Sunday, May 9, 2021: SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 10: 44-48
Psalm 98: 1-6
1 John 5: 1-6
John 15: 9-17
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
Do you know which is Jesus’ longest sermon? Of course, the Sermon on the Mount, covering three chapters and around 110 verses. But following close behind is the sermon He preached after the Last Supper. It goes from the end of chapter thirteen of John and all the way through chapters fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen, and, not counting interruptions from the disciples, goes for 100 verses. At the beginning of chapter 13 Jesus shows the disciples love by washing their feet, then he commands them to love in v. 34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” And from that point until chapter 15 verse 17, he mentions love 22 times. Further, in verses 14 and 15 he has 17 references to abiding or dwelling with Him. What we should see from this is that the Gospel today is a continuation from that of last Sunday. At that time we were encouraged to bear fruit by abiding in Him. Today we see that the fruit He desires from us is love. We go from FRUIT to LOVE. How?
Another key element of this sermon in the Upper Room is the Holy Spirit, whose work is described here 7 times. In 14: 17 Jesus tells us the Spirit abides with us, and will be in us. In v. 9 of the Gospel Reading today Jesus says to abide in His love. How? By the Holy Spirit abiding in us, and shedding His love abroad in our hearts (Romans 5: 5) So the gist of this whole part of the sermon is that we fulfill Christ’s commandment to love through the Holy Spirit abiding in us.
One way the Holy Spirit fills us with Christ’s love is in the Eucharist. In every Eucharistic prayer is a portion called the Epiclesis, when the Presider asks the Holy Spirit to come upon the elements. If there is no Epiclesis, there is no Holy Spirit, and if there is no Holy Spirit, there is no Eucharist, and if there is no Eucharist there is no Church—because that is how abiding happens. Further, the Eucharist is an expression of our communion, our unity.
In v. 10 of this Gospel reading Jesus says “If you keep My commandments you will abide in My love. What are those commandments? As mentioned before, from John 13: 34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. He says the same thing here in v. 12, which he said just a few minutes later: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” So by keeping His commandment to love, we abide in that love.
Then v. 11 lets us know we are on the right track so far, as Jesus tells us, “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” As we learn from Galatians 5, joy is an expression of the fruit of love. If we have love, we will have joy—and if we have no love, we will have no joy, no matter how hard we look for it elsewhere.
But in v. 13 Jesus really gets serious with this by telling us the nature of His love in us: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down His life for his friends.” This is a level of love way beyond that which we are prepared to go. But Jesus did it, and remember, he commanded us to love each other—how? “As I have loved you.” By laying down His life.
But does laying down one’s life necessarily mean taking a bullet for another? Or shoving someone out of the path of a speeding car, only to be hit yourself? Or hanging on a cross? Perhaps it can mean something as simple, yet profound, as being there for someone you don’t particularly like. They are so annoying, or so irritating, or maybe they just bring out the worst in you, to the point that when you see their name on your feed, you scream, “Them again?”
I do spend some time on social media, just looking at what comes across my feed, and occasionally I see some advice like this: “If you really want to be happy, you must cut all toxic relationships from your life. Even if they are your friends, if they pull you down, or demand too much from you, or leave you feeling drained—they’ve got to go!” Do they? Or is that the type of laying down your life that Jesus looks for? Maybe a friend says, “I’ll love you in spite of these things you do.” Maybe all those irritating actions are just a cry for help; the type of cry that love answers. So, does a friend, or a loving Christian, cut them off like a diseased limb from a tree? Or do we reach a hand out to them, one more time, as often as needed? Isn’t that a form of laying down our life?
That’s what Jesus did. He hung around some pretty toxic people! He called Peter ‘Satan’, for goodness’ sake! They were often arguing in His presence, they often insisted that He send away the least, the lost, and the lonely, they fell asleep when He really needed them to watch and pray—and don’t get me started on Judas! But He never cut off a single one of them.
Here’s where 1 John 5:4 comes in. John says, “This is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith. And remember, faith works by—that’s right, love (Galatians 5: 6). So, answer this: Is the toxicity of that person greater than God’s love in you? If not, (and it’s not, no matter how toxic they are) you should not cut them off! That’s what laying down your life for a friend is all about!
At first, the disciples were guilty of this. The time from the Jewish Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 until the Gentile Pentecost in Acts chapter 10, the subject of our first reading today, was not a couple of weeks, or a few months or a year, but 8-10 years! Why? Because the disciples had been taught all their lives that Gentiles were toxic! Avoid them! Until the Holy Spirit showed them different. And yes, I know that there are plenty of toxic people, even in the church. “Those toxic bishops! Those toxic clergy! Toxic members of all kinds! I can’t deal with them! I could even call them enemies!” Ah yes, the very people Jesus repeatedly said to love in the Sermon on the Mount. Remember what Jesus said early in this Upper Room sermon, in John 13: 35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Loving your friends impresses no one, especially God. But those others? That’s laying down your life.
1 John 5: 6 tells us that Jesus came by water and blood, not with water only. We like water: It is refreshing, restorative, cleansing, and life giving. Jesus gave us living water, right? But He also came with blood. Blood speaks of suffering, of pain. Blood is costly. Sometimes, love hurts. And never more than when Jesus asks to love as friends those whom we’d rather not have as our friends.
He considers us as His friends, as v. 15 tells us, because He has told us what He is doing. And what is that? What is Jesus up to? Matthew 6: 10; “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” And His Kingdom is built on God’s love, the love He espoused in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Sermon in the Upper Room, the love that dwells in us when we abide in Him.
Finally, Jesus tells us that He has chosen us, and appointed us, to bear good fruit that will remain. To bear the fruit of love, and be a friend—even when it hurts. For the last verse of the Gospel reading sums it up best: “This I command you, that you love one another.”