Abiding in Love
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 15:9–15:17
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 9-10, 2015
“Abiding in Love”
On the church’s calendar, today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter, but it’s also Mother’s Day. What would our lives be like without mothers and their abiding love? Today’s Gospel lesson picks up where last Sunday’s left off. Last week, we heard Jesus’ words: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And now Jesus who is the true Vine goes on to tell us more; that we didn’t choose him, but that He chose us and appointed us to go and bear fruit, fruit that will abide – fruit that will last and not go bad. Jesus calls us to abide in his love. In fact, those two words, “abide” and “love” are used multiple times in these verses of today’s Gospel lesson. Based on Jesus’ words, the theme for today’s message is “Abiding in Love,” and we’ll look at each of those words. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The word “love” is something we hear and speak every day, and perhaps because we use it so much its meaning has become diluted and watered down in our lives. We use it to describe so many things in life, like “I love the warm spring weather – but not the pollen.” “I love my mom, and not just on Mother’s Day.” “I love steak on the grill.” You get the point here. We should note that when Jesus is talking about love here in John 15, he is talking about a different kind of love – not love for one’s spouse, not love for one’s family, not love for one’s friends. All of these are important, but there is an even more important kind of love and that is what Jesus is talking about. In the English language, we’ve got this one-size-fits-all word that has to work in all sort of situations and circumstances. Not so in the original language of the New Testament, where there are a number of different words to describe love – love for one’s spouse, love for one’s family, love for one’s friends. And there is a completely other word for God’s love. The searching, self-giving, sacrificial love of God in Jesus that has its own word: αγάπη. Again and again, this is the word Jesus uses here in John 15. This is the love that moved God to send his only Son into the world to live, suffer, die and rise again to secure your salvation. There is nothing in us that prompted God to do this; in fact, quite the opposite. We think that somehow we are deserving of God’s favor and forgiveness just because we’re us. We’re not like “those people” (whoever that may be) who really don’t deserve God’s mercy and love. But you see, that’s not how it works. Jesus blows this out of the water when He says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16). God had every reason not to choose us; to turn his back and walk away from the people created in his own image; people who were hell-bent (literally!) on doing what Frank Sinatra sang about: “I did it my way,” putting us on a sure path to death and destruction. It would have been very easy for God to just wash his hands of this whole mess and walk away. But you see, God did not do that. He did not turn his back and walk away. Is there some kind of earthly love that we could compare this to? Maybe a mother’s love for her child? At times, moms and dads do in fact lay down their lives for the sake of their child. But here’s the thing: how many moms or dads would be willing to sacrifice the life of your own child for the sake of people who do not deserve such a sacrifice? I don’t think I could do that. Could you? But that is what God has done, and that is αγάπη love. It is astounding and amazing, and we do not deserve it.
And now the risen Savior Jesus Christ calls us to abide in his love. That’s the second word we want to look at: abide. In contrast to love, it’s not a word we use much anymore, but it’s still an important word. God made a choice, a decision, to love us when we were dead in our sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:4-5) and give the life of his only Son for us. Having received the good news of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us, we are called to choose, to decide, to abide in this love. It’s a choice we have to make over and over again, each and every day. There are 1001 things that constantly pull and tug at us in order to keep us from abiding in Jesus’ love: the busyness of life, demands of work or school, family obligations, stress, illness, difficult circumstances – the list goes on and on. It is in the midst of all these things that Jesus calls us to keep on abiding in his love. It is a daily challenge, and we will need all the help that the Lord Jesus can give us to meet this challenge. That help to abide in his love is found in God’s Word as not only we read Scripture, but Scripture reads us, pointing us again and again to the truth that Peter proclaimed in today’s Epistle lesson: “To him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:44). That help to abide in his love is found in remembering and reclaiming who we are and whose we are through the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism: God’s beloved children. That help to abide in his love is found in the Lord’s Supper where Jesus meets us and gives us his very Body and Blood under earthly elements of bread and wine to forgive, renew and strengthen us. That help to abide in his love is found here in the fellowship of believers as we encourage one another and build one another up in faith. All of these things help us to abide in Jesus’ love, but we have to choose to make use of them. We can have millions of dollars in the bank, but until we access it and start using it, it doesn’t do us any good. So it is with these gifts of God that are ready and waiting to be used.
Abiding in love – Jesus’ love – this is what leads to fruit, fruit that will abide – fruit that will last and not go bad. The fruits of faith, which Paul calls the “fruits of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). You can’t force fruit to grow; it only comes about when the growing conditions are right. The nineteenth-century Christian writer, teacher and pastor, Andrew Murray, wrote about this when he said: “Have you ever noticed the difference in the Christian life between work and fruit? A machine can do work; only life can bear fruit. A law can compel work; only life can spontaneously bring forth fruit. Work implies effort and labour; the essential idea of fruit is, that it is the silent, natural, restful produce of our inner life… It is only when good works come as the fruit of the indwelling Spirit that they are acceptable to God” (Day by Day, by Andrew Murray, as quoted in For All the Saints: A Prayerbook For and By the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 1082-1083).
May it be so with each one of us, that as we abide in Jesus’ love our lives may bear fruit for him. Amen.