240512 – We ‘n Jesus

Yr B ~ Easter 6 ~ John 15:9-17

Let’s begin today by exploring the most obviously religious symbol we have – the cross. Undoubtedly, the cross is the most identifiable symbol of Christianity, so it makes sense for us to think about what it might mean theologically. The base of the cross is rooted in the earth (grounded in reality),then it stands straight up and down and points itself toward ‘heaven’ (not that we think God lives up there on a cloud or anything, but because ‘up’ makes spiritual sense in that it’s higher, better, truer, More, than who and what we are). By itself the upright stands alone – kind of like the letter ‘I’. It’s the first part of love, love, love – to love God with all our being – heart, mind, soul, and strength.

The upright represents “Me ‘n Jesus”, but the upright cannot stand alone. It’ll teeter and fall without balance. Imagine you’re walking atop a wall and it’s windy – don’t your arms instinctively go out to balance you? Here we get the importance of the crossbeam. A faith that only has the upright component is incomplete. It’s too individualized. We need the crossbeam. But what does it represent?

That’s simple – two arms – two arms reaching out to others. That’s the “We ‘n Jesus” part. When a ‘me’ extends their arms whomever they connect with becomes a ‘we’ with them. For real balance I like to think of it as one arm reaching out to the wider community (the world) – our second love – to love others/neighbour – and the other arm reaching in to the community of faith (the church) – our third love – to love one another.

I think this was part of the brilliance of the early church – embracing the very instrument of Jesus’ death and redeeming it as a symbol of new life and purpose. Jesus’ core teaching of love, love, love can be seen in this cross symbol – reminding us that even in his cruel death Jesus was living out his message.

If you only want the ‘crossbeam’ aspects of reaching out to the world then you might be happier in a service club, or a charity group, or the like. There’s nothing wrong with that. They do wonderful work. And if you only want the ‘upright’ aspects of spiritual devotion then you might be happier in a convent. But if you want wholeness, if you want fullness, if you want completeness (as in the complete joy that Jesus spoke of) then you should try a life of faith – try a church.

As followers of the Way of Jesus we are shaped by the cross, formed by the cross, grounded in the cross, but there’s a critical characteristic to remember. This is so important for us. The cross is not a stationary object for us. When Jesus said to “take up your cross and follow” he didn’t mean to literally lug around some big burdensome thing that you’re shackled to – I think he meant to live according to this posture of upright balanced with crossbeam – loving God, and loving people, and loving one another.

The cross suggests a pattern for how to be a follower of Jesus’ Way. But the Way is in motion. That’s why it’s called a Way. And once the cross is freed from being stuck in the ground (while never stopping being rooted in God) it stops being an individualistic image as well because now all of we crosses (people reaching “up” and “in and out”) can join together and form communities (like this one!).

In John’s gospel, just prior to today’s reading, Jesus uses the image of a vine to describe the community of faith that his disciples comprised (the church). He spoke about the fundamental importance of staying connected to that vine for the purpose of growing, and producing fruit in your life.

Think about this. Why does a vine grow fruit? What purpose does the fruit serve? The vine doesn’t eat the fruit – the fruit is shared for others to enjoy, and to be nourished by. What happens to fruit that isn’t shared? It rots on the vine.

What were you created to be? Why are you connected to the vine? That might be a strange image for us. Let’s modernize it and switch metaphors. You’re now a light bulb. (Haven’t you always wanted to be a light bulb?!) What’s a light bulb’s purpose? To shine. How does the light bulb do that? It get’s plugged in to electricity. When we’re connected to the electricity, we can shine brightly. Shining is our fruit. Our purpose is to shine – to share light – to glow with the inner power that fuels us (that’s the ‘upright’ part) – and to help people to see – to help to light one another’s way (that’s the ‘crossbeam’ part).

John 15:9-11 – Jesus says “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.”

Jesus is essentially saying, “You can see because I’m shining. I’m shining because my whole being is plugged into God. And if you plug in to me and my Way, you’ll be plugging into God – and you’ll shine. I’m telling you this because being plugged in is so unbelievably awesome that it’ll literally light you up. (Remember, you’re a light bulb!) And when you’re lit up it makes me shine even more.”

What do you, a light bulb, get out of the plugging in? First, you get to feel within the incredible power and energy that can transform your reality. In scientific terms the energy creates heat in the bulb – heat – like John Wesley’s famous experience of when he first truly felt connected to the presence of the Holy Spirit and he explained it by saying “my heart was strangely warmed.” So the first gift is to feel the power – the warmth. And the second thing a light bulb gets out of this? You get to fulfill your purpose. You’re enabled to do what you were created to do. You get to shine.

Plug in (love God) and shine (love others, and love one another). That’s it. That’s faith. It’s that simple. Stay connected and bear fruit. Plug in and shine. No matter how hard a light bulb tries it simply cannot do what it was created to do until it’s connected to the power source – and once it is, it begins to shine.

Bear fruit – shine – love – sounds great, what’s it look like? Jesus says, John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Oh great! It’s a commandment now. [To a congregant] – “I command you to love him! I command you to love her!” – What does that mean? What would you do?

Love is a fabulous word – love, love, love – but as soon as we attach the word ‘love’ to all this we get all messed up because we keep confusing love with affection and romance. Don’t get caught in the language. It’s simple. What does “love one another” mean?It means to shine. You love one another when you glow with the inner power that fuels us and you share your light – when you help people to ‘see’ – when you help to light one another’s way.

Jesus is actually giving us a ridiculous commandment. [to choir] You’re a singer – I command you to make music. You’re a painter – I command you to be artistic. You’re an athlete – I command you to play sports. You’re a handyman – I command you to fix-up things. You’re a preacher – I command you to be brilliant!

You see, Jesus isn’t commanding anything hard here – he’s ‘commanding’ that we do the most natural thing in the world. When you’re connected to the true vine, you’re commanded to bear fruit. When you’re connected to the power of the source of all that is, you’re commanded to shine. That’s what we light bulbs do!

In other words, faith communities are defined by the interconnectedness formed through sharing a common font of spiritual power – being connected to the same vine – being plugged in to the same source – and then sharing the light that fills them – shining.

Interestingly, Jesus first gave the “love one another” commandment back in chapter 13 in the foot-washing scene – and here in chapter 15 he gives it again in verse 12 and then again in verse 17. Why twice so close together? What happened in between that it needed repeating? Well, what happened was Jesus reframed their relationship from master/slave or teacher/student to being friends – or even better, to being beloveds. By doing that he interconnects them and him in a powerful new way – as equals, as siblings, not just belonging but beloved. He includes them in his circle of care.

And then he explains that they’re supposed to go out and bear fruit. He’s sending them out into the world to love – to shine for the whole world. Why? Because Jesus modelled inclusivity and interconnectedness – and he’s expecting his disciples – that’s us – to do the same. Who is my neighbour? Who is in my circle of care? Everyone!

But think that through. The implications are staggering! By calling everyone (the whole world) beloved we eliminate the ‘other’. There are no ‘others’ only brothers – beloveds. It’s easy to feel disconnected from ‘others’, but it’s difficult to feel disconnected from a beloved friend. It’s easy to think that a person you don’t know, suffering in a country that you can’t spell, half way around the globe, has nothing to do with you – has no impact on you.But if we’re all fundamentally interconnected – if we’re all really friends – if we’re all really neighbours – if we’re all really beloved of one another – then when my beloved is impacted I’m impacted. So, Jesus repeats the “love one another” commandment because the scope of our love – our shining – has widened exponentially. It’s not just “love one another” here in the church, it’s also “love your neighbour,” and even “love your enemies,” because they too are beloved. Such teaching could truly transform the world – if enough of us take up our cross and follow his Way.

I believe God created us to thrive, not just survive. Same for our churches. And I believe that we thrive when we are thoroughly grounded in spirituality, and live with a full understanding of how profoundly interconnected every single person on the planet is one with another.

And if we actually did that – actually lived that out to the very best of our abilities – then we’d understand that the cross, and the light bulb, and the vine are all teaching us the same fundamental truth –that this rhythm and flow of ‘Me’ [upright] and ‘We’ [crossbeam] is the only way to transform ourselves and our world for the better. That’s job 1 – loving God, loving people, loving one another – staying connected and bearing fruit – and that’s the new Easter life we so profoundly desire. So, all you light bulbs – plug in and shine – and do it together as a transformational community called Faith – because that’s what “We ‘n Jesus” is all about. Amen.