“How do we Share the Love?”
John 15:9-17, May 9th, 2021
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Read Statement of Faith
“Hear these words from the ancient writing from the gospel according to John, chapter fifteen, verses nine thru seventeen.”
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.
“Having listened with our ears to these words attributed to the ministry of Jesus, let us now open our hearts to this message of abiding love.”
“How do we Share the Love?”
Hear now this opening prayer from The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, of the United Church of Christ, a Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor. Let us pray. “Faithful God, make our hearts bold with love for one another. Pour out your Spirit upon all people, that we may live your justice and sing in praise the new song of your marvelous victory.” May we also take time to praise God for the gift of this new day as we seek out new opportunities to share the love which you, O God, so bountifully offer to us every hour of every day. In Jesus name we offer up this payer. Amen.
Rev. Lindsay points out for us that “in this week’s focus text, Jesus continues his discourse on abiding (continuing to love) and reveals that the whole point of the conversation is that (his) joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. And that the aspect of joy as a gift means that it must be given and received in order to be realized in our lives.” This dialog leads us, of course, to the realization that a gift of love received must be passed on to another or it shall lose its essence and both the giver and intended receiver will lose the joy that comes through God’s shared love! As we enter… into ‘this conversation’ on this special day, Mother’s Day, let us never forget that the gift of love, which so many of us have received from our mothers, our parents, and our caregivers, was given with the expectation that one day we would pass this gift to another also.
When we were but children, a great many of us had the love of a parent, a mother, a father who truly gave of themselves to us. Truly, whether they consciously realized it or not, they were passing on the love that comes from our Creator God. Surely, they came to know what joy feels like as giving to someone is a great joy especially when it is received, utilized, and passed on. Most of us who are part of this time of worship and refection are fortunate enough to be here with us freely and of our own will. What a blessing, as so many throughout the world do not have such freedoms. As recipients of so many gifts, given in love to us; first by our Creator, then our mothers, our father, our parents, and all those who cared for us along the way, we now have the joy of having received so that we are now able to pass that love along to another. It is amazing as we mature and learn that the more love is given, the more we must give! What a true joy to behold!
In our scripture we hear the word ‘abide’ used a few times. Its simple meaning is that we accept and take in that which to given to us. As Jesus invites us to abide in Him, he is expanding the breadth, the width, and depth of its intended meaning. Jesus is inviting us to be fully with him in body, mind, and Spirit! Jesus invites us to be fully immersed, consumed actually and thereby engaged and absorbed in his love which is the heavenly love of his Father in heaven. Accepting all that Jesus offers us is a tremendous gift; a gift which so many Christians do not fully accept. Some of us perhaps fear getting lost in the process; losing the independence of that which we envision ourselves to be. Others of us are weary of becoming overly religious and dependent on religious norms thus giving up our gifts of reason and personal experiences. Fear not! For this is not the case. We need to think of abiding in God’s love, abiding in Christ Jesus as melding and blending with the joy of a chocolate fudge brownie – without the calories or cholesterol! Or perhaps your favorite is bonding with a slice of ‘hot fresh’ apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream! My favorite, of course is some milk chocolate in any size or shape! ‘Of course, our God smiles with us as we banter a bit with this aspect of joyful love.’
It is good to laugh a bit now and then. As we seek to embrace the fullness of what it may mean share the love of God, let us step back for a moment into our illustration from last week. If, by chance you missed it, you can always find it on our website at rivieraucc.org. Take for instance the imagery of last weeks conversation that we had while speaking of the true vine which led us to an image of a porcupine! Many who listened to the imagery of “hugging a porcupine” lost sight of the illustration — that we all need a bit of love! Goodness sakes! It was meant to catch your attention and get each of us to think outside of that isolated box we sometimes live within! Please, do not literally try to hug hedgehogs with protective quills! “Those of you who listen to me regularly – you know I am not a literalist!” The point being: “loosen up and accept the intent of this absurd imagery; it is meant to open up new possibilities!” If we actually – stepped out of our own protective shell perhaps, we might be willing to consider the other side of every porcupine we encounter!’ We all have a soft spot. Porcupines are like puppies; their underbellies are soft and vulnerable. That person or persons you or I might be struggling to embrace in a constructive conversation, he, or she, they have an exposed side; they have something they need someone to acknowledge and embrace. We each need to stay open to new possibilities even in the most stressful of interpersonal relationships. Jesus is saying to us that ‘in Spirit’ he will be with us in all situations.
Jesus is communicating to us in this lesson very clearly! “This is my commandment, ‘says Jesus’, that you love one another as I have loved you.” / John 15:12/ The question still stands: “How do we love that Porcupine; how do we love that person or persons that so desperately need our compassion and kindness through acts of Love?” As an example, consider the homeless and hungry folks in our own communities. It is often hard to know how to help them personally. Yet, with a small effort we have been able to work with one of our neighboring churches in the area to help supply their food pantry each month… as they work to distribute it to the hungry in various ways. That is one form of love which we are passing on to others. There are many ways to expand this thought, one of course is to remind one another of the need to feed the hungry locally, here in our own surrounding neighborhood. We can each strive to add one more can of beans or tuna fish or another jar of peanut butter to our monthly collection. Whatever we can afford or spare. Every little bit helps. It is that old, old story: your small gift will make a big difference to the one who receives it! There are many types of ‘food’ sometimes we need to nourish the spirits of our neighbors. Yes, food helps but we can expand that thought!
We have a Shepherd’s fund which is used at the Pastor’s discretion to help others. Your generosity helps keep that fund flowing to those in need. Sometimes, sometimes it helps a family keep the electricity streaming in times of hardship. Perhaps an unexpected one-time medical bill that we can help with. Maybe the license, insurance bill or registration renewal comes unexpectantly – and without it – they will be without transportation. Or perhaps a needed outfit for a child or a tank of gas for a stranded traveler. The list of ways is infinite and is handled out of love and kindness, through the generosity of compassionate folks like yourselves. Likewise, the list of ways we can offer comfort to someone with a special need… may perhaps be through a cup of coffee at the local diner, accompanied with the listening ear of the pastor. Or over a bowl of soup with a fellow sojourner who needs the fellowship of someone who cares. It is utterly amazing how much being listened to means to someone. We all need someone who cares in our lives. Research points to the lack of these simple gifts of love being the driving force in the lives of people who have perhaps’’ lost their way’ and are now on the wrong pathway. Perhaps a simple prayer will help. In another case it may be someone needs a ride to the store. I have heard stories from folks that tell me they were on their last legs, even contemplating suicide – at the time of an unexpected friendly voice on the phone. We just never know what our efforts to pass to another the ‘love God’ n various and assorted ways may mean to the one receiving such a gift.
As our journeys continue ever forward, we shall often find simple ways to help another. Other times it may take a real stretch to fathom how we might assist someone. And many times, it will take the hand of God to intercede to make a difference. What we do not know is where that extra insight or strength for that moment will come. This is when we need to remember what our lesson today speaks of so clearly: Jesus tells us… that because we abide with him – his Father in heaven will give us what we need – to do the things which God calls upon us to do! Look once again to how it was written what Jesus said unto us. “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. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” /John 15: 16-17/ Not only did God through Christ chose us, God, though Jesus promises us the full support of the power of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to get it done! Wow! Think how many “porcupines” we may be able to help if we just give it a try!