John 15:9-17

John 15:9-17
 
"Love is not a feeling. Love is a decision commitment." That one sentence in the book "The Secret of Staying in Love" by John Powell has stuck with me ever since reading it more than 40 years ago. That is the way Jesus loved when he was on earth. He committed. He acted. He voluntarily submitted to the Father's will that he lay down his life for the world God so loved. He trusted that the Father's love would not fail. Jesus commands us to love in the same way, enabled by abiding in the circle of God's poured out, self-giving, life-giving love. As a pastor I see that kind of love often--as when a mom, dad and husband of a young woman dying of ovarian cancer each take eight-hour shifts to keep 24/7 vigil with her in the hospital. Sometimes love is not pretty; but it is always beautiful.
 
God of love, without your love, I can't obey your command. May my broken and feeble will to love be cracked open and filled up with your perfect love. Amen.
 
 
John 15:9-17 (NRSV)
 
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
10 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.
11 I 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.
13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.
14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
15 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.
16 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.
17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

John 15:9-17

John 15:9-17
 
If you jump into a swimming pool you will get wet. It's not that if you jump in you will prove that you are worthy to get wet and therefore will be granted wetness. No, it's just the way it works. Jesus said if we keep his commandments--love God and love each other--we will find ourselves abiding in Christ--a place of abundant life and complete joy. That's just the way it works. It's hard to love as Jesus loved, though--to put yourself aside for the good of the other, especially to the point of sacrifice and suffering. But Jesus chose us for this and gave us the command so that we could love one another. We love--we abide; we abide--we love.
 
Lord, sometimes you talk in circles. It's a circle of love. Help us to color inside the lines of your love, which has no boundaries, so it shouldn't be too hard for us! Amen.
 
 
John 15:9-17 (NRSV)
 
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
10 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.
11 I 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.
13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.
14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
15 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.
16 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.
17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

1 John 5:1-6

1 John 5:1-6
 
"The Alamo," a 2004 film, was on TV. I cringed as the brave resisters holed up in the Alamo were brutally overcome by Santa Ana's troops, even as the Texans dished out all the brutality they could muster in their own defense. It seems the combination of human might, weapons and tactical superiority wins. But here in 1 John it says that the world is conquered by whatever is born of God, by our faith and by the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. I imagine people of faith resided on both sides of the Alamo battle. The film did show moving instances of love, faithfulness and compassion. It is gut-wrenching to face the violent ways we humans resolve disagreements. What good news it is that, even in the midst of bloody reality, God's love, born in us through faith in Christ, conquers all.
 
Holy and mighty God, forgive us for all the sinful ways we try to achieve our worldly victories. You have shown us the better way and given us access to the power of love. Help us to live in you and carry your love into our battles with the world. Amen.
 
 
1 John 5:1-6 (NRSV)
 
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,
4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.
5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Acts 10: 44-48

Acts 10: 44-48
 
Wow! What a sermon Peter preached! The Holy Spirit rode on the breath of his words and "fell" right down on those who heard--even Gentiles! The many film clips of the late Billy Graham preaching, shown after his death, revealed a similar phenomenon. Even though some take issue with Billy's so-called decision theology, the Holy Spirit inhabited the Word from his mouth and fell on thousands who exhibited the signs of changed hearts. God has a way of coloring outside the lines of our limited expectations. Oh, that we might come to see God's bigger picture and rejoice at the way God uses the words we speak to color the world with the hues of the Holy Spirit.
 
Holy God, let your Spirit fall upon those who hear your Word from my mouth. Amen.
 
 
Acts 10: 44-48 (NRSV)
 
44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.
45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles,
46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said,
47 "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"
48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

“This Little Light of Mine,”

"This Little Light of Mine," ELW 677
 
This little light of mine, I'm goin'-a let it shine;
this little light of mine, I'm goin'-a let it shine;
this little light of mine, I'm goin'-a let it shine,
let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
 
Ev'rywhere I go, I'm goin'-a let it shine;
ev'rywhere I go, I'm goin'-a let it shine;
ev'rywhere I go, I'm goin'-a let it shine,
let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
 
Jesus gave it to me, I'm goin'-a let it shine;
Jesus gave it to me, I'm goin'-a let it shine;
Jesus gave it to me, I'm goin'-a let it shine,
let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
 
I am grateful for the songs that get written on our hearts so early on. Some of them are timeless, taught just like grandma learned them in Sunday School. Others go rogue from one generation to the next, picking up alternative melodies, verses and goofy hand motions.
 
"This Little Light of Mine" has a reputation in both categories. My kids know verses about shining their light through the four seasons, around their neighborhood and out in the cold of night. They giggle after each suggestion to hide it under a bushel--"ARE YOU CRAZY?!"--and trying to blow each other's candles out has even turned rough and tumble.
 
But they can also stand quietly between wheelchairs in a memory care unit with the greatest generation, singing what dementia cannot erase. They can hold one finger in the air and follow the lead of those who sing quietly and somberly an ancient testimony. What a gift this song has been to so many!
 
God of light, dwell brightly among your people of every age, every time and every place. Write your words and songs on our hearts so that everywhere we go, we're going to let it shine. Amen.
 
Meta Herrick

“This is the Day,”

"This is the Day," TFF 262
 
This is the day, this is the day
that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made;
we will rejoice, we will rejoice
and be glad in it, and be glad in it.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day, this the day that the Lord has made.
 
Refrain:
This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
 
I have twin four-year-old daughters who run the show and sing at one volume: fortissimo. They are so in sync with each other that they can start singing without first agreeing on a song or verse. The girls have adapted many tunes to new versions so far removed from the original that I hardly recognize their choice.
 
They have not yet butchered one of my favorites: "This is the Day." I taught them the refrain, which they sing all the way through together. When I showed them how to sing it as an echo, they were less than impressed: "Mom, if you sing it that way, then there's not enough song for each person. It's over so fast. I want to sing all the words with all my voice."
 
And they do. They belt that refrain over and over again in fortissimo unison, just the way the psalmist would want it.
 
Creating God, thank you for this day and the call to rejoice. We are glad for all that you have made! Amen.
Meta Herrick
 

John 15:1-8

John 15:1-8
 
I used to serve a congregation that handed each new member a scrappy little ivy houseplant with the base of the pot simply wrapped in some tinfoil. Some longtime members reported that their plants were still alive several decades later, the ivy snaked around the molding in their living room. Others watched their plants shrivel up and die before they found a proper pot and window sill.
 
The green thumbs urged less experienced gardeners not to become discouraged or to read too much into the metaphor. The community would always be much heartier than any single aloe or philodendron! And they were right. That little parish has a way of folding people from the margins into the very center of life so that everyone is changed and the whole church body bears fruit. The branches grow strong because of their connection to the vine. They invite and welcome so well because they do so with the gratitude and joy that they feel about their own invitation and welcome in Christ.
 
God of life, we gather because you have extended an invitation to life abundant. Send us into the world inspired by your welcome so that all of our words and deeds bear good fruit that is rooted in Christ. Amen.
 
Meta Herrick
John 15:1-8 (NRSV)
 
1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.
2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.
4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

John 15:1-8

John 15:1-8
 
I serve a congregation with two campuses. Three years ago, these were two separate congregations with their own names, logos, councils, budgets and flare for getting things done. Each campus is shaped by its own unique history and personality, which has the potential sometimes to pull us in different directions or feel competitive.
 
But then we are given to remember that the source of life does not lie in the details of transactions. We cannot grow by focusing on what has been pruned away or what used to be comfortable. And so the Spirit keeps calling us more deeply into the work of being one church together, always rooted in the vine of Christ. Here we can be blessed by the new stories, experiences and dreams we share because we are bearing good fruit not as separate branches, but as members of God's vineyard.
 
God of relationship, we need to be reminded that we are wrapped up in your love and faithfulness, rooted in life through Jesus, bearing fruit for your sake. Help us build connections so that our faith and daily work are surprised by your mercy each day. Amen.
George
 
John 15:1-8 (NRSV)
 
1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.
2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.
4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Psalm 22:25-31

Psalm 22:25-31
 
This psalm reminds us that God's sense of community is comprehensive and generous--the great congregation, the poor, the seekers, the families, the nations, those who go down to the dust and those yet unborn.
 
My vision for the kingdom is chronically nearsighted, but this scene widens my view. These promises live beyond our individual parishes or this era of church. They cannot be contained by one political party or the other. For generations, passages like this one have been reminding us that the Spirit is hustling across time and space to love and save the whole creation.
 
Lord of Kairos, You gather what is ancient and new for praise and promises. Thank you for pulling us into relationship with all that you have made. Teach us to practice commitment to everything you love and redeem. Amen.
 
 
Psalm 22:25-31 (NRSV)
 
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Acts 8:26-40

Acts 8:26-40
 
The connection violated all kinds of normative boundaries and barriers--culture, class and sexuality to name a few. Yet, the connection was obviously Spirit-led. As Phillip approached, he heard the Ethiopian eunuch reading from Isaiah. The text spoke about innocence slaughtered, human injustice and the vulnerable silenced by empires. And now God had sent Phillip to love and listen to a person who had not only read about these things, but had endured them.
 
Perhaps God is inviting us, too, to sit alongside today's eunuchs with the same patient listening and gentle guidance as Phillip, trusting that the human experience of our neighbors and strangers are prophecy in the flesh. And when they wonder aloud what is preventing them from love and belonging, we are the ones there to answer:
 
Nothing prevents you from this new life. Nothing stands between you and
the God who died with your pain,
the God who fulfills heaven's justice,
the God who cannot be silenced by empires.
 
Sending God, you call us to get up and go. Send us beyond our expectations, always listening for your Word made flesh in the voices of our fellow human beings. Amen.
 
 
Acts 8:26-40 (NRSV)
 
26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a wilderness road.)
27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship
28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it."
30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?"
31 He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.
32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."
34 The eunuch asked Philip, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?"
35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?"
37
38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.