filled with the Holy Spirit and then are baptized. They are completely outside the community and in fact are considered sinners because of their lifestyle. Cornelius the Centurion is a story of how the community of Jesus followers opened themselves up to receiving people different from themselves. 

Mission places the ecclesia, the friends of Jesus, into direct contact with God's people. This contact challenges the community itself to be transformed.

As modern day Christians we have one way of thinking about baptism. People come into our community (we don't go out); they go through training or preparation (a catechetical model used briefly in the church); and then they can be baptized in a public service. This is not at all the models of baptism present in the scripture. In fact all of them share a few characteristics. They are spontaneous. They take place outside a temple/synagogue/church. They take place in the midst of people's lives. These models look something like the following:
Model One - Jesus and John  1. Preaching/teaching
2. Baptism and Holy Spirit are received
3. People go back to their daily lives
Model Two - Pentecost 1. Preaching/teaching
2. Baptism and Holy Spirit are given
3. People continue in community
Model Three - Ethiopian Eunuch1. The Holy Spirit Moves
2. Baptism
3. People continue their life without attachment to community 
Model Four - Gentiles/Cornelius1. The Holy Spirit Moves during teaching and relationship
2. Baptism is done
3. People considered beyond salvation are incorporated and become part of the community 
Model Five - Samaria1. People are living in community
2. People are baptized
3. The Apostles come and lay hands on them and give them the Holy Spirit

Sermons Preached On These Passages

More than loving the one you are withSt. Peter's, Brenham, May 6 ,2018 , Easter 6B

Mother's Day Is Complicated

May 12, 2015 Sermon preached at Palmer Episcopal Church Easter 6b 2015

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