Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

May 10, 2015

John 15: 9-17

“Fruitful Love”



“Hear now these words from the gospel according to John, chapter 15, verses 9 through 17.”

9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

“Allow the voice of God to speak to you through your understanding of these ancient words of scripture.”

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The focus of our discussion this morning is love. And, like last week, we want to cultivate and grow a good crop, bearing much fruit; in this case an abundant harvest of love. In order to do this we need to fully embrace what love is before we can pass it on.

As we begin to look at this text, let me say how easy it is to talk about love when the air is filled with an abundance of love, like it has been over these last several months here at this, our church, The Riviera United Church of Christ. You, all of you, have made me feel so loved, it washes over me wave after wave. I can hardly describe how it felt when the Pastoral Search Committee invited me to be the candidate for the position of pastor. Nor can I find the words to describe what it felt like when you voted and overwhelmingly offered me the position. Then, this past weekend has brought this process to the formal installation service by the Florida Conference of The United Church of Christ. I mean… WOW! The words, the charge actually, from Rev. Hargrove touched my heart and I suspect his words touched your hearts as well! The gifts: this stole, the Digital Audio System, the cross and the sacred rock; then the reception, the fabulous music, your abundant loving support, filled my heart with such tremendous love! Yes, in this loving atmosphere it is easy to talk of love.

Continuing the theme of love, today is Mother’s day. It is impossible to talk about mothers or motherhood and all the positive attributes attributed to what mothers are meant to stand for, and for the most part do, without speaking of love! It is easy to raise up a ‘mother’s love’, the nurture, the support and forgiving love of our mothers. The last time we spoke of mothers I lifted up my fond memories of my mother, my step-mother, my grandmothers and all those who have reached out to me with motherly love. Today, I look out and see mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers whom I have come to know in this community of faith. From what I have seen and heard the art of self-sacrificing motherly love is alive and thriving in this faith community. Let me, take this moment, to once again wish each one of you a happy Mother’s Day!

I am so thankful that you and I are able to be, in this time and space, with so many positive references to love; love that was passed to us from others and ultimately came from God. Yet, what about those other times? The words of Jesus were not spoken in the midst of a perfect world; or even during a perfect moment in time as I have just described. Jesus was speaking in the midst of hardship and in the fullness of repression and coming calamity, as he prepared for his own personal persecution. Even in the after blush of my installation, even in the radiant brilliance of today’s honoring of ‘Mother’s Day’ we must take a moment to reflect on the fullness of today’s scripture lesson. A lesson that forces us to look more deeply at the fullness of love. Let us take time to reflect on Jesus’ understanding of self-sacrificing; the ultimate form of love of which we see most easily in the study of mothers and motherhood. This is the form of love that our mothers pass from generation to generation and, we pray, to our current generations in the Twenty-First Century. This type of love is the exact opposite of the selfish love that the: me, me, me society we see so much of embraces! As we wrestle with these contrasting forms of love we must grasp and fully accept that we are now responsible to pass the love that we see exemplified from the writings and teachings attributed to Jesus. Just as soon as we clarify what type of love Jesus was referring to we are ‘called’ to pass it on to others; much like we expect mothers to pass love on to their children and those under their care.

Today’s scripture speaks about how we are to abide in Jesus, just as he abided in his Father. In so doing we must recognize that to abide in someone means that we are to follow that person and we are to do as we are instructed, and/or have been taught.   To honor the teachings of our mothers and all those who reach out to us with parental love, we must abide in them, we must follow in their footsteps.

Let us look at what other students of the Bible say about today’s lesson. This will deepen our understanding of what the writer of the gospel of John is trying to say to us today.

Kate Matthews (Huey) reflects that {the Gospel of John contains many familiar phrases that inspire and comfort us, including the heart, the bottom line, of what it means to be a Christian: The theme of love is powerful throughout …, teaching us to “abide” in him, (pushing us) to understand ourselves ‘as living our lives’ ‘within his own reality’, …, as branches of a vine that bears rich fruit for a world hungry for love. These words about love help us to understand what love really is, and what it means to make our homes, to abide in (to follow) Jesus. Like Jesus himself, we live our lives in trusting obedience, inspired by the way he lived his life, in trusting obedience to God. And the “commandment” we obey is the law of love that binds us in unselfish relationship with God and with one another, being “for” one another rather than living for ourselves. That, Jesus tells us, is the path to true joy.}

Ultimately, we want to learn to embrace the selfless love of Jesus as we live into the realities of our lives. Before we can pass this on we must push through all of the stuff they gets in our way. My mother set rules for me to follow. She said to me: “make your bed” and then showed me how to do it right. Then mother had me follow her around the house – making beds that day. We did this together many times. Then she turned to me one day and said that she ‘trusted in me’ and believed I had ‘the ability’ to do just as she had done. Following that lesson it became my responsibility to make my own bed, and now and then, when it was my turn, a few others. She instructed me in the ritual of emptying the trash cans, using the same ritual of showing me ‘by example’ then ‘empowering me’ to do likewise. She was pushing me to grow as she passed to me different chores. In doing so she also led me into good habits, like going to church on Sunday mornings. She like Jesus was asking me, inviting me, to abide in her, to follow her lead.

Let’s look closely at verse 9: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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 15:9 NRSV) One theologian reflects on this verse and puts it this way: “Of course, we could wonder about the question “Can love be summoned by decree?” He goes on to state: “We pastors know better.” And he tells us this story: “Across the desk sits the husband and the wife. They are sitting within 15 inches of each other but each person’s body is turned about 30 degrees away from the other. They may as well be in separate countries. There’s (been) too much (conflict and too many) tears that have been spilled in this marriage gone awry. Whatever love once flickered in their eyes for one another has long since departed. As pastors, we can counsel with such people, pray for and with and over such people, we can listen to such people. But the one thing we cannot do is stand up from our chair behind our desk, raise ourselves up to our full stature, and declare, “Listen, you two: This is my command: LOVE EACH OTHER for goodness sake! Just do it! Feel love! Feel it NOW!” No, no, that won’t do the trick. You cannot order up love. As the old song says, “You can’t hurry love, you just have to wait.” You can’t hurry it and you can’t order it, either.”

Our theologian goes on to tells us: “It is clear here that “love” means service, means action, means a life of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. /Scott Hoezee/

Another way to speak of tough love is put this way: “He is your friend who pushes you nearer to God.” /Abraham Kuyper/ Jesus has called his disciples, his friends, rather than servants thus pushing the relationship to a higher degree. Mothers, parents push their children until they are old enough, mature enough to accept some of the burden of running the family home. They like Jesus are pushing you to love like they do, they are drawing us, you and me, closer to them, closer to the true source of love. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be the first in love.” Jane Austen takes this one step further: “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” I don’t believe any of us think for a moment that Jesus only went half way for us, nor do we believe that mothers only go half way in their efforts to get us to follow their examples of love, commitment and devotion to the values they worked so hard to pass on to us.

One consortium of Christian educators said it this way in one of their Lectionary based works: “Most of us know what is meant by the term “tough love.” … It usually refers to the last-ditch efforts of people to force behavioral change. For example, the term has been used to describe parents who, out of love, refuse to support their addicted child unless he or she enters a rehabilitation clinic. In this story from John’s Gospel …, Jesus gives some tough love to his close friends.” “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12 NRSV). “Jesus didn’t do this out of ulterior motives or out of desperation. He did it out of love. He did it in obedience to his Father’s command. This is, for me, an example of the toughest kind of love.” /Rev. Dawn Chesser, Taylor Burton-Edwards, Dean McIntyre, Prayers, Lectionary Hymns/

Today is Mother’s day. This day is about love, love at the highest degree; selfless love. Today, Jesus tells us that ‘if’ we keep his commandments, we will abide/ we will accept his love and follow his example. Our mothers have worked to pass this same message on to those in their care. Jesus goes on to tell us that: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” /John 15:12/ Just as Jesus has commanded us to do, so have good mothers throughout the centuries commanded their charges, their children, ‘to love one another’, and they have done their best to leave an example for us to follow. Happy Mother’s Day.


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