John 15:9–17 (NRSV)
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I 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. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I 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. 16 You 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. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
The fifteenth chapter of John, is one of the greatest chapters in scripture, especially if you happen to be part of the Friends church. It is from the 14th verse where the name for our Religious Society originated. But there is much more to being a Friend of Jesus than just attending church.
Last week began looking at this chapter and I mentioned that this portion of scripture is what is referred to as the Farewell Discourse, which is basically Jesus’s last session of formal teaching to his closest followers. This discussion took place in the upper room just after Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and broke the bread for their Passover meal. So, after they had eaten the meal and began to stretch their bodies to allow the food to settle Jesus begins to teach them. He tells them to not let their hearts be troubled, and to believe in God and also in Him. He began this teaching in that way because that very night he was going to be betrayed by Judas and arrested. In a matter of hours their entire world would be turned upside down and inside out, and Jesus tells them before this happens do not be troubled, believe.
He goes on to say that he is going to prepare a place for us in his father’s house, and that we know the place where he is going. Thomas, you know doubting Thomas, asked him, “We do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus responds to him that “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me.” This farewell discourse has many of our favorite passages within it. It has some of the most profound theological and comforting statements as well.
It is during this farewell discourse that Jesus tells them that what we see in Jesus is who God really is because they are one in the same essence. Jesus then summarizes what it means to be one of his disciples, which can be distilled down to one phrase, Abide in Me.
Today we continue with what we began last week. Jesus has told them, “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinegrower.” We learned that this has a deep meaning and history within the Jewish people. In that one statement Jesus is telling his disciples he is true wisdom, because the vine is a symbol of wisdom in the Hebrew culture. He is also telling them that he is the source of live, because apart from the vine the branches would wither and die. And to be a follower of His we need to make sure our branch is connected to the vine, which is what abide means.
To abide, is to reside, remain, continue, or even to fortify. When Jesus encourages his disciples to abide in him, he is telling them to remain firmly rooted in him, to rely on him for our life and wellbeing. And today he takes it one step further. Not only do we need to abide in him, but we need to abide in his love.
I want us to just sit with this for a moment. Abide in his love. The type of love described in this sense is a self-giving love. The type of love that is not inhibited by self-preservation but fully given to another, even if it requires the giving of your own life. Jesus wanted each of us to such a degree that he gave his life for us. He took on the cross of shame, endured the torture of it, because by doing so we could be free. He loved us to such a degree that he gave his life so we could live. Can you grasp what that means? Can you wrap your minds around the extreme sacrifice Jesus made for you and what great love he has for you?
We often think if He really knew who I was, he would not have done that. We often say to ourselves, I need to get my life together before I can approach God, but the reality is that while we were still sinners, while we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us. There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn his love, or to obtain a greater portion of love, we were enemies of God and he loved us to the point he would sacrifice everything for us. Jesus says abide in that.
Abide in the fact that before you were even considering being righteous, Jesus loved you. Abide in the fact that before you even close to being holy, Jesus loved you enough to give his very life to rescue you from yourself. Nothing in you prompted that love, nothing in you could change that love. The only thing we can do is remain in that love.
That type of love is the sap that flows through the true vine. That is the very sap that flows into the branches and fills the fruit it bears. This sappy love is filled with centuries of wisdom, centuries of history, and a multitude of personalities through vast generations. It is seasoned with all the stresses and joys of each and every person connected.
Jesus says abide in my love, but how do we remain in his love? We remain by keeping his commandments. Remember who Jesus was telling this to. These were people of Torah, they knew the scriptures and teaching of Moses. From their thirteenth year on they had read the law, they had listened to interpretations of the law, they had lived by the interpretations. If there were anyone who would know what it means to keep the commandments of God it would be a first century Jewish believer. They had the commands of Moses memorized. And by keeping the commands, Jesus says, his joy would reside in us and our joy would be complete.
The interesting thing about commandments is that joy is not usually the word we think about when they are mentioned. When we say commandments usually the exact opposite of joy comes to mind. We think of repression, we think of control, we think of rules and responsibilities. Joy comes from abiding in the commands of Christ, because the thing that brings God the most joy is the return of his children.
Jesus knows what we think when he says commandments. He knows that we form legalistic ideologies with them. Religious groups are filled with commandment and the society of Friends are not immune to legalistic tendencies. But Jesus clarifies what he means when he says keep my commandments. He says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” This is the entirety of the life of a disciple of Christ, to love one another as Jesus loved you. Jesus goes as far as to say if you keep his commandments you are no longer servants, but friends.
Abide in his love and let that love flow through you. The commandment of Jesus to love one another is no different than the command to abide in the vine. It is no different than the greatest commandment, “Love the lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself.” Love as he loves. At this moment I am certain the disciples sat there considering the past three years they had spent with Jesus. They remembered the first sign they saw with Jesus as they attended the wedding at Cana. They remembered the healings including the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. They remembered the daughter of the synagogue ruler who Jesus raised from the dead. They remembered Lazarus, and the multitude of people fed with a day’s meal. They remembered all of this. They remembered that moment just before they ate as Jesus took off his cloak and wrapped a towel around his waste and washed their feet. Here was the person they believed to be the king of Israel, who they believed was about to usher in the new kingdom, and he is telling them one thing “love one anther as I loved you.”
Each of these men were just like us. They were common laborers. They worked on a boat, pulling in the nets filled with fish. They worked at a government desk. There were some that had extreme political ideas and others who just wanted to be good Israelites. They were like us. There was nothing in them that would be seen as powerful, they had not been chosen to learn under the established Rabbis. So, they were for the most part only educated with a primary education. They were not religious leaders or influential in anyway, yet Jesus called each one to follow him. They knew they in themselves did not really have anything to offer but they had a desire to do more. They were common men, and common women (yes there were women there too), that Jesus desired to have walk with him. They remembered the joy they had those past three years and the love they experienced. They knew the miracles he performed and the ones that they had participated in his name. They knew how they would reject people and Jesus would tell them to bring those people they rejected to him. It did not matter who it was a blind beggar, a prostitute, a child, a leper, a foreigner, or a Roman soldier. Jesus told them do not keep them from me. And Jesus accepted them, healed them of their illnesses, gave them hope and encouragement, or with the children he probably instigated a game of tag. Abide in my love, keep my commandments, love one another as I have loved you.
This week as I studied these scriptures, I was constantly taken back to reflect of the life of Jesus. I thought about the many parables he used to teach. I thought about the discussion he had with the religious leaders and the one Pharisee called Nicodemus. I reflected on Jesus’s teachings and his actions. I remembered that the teaching that Jesus gave were not new teachings, everything he taught was something that had been part of the Hebrew faith from the very start, yet it was fresh and new. Why is that? Jesus was true to himself and to his Father no matter what. He was authentic in word and action. He lived what he said and he said what he did. As a result, people listened. He loved them where they were and he encouraged them to return to God in truth.
Abide in me, Jesus says, love one another as I have loved you. If you do this you will be my friends. I don’t know about you, but to be called a friend of Jesus is the one title I would cherish. To have someone look at me and know by my life that I must be a follower of Jesus would be the greatest success I would want to claim. This word, Friend, is profound. I researched this word. I wanted to know it to its fullest extent because according to this final teaching of Jesus, that is our ultimate goal. The word translated, friend, originated in the political spheres, it was a representative of the king, which I found interesting. These representatives would be sent out over the empire to ensure the edicts of the king would be carried out. In the various provinces they lived they held influence over people because of their relationship to the supreme leader, and to the people how you responded to the friend of the king indicated your allegiance to the king himself. I let this sit with me for a while. We are no longer servants but we are friends. We are Jesus’s representatives in our community, we carry the message of Jesus. What is that message we are carrying?
That was the origin of the word, but the word itself evolved over time. Through the progression of time the word developed additional meanings as words often do. It became a word of love, beloved one, and unity. It became a word of alliance and one soul. Meaning that the relationship between the two entities were so connected it was as if they were one entity. A friend is close. A true friend is one that will stand with you. There is such a companionship with a friend that they become family if they are not already. A friend will make sure their actions correspond and support the actions of the other. They would give their very life for the other. We are not servants but we are friends, because we know what the master is doing and his way are ours.
But is this true of us? Are our actions synced with Christ to such a degree that those outside of this building would say that is what a true Christian looks like? Do we follow the ways of Jesus to such a degree, that people when looking at us, see a clear reflection of Christ?
That sat heavy on my heart this past week, because I know who I am. I know my weaknesses and I know where I fail so often. If I am a representative of Jesus, I know that there are hundreds if not thousands that could be better than me. But they are at the places I am at. They do not have access to the people I have access to. Which means I might be the only one able to show the lifestyle of Jesus to those around me. You might be the only friend of Jesus at the office. You might be the only friend of Jesus at a rally. You might be the only friend of Jesus at a restaurant or at the store. Are you reflecting Jesus at that moment? Are you loving others around you in the way that Jesus loved? Are you meeting people where they are at that moment and giving our life for them? Are we abiding in Jesus’s love enough to let that love flow through us?
Which leads us to the greatest question, how can we know the will of God, how can we know if we are abiding in him in the situation we are in? To be an authentic person, to be true, we have to be aware. We need to be aware of our surroundings and have at least some empathy for those around us. We need to have some awareness of the struggles others are having or we will not be able to represent Christ to them. Without awareness we will simply push our will onto them, which is not encouragement but control. Every day as we drive through our city we see people with signs asking for help. We often drive on by, and you know that is ok. Its ok because to really help we would need to talk with them and build a relationship with them. But seeing them standing on the corner should awaken something in us. There are people standing on our corners asking for help, what is going on in our community? Are we aware of the situations? One group of people took the time to find out some of what is going on. They recognized that several of those people standing on the streets are veterans. They know that there is help for those who have served our country so why are these people not getting the assistance they deserve? They do not have an address. They fell on hard times often by no fault of their own. They came home and were not the same, and over the course of time they lost their address and home. So, this group began building tiny homes for these vets, with the hope that by giving them an address they could eventually find a way forward. Are we aware? And when we become aware will we respond with the love of Christ?
We cannot do this all on our own. We must abide. We cannot become aware and provide meaningful assistance if we are not joining Jesus in his life and lifestyle. It is through the discipline of Jesus’s holy rhythm that we develop the sense to become aware. It is through prayer that we develop that abiding relationship with God where the love of Christ begins to flow. It is through worship and the encouragement of other like-minded people that we are empowered and enabled to pursue ministry. And it is in ministry to others where we can allow the spirit to flow through us and bear fruit in others. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others is what we say we do here at Willow Creek. This is just a fancy way to say what Jesus said abide.
As we enter into a time of open worship and communion as Friends, let us consider what abiding in the love of Jesus means in our current situation. Are we living out the commandments of Christ there, are we representing our king as he would live? And let our joy be made complete as we abide in him and he in us. Let us be Friends.