Faith, Evolution Of Christianity, Community And Meaning Of Membership

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the amazing mothers in my life!  Here is this morning’s sermon …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 10, 2015

1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

Faith, Evolution of Christianity, Community and Meaning Of Membership

Two weeks ago, I asked the confirmation class what they wanted me to preach about this week.  After a few seconds of silence they said, “You know … faith.”

Helpful.

After some prodding from the mentors and me, I had a more extensive list:  Faith, evolution of Christianity, community and meaning of membership.

So here goes nothing.

This morning’s gospel reading comes from the gospel according to John.  It picks up where we left off last week where Jesus explains how we are all connected to one another, to him and to God by this life-giving and life-sustaining vine.  In last week’s scripture, Jesus primarily focuses on telling us what it means to be part of the Body of Christ.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.[1]

Jesus continues in today’s passage with a charge for us.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.[2]

This.

This is what it means to grow in and live out our faith.  This is what it means to be part of a community of faith.  This is what it means to be a member of this church.  This is what it means to fully receive nourishment from the vine of Jesus.  We have to love one another as Jesus loved us.  Jesus calls us to love another as he loved us.

Now anyone who has ever existed in any kind of community – whether it be in church or with family or friends or at work – knows how challenging it can be at times to live out this call.  People are people, right?  Even with the best of intentions, there are always going to be moments in the lives of our communities where we are having a hard time liking each other, let alone loving each other.

But this where we have to ground ourselves and our lives and our communities in faith.

We are not just a community; we are a community of faith.  That means something.

In this passage, Jesus tells us that something powerful is going on in our midst when we enter into a community of faith.

You did not choose me, but I chose you.[3]

Jesus chose us; Jesus chose us to do his work in this world.  Jesus chose us to live out the Gospel in our lives and Jesus chose us to be in community with one another in order to do it.

This is real; this is powerful.

Think about it:  From the very beginning, Jesus never intended for us to figure out this whole faith thing by ourselves.  We were always supposed to come together and support one another – to love another – along our journeys of faith.  Jesus chose us to do this.

Jesus chose us to be with one another; Jesus chose us to share in our joys and in our sorrows and to hold one another in prayer.  Jesus chose us to learn with one another, to serve with one another and to worship with one another.  Jesus chose us to love one another, even in those moments where it is slightly – um – difficult to do so.  Jesus chose us to be his friends, to bear his fruit and to be witnesses to the good news that God’s love always wins.  We – every single one of us – have been chosen to do this blessed work in the world.

And this is not a burden, either.  This is such a blessing for us to be a part of.

I was watching coverage of the Royal Baby last week and came across a video clip of Prince William arriving at the hospital with little Prince George.  William took George out of his car seat and carried him into the hospital to meet his new baby sister.  Of course they stopped for a moment on the steps of the Lindo Wing to greet those who had gathered.  And on cue – at 22 months old – Prince George waved to crowd.

Once I picked myself up from the puddle that I had melted into, I started to wonder what it must be like to be born into the royal family.  What is it like, I wondered, to be born into a life – into a fate, really – that has already been chosen for you?  Do you think that is a burden?  Or is it a blessing?

Now I do not know about the royal family (although I am sure I would have made an excellent queen), but I do know about Jesus’ commandments to us and for us – and they are not a burden.  They are, indeed, a blessing.

The reading we heard from the first letter of John that talks about these commandments that Jesus gave to us.

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandment.  And his commandments are not burdensome.[4]

These commandments – to be in community and to love one another – are not a burden in our lives.  They are a blessing!

And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.[5]

Bad things happen in the world, things we cannot control.  Illnesses, tragedies and natural disasters – these things have and will continue to impact our lives and our families and our world in real and devastating ways.  But these commandments – being in community, loving one another, living out the gospel – are what give us the strength to conquer these things.  These commandments give us the courage and the wisdom to rise up against the bad things that happen; to not only survive in this world, but to thrive in it as well.

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.[6]

This commandment is a blessing – in our lives, in our faith and in the church.  This commandment is what has built and sustained our faith for 2,000 years.  This commandment is what has carried our church – our nearly 300-year-old church – through the ups and downs of its lifetime (and we heard in Sally’s history presentation on Wednesday night that there were several ups and downs!).  This commandment is what carries us through the moments in our lives when all seems lost and we do not know where else to turn.

And so we are called to live out this commandment – to love one another just as Jesus loved us.  When there is nothing else we can do, we love one another.

We live out this commandment by praying – really praying – for and with one another.  We live out this commandment by putting the needs of others before our own needs.  We live out this commandment every time we send someone a card, make someone a meal or call someone just to tell them that we are thinking about them.  We live out this call when we serve faithfully alongside someone, even if we do not always agree with them.  We live out this call when we volunteer our time and our talents in our church and in the community.  We live out this commandment when we show tangible signs of Jesus’ love in our lives and in our community.

This church is more than a community; this church is a community of faith and that means something.  That means something in how we live our lives and that means something in how we should exist as a community.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.[7]

One final thought.

We know that Jesus wanted us – called us – to be in community with one another as we grew in our faith throughout the generations.  But how are we supposed to do this?  It is not easy.  Loving people – real and imperfect people – is not always easy.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.[8]

If you remember from last week when Jesus used the word “abide,” I mentioned that the Greek word for “abide” is meinate, which comes from the Greek word menó and means, “to remain, to stay, to wait and to dwell.”  So today Jesus calls us to dwell in his love, to wait in his love, to stay in his love.

And look at the scripture.  This call comes before the call for us to love one another.

In other words:  We cannot love others until we fully dwell within Jesus’ love.

So that is where we begin.

May God bless us as we abide within Jesus’ love so that we can live out the commandment to love one another – in our lives and in this church.

And may this be a blessing.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

***

[1] John 15:5, NRSV
[2] John 15:12, NRSV
[3] John 15:16, NRSV
[4] 1 John 5:3, NRSV
[5] 1 John 5:3-4, NRSV
[6] John 15:12-13, NRSV
[7] John 15:12, NRSV
[8] John 15:9, NRSV

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