Thursday, May 2, 2013

John 15:9 - 17 Abide in Love

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
       Two friends are walking home in the bright spring sunshine after Sunday worship. One says to the other, “I haven’t been myself lately. I’ve really been down in the dumps – little things can put me out of sorts, ready to lash out at the first person who comes my way. When the preacher read the passage from John about love, my conscience started spinning. I realized I haven’t been a loving person for the past few weeks. I wanted to go back and do it over. But that isn’t possible, is it?”
       “I feel that way now and again myself,” the second friend said. “It’s good to be aware of our failings. Jesus doesn’t ask us to do life over again. He invites us to take hold of his love for us.”
       “That’s exactly it,” the first friend says. “I’ve been worried about my work and my family and the future. Nothing seems to go right. I can’t imagine what God’s love is like.”
       “Jesus says that he loves his people just as his Heavenly Father loves him,” the second friend replies. “The Father sent him to bring salvation into the world. He taught, he preached, and he gave up his life. Not an easy assignment. Many people didn’t understand him. Then there was the loneliness and suffering of his last few days. The Heavenly Father supported him all the while, encouraged him, and assured him that his work would turn out well. He would receive a great reward. The Father showered his power and wisdom and strength on him as he went about his ministry, day after day. He never ignored Jesus or left him in the lurch. The Father rejoiced in his Son’s loyalty and the faith with which he carried out his assignment. Jesus loved his disciples in the same way. He taught them; he strengthened them; he was patient with their failings. He chastened them; he always forgave them. He rejoiced along with them when their work on his behalf went well. I don’t know if I’ve ever said this to you. I’ve known you a long time and there’s one thing I’m sure of. You want to bring something special to everyone you come to.  You want to lift them up and share your hope with them. You want to bring out their best and point them in the right direction. You want to be for others what Jesus has been for you. Not easy work and you’ve experienced what our Lord did – the selfishness of people you wanted to help, rejection, incomprehension. There are always folks who like to point out weaknesses in those who try to do good, and faults are never hard to find because nobody is perfect. You’re angry and burned out because people haven’t accepted you the way you’d like to be. You’ve felt unloved. Remember this: Jesus loves you. He rejoices that you use your talents for him. He supports you and encourages you. He always will. He’ll empower you to keep on even though people close to you may turn away – and even make fun of you behind your back. He wants you to keep on. He’ll strengthen you when the road is full of trouble. I have a feeling you’ve reached a turning point and are wondering which way to go. If you want to talk about it, I’ll be glad to listen.”
       “You’re right,” the first friend says. “I’ve been feeling discouraged, as if I’ve been beating my head against a wall. But there’s something else. A voice inside me tells me I’ve reached a point where I need to be concerned about money and comfort and having a good time. I’ve sacrificed enough and received no reward. The time has come to think about myself. I’m afraid that if I keep letting Jesus take hold of me, I won’t have anything else. I want a different kind of love from God’s love. To tell you the truth, I want a piece of the world, not Jesus. This may be the last Sunday I come to church with you.”
       “Oh, I hope not,” the second friend says. “The Lord doesn’t deprive us of comforts and friends. He blesses us with them, in fact, and wants us to thank him. He is persistent and steadfast. Even if you give up on him, Jesus won’t give up on you. I’ve been reading a poem called “The Hound of Heaven”. The narrator knows that Jesus is pursuing him and wants to claim him by his love, but he runs away to look for what he thinks will be a wonderful life right now. He ends up empty and unsatisfied, full of tears and anger. Life becomes hard for him, as I foresee it will be for you if you take a road that leads away from God. You need to know this, too. While the man in the poem ran away from Christ, the Savior kept on pursuing him.The Hound of Heaven, you see. The Lord said to him that he missed out on human love because we must deserve human love and he wasn’t worthy of it. Jesus asks him a question: “Who will you find to love your unworthy self except for me?” Jesus said that he took the good things of life away from him so that he could learn to look for them from God. He’d made a foolish mistake. Now he ought to come home to the Lord and receive life’s rich blessings from him. It was Jesus he’d been looking for all along. When he drove Christ away from him, he drove love away.”
       “Yes, I suppose I understand all that,” the first friend says. “It’s a big decision. You offered to help, so here’s something I want to get your opinion about. Jesus said that Christians should love one another. I accept that, but what are we supposed to think when we see things going on among Christians that don’t look like love at all. I heard about a big fight in a church nearby. Plus, there are some people in our own congregation I can’t get along with. They don’t like me, and if you want the truth, I don’t care much for them either.”
       The second friend takes a moment to think and then says, “Jesus brings all kinds of people together in his kingdom from different backgrounds and with different talents. Strains are inevitable. People misbehave sometimes, it’s true. We’re all weak flesh. We don’t understand each other nearly as well as God does. Repentance is often in order. Forgiveness is available and never slow in coming.
       “Then, too, don’t forget – the Lord heals wounded relationships. It usually takes time, but the savior can break down barriers, since the church is a place of love. If you’re experiencing problems, you can speak in love to the person who’s troubling you, and besides that, you’d do well to keep in mind that Jesus and his church love you no matter what. The One who called you into his kingdom won’t give up on you. God and his kingdom have had a lot of experience solving problems. He knows just what we need to bring us to righteousness and to get us ready for Jesus’ return. He solves our problems in his own way. He teaches us patience in the meantime and also forbearance.
       “Christians make a distinction among different kinds of love. There’s love that’s the same thing as liking – a sport, say, or a hobby or people we get along with. Then there’s brotherly love – the love among families and close friends and communities that are made up of people with similar backgrounds and interests. And there’s the kind of love that comes from physical attraction. Some languages have different words for these various kinds of love. In English, we use one word. And even the same word for Christian love, which has a different emphasis altogether. It’s a love of purpose and direction. Christian love doesn’t mean that we’re pals with everyone. It means we want for other people what God wants – their salvation. We want others to know the Lord and to live happily in his kingdom alongside us. That’s what the church wants for us, so I hope you’ll stick with Jesus and his people. The Lord invites you to take part in the joy of the church, which comes from love – Jesus love for us and our love for him and for one another.”
       The first friend, who is much younger than the other and grateful for guidance and friendship says: “I’m beginning to get the idea. If someone isn’t friendly to me or turns away from me because they don’t understand, Jesus wants me to forgive them and to go on loving them his way in spite of everything.”
       “That’s his command to us,” the second friend says.
       “I might as well tell you the first friend replies, “that there’s another thing. I’m uncomfortable with so many commands. Such a lot of do’s and don’ts. There’s a lot of freedom out in the big world. I’d really like to get hold of some of it – like most everyone else.”
       “I used to think that way too,” the older friend confides. “I’d go to church on Sunday because it was my duty. Then I understood one of the secrets of our relationship with Jesus. We weren’t servants or underlings, but folks he has chosen to be his sisters and brothers. When he asks us to love one another – and to love all our neighbors – and to live in love – by gentleness, kindness, self-control, and patience, he isn’t issuing an order but inviting us the way a friend or brother might. We respond with joy in our hearts. When he invites us to make requests in his name, he’s offering us the gift of prayer. We pray to him about difficult situations we get into and for people with whom it’s hard for us to get along. He has a way of lifting burdens and easing hearts. The point is to give him our attention; he’ll bring even the worst situation to a satisfactory conclusion. He’ll bring us countless joys along the way.”
       “Love and joy,” the first friend says. “I wish these things would come back for me.”
       “Along with faith, love and joy are God’s will for you,” the older friend replies. “These are at the center of our lives in Christ. Think of it! You don’t need to begin all over again. Take hold of Jesus now. Abide in him. Remain in him. He will make good of every pain and every difficult road we walk along. Receive his blessings of life and love; live and love in return.”
       We leave our two friends there. Usually it’s a combination of things that brings a person to church and keeps him or her there, but one conversation can have a lot of impact. The older believer took advantage of a chance to plant a seed and gave the younger, wavering Christian an example of love in action. We do that sort of thing ourselves – gossiping about the gospel.  “Let us love one another, for love comes from God,” John the Evangelist wrote. “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Conversation can be a fine example of Christian love. We thank the Lord that he uses our expressions of love to build up his kingdom. In his name we rejoice. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.

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