Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sermon, Easter 6B, John 15:9-17

Delivered at the UMC as part of a joint service.

Today's gospel passage, as well as last week's and next week's, are taken from what is known as the Farewell Discourse. This long monologue (with a smattering of dialogue thrown in) takes place at the Last Supper between the time of Judas' departure and Jesus' move to Gethsemane. It prepares them, or attempts to prepare them, for the time when they will need to carry on with the mission of Jesus without his physical presence.

Throughout these three weeks -- last week, this week and next week -- the Farewell Discourse prepares us, or attempts to prepare us, liturgically for the time when we will need to carry on with the mission of Jesus without his physical presence.

In the church year, Easter is a season; we all know that. We are about 5/7 of the way through that season. Today is the 36th day of Easter and, on the calendar anyway, Jesus will ascend to the Father in four days. In two weeks we will celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. With the rare occasion of a long Epiphany, Easter is the second longest season we have.

I mention this because the challenge for us is to keep the celebration of Easter going for seven weeks. The challenge is to keep our Alleluia's fresh. The challenge is to remember that Jesus is alive and present here and now. This is part of the reason why we use real bread and white wine for communion. This is why we stand during the prayers. It is why we omit the confession. And it's why we are having an Easter egg hunt across the street today.

So here we are in the last days of the Easter season. Here we are with a calendar that says we are running out of time to spend with the physical presence of Jesus. Here we are faced with his ascension in four days. And here Jesus is, preparing us for his absence.

If you have more than one child, what do you usually tell them before you leave the house for a night out, or if you're going to be gone for a few days? I don't have that particular issue, but I do remember my parents telling me and my sisters, "Make sure you behave and try not to kill each other." In other words, we let our children know how we expect them to behave.

This is what the Farewell Discourse is all about. This is what Jesus is telling his disciples. It is what he is telling us. He is letting us know how he expects us to behave in his absence. And the overriding behavioral expectation Jesus has for us is to love.

"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you . . . This is my commandment, that you love one another . . ." This is not a suggestion, folks; this is a direct commandment from Jesus.

Love is an interesting thing and it has many, perhaps too many, meanings. I love my parents. I love seafood, particularly scallops, shrimp and crab. I love my wife and daughter. I love blueberry cream cheese pie. I love my friends. I love this community and this valley. I love God. We can all make lists of things and places and people we love.

But note this: love is something we choose to give away. It is our choice of what and whom to love. Jesus loved us first -- we did not choose him, he chose us. And because he chose us, we can choose to participate in that love or not; but Jesus never chooses not to participate.

Love exists by someone choosing to love. Love grows by someone else choosing to reciprocate and love in return. Love expands when those who are loved choose to love others. Love is also hard work.

It's easy for us to withhold our love because of someone's attitude, politics or religion. It's easy for us to choose not to risk love because we have been hurt before. It's easy to not love for a whole host of reasons. And it's easy for us to dislike the Other, that person or those people who are different from us in some way. So are sewn the seeds of hate.

And this is the condition of our sinful and fallen world. We are quick to find fault or take offense. We are quick to terminate dialogue because that takes no effort. We are quick to responsd to force with greater force. But that is a zero sum game.

God the Father loved. His love was reflected in the Word made flesh, Jesus, his son. And that love continues to flow in and through us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. God's love is a continual activity.

God the Father loved Jesus his Son. God the Son loved his disciples. And God the Son commands us to imitate and reflect his love for us in our actions of loving each other. God desires that all people return to his loving embrace. It is only through our example and our willingness to love the Other that this will happen.

If Jesus desires to draw all people to him, who are we to segregate, dismiss, refuse or withhold love? God's kingdom will not be achieved through political machinations, wars or conquests. God's kingdom will be achieved through love -- our love of self, friend, neighbor, enemy and Other.

As we prepare liturgically to live without the physical presence of Jesus, as we close out this celebratory Easter season and return to life as normal, the question is this: whom will you choose to love?


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