As ABBA God has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept ABBA God's commandments and abide in Gods love. 11I 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. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you.15I 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 ABBA God.16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that ABBA God will give you whatever you ask God in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. How is life in the backyard? If you're just dropping by for the first time, whether because you smelled the burgers cooking or maybe heard the laughter coming from the pool, let me catch you up on what's been happening at FBCM. Our community of faith has been really busy over the past 6 years; and each year we've done something monumental to help our congregation function better and to grow into what God has designed for us to be as a people of God. However, all that work has taken its toll; and so this year, for our monumental undertaking, we've decided to just enjoy congregational life in our own backyard, so to speak. We're dedicating a year to intentionally growing relationships within our community of faith, to learn to play together, trust each other, and grow deeper spiritually-together. Over the past few months we've talked about Backyard Basics, (what you might expect- how do we embark on a year of intentional living, learning and growing together?) Backyard Blessings (gifts given by God to the community), and now in this Easter Season, we are looking at some of the Backyard Blooms- things that have been planted by God that our community may enjoy in one another. New Life, Abundance, Acceptance, and today, one of my personal favorites: Friends.
The passage we just read from the Gospel of John directly follows last week's scripture, where Jesus talked about how he was the true vine, we (we, plural… communities of faith) are the branches; cleansed, accepted, connected, and able to bear fruit. We spoke about pruning; not that WE are ever cut off from God, but that God takes away the parts of us that block or distract us from hearing or receiving from God; the parts that stop us from being everything God has designed us to be.
So, let move on then to today's scripture: Jesus begins very simply- I love you.... abide, or live, in my love. (How do we do that... you may be asking?) Jesus says: If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love. Oh great-another if. Now, this little word, if, trips people up sometimes- and they get to thinking that it means that not living in the commandments makes Jesus dismiss them, or again, that latent fear of the pruning shears come out. But remember last week- nothing can cut us off from God- not even our own will. So if, is simply the vehicle to an explanation- it’s like Jesus is sitting there with his disciples, and he says, "Abide in my love." And the disciples are scratching their heads... and Jesus gives a very long pause, but then sees they don't get it. "If you keep my commandments you'll be doing it... (another pause) the same way I follow the commandments and abide in God... see?" Its directions... it's a way to explain the "how’s" of abiding... nothing more.
And if there is still doubt that Jesus wasn't giving an ultimatum, read on... Jesus gives the "whys" of obeying the commandments :(together) 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. That YOUR joy shall be complete. So living the way God has laid out of us, living the way Jesus showed us to live, leads to... JOY- not just joy, but complete joy!
And if you're like to disciples probably were during that moment and thinking, Yes, I want complete joy.... I'll live out the commandments... what are they again? "Don't steal, don't kill, don't covet... what's a covet again?' Jesus, after another long pause, lays it out in a sentence:'This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.'
Now I think you and I need to take a long pause. Because honestly… I don’t know that I’ve kept that commandment for even one day with anyone in my life. I don't know that I've loved anyone like Jesus loves me. I may have come close to experiencing that love with my kids, or a few choice members of my family or friends, but when I remember all that Jesus did and how Jesus loves... how Jesus forgives unconditionally, that Jesus meets me where I am right now and loves me just as I am... and is unceasingly patient with me… or that I can go to Jesus with anything... Anything... and Jesus accepts the broken parts of me without anger, or disgust... that the things I've done aren't kept in some ledger somewhere tallying up marks against me for a future punishment when I've pushed too far... and loves me with a love so great that I can't push it away, that I can't, no matter what- make Jesus change his mind and not go to the cross...for me... for all of us… It seems to me that is impossible for me- it isonly something a God can do... that the Christ can do...
Go back to the scripture… And look what comes next, that bit about laying down ones life for ones friends... and that Jesus...calls.us.friends. But keep going… Oh no, there's that word again... You are my friends "if" you keep my commandments. Well I guess that's that then. I can't possibly keep them, so I can't be Jesus' friend? Right? No- this another explanation of how we are able to be Jesus' friend. Keep reading- Jesus makes known- shows us- everything he has heard from God... so that means that somewhere in us, no matter how impossible it may seem to us, lies the power to love like Jesus loves... and why? Because the spirit of the living Christ dwells within us- Christ lives in you and in me… that’s how it happens… Jesus calls us friends- and not just calls us friends, Jesus says that he CHOSE us to be his friends...
So let's breathe a second. Let the implications of being chosen by Christ, sink in. What would it mean in your life, if you fully realized that you were chosen to be Jesus’s friend. (Oh God, I hope she doesn't start talking about using our gifts and call and stuff...) Forget that, that's for another sermon. But I do want you to think about what it means for you to think of yourself as the one Jesus calls friend. And notice, Jesus goes to great lengths to clarify, you are not slaves... you are friends... meaning that if you think friendship is about earning your keep, and walking on eggshells, you may be misinformed. Slaves walk on eggshells. Servants worry about if they are doing enough to not get beaten or fired. Friends enjoy each other's company. Friends are grateful for each other. (yes, Jesus is grateful for you!) They are grateful TO each other. Friends respect each other. Friends do things with, and for, each other. Friends spend time talking, playing, creating, loving, laughing, crying, and doing life... together.
Is this the relationship you have with Jesus? It is the one Jesus desires to have with you. It's why sometimes you hear the words 'accept Jesus.' It's not some magical mystical catch phrase that once said, gives you a golden ticket to heaven. Accepting Jesus simply means that you are opening yourself to the awareness that Jesus calls you 'friend,' and opening your heart and mind to all that friendship might mean for you... and listen, that awareness doesn’t happen overnight- it happens over a lifetime! Friendship with Jesus grows and develops and widens and deeps every singles day... if - as you abide in love, and love one another...
Which brings me to our backyard. Jesus has made a way for us to learn about true friendship and everything that means, right here in community with one another. Jesus has modeled what true friendship is, so that we can love one another- so that we can develop those kinds of friendships with one another... Godly friendships that aren't based on merit, or pulling your weight, or conditional based on what we do- our backyard friendships are a way to live out, or abide in love on earth. Think of the relationships you have here at church. How much of your relationships with people- friendships with “church folk” are conditional? If we’re real with each other, than most of them… we’re human. We’re flawed. But here’s the good news. We’ve got 365 chances a year to try again. We have 365 chances this year to forgive each other when we mess up, to learn to understand each other better when we disagree, to grow our friendships in a way that is both Godly and life giving just by worshiping and spending time together! And when we get off track- which we will- we come back to the one who chose us as friends… we learn from Christ… and then choose friendship with one another. And Christ JOY will be in us, and our joy will be complete.