Connected: Connected in Vision
Rev. Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: JOHN 15:9-17[Jesus said:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
My niece Elsa is a first grader and she has a little brother who is seven months old as well as a little sister who is four. Elsa is a first born in many of the classic ways. She is reliable, when given two choices she picks one and she takes the responsibility of being the oldest pretty seriously–as gift and as burden together. There are many times that Elsa comes home from school wanting to be alone, but instead plays with her little sister who is craving attention and even brings her the lollipops she wins for doing all her work at school. My mother, their grandmother who they call Abby (another story) was visiting recently and helping to take care of the three kids. She was talking to Elsa as Elsa was playing with her brother Jakob. Jakob was wearing a onesie that said “All I need is Love” My mom said, “Well that is not true, he needs a lot more than love.” Elsa asked what do you mean? My mom said, ‘Well, he needs a lot of things. He needs to be changed, he cries when he wants his mom to feed him, you have to play with him and give him what he needs and hold him to go to sleep. He is a lot of work.’ Elsa responded. ‘But Abby, all those things ARE love.”
Elsa’s vision and connection to love is one that she embodies and understands as connected to her mind, her heart, and her actions. Love is not always what she feels like doing and love is not always easy. But love is connection, it is grace, it is that which anchors her intimately to her brother and intimately with the Holy Spirit. Love is not simply what one receives, it is what one gives back and lives into with each diaper changing and every lollipop it gives away.
This simple embodiment and definition of love for Elsa, is one that comes from the not so simple words of Jesus and experience of the disciples, the community of John’s gospel, and how we hear the words today. Jesus is in the middle of saying goodbye to the disciples, whom he has now called his friends and who are being told they will need to follow further than they imagined. And for those who were hearing these words from the gospel writer of John, it is a time of complications for those early Christians facing persecution from Rome and disconnection from the Jewish leadership of the time. And the words come to us today in a world that has a lot of hard things to love–And yet, the vision that Jesus is casting is much the same–Live in the love and joy of being connected to one another through and in me because you are my friends and together we are connected to God for the sake of the world.
Jesus brings this vision and connection together in a couple of different ways. First, the ideal of friendship in this world was important and stood in contrast to the master-slave relationship. There was political friendship–the kind that was transaction based, built on the basis of patron and client. The other friendship was kinship–this is the one where the relationship is reciprocal, where you may depend on others and they depend on you. This concept extended beyond family and close connections and went as far as defending your neighbor and having a willingness to lay down your life for another person. Jesus calls them friends to bring them out of a master/servant relationship and to infuse them with the same gifts of the spirit of God. In this way of friendship, Jesus is telling them he will lay down his life for them in this way of friendship. This is not in a sacrificial atoning way but instead connects us back to when he washing their feet at their final meal. John’s gospel does not have the last supper as the final community creating experience but instead this creation of friendship and community that turns servants in to friends, where the symbols of community are wash basin and towel and in this way Jesus laying down is life as proof of God’s love for them and all humanity.
The second things that is happening in this scripture is that while Jesus is bringing about a quality of equalness, he is also maintaining his own separateness as the source of this friendship and love. He is still the vine, as we heard last week, from which we grow and bear fruit. This love is gift and this love is command.
So we hold those two in tension, the gift of love that is given and the call to love one another as friends in kinship. In this tension, Jesus promises us another gift. The one of joy. Coming up with a definition and explanation of joy is also not simple. Joy is an embodiment of happiness. Joy is a choice on how to live and see the world. Joy goes beyond feelings and anchors itself to promise. In the Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama (the Tibetian Buddhist spiritual leader) and Desmond Tutu (Archbishop of South Africa); living in joy is explored through their friendship, their different religions, their spiritual practices, and their encounters with issues of justice and peace on a global scale. One of the things that Desmund Tutu says in exploring joy is,
Discovering more joy does not, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.”
The command of living in joy and connection with one another is that we will face hardship and heartbreak and we are to keep walking in the vision of love anyway. Try out Elsa’s method this week and label all those things you do as love. Walk in love with that little brother and sister. Walk in love with the difficult co worker or the mean girl at school. Walk in love with the issues of our world–from violence and terror to poverty and illness, we are called to encounter them all from a place of love that is embodied in what we say, what we do, and how we express our hearts. This is true for how we live in our households and in our communities where we are most deeply connected in relationship and it is true for how we live as Christians in the world.
The promise of joy and love connected to Christ, is that we will not be abandoned nor will we be broken regardless of what comes our way–in fact we are chosen. Jesus says, I choose you. I bring the father’s love to you. This divine love is now a part of who you are and how you are to live in this promise. We are chosen to be in this broken world. We are chosen to abide in Jesus, to be those voices and hands and feet and heart of love to the world. We are chosen in the fullness and completeness of God’s love and joy in the very vision world God made, loves, and blesses.
May we sing our next hymn together as a prayer, as hope, as promise. Jesus fill us with your love.