By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 15, 2021
John 6:51–58 (ESV)
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Last week I encouraged us all to look at the study of scripture not as a task, but as an adventure. A journey of exploration and discovery. When I think of this sort of thing my mind is often filled with images from various stories, I have either read or watched on a screen. It is a journey of exploration or a quest. When I think of it as a quest my mind is immediately drawn to the story of King Arthur and the knights of Camelot. I am not a great scholar in the matters of the Arthurian lore, if I want to be totally honest most of my knowledge of Arthur comes from Monty Python, but there is a quest. A quest is more than a simple journey of exploration, when you are sent on a quest your intention is to find or achieve the task set before you. In the case of the Arthurian legends the quest was for the Holy Grail, the cup of Christ, the cup that brings life.
The quest image is what I want us to consider today. Those individuals that are on a quest will not stop for any reason. They are driven to obtain the completion of the quest or to die trying. The reason behind this drive is the understanding that the completion of the quest has great benefit. We have heard of medical researchers that have been pursued their research with a quest type of fervor. They do this because they once knew someone or were possibly related to someone that contracted a disease. That individual they knew either lived in constant pain or suffering, or perhaps they died because the doctors did not know what to do. These researchers saw this happen and something inside of them flipped a switch and everything in their lives changed. They were almost duty bound to find the cure, and they would give their lives to achieve that goal.
That is the type of drive I want us to have when we approach scripture. I want us to look at the words on the page and see them not as good words, but as the words that give life.
There is a problem with this. The words of scripture were not written in English or Swahili. They were written in a language that very few of us really know. And we all know that sometimes things can be lost in translation. At times there are not good words in one language that can fully express what we would like to say so we use the next best thing, but when we use that word, we lose something. We will often see the word love in English, but that word could be several different words in the biblical Greek text. It could be one of four different words that convey a deep affinity but are acted out in a different manner. If we do not take that into account, we risk misinterpreting or misunderstanding how this exceedingly important word should be expressed in our lives.
We are on a quest. Our quest is to know what scripture says because these are the words revealed by the Spirit to teach us of the Word. They are the words given to us to convey the knowledge or wisdom of God. What is said in this book shows us what life with God is and reveals to us how we fit into that life. We are, just like King Arthur, given the quest to find the holy grail, the cup or the vessel that brings life.
We are called to this quest but often we are met with challenges. Many of us have started to read scripture, but we often get to a point where we do not understand what we are reading and we are discouraged and we stop. We look at the pages and it no longer appears to be the grail we seek, but instead it becomes a chamber of secrets. We do not understand so we step back in fear that we might unleash some terrible heresy that will condemn us and entrap those we care for. We stop pursuing the quest we once began and we leave it to those that are stronger or wiser. We then put our trust into those stronger and wiser individuals. This is not entirely bad. Even Arthur that legendary king had companions that assisted him on his quest. The key there is that we assist, we do not walk the path for you. Each of us must walk our own pathway, we each must take that journey ourselves, but the journey is more enjoyable when we have friends to walk with.
Today, as we walk the pathway toward that vessel of life, we come to one of those areas that will often cause people to stumble and stop their journey. It is not surprising even during the days of Jesus many struggled with the words Jesus spoke. John chapter six is a turning point for the ministry of Jesus. Prior to this the questions were largely to determine if they should embrace the teachings of Jesus. Yes, there were times that there were misunderstanding, but by in large those that asked questions were seeking clarification. They were not thrilled with Jesus’ approach, but they could not outright reject what he had to say. But somewhere within this chapter things change.
On the surface we may not really notice what changed. We might simply see some people following Jesus because he has the power to make bread. We can understand this. Who would not want to follow someone that could provide for their basic needs of life? I will be totally honest, if I was offered a job where housing and meals were included with my salary, I would probably take the job. The rule of thumb we are often taught in our society is that we should not spend more than thirty percent of our income on housing. Thirty percent. That is basically one third of our paycheck goes toward keeping rain from our heads while we sleep. The next largest expense in our life is food. In the United States we spend on average six percent of our income on food. On average in the United States right from the start we thirty-six percent of our income is spent on just keeping our immediate needs covered. This ratio unfortunately is not static. The less you make the greater the percentages are and the more income you have the smaller the percentages are. If we were to look at the value of the home of the wealthiest individual in America, the amount spent on their housing each month would be far below thirty percent, where it would be common for many low-income families to be spending over half of their income on rent alone. For many Americans they are required to spend most of their income on supplying the basic needs of life. If I were to be offered a job where these basics of life were provided along with a salary, I would most likely take the position because likely the salary offered would be greater than the amount left over after I paid for the basics of life.
The people were following Jesus because they sought the benefits. That is not faith it is survival. And there is nothing wrong with survival, many of us trust God because we live in a survival mode, we have needs and we do not know where to get them so we have no other option but to trust that God will provide. But what happens when we can provide for ourselves?
The tribes of Israel wondering through the desert were provided with manna from heaven. Their needs were provided for, but as soon as they entered the land of promise that manna stopped coming from the sky and they were required to survive off the produce of the land. In the desert once the grumbling generation had died, all that were left were those that only knew the provision of God. They entered the land with faith, but gradually over time the faith of Israel diminished as they saw themselves as their own provision.
This brings us to today’s passage. Again, we begin this week where we ended last week. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Jesus says. “If anyone east of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
This is where contention emerges. This is where most of us become confused as well. We have a basic understanding of bread. We even understand that Jesus by connecting himself with the manna from heaven is telling us that God is the true source of our provision. But we struggle with the last phrase of that verse. “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The religious leaders disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” In their mind Jesus has just presented something profoundly vile. Cannibalism? Yet, Jesus lets them continue in this line of thinking, even though they have misunderstood the words he has spoken. What is the flesh that Jesus gives?
Last week I mentioned the peace offering. I mentioned that this is the one type of offering where the people giving the offering were invited to participate in it. The offering included bread and flesh. A portion of the bread was given to God to be burned on the altar, and the remaining bread was to be eaten by the worshipers. Then the animal was ritualistically slaughtered and choice pieces of the body were given to God on the altar, and the remaining meat was given back to the worshiper to be eaten and shared in a celebration of peace with God. This offering represented intimacy between God and the people. It represented God sharing a meal with his people. And when we share a meal together there is peace and friendship.
Jesus says that he is the bread, but changes the wording a bit, morphing the bread away from bread the basic staple of life, into flesh the more luxurious aspect of the meal. In the United States, we have a skewed understanding of nutrition. We, by in large, have access to a balanced diet. We do not always take advantage of this access but it is there. We may not have a high protein source of food at every meal but we will most likely have at least one meat a day. In many areas of the world the availability of meat is scarce. To have meat at a meal in this ancient time was a celebration, it was a sign that the worshiper trusted God enough to share the meat.
Jesus turns from the bread to the flesh of the meal. We can look at the Olympic metal counts and see how important the availability of meat is to the physical success and well being of a culture. But I want us to keep in mind the sacrifice or the offering image. The worshiper is bringing the bread and the flesh. In our minds we are the ones that offer worship, we are the ones that come to God with our petitions and our praise. This is no different from the teachings of those ancients in Israel. Many of them believed that if only we were more righteous Messiah would come. They would dedicate their lives and lifestyles merit God’s favor, with the hopes that the kingdom of God would come.
Jesus says that I am the living bread, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Remember that the bread of worship was a symbol of the wisdom from God, Jesus is saying that he is the source of that wisdom when he is saying that he is the bread of life. He is the source of wisdom. But there is more, John begins his gospel account with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word being spoken of is the term logos. Logos is knowledge or wisdom. This term logos was symbolized in the bread of worship. John goes on to say that through this divine wisdom, logos, everything was created, and nothing was created without this wisdom. Then in verse 1:14 John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The wisdom of God became flesh. The bread of God became the flesh of God. And that flesh became the peace offering that brings mankind and the divine back into the right relationship. Jesus is the peace offering.
Jesus by speaking those words were telling the religious leaders that their righteous labors were empty. They were rituals performed with empty hopes because the focus was not on the proper place. They were providing offerings from the economy of mankind. The things that we can do and create. What are the deeds of men in relation to the creator of the universe? What is our gold and currency to a being that in a breath can speak the entire world and everything within into existence? Their rituals were empty because they were focused on themselves. We are good enough and God should want to eat with us. The reality is God provides the bread and the meat. God became flesh and lived among us, not because we were good enough but because he loved us anyway. He came full of grace and truth.
Jesus loves us anyway. If we were to look at all the sacrifices, all the rules, and all the laws we can see one thing. We are completely unable to stand before God. The sacrifices were not there to take away the sins, but they were there to keep the impurity of humanity from infecting the places set aside for God. The things labeled unclean many times were things that we have absolutely no control over, and in many cases were human functions that God created within us. Is a child born with a deformity destined for hell? No, but they were not able to come into the sanctuary of God because they were a symbol of the imperfection of humanity brought about from the sin of our first parents. Jesus loves us anyway. We are imperfect, and God knows this so God provides what we cannot give ourselves. We cannot make peace so he does it for us.
The religious leaders still grumble, because Jesus tells them that those that ate the bread of the sacrifices still died. But those that eat the flesh of Christ, the bread that came down from heaven, will live forever. Those that rely of themselves will remain in the same state that they have always been in. But what if we turn? What if we were to take on or eat the flesh of Christ. What if we become like Christ and begin to live within his wisdom? That is what it means to eat the flesh of Christ. It is not necessarily eating but becoming putting on his lifestyle or armor as Paul tells us. When we put on Christ or partake of his life he stands where we cannot for us. His perfection redeems our imperfection. And our imperfection and weakness become his strength. I stand here not in my own strength; this is the last place I want to stand in myself. I know who I am. But I stand because I know that of Christ overcomes. I was once dead, I once lived without a relationship with God, but through Christ I have been changed. I now have peace with God. In Christ I now have friendship with God. And God has sent me on a quest to explore the wonders of who He is.
Will you join the quest and sit at the table he is calling you to? We do not bring anything to the table, but there we do have to respond. God has made peace with us through Christ but we must accept the gift of grace and turn to him. Will you?
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Ephesians 4:25–5:2 (NRSV)
Rules for the New Life
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
As years progress and the courses of history move from one era into another, those that live during the transition often wonder about the future. During the transitions of time things seem to change faster than the community can adjust, cultures move and people slowly adjust. During these periods of adjustment many begin to look to the past with nostalgic lenses wishing that things would return to a simpler time period, yet we often forget that those yester years were not as simple as we remember. Others look to the future with longing that all the problems would just go away without realizing that we must walk the paths to the future through the trials. I continue to speak in this manner because focusing solely on the past or the future can leave us blind to the present, and the present is the most important time and place to be. But it is difficult to keep our presence of mind focused during transitional periods because there are so many pressures squeezing around us, pressures that make us feel as if everything we once knew no longer matters.
We are living in transitional times of history. We are witnessing the first stages of the next great awakening. Just over the horizons of time we will see something beyond our wildest dreams, something that will give us hope and passion. We are going to see God build his kingdom here. How do we get there is the greatest question. How do we move from this seemingly hopeless state we often feel ourselves living in and move into the construction zone of the kingdom? Friends the reality is that we are already there.
The first century Church at Ephesus experienced similar things that we are experiencing today. I know this because they are just as human as we are, I know this because every generation views the past with nostalgic lenses and the future with smoke and mirrors. I know this because I like the music of my youth and think the music of today is horrid, just as my parents thought and their parents before them. Yet the church in Ephesus was not held back by these thoughts but boldly proceeded into the future and saw the kingdom grow on earth as it is in Heaven.
The key is to focus on what matters. Paul opens this passage by saying, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” This is an amazing statement, because prior to this He had been speaking to the Jewish and the Gentiles attempting to reconcile the differences between them, going so far as saying that we all entered this world equal, none were born more righteous than anyone else, all were born uncircumcised until we were brought into the community of the faithful. This church in Ephesus was facing major struggles, the Jewish community had been living, working, and worshiping in this place for over 300 years and suddenly the culture was shifting and now after 300 years there were gentiles coming to faith. How were they to handle this change?
Paul says, “Put away the falsehood, stop playing games and justifying actions, and be real.” That is where we must begin. The number one complaint against the people outside of the formal church is that people are hypocrites or fake. The contemporary generation is even more sensitive to this than the previous generation. The generation that is moving into adulthood today are tired of people playing games, saying words that they have no intention of keeping and people acting contrary to what they say they believe. To them it is a total waste of time and energy to put on a façade, or to act. Why waste the energy to convince people of something everyone knows is a lie? Many of us here today look at this emerging generation with disdain because they do not respect or honor authority, we see this a rebellion, but this current generation is probably the most honest generation that America has ever seen.
Put away the falsehood and be real. This passage should deeply resonate with Friends because this is really the core of our faith. Honesty and integrity are one of the pillars of our faith that stretches across the entire spectrum of Quakerdom. People knew and respected the integrity of our culture to such a degree that the name Quaker represented truthfulness and quality. There is something important in that, there is something very important in authenticity 2000 years ago up to today.
Paul does not stop with authenticity though he goes on to say, “speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” We are members of one another. This is a profound statement. No matter how independent we think we are there is a deeply rooted need for community. We may perceive that we have made our own way, but we are members of one another. I know many of us do not like this thought, but I want us to consider it for a moment. I do not stand here alone. I stand here because of generations of ancestors that have gone before me. I stand here because someone took the time to talk to a young man and listen to all the questions. I stand here because a community saw a broken man and instead of judging the past they looked beneath the surface and saw something more. I stand because someone invested their life into mine because we are members of one another. I could stand and list off the names of those people that realized that they had a responsibility Leo, Earl, John, James, Leslie, Lois, Bob, Carol, David, Charles, Vicki, Cliff, Candice, Donna, Virl, Larry, and many more… common names, names of people that may not be considered great in anyone’s eyes but mine. They are the names of church members, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends. We are all members of one another, members of the kingdom.
Those people that moved beyond, they looked beneath the surface and began to nurture within me something that no one else saw. They invested their lives and spoke the truth. They showed me the gospel not in word but in life. They fed me, clothed me, taught me, you might say they had to they were family, but you do not know which of them is the most important or why.
I say this because the kingdom of God is built on the lives of common people doing common things. The kingdom is built by each of us seeing into the very hearts of those around us and recognizing that spark of light within, and nourishing that light.
The only way to nourish the light is to be authentic. Just like everything else discipleship is a cyclical process. For us to encourage the light to grow within someone else we must feed it with the light living inside of us, showing them life. For many we look at this passage and we can easily be confused because it sounds contradictory. Paul says be angry and then a couple of verses later he says not to be angry. Because of this I looked up the words just to see if maybe they were different, thinking maybe there might be two types of anger that Paul is speaking about. But it is the same. Anger is anger. Wrath is wrath. Paul is saying be real. If you are angry, be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger. We can disagree on many things but we should never let that disagreement harm the relationship, if it is something that might we must do what we can to reconcile the friendship. If we neglect this process of reconciliation, if we allow the emotions of anger to dominate our lives and cause division within our community, we are allowing the unholy to reign in our lives.
The community, the Kingdom of God that is around and in us is the most important thing we should pursue. This is what Paul is telling the Ephesians. They were dividing, choosing sides and pointing fingers at others. They were neglecting their first love. This is seen in how they speak to one another and how they treat those around them. They were allowing disagreements to damage friendships and they were allowing friendships to die because they were unwilling to forgive. But there is more. Anger and Theft are mentioned directly. This concept of thieves is very interesting because it really is not what it appear.
The ancient world was a world that was dominated by classes of people. There were nobles, freemen, and slaves. If you think there is economic disparity today the ancient world was much worse. The nobles controlled everything. The concept of thieves that Paul is mentioning is actually speaking to the way freemen and slaves relate to the Nobles. If a nobleman considered your good or service not to their liking they could charge you with theft and you would be convicted. The church was beginning to grow and people were turning away from the religions of old, this was causing cultural rifts. Slaves were beginning to see themselves as equals in the eyes of the divine and were no longer easy to control, so the nobles were charging the early Christians with theft because they were stealing property and food. Paul actually has a bit of humor in this passage because he is saying you thieves work stop stealing and do your job. But do not just do it do it better than the others so that you will not be seen as a thief any longer. Work harder and use the fruit of your labor to help others. Freemen likewise use the wages you earn benefit the community. Again he is reminding those in the church of Ephesus that the community and the relationships within are of greater importance.
This humor is not all fun because he is also addressing another very real concern within the Greek and roman cultures. Within the culture was an idea that the intelligent and philosophical minded people could become benefactor. These sages would expect a free ride in life because they were passing on wisdom. So as people grew in knowledge they would begin to expect the church to pay their way. This joke just became a double edged sword especially to those who wielded influence over others. Paul is calling them thieves as well, because everyone should be laboring and helping others within the community. No one person is of greater importance we all have jobs to do and a responsibility to those in need. Pastors cannot demand payment beyond the means of the community and in the same sense the community cannot withhold from their leaders proper compensation for the services they provide to the community. Again a cycle, a cycle based on honoring the relationship of all within the community.
Right after Paul calls everyone a thief he then proceeds to focus in on how to speak to one another. The words we say should be simple, plain, and truthful but they should be spoken in a manner to encourage growth, grace, and a deepening of the kingdom. When we act we should be putting others before ourselves and when we speak our words should be filled with the same intent. We should be mindful of how our words will be heard and quick to recognize when we may have been misunderstood. If the words we used insight anger we should strive to reconcile the relationship. Easy right!
Paul pretty punches each of us right in the gut. He hits our individual liberty, he cause us thieves, and he tells us to work harder, to speak truth, but not incite anger. He basically tells us that what we think is not really all that important and the worst thing about it is he is right. Be imitators of God, live the love of Christ with others, make your life a fragrant offering to God. The first must become the last and the last the first, the greatest in the kingdom must become the servant of all. It cycles back to the beginning again be real and speak the truth to your neighbor because we are members of one another.
I speak of a new era emerging around us, I speak of transitional history, and how the kingdom of God is just on the horizon. I say this because I believe it to be true. The emerging generation wants truth, they want reality and they do not have time to waste of anything fake. They are crying out for the gospel, they are seeking the very thing we say we have so why are so many leaving the community? Friends this is not a testimony of how bad the culture and the world is around us but a testimony of how we have distorted the gospel in the past. But there is hope. Jesus did not come to save the righteous but the sinners, he came to heal the broken and the sick, to restore to life those that were caught in the grips of death. He came to give us life, life filled with the things that matter to Him. We are in the construction zone of the kingdom God is working all around us and He is calling us all to speak the truth to our neighbor, because those people outside of these walls are the very people He wants and we are not his people until we recognize them as our people. As we enter into this time of Open worship and Holy expectancy I want us to consider these words of Paul. Have we caused anger to control our lives, have we become thieves to our own community, have we neglected imitating God in how we interact with those around us? Are we willing to repent? Are we willing to look beyond the surface and nourish the light within other?
Faith Conquers the World
5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Testimony concerning the Son of God
6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
Over the course of the years many groups among the religious have made lists of who are Christian and who are not. It might surprise many about who are on which list. For example the author CS Lewis is considered by some as being a heretic because of his belief in purgatory and the possibility of evolution explaining aspects of creation, on this same list the reformer Martin Luther was considered a non-Christian because he raised questions about the numbers and figures in scripture. That is right the great reformer that took a stand for scripture over tradition questioned aspects of scripture and as a result some today question his very faith because of what? Honesty about doubts, differing philosophies about how God may have brought the world about or what the afterlife may be like? Great leaders today like Billy Graham are brought into question over differences of theology. Theology can only get us so far, because theology is the study of God and God is beyond our comprehension. So we must tread softly when we make claims in regard to God, we must always leave space for the possibility of a skewed human perspective.
These lists, denominations, and theological perspectives can all lead to division. Who is right, who is wrong? Which church is correct or which perspective is the most accurate? If we make a claim in any direction we risk demonizing an entire segment of the faithful and history. This is one of the reasons why Friends are very slow in making decisions and why they leave room within their theological statements, because when emotions are raised and arguments are made we can lose perspective and possibly follow our own wills instead of the will of God.
But how do we know God? How do we know which way to turn or what truth is? From the dawn of Christianity there have been different perspectives that have pulled on the faithful. Throughout the epistles we can read about various struggles that the early church faced. Every era of church history has faced something that threatens to pull the church apart or propel it into the next age. Today is no different. John wrote during one of those periods of history that faced these very things. There were people that proposed that the true faith was found only in following the ancient rites of the Jewish religion, others claimed that there was secret knowledge that could only be received by initiation and participation in secret ceremonies. We know the struggles because each epistle tells us about these struggles. John, the last apostle, writes to those that were faced with the end of an era. They have watched the apostles one by one pass to death, and as they witnessed this they began to question their faith. Things were not going exactly as they thought they would, and the ones that founded the church were no longer there to direct their steps. They lived through persecutions, they witnessed dehumanizing violence. They had also saw the miraculous, healings of diseases, people freed from bondages, and the feeding of thousands. Yet darkness always seemed to be gaining on them.
As darkness approached some began to rise up prophets calling people to walk one way or another, people began seek answers to direct their paths, yet they only saw a faint light. They cried out to God wondering if they had missed something, they began to listen to the words of man instead of waiting on the Spirit of God, and John their last apostle watched as a unified church began to divide and fragment. He watched as people of the church began to rely on their own wisdom instead of that of God. He watched and just as Jesus wept he too began to write through his tears because so many were seeking and lost yet were looking in the wrong direction.
Very quickly people began to question the faith, they deemed it in their own minds that they must do more at very least they should follow the Torah, and the fact that darkness was creeping into the world around them must mean that they must do more. John says to them, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” Yes that is what we said the prophets begin to argue, we must follow the law. But what are the commandments that John speaks of? They begin to consider the words that John the elder once spoke when he was younger. The words that he heard the Lord speak.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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. 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. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John 15:9-17 NRSV)
Abide in the love of God. Abide is an interesting word, because it is one that is so difficult to do. It means to remain in, to tarry, to stay in, and to dwell. So John lovingly reminds them of the commands of Jesus to wait, and dwell in the love of God. This is the most difficult thing for mankind to do because we like action. To sit around and wait is so contrary to our nature. “We must do something…anything to keep the darkness at bay.” The prophets say to the people. Yet John tells them, “abide, just wait, remember the command of our Lord. Love one another. It is not burdensome. You do not have to add to it, just remain and love.”
Just wait…just love…just do what Jesus has commanded. Do not worry about the darkness closing in around us it is merely an illusion, as long as we abide we will overcome the world. John can say this because he has seen it. He has seen the power of God working all around him. He had witnessed God coming into the lives of Jew and Gentile and totally changing everything. He has seen cities totally devoted to the worship of idols become cities earnestly seeking the one true living God. He was most likely writing this letter in the city of Ephesus, a city that contained one of the largest temples in the world devoted to the roman god Diana, and the city that Jesus spoke to in his Revelation about their zeal for truth and right doctrine. John saw many things. He saw these things because he learned the holy rhythm of Christ. A lifestyle devoted to worship, prayer, and service to others. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others.
When people participate in this holy lifestyle they begin to see change at first with one person, then multiplying as each person actively lives and participates. One by one as people turn to the lifestyle of Christ the trappings of the world begin to fall away, the darkness is overcome by the light and faith conquers the world. But is all begins with abiding in the love of God. Sitting in the love of Christ. Waiting for God and listening to His voice.
We do not have to have all the right answers, we do not have to have a theology that can answer every question of God. We do not have to save the world, because that is not our job. Jesus is the one that conquers the world. He is the one who came by water and blood, who was born and crucified for our salvation and who rose again to lift all mankind back into the glory of God. It is Jesus who does the work, we are only required to abide in him and love those he leads us to.
John encourages us to adopt the lifestyle the holy rhythm Jesus taught us to live for a reason. When we move away from this rhythm we begin to rely on our own strength and our own minds. We begin to think that we are the ones that are doing the work, that we are the ones that conquer the world. I said that Jesus said that Ephesus was seekers of truth and right doctrine, they were the strongest of the seven churches of Asia because they were earnest in their seeking of what was right, but Jesus spoke against them because they lost their first love. They pulled away from the holy rhythm and began to trust themselves and little by little they fell away from Christ and as they began to fall away darkness began to take hold of them again. So they began to seek more truth and right doctrine only to have more darkness close in, because they did not abide first, they did not abide in love.
What does this say about us today? We are living on the edge, many of us see darkness all around us. We see the world conquering the church instead of the church conquering the world. We feel as if we need take things into our own hands to speak out and force righteousness onto the people all around us. I ask one thing as we set off down this road, how long have we remained in the love of God today, yesterday, the day before, and how long will we abide in his love tomorrow? Have we adopted first a rhythm of life that reflects Christ a lifestyle that mimics Christ in all we do before we go out to conquer darkness? Have we been people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others? I ask because John says that that is the lifestyle that will conquer the world and bring light into the darkness. Abide in love first.
The writings of John are important to us as Friends. We derive our name from the words that he pinned at the closing of the era of Church history. Our original name The Religious Society of Friends means that our religion is a society based on becoming Friends with God. The only way for this to happen is for us to abide first and then live that love with others. We base our entire belief system on the idea that we can know where God leads us if we abide in His love, and then we can respond accordingly. Ephesus sought truth above all else, they sought righteousness and were great at exposing the false teachings of many, but they lacked one thing love. They left their first love behind as they moved forward into the world they were called to minister to. They walked into the darkness without carrying the light of Christ. Their eagerness to be right above all else caused them to live in infamy throughout church history because they forgot the main point. Love conquers the world.
As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends, I encourage each of us to examine our lives and our lifestyles are we abiding in love or are we walking into the darkness without our first love? Are we focusing on being right in our own minds or are we allowing the Spirit to work through us? Are we making lists or are we encouraging all we meet to abide in the love of God where they are and walking with them as they begin to enter into the holy rhythm of Christ’s life? Do we as followers of Christ fear the darkness of the world or do we trust that Jesus Christ can overcome the world just as he overcame the grave? Do we truly believe and live in the power of the resurrection of Christ?