I am the Vine
5th Sunday in Easter
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God the Father, His only Son, our risen Lord and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Have you ever had a relationship where the friendship was not equally reciprocal? That is, one person has more emotional investment in the relationship than the other? It happens sometimes when two friends experience the closeness of their friendship at different rates. For instance, have you ever had a ‘friend’ of yours tell you that you are their ‘best’ friend and you didn’t feel the same way about he or she?
It is almost like dating someone for a time and they say ‘I love you’ and you aren’t in the same place in the relationship. It is more awkward than the best friends scenario but in both instances, if you don’t reply in kind, the bond becomes strained. What does one say when another person expresses their love or devotion and you don’t feel the same?
I know of a few things you shouldn’t say. With friends you don’t say, “I may be your best friend but you are not my best friend.” When a girlfriend or boyfriend says, “I love you”, whatever you do, don’t say, “Thanks!” or “Ok” or “I know”.
On the other hand, there are friendships or relationships that seem to have always been meant to be. My first day at a new high school I met another male student and it was as if we had been friends all our lives. There was no ‘warm-up’ period, we just looked at each other and concluded that we would be friends throughout high school. It was unspoken but understood that we would do anything to help out the other in time of need.
In the Gospel reading for this 6th Sunday of Easter, the beloved disciple of Christ, John, testifies to us about Jesus Christ and his relationship with his disciples. In verses 14 &15 Jesus says:
“You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” [John 15:14-15]
Jesus is saying that their relationship has changed. He is telling them that they are now in a relationship akin to brothers. He is telling them that he loves them and from now on they will be best friends forever.
This statement of Jesus would be highly regarded no matter when he made it but there is something else that is happening at this time which gives his words a little bit more importance. You see, Jesus and the twelve are in an upper room on Maundy Thursday eating the Passover meal. Very shortly Jesus will go with his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane to pray and to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies.
He will then be tortured and crucified on a cross; the most vile form of execution known to man. The disciples will lose their best friend and teacher. Jesus tells them to have faith and believe and that he will rise again on the third day to overcome death forever, but it is hard to remember his words when you see his lifeless body buried in a cold dark tomb.
But that has yet to happen and the disciples are listening to every word. They surely remembered their teacher’s words about loving one’s neighbor as oneself. After all, Jesus called it the greatest commandment. Jesus says it again, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” [John 15:12]
In our social structures we have different kinds of love but really only one word for love. Much of the time we must discern of what type of love we speak through the context of our conversation. Usually we ad modifiers to the term ‘love’ to get a better understanding. For instance, in an intimate relationship between a man and a woman, we often speak about ‘true’ love. This implies the love between the two is deep and lasting.
The Greek language had different words for love; each belonging to the different kinds of love. There is philia love – this is the type of love between brothers or sisters. We like our brothers and sisters but we don’t necessarily like-like them. We love them but we don’t romantically love them. To long for someone with affection for to feel compassion is to splagchnizomai them; this means the feeling that comes from the gut.
The highest level of love – the unconditional love like that of mother and child – is agap?. This is the word Jesus uses when talking about his love for his disciples. He tells them this love is the same love that his father has for him. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” [John 15:9] This all encompassing love is for all who abide in him.
How can we abide in his love? Well, truth be told, we can’t. Our sinful nature prevents us from knowing how to love as he loves us. This is why we cannot come to him by our own reason, strength or love. We are tainted and unrighteous. We cannot love in this way.
This is why Jesus Christ came into our flesh and into our lives. God knows that we cannot come to him so he came to us, flesh of our flesh, so that he could be our friend. He came to us so that we could receive the love of God as it was meant to be.
Jesus speaks plainly to his disciples as he speaks plainly to us:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” [John 15:16]
Without Christ as our friend, we cannot live in him. Without Christ, we cannot bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Oh what a friend we have in Jesus. He is the friend that shows the greatest love for us by laying down his life for us. By his sacrifice we have been saved and by his sacrifice we now know what ‘true’ love is. It is not mere brotherly love or compassionate, longing love. It is all of these types of love and more.
It has been said by the early church father Jerome that in the final days of the Apostle John, that he became so feeble that he could barely walk or stand. Yet he still proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord over all. It is said that in his latter days that he had to rely on others to help him stand in front of the congregation to preach. In the end he was so weak that all he could say was one sentence and those words were: “Little children, love one another.” When asked why he said this, he replied, “Because our Lord commanded it.”
Jesus says it again in verse 17, “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” [John 15:17] He tells us that to love one another so that, “…my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” [John 15:11b]
This brings up the question of how we abide in the love of Christ so that our joy may be full. The first answer is found in verse 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. [John 15:10]
- Verse 11 tells us abiding in his love will be a joyous experience because his joy will be in us.
- Thirdly – our love must be sacrificial as his ultimate love was a sacrifice for our salvation. (Not all of us may have to literally die for our neighbor but we may still have to make sacrifices) (vv. 12, 13)
- Also, we must love knowingly. That is to say we must know of Christ’s word in order to tell others. This means we must be continuously in the Word of God and in prayer with our Lord. (vv. 14, 15)
- Again, we bear the fruit of the spirit when we abide in him. Jesus Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to us by way of water and the Word. Just as he was baptized by the Spirit we too are sanctified to live fruitful lives through the work of the Holy Spirit. (v.16)
- Finally we demonstrate our love for one another by doing what our Lord commanded us to do. We are to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are to forgive our enemies and we are to proclaim the Good News of our salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (v.17)
This is how we show our love for our fellow human beings because this is how God loves us.
The beloved disciple John, testifies to you this morning through the Word of God. As he witnessed to young budding churches in Asia Minor, he bears witness to us. He calls us ‘little children’ because:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” [1 John 5:1] Like children, we will have struggles in the world because we are no longer of the world. But we are assured that we can overcome the world because Christ has already defeated the ruler of the world; Satan. In his resurrection from the grave Christ has overcome death and in this victory comes our salvation.
St. John tells us that Jesus sanctified the waters of baptism through his baptism and brings us into his body through the blood of his sacrifice. His gift of the Holy Spirit is the third sign of his love for us. By the water we are called to be his children. By the blood of the Lamb we are given victory over death. And by the Holy Spirit we walk this earth as a breathing witness of God’s grace and our salvation in His Son.
Truth be told, our relationship with Jesus is not on equal terms. Our Lord and Master calls us friends but it is he who carries the weight of our sin and pays the price for our lives. He is a true friend because he laid down his life for another; for you and for me. When we say to Jesus, ‘I love you’ he says, ‘I loved you first’.