Posted on Sat, Jun 2, 2012
Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon for May 6, 2012
Talking About Love
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
May 6, 2012
The two passages from John this morning are challenging for us. In fact, on some issues it is difficult to match them to one another. Some of the writing sounds different from other parts. The attitude of the writer seems different from one passage to the other. Let’s look at them carefully and see if together we can determine what God has to say to us.
First, let’s consider the business of vines. The vineyard was an important image in for the people of Israel. In Hebrew scripture, Israel was metaphorically referred to as the Lord’s vineyard. During the time of Jesus the vine was a national symbol of great significance to the Jews. When Jesus says what he has to say about the vineyard, he is, at the same time denouncing the religious system of the day. Let us notice once again how dangerous it can be to have groups of religious zealots running a nation’s business. That’s what we see here in the historical context and I must say it is very similar to what we are seeing here lately in what we have come to know as the war on women’s healthcare, and the war on reproductive rights, and the war on LGBT folk by trying to lock us out of the same basic rights every other person enjoys. Similar events were happening during the time that John was writing and the behavior, the governmental/religious practice was leading to outright failure just like it is here in our country right now. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah who said, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry. This had been the consistent history of Israel, so just like we heard Jesus last week saying, I am the GOOD shepherd, now we hear him saying I am the TRUE vine. Good Shepherd – True Vine. What amazing attributes to assign to the Son of God, the son of Humankind.
Last week we discussed characteristics of the GOOD shepherd, so let’s highlight a few attributes of Jesus, the TRUE Vine. We hear the voice of Jesus saying others have failed you, they have oppressed and exploited you, but I am here to set you free, to liberate you. I am hear to preach GOOD NEWS to the poor. I am here to bring about Justice. I am here to bring you HOPE. I am here to build up your community, not to tear it down because I AM the true vine and you ARE the branches of my vine. Now I’ve gotten it started and YOU, every one of you must carry it on. Be clear about that. Jesus is the vine from which we obtain our spiritual inspiration and our spiritual nourishment and from there Jesus is calling us to be his branches, his voice, his feet, his hands and his very presence in all the world. That’s what happens when we attach ourselves to this TRUE vine and when we follow this GOOD shepherd that loves us and gives us life and places a calling on our lives. That’s what love is all about, that’s what GOOD shepherding is all about and that is what happens when we become part of the TRUE vine. Let’s talk about some real love in here this morning.
What about the conflict? I like the way the Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins poses the question: Is Jesus a humble, prophetic servant who doesn’t even think of himself as being particularly good, or is he an arrogant megalomaniac believing himself to be the new and only key to enlightenment and to a relationship with a higher power? And if Jesus thinks of himself as the latter, would that really be a stance that would draw thousands of people to him? Probably not.
Some of this high and mighty Christological language in John is almost certainly meant to be symbolic and just confusing enough for it to pass by the Imperial authorities of the day. It seems accurate that John, who actually applies the Divine Name I Am to Jesus, or at least shows Jesus claiming that name for himself, might just be doing what other writers often do; assigning to readers/listeners with a sense of sharing the noble qualities of the protagonist. When John has Jesus say, “I AM,” he fully expects his readers and listeners to say, “I AM, too.” As Jesus claims his sacred value, all those who hear him claim the sacred value that Jesus assigns to them as children of God, as friends of Jesus, as disciples of Christ, so hear that message again this morning, I AM and you AM too. I am a follower of Jesus and (and I am too). I am a friend of Jesus (and I am, too). I am a branch of the True Vine (and I am, too). That’s some kind of Love that God shares with us, and in light of that experience, we as branches of the True Vine must share that same kind of mindboggling love with one another and with the world in which we live.
I am the child of God filled with divine light and love, and as I explore and trust this divine presence that is never separate from me, I experience deeper communion with the source and substance of all that is, Jesus the son of God.* Hear that affirmation one more time. (REPEAT). This understanding then helps reconcile the seemingly different attitudes between the Johannine letter and the Johnannine gospel. The gospel reading sounds harsh and threatening: “You are nothing without me and if you don’t do what I tell you to do I’m going to kick you to the curb and you might just find yourself in the middle of a cosmic pile of garbage!” -and this is the good news!” But the epistle of John says, God is love and everyone who loves lives in God and God lives in them. Everyone. *Based on an affirmation by Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
I enjoy what Fr. Thomas Keating writes about learning to love when he claims that Centering Prayer comes out of the “life of God moving within us. We may first have experienced this movement as a longing for more, a wordless desire for union with something or someone beyond ourselves. Moments of union may have come to us in a sense of the sacred in nature, hearing music, or seeing the stars on a clear night….Centering Prayer activates an existential relationship with Christ as one way of receiving the fullness of unconditional love pour out of the depths of the Trinity into creation and into us. As we sit in Centering Prayer, we are connecting with that immense flow of the divine life within us.” I would add simply, and having experienced the love that flows from that Divine life, we too must allow love to flow through us.
The epistle makes it simple…live in love, and as we live in that love we become the expression of the Divine essence of God who is, always has been and always will be LOVE. That’s what I call Talking about love and that, my dear ones IS God’s good news for us today. Love each other, be good to each other, love in Jesus name. Now that IS good news!
God bless you this morning. AMEN!
First Reading 1 John 4: 7-8, 12-13, 16, 18-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and divine love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in God and God in us, because God has shared God’s own spirit with us. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because God first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have…is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
*Gospel Reading John 15:1-8
I am the true vine, and God is the vine grower. God removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit is pruned to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. God is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.