Message Delivered on May 10, 2015
John 15:9-17 “We Are Chosen”
The Scripture readings for today are reminders that our unity and relating to each other in love flow from God’s love and grace. John’s gospel was probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century and is very different in style from the three other gospels. The book of John has been identified with John, the son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved. His authorship has been questioned by many scholars, but Papias, one of the earliest Church fathers, claimed that John was an eye-witness. Papias’ testimony and authentication have lent support that John wanted to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus was in fact, the Messiah, the Son of God.
Chapter 15 is part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, unique to John’s gospel. It includes the teaching of the New Commandment of love and Jesus’ declaration of friendship with the faithful. Jesus says that as the Father has loved Him, so He loves the faithful and exhorts them to continue in the love, and to keep His commandments by abiding in love, just as Jesus in God’s love abides in God’s commands. The New Commandment is to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Jesus did not come to earth to abolish the Ten Commandments, but to encourage everyone to love God and each other. If this were to happen, people would be following the Ten Commandments by loving and respecting God (first four Commandments are to obey God) and by loving and respecting each other (last six Commandments). Jesus’ summary of the Ten Commandments was tao love each other by laying down our lives for each other, just as Jesus was willing to do for us. If we listen to Jesus and follow his words we are acting as friends in Jesus’ footsteps. No matter what we do to displease Jesus, we need to remember that Jesu loves us anyway. I liken it to the bad hair day. We look in the mirror and go “Ugh!” while Jesus looks at us and says, “Ah,” I love you just the way you are. Jesus chooses us to go out and bear fruit that will last: win souls for Jesus and share God’s love, understanding and grace with them.
Jesus had just used the metaphor of the vine and branches, that He is the vine and we are the branches. Jesus has chosen us just as he chose the original twelve to share in ministry. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (v.11).
The disciples knew that in grace Jesus came to them and offered unconditional love. I relate it to a mother’s love. All the wailing and whining of a child melt away as the child smiles at Mom and say, “You are the best mommy ever!” I have been told that labor pains disappear, are forgotten–until the next child is born.
One of the awesome signs of the risen, living Jesus is that he comes to us again and again, even if we do not want to be chose, even if we hide behind skirts of cowardice and say, “Who me? Why me? Pick on someone else.” Jesus pursues us relentlessly. We need to recall that even after dying on the cross, after saying, “It is finished,” Jesus cracked open the tomb door and sprang out of death’s grip that first Easter. (“Up From the Grave He Arose!”) He is alive, calling, gathering and sanctifying us as his disciples.
This passage tells us we are chosen for joy, chosen for love, chosen to be Jesus’ friends. Remember choosing up sides to play kickball or baseball? You would put your hands on the bat until the person holding the bat last was the one who got to make the first choice. It was great to be chosen to be on the team. It is an honor to be chosen and to feel joyful.
The earliest Christians were joyous people. They caught the infection of happiness from their Master; with his unsullied conscience, his uninterrupted communion with God, his perfect trust in God and his unselfish spending of himself for others. Christ offers to share his joy with anyone who will accept it from him. Barnabas (one of Paul’s travelling companions) said: “Christians are the children of joy.” Paul wrote to his congregation in Philippi: “I am glad and rejoice with all of you and in the same way you must also be glad and rejoice with me (Philippians 2:17b, 18).” Think of the song, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!”
We are chosen for joy and love, and are sent out into the world to love one another. It does not always look that way–not even from a mother’s perspective. Often we worry about our investments, the priorities we set, time we allot to people we are supposed to love and the way we use our resources for ourselves, rather than others. God has chosen us to live the kind of life that shows what is meant by loving other people. Jesus reminds us that he has the right to demand that of us–even to give our lives for each other. Jesus gave his life for his friends and asks that we do no less. We understand the theology but have trouble living it. It is like a parent who tells their child, “I love you when you are good,” and the child says, “Daddy, I love you all the time.” The child has the right idea of how God loves.
Jesus chooses to love all the time, that we too, be his friends and he promises, “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” (v.15). In days gone by a servant of God was to be one of God’s elite–but Jesus is offering far more than servanthood. He is offering friendship. We are ‘selected’ to be his friends. God is not a slave master who will burn us if we do not satisfy him. We do not need to work like crazy to please him so that he will treat us well. No, he comes to us as a loving friend whom we serve because it is a normal response to having loving friends. Aristotle said the marks of a true friend are: he guards you when you are off your guard and does not forsake you in trouble; he even lays down his life for your sake; he restrains you from doing wrong; he enjoins you to do right; he reveals to you the way to heaven. There is a kinship of spirit. There is a propensity to love rather than measure being loved.
In true friendship there is trust, a confidence that is whole-hearted. God is no longer to be feared. Jesus chose us to be his friends; chose us to love; chose us to share joy. On this Mother’s Day, it seems fitting to tell you that my Mom told me before she died that the greatest friend we have in life–after God, is our mother. When a Mom leaves to be with God, there is a hole in our heart that has to be filled with loving memories.
Sybil Dray was a loving wife and mom, and we will remember her every time we walk past the friendship garden in the church’s front yard. We were created by God–in love–and will be lovingly remembered by those whose lives we share. To God be the glory. We are thankful that we are chosen.