Sunday, May 10, 2015

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

Happy Easter!

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Last week we heard Jesus talking about vines, branches and pruning.  Today we hear Jesus talking about loving each other.  Do you remember two weeks ago when I asked what you noticed about the gospel passage?  I asked if you noticed who it was addressed to, where it took place and when it took place.  Whereas that gospel was addressed to Pharisees in Jerusalem just before Jesus raised Lazarus, the gospel passages from last week and today are addressed to the disciples and take place at the Last Supper during what is known the Farewell Discourse – Jesus' speech to the eleven disciples after Judas left on his mission of betrayal.

As with the previous two weeks, we are once again being given a pre-Passion reading in this post-resurrection time.  Remember, the point of this isn't because there aren't enough post-resurrection stories to last through the Easter season, but because we are, liturgically speaking, being prepared for Jesus' final departure.  We are being prepared to live on our own as active apostles to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ.

Two weeks ago we learned how the role and traits of the good shepherd are reflected in the life of an active apostle.  Last week we learned that, as active disciples and apostles, we will be subject to pruning.  As active apostles who produce good things for the kingdom of God, we must know that some parts of us will be lopped off in order to make us grow bigger, stronger and more beautiful than we could ever imagine.

And today we are given another example of how to be active apostles: we are to love each other as Jesus loved us.  That's a tall order.  I don't need to mention all of the ills currently plaguing our society to show how love of others seems to have fallen by the wayside; but even in the best of times, whenever you put a bunch of people together conflict will arise.  Our constant goal, however, is to love each other as Christ loved us.

Caring for others, knowing others, sacrificing our wants for the needs of others, being pruned back by God to grow stronger and loving others are all aspects of being an active apostle.  But how do we get there?  How do we learn to care for others?  How do we not see pruning back as a threat, but as the first step to a change that brings new growth?  How do we love each other?

The answer is found in today's gospel.  We are being prepared for the departure of Jesus.  Over the last three weeks we have been given examples of how to live as active apostles.  If we follow those examples, if we keep those commandments, we will abide in Jesus' love.  And it is that abiding in Jesus that is the key to all of this.

How are we to abide in Jesus today?  We might have a tendency to think it was easy for those first disciples to do this.  After all, they had both Jesus in their midst and each other after he was gone.  We think it might be easier for those who had a direct experience with Jesus to abide in him.  But how are we to abide in him today?

Three words:  Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

First, Scripture.  We can abide in Christ by spending time immersed in Scripture.  Some of you may have taken up a Lenten discipline of Scripture reading.  That's one discipline that doesn't need to be discontinued after Lend ends.

Spending time with Scripture allows us to know God more deeply.  It brings us closer to Jesus.  And, more importantly, in this age of sound-byte religion and cherry-picked theology, the more we know about Scripture the better off we will be.  As one example, what does Scripture say about the treatment of aliens, and how does, or how should, that inform how we treat aliens today?

For us to abide in Christ, we need to make an effort to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” Holy Scripture on a regular basis.

Second, Tradition.  We can abide in Christ by spending time immersed in Tradition.  We need to be careful here, because tradition doesn't mean, “The way we've always done it.”  Instead, tradition is the accumulated wisdom of the past that helps give meaning to the present.

Our worship is one of the most traditional things we participate in.  Think back to Christmas services, or the worship of Palm Sunday, Holy Week and the Easter Vigil.  Think about baptisms and the service of baptismal renewal.  Think about Communion itself where we take, break, bless and give.  These are all ancient traditions of worship in which we participate that help give meaning to our lives today.

But tradition must not be static.  Think about who we allow to take on Holy Orders, who we allow to marry or the language of worship itself.  When we talk about tradition, we need to evaluate whether it is in accordance with Scripture and whether it can be justified by right reason.

For us to abide in Christ, we need to spend time immersed in the traditions of the Church.

Finally, Reason.  We can abide in Christ by using our reason on a regular basis.  What does Scripture say?  What does our tradition say?  Are either or both of those compatible with the mandate to love each other and our neighbors?

For instance, Scripture has lots to say about slavery, all of it positive and normative.  Our tradition accepted slavery as part of life.  But eventually people came to see slavery as unreasonable and incompatible with the mandate to love others.  So we modified how we read Scripture and changed our tradition to give meaning to the present.

As we move through these last days of Easter, we are being prepared for active apostleship following Jesus' departure.  Two weeks ago we were given the example of the good shepherd.  Last week we were told that, as active apostles, we could expect to be pruned back in order to grow stronger and more productive for the kingdom of God.  And today we are told to abide in Jesus.

Abide in the Scripture and gain a deeper knowledge of God.
Abide in Tradition and let the wisdom of ages past help define your present.
Abide in Reason and work to apply the previous two to contemporary life.
And finally, know that you are called by God to a life of active apostleship.
Abide in the love and calling of Christ, go forth and bear fruit.



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