“Where there is Joy, there is Love”

John 15:9-17

10 May 2015

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

John 15:9-17

 

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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. 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.

 

Prayer.

 

Our Gospel for this morning is a continuation

Of last Sunday’s passage from John:

“I am the vine, you are the branches.”

(John 15:5)

Jesus is the vine.

You and I are the branches.

And our Heavenly Father is the Divine, vine-growing Gardner.

This is a pretty straight forward metaphor

With deep seeded implications.

 

When we make our soulful home in Jesus Christ,

- when we “abide” in Christ –

And since we keep His commandments,

To Love God and Love Neighbors,

Then we have joy,

- complete joy –

In our life.

Live in Christ.

Love God and Love Neighbors.

Be flooded with love and live in joy.

It’s that simple.

 

In my childhood

I attended vacation Bible school every summer.

Held at the Camp Street United Methodist Church in Jamestown, NY,

I can recall a hot, packed sanctuary

Filled with sweaty kids singing with gusto:

 

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy,

down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart to stay.

 

I’ve got the peace that passes understanding,

down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.

I’ve got the peace that passes understanding, down in my heart to stay.

 

I’ve got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus,  

down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.

I’ve got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus, down in my heart to stay.

 

If the essence of John 15, “I am the vine, you are the branches,”

Can be summed up in this simple children’s song,

Then, certainly, we should understand

The concept of Christ’s love and joy today.

Or, do we?

 

Many people are searching for love and joy these days,

Both inside and outside the Church.

 

Over the years,

I’ve taken notice of three different groups of people.

These different groups are not all inclusive of everyone in society.

I’ve just taking a keen interest in these three:

1) those who search for love and joy without a foundation of faith,

2) those searching with a life of casual or waning faith, and

3) those searching for love and joy with abiding faith.

 

One.

Sadly, there are some people raised with no exposure to a life of faith, or

Worse, yet, a negative exposure to faith.

When I used to conduct psychiatric assessments

for Clifton Springs Hospital,

I grew convinced that this is what made people crazy:

1.    Bad genes,

2.    Abuse or violence in the house,

3.    Substance abuse,

4.    A traumatic exposure to religion,

Or, some combination of these four events.

 

People without a foundation of faith

Or who have been driven away from faith

Never learn of the generous and benevolent

Covenants God has made with us.

They have never heard of the balance of law and grace.

They have never experienced

The promise and hope of redemption and salvation.

They have never felt the love of Christ and His Church.

 

Where then do people turn who’ve never learned the Biblical story,

Or who’ve had the Biblical story warped and misrepresented?

Sadly, many turn to self-reliance, to self-gratification, to self-promotion.

When the self isn’t strong, it breaks.

When the self doesn’t get it’s own way, it angers

When the self has no answers, it despairs.

When the self runs out of everything else, the self

Ceases to be.

Fatalism has no joy, no hope, no promise.

Fatalism may be sufficient for some,

But it is does not sustain me.

 

Love may be found with people without faith.

But it is transient and mortal.

It is elusive and fleeting.

Love that never becomes larger

than something shared between one or two

Can hardly be expected to become the source of joy that many seek.

 

Two.

If you are a child of American culture in the past 55 years,

Then you, as have I,

Have been exposed to a tragic deflation of Christianity.

I recall my father serving local churches in the 1960s and 70s,

Coming out of his office in despair,

Complaining about how difficult it was trying to

Motivate a congregation full of less-than-willing, apathetic volunteers.

 

Casual Christians are those, I’ve noticed,

Who seek

The benefits of the love and joy of Christ

But on a part time basis,

According to their terms,

Not according to God’s terms.

“Church is okay, so long as it doesn’t interfere with my life.”

 

The stories of faith may have been taught as a child or youth

But faith development was abruptly stunted buy

A bad preacher,

A church fight,

Or a divided family.

The attitude of “Oh well, not much I can do about it”

Grows and proliferates like a thistle in a lawn

And has led to declining worship attendance.

I’ve even noticed a

Dwindling numbers of Christmas and Easter Christians.  

Nothing closes churches as fast as apathy;

The attitude

Of “I don’t care,”

Or the believe that there is something more important than

A relationship with Jesus Christ and His Body.

 

Please do not give me excuses or justification.

I’ve heard them all, anyway.

None of us answer to clergy.

Each of us answers to God.

 

Both churches I serve,

Zion and East Rochester;

We may feel that we’re stronger than this,

That we can continue to go on

Without any attention to slowly declining worship attendance

Or shrinking membership.

Yet, as I scan the landscape of Christianity and culture

In Upstate New York right now,

You know as well as I

The land is filled with closed churches.

“For Sale” signs hang in front of abandoned houses of worship.

They stand as a testament

To a life of faith built on terms

Other than God’s terms.

 

I do not mean to frighten or judge anyone.

I do mean to shed light on riding this old horse into the ground.

The goal isn’t about keeping churches open and clergy employed.

The goal should be

About living in the love of Christ

And experiencing His joy.

 

Three.

I’ve noticed there are a group of people

Happier than mothers on Mother’s Day;

People who don’t have to search for the love and joy of Christ,

Because they are already abiding in it.

 

Some in this group are rich with money, others not so much.

Some are youth, some middle aged, others are elders.

Some are new Christians, others have been walking this journey all their life.

Some speak Spanish, some speak English, others speak something I’ll never understand.

They are easy to pick out in a crowd.

They are the ones loving God

And loving their neighbors.

Indeed, they are known as Christians

Simply by their love.

 

Those who love God

Make praise and thanksgiving of God their highest priority.

Period.

Nothing is more important in this earthly life.

Praising and glorifying God is done in worship,

What we’re doing right now,

With the Word of God lifted up with one hand

And our Prayers and Sacraments with God lifted up with the other.

 

I give thanks for my mother on this Mother’s Day,

- not my father, mind you –

But my mother,

Who with the love of that’s only possible from deep inside of a mother’s heart

Looked me in the eye

And told me how important it is that I get to church on Sunday.

Not some Sundays.

Every Sunday.

She knows the value of praising God.

And she wants those values passed on to me.

My mother knows John 15 inside and out.

And she know that a life lived in the love of Christ

Is one that is filled with the joy of our Heavenly Father.

 

Loving God only brings a smile to half your face.

Loving God on Sunday

Means serving God the other 6 days of the week.

We serve God by loving His people.

It’s as simple as that.

How do you spot people in a crowd

Who are living John 15:

“I am the Vine and you are the Branches”?

These are the people

Who please God all 7 days of the week;

Returning praise and thanks with love on Sunday

And who reach out with discipleship and love

Every other day of the week.

 

Love God.

Love neighbor.

People that abide in love

Stick out in today’s world like a sore thumb.

Let us be those people.

Let us be people who love

And who are known by our love.

When we abide in God’s love

Our joy will be complete.

Amen.