Saturday, May 5, 2018

6 Easter Yr B May 6 2018

6 Easter Yr B May 6 2018 Audio

Last week we heard the beginning of this gospel story of the grapes and the vine and the branches. What we hear today is the remainder of that story. The section before us today focuses on love, and that abiding in the vine is the same as abiding in love. This is a story about God loving the world so much, that God decides to dwell as Jesus, in the world. This is a story about Jesus revealing God’s abundant love, and showing us what that abundant love looks like. This is a story that shows us that God chooses us.

I want you to remember back to Holy Week. On the Thursday night of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, we celebrate Holy Communion and we wash one another’s feet. We do those things because during Holy Week we are walking a journey with Jesus, and in the story of Jesus’ last days, these are some of the things Jesus does. Remember that story, remember that night. Jesus is at table with his friends for the very last time, they all know this. Jesus gets up from the table, ties a towel around himself, kneels down in front of his friends, and washes their feet. In this church, many of you, mama’s and children, brothers and sisters, friends, sat in this spot, and washed each other’s feet. Grimy, dirty, feet. Jesus shows us this is what love looks like. Today we hear, love one another as I have loved you. This is what love looks like, wash one another’s feet.

This is a story about Jesus revealing God’s abundant love, and showing us what that abundant love looks like. Keeping God’s commandments is to love.

Because Jesus loves his friends and us, Jesus is setting up a framework for relying on each other in his absence. Jesus says, you are my friends; I choose you. Jesus showed his disciples, his friends, everything he could imagine about this life of love they would lead without him. Those disciples needed to hear Jesus’ commitment to them, his reassurance that the relationship is firm and sound. We hear this as well. You are my friends, I chose you, and I appoint you to go and bear fruit.

This story is part of the last things Jesus says and does before he dies. It is so important for Jesus to reassure his disciples that he would not leave them, us, alone. We are Jesus friends, and Jesus does not leave us alone. Jesus leaves us with each other, and the Holy Spirit, and we will bear fruit. We are connected to the vine, and we will have life.

I imagine Jesus’ friends being so very frightened at the thought of losing him. This man who has taught them so much about themselves, so much about life and love. They wanted him there with them. They wanted to be reassured that he would always be there. Isn’t that true for you and the ones you love? We cannot even begin to face the reality that our mothers, or our fathers, our brothers or sisters, our friends, might die. We wonder how life can even begin to be joyful without them.

Or what about the reality of the cross? Sometimes it can be so confusing. So what if the cross is the natural if painful extension of God’s willingness to enter into our confusion and chaos and violence and heartache? Then, maybe, the cross is simply testimony to just how much God loves us – that God will not shy away even from the worst of humanity’s instincts – and the resurrection that follows is the promise and sign that when we’ve done our very worst, been our very worst, fallen so tragically short of God’s hopes for us, yet God’s love embodied and enfleshed in Jesus endures, remains, and is victorious.

So into this reality Jesus speaks these words about vines and branches, abiding in love; these words of interconnectedness; these words of friendship and joy. You see, Jesus knows he cannot take away these pains of life, Jesus cannot take away the reality of death, but Jesus assures them, Jesus assures us, that together we can bear the pain, and through that pain, even when we cannot see it yet, joy will grow. Not only does joy grow, but there is something new, abundant life, as well.

What an amazing image the gospel writer John sets before us; vines that grow, and weave in and through each other. Vines that attached to the root bear much fruit. Jesus knew his friends well, Jesus knows us so very well. Because isn’t it true that we really prefer to make a go of it on our own? How many of us have heard our own children, our own grandchildren say in a very determined way, “do it myself!” We forget about the barn raisings of our ancestors, we rarely bring hotdish to our neighbors at the birth of a child, or the death of a parent anymore. How many in our community and our country accept without question the individualism that separates us. How many times do we hear, if only they would get a job and work harder they wouldn’t need help, without understanding that we never get anywhere by ourselves, our success is built on the success of others, and sometimes our success is built on the adversity of others.

How do we imagine new ways of being, new ways of being connected that bring life to the vine, and produce grapes worthy of the wine that is poured out for us? For this is the joy that Jesus describes. We don’t pursue joy, joy is the fruit of our relationship with Jesus, our relationships with one another. Joy is the fruit of our connection to the vine.

One way the gospel writer John imagines this new way of being in Jesus is by washing one another’s feet. In the first century Mediterranean world washing feet is the consummate act of servant hood. So this story turns the tables of well-defined roles, servant sits in the chair of the master, and master kneels at the feet of the servant. This is also what love looks like.

What does this love look like for you? What does this kind of servant ministry look like for you? I had the honor of attending the first annual GIFTS dinner on Tuesday night. For the sake of not using acronyms that some may not know, GIFTS means God is Faithful Temporary Shelter, and it is the homeless men’s ministry in Janesville. GIFTS is what love looks like. GIFTS is a story that focuses on love, GIFTS is a story about God loving the world so much, that God decides to dwell as Jesus, in the world. GIFTS is a story that reveals God’s abundant love.

How do we imagine new ways of being in God’s love? We show forth God’s love for us, we embody Jesus’ servant ministry, we wash one another’s feet. Thanks be to God.

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