Acts 10:44-48 – Holy Spirit falls on unbaptized Gentiles. So they baptize them.
Psalm 98 – Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands. (Ps. 98:5)
1 John 5:1-6 – The love of God is obeying God’s commandments.
John 15:9-17 – This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. I have said these things that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. You did not choose me; I chose you, and appointed you to bear fruit.
In our first reading, the Holy Spirit falls on unbaptized Gentiles. They’re not Jewish. They’re not Christian, not officially, but the Spirit falls on them anyway. This is not how the apostles envision things. Could it be that the Spirit sometimes works outside of our preconceived notions of how things should go? The Spirit is clearly at work, so they just baptize them. Don’t assume that unbaptized folks don’t already have the Spirit at work in them.
The psalm picks up this image. The psalmist invited the whole earth to sing God’s praises.
In 1 John 5, loving God is keeping God’s commandments. Luther once said you couldn’t separate faith and works any more than one could separate heat and light from fire.
Our gospel comes from John 15. “As the Father has loved me, so I love you. Abide in my love.” The heart of the gospel is abiding in Christ’s love.
We all abide in something. In what do you immerse yourself? A hobby perhaps? Work? Acquisition of wealth? Music? Alcohol? Running? Consider into what you immerse yourself. What would it be like to immerse yourself in love. Specifically, what would it be like to immerse yourself in the love of Christ – to love as Christ loved?
Abide is an important word in John’s gospel. Abide (meno) appears around seventy times. Many of those are in John 15. It means to dwell, remain, last, or reside. Jesus abides in God, and his disciples are to abide or dwell in him. Jesus’ words are to abide in his followers. Jesus abides in God’s love, and his followers are to abide in his love. Read more.
How do we abide in Jesus’ love? By keeping his commandments. “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love.” But what are Christ’s commandments? Are they not, in John’s gospel, to love one another? “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”
To love one another is what Barbara Berry-Bailey calls “The Prime Directive”. If you summarize the Ten Commandments in a word, it’s “Love God; love neighbor.” Love is the prime directive. Jesus gets the heart of the law and hones in on it with laser focus: “By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
And then there is this fruit business. Lest we think abiding in love is a feeling thing, sentimentality Jesus says, “I have appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last” (abide).
- 16 times in Matthew
- 8 times in Mark
- 15 times in Luke
- 7 times in John
Only seven times in John, which is less than Mark. Five of those seven are right here in John 15.
Jesus is the vine. God is the vine grower. We are the branches, expected to bear fruit. We cannot do so unless we abide in the vine. God removes branches that don’t bear fruit. God prunes those that do. God is glorified when we become disciples and bear fruit. What this fruit is, is never spelled out.
We might take a cue from Paul, who wrote about bearing fruit long before John wrote his gospel: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22) If we consider this interpretation of fruit, love, peace, joy and such as the fruit, then John is saying we find these by dwelling in Christ.
A different approach: St. Augustine seems to insinuate that fruits are good works. In his very Lutheran discussion of John 15 in Tractates, he points out that the branches (disciples) cannot bear fruit (good works) apart from the vine. He reminds us that even our good works come from God. And if the branch tries to bear fruit apart from the vine it will wither. Likewise perhaps doing good works apart from a life-giving relationship with God will be fruitless. Focus in abiding in Christ first, and the branch will eventually bear fruit. This is justification talk.
There are an infinite number of places one can go with a sermon on John 15, even if you preached on it last Sunday (rather than the Acts 8, Ethiopian Court Official that I proposed).
One possibility: It’s Mother’s Day. Very few will arrive thinking it’s Easter 6B. Most, however, will know it’s Mother’s Day. You can make an immediate connection with most of your congregation. Some women aren’t mothers, but everyone was born of a mother. Talking about the command to love in light of the kind of unconditional love most mothers have for their children is a great jumping off point. What does it mean to abide in a mother’s love? How do we dwell in love? What does it mean to abide in God’s love? I am reminded of Ephesians 5:2, often used as an offertory sentence in Episcopal liturgy: “Live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Another possibility: It seems to me that in every parish I served, a number of do-gooders, who worked their fingers to the bone doing good, at some point flamed out. They weren’t connected to the vine. Rather than discerning God’s direction, they operated frenetically. Worship and prayer were secondary to helping people. I’m all for helping people, but without the spiritual food and drink, you eventually run out of gas. Our spiritual lives are the food we need for a life of ministry, a life of walking the way of the cross. These folks would dive in head first, then eventually become bitter when predictably, the rest of the congregation didn’t follow them into the deep end. They’d take on too much and eventually wither, like the seed that fell in rocky soil and then was withered by the sun because it had no depth of root. They’d get crispy and angry. They meant well.
So once or twice a year it may be important to preach a sermon on God as the source of all good works, and our efforts at justice, mercy, and compassion as being rooted in our own connection to Christ the vine and to our spiritual growth: prayer, worship, silence. This might be a good time for such a sermon, especially if groups are considering new initiatives for the fall or preparing for mission trips or servant projects.
You could title it, “Don’t Hit the Wall.” The lessons for life apply across the board. Remind people that God is the source of all good works. Don’t set out on a ministry journey and forget to take Christ along with you. For, “apart from me, you can do nothing.”