Sermon; Easter 5B; 1 John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8
I am the true vine. Abide in me. As the branch must abide in the vine to be fruitful, so you must abide in Christ to be fruitful.
Okay, I'll admit it, I have a hard time with this one, and for at least a couple of reasons. First there seems to be a number of interpretations as to what it means to abide in Christ. People from all sides – from the most conservative and constrictive groups to the most liberal and permissive groups – claim to abide in Christ and faithfully follow in his path. Which one is doing it right? And how do we know?
Second, we don't have Jesus with us to physically guide us anymore. We do our best in following him through prayer, discernment, the guiding of the Holy Spirit, and church teachings. But again, those get kind of fuzzy. Especially when we consider all the atrocities committed in the name of God. Bearing fruit seems to be based in so much subjectivity.
So the question remains: How do we best abide in Jesus?
In John's letter that question is excellently answered when he says that those who abide in love abide in God. It's all about love. If we hate others, the love of God is not in us. As he says, we can't love a God whom we haven't seen while not loving brothers or sisters whom we have seen.
Saying we love God while denigrating, abusing, marginalizing, or terrorizing others makes us liars and hypocrites. Creating segregated systems of housing, education, medical coverage, financial compensation, and the like that are based simply on religion, gender, skin color, or other differences, is based in nothing more than fear. And John correctly points out that there is no fear in love. Those attitudes and actions have no place in Christianity.
Let me be clear here – there's a difference between fear and caution. Caution is being aware of your surroundings and acting appropriately. Caution is locking your car doors. Fear is buying into the rhetoric that says your very existence is threatened by granting equal rights. Fear is shooting those who scare you, or are different from you, first. But love casts out fear.
God is love. If we abide in love, we abide in God. If we live with love as our primary motive, we abide in Christ. And when we abide in Christ we will bear much fruit. Love, then, is the root of who we are in God.
This is all well and good, but what does it actually look like? Because, while love is certainly the basis, or should be the basis, for all we do, it's a little . . . amoeba-like. It can be somewhat hard to grasp, especially with “love” having so many different definitions. For instance, I love this parish. I love my wife. I love officiating. I love ding dongs and Bismarck doughnuts. We need a little clarity here.
The big question, then, is how do we behave as Christians, and what does that look like?
This was the topic of discussion at the Vestry retreat. And if you read the latest Soundings, you'll know what's coming.
At that retreat I asked those gathered: What do we do at St. John's?
People responded with all kinds of answers: pray, Community Cafe, Micah's backpack, learning parties, fellowship, Communion, proclaim, formation, maintain the building, rites of life, and a whole slew of other things. As we went down the list we discovered that we could group the list of what we do into a few specific categories.
What do we do at St. John's? We Worship. As a church, this is our primary objective – to worship God with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our bodies, and with all our souls. We worship every Sunday, yes, but we also worship at other times. We offer Evening Prayer every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. We worship as a vestry when we pray Evening Prayer before every meeting, and when we close with Compline afterward. When we pray, either corporately or individually, we perform a type of worship. Worship is what we do, and we have a particular form of worship that helps shape who we are.
What do we do at St. John's? We Welcome. We welcome people into our midst. We welcome people to worship with us. We welcome people into educational opportunities. We welcome people to a meal once a month. We welcome people to explore their relationship with God. We Welcome people in a variety of ways.
What do we do at St. Johns? We Serve. We serve a spiritual meal of Holy Communion. We serve a physical meal at the Community Cafe. We serve children through Micah's Backpack and the Bester Community of Hope. We serve in various callings and roles. We serve this community of faith through our stewardship – financial and otherwise. We are a church that Serves.
What do we do at St. John's? We Encourage. We encourage people to learn and participate. We encourage active prayer lives. We encourage people to connect with others,. We encourage people in hard times. We encourage people to grow. We encourage people to explore.
Everything we do can be summed up in these four words: Worship, Welcome, Serve, Encourage.
Everything we might want to do in the future can be summed up in these four words: Worship, Welcome, Serve, Encourage.
These words are at the root of who we are and what we do. These words are based in love and the life of Christ. These are at the root of Christ the vine which produces the branches that are us. If we hold to our roots, based in love, growing from the vine, this branch of St. John's, and these branches that are us, will bear much fruit.