Life and Love in Community
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Heavenly Rest, Estill
May 10, 2015
I John 5:1-6
Love is not a game of solitaire. Rather, love is only known in relationship. It is lived out in community. While that may seem obvious, it is important to affirm, nevertheless. Indeed, the association of love and community is one of the important topics in our biblical readings today.
The theme begins with the collect, in fact. We prayed, “O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding” (BCP, p225). Such love actually originates with God, and love flows to and through us. This morning, we continued to pray, “Pour into our hearts such love towards you” (BCP, p225). The love that comes from God, then, is directed back to God and to God’s creation. It flows through us – all of us.
It is important to recognize that the object of this love from God is not “me” but “us.” Further, the actions that result from love – in response to God’s love – these actions are not “mine” but “ours.” Some of our prayers may be highly individual – for particular people (like our mothers) or for certain blessings, for instance. But this prayer – today’s collect – is collective and inclusive. We pray for God’s love, for all of us, and further, we pray that all of us may act in love toward God and God’s world.
The Acts of the Apostles is a New Testament book that recounts some happenings in the life of the early Church – that is, the Church just following the time of Jesus’ life on earth. This morning, we read, “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word” (10:44). Now, “all who heard the word” apparently represented a large group of folks. They were different from each other in many ways. For instance, some were “circumcised believers”, but others included “the Gentiles.” Those groups did did not usually associate with each other or, even, like one another.
Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit – that is, God’s love in action – “fell upon all” of them. In these early years, then, the Church began to understand and experience that previous categories of people no longer fit, following Jesus’ resurrection. The divisions that people had used to separate themselves from each other were not recognized by God. Perhaps those divisions actually did not matter so much. “The Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word” (10:44).
A similar theme appears in today’s Epistle reading. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (I Jn 5:1). The First Letter of John goes on to make the connection between love and God’s commandments. We read, “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments” (5:3).
It is important that this association of love with following God’s commandments is a community endeavor. Again, ours is not an individualistic faith. Rather, faith in action appears within the context of community. The Bible is filled with examples of the necessity of following God’s commandments, in love, and of the practical application of that action within the community of faith. Thus, again, love is not a game of solitaire.
Finally, we come to today’s Gospel reading. There it is that Jesus says that his disciples may understand the Father’s love for the Son as they perceive the Son’s love for themselves. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you” (Jn. 15:9).
Throughout this reading, the objects and examples of Jesus’ love are not singular but plural. Thus, the greatest example of love is “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13) – not “for a friend” but for “friends.” Further, Jesus cultivates a relationship of love – not as servants but, again, among friends. And, the choosing of relationship is accomplished by Jesus, made on behalf of many others. “You did not choose me but I chose you” (15:16). All of these objects and examples of Jesus’ love refer not to an individual but to a community. Faith in action, therefore, is a collective, communal matter. It involves us all.
Today’s Gospel reading immediately follows the one from last week. And I hope you remember that St. John wrote then of Jesus’ claim to be the vine, of which we are the branches. It is easy to see how that analogy fits today’s theme very well. That is, the vine and the branches form a relationship. Indeed, the branches depend on the vine for life itself. Further, in the relationship between Jesus and us – the relationship that means life to us – this relationship is characterized by love, and it depends on community. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are (not the branch but) the branches” (Jn 15:5). Love is not a game of solitaire.
I want to conclude these thoughts today with some observations and questions which seem very current in their application. I hope you will consider these matters today and in the future as well.
This congregation – made up of members from three churches – has responded to some of the biblical reality I have attempted to address today, simply by coming together. For instance, I have pointed out that love is known in community and across man-made boundaries. God chooses to pour out his gifts to all and to shower his love in unexpected places and to unusual groups of people. We are all branches on the same vine, which is Christ. Thus, the collection of congregations represented here today may be just the kind of setting that we have heard about this morning. What, then, may be other ways that we might celebrate our collective unity? How might the love of God in Christ be known through us all, together? Put another way, what might the Spirit of God be doing to nudge us toward a fuller witness to God’s love in the world today?
I, for one, look forward to more experiences like today and to exciting, new ways that we may know and share God’s love to a world in need. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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