By Matt Marino
(Pulling grapes off of the bunch and eating them) Boy are these good. Large. Sweet. Juicy…
Today’s passage is a continuation of last week’s gospel passage. We are at Jesus’ going away party, AKA the last supper. The Passover meal is finished and Jesus picks up a bunch of grapes like this for dessert and said, (eat a grape) “The trunk of the grape vine, the grey gnarled part, that’s me. The leafy branches, that’s you. The vineyard tender who chose to plant you and prunes you to make your life more fruitful, that’s my Father. In the same way fruit comes if the branches just stay on the trunk, we have fruitful lives if we stay connected to Jesus… and the point of having a grape vine is to have fruit. (hold up bunch)
Today’s reading is working out the implications of the vine/branch image from last week. Here was Jesus’ point: Our job is to stay connected to Jesus-“to abide.” If we just stay connected, if we just abide, we produce beautiful, tasty fruit… like this. (eat a grape) Let’s look at this week’s text. You will see what I mean…
v. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. (eat a grape)
v. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, (eat a grape) just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (eat a grape)
3x Jesus tells us to do what?…. What does he tell us to do?…. What is our job?
Kids, I am going to give away a parenting secret: Repetition is how mom and dad drive home a point with the hammer of annoyance. Jesus is doing that here: “This is really important… abide in God’s love. I really want you to remember to… abide in God’s love.” I need you not to forget to… abide in God’s love.
Abiding is what I you and I bring to the table. All the hard stuff of salvation: the cross, drop kicking a stone, terrifying a Roman guard unit, ascending into heaven — the heavy lifting was all done by Jesus. Our role is to abide in His love. (eat a grape)
Then Jesus tells us in V.11 “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
When we abide, we have joy. Joy is the great side benefit of being in Christ. Joy is certainly not our motive, but being connected to Jesus, makes us a conduit of God’s love. And having God’s love flow through us produces joy.
Pushing on, Jesus wanders into some familiar territory — He repeats the commandment that he gave us two chapters earlier that same evening: 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus gave only one commandment: “Y’all love each other.”
It’s trendy today to say things like, “I like Jesus, he’s nice, not like that mean Old Testament God, or like those grumpy other Christians at the church down the road.” We seem to have this mental image of Jesus as a pale lamb-carrying guy from Sunday school pictures. But Jesus is just the opposite. He ups the moral ante on his followers over the OT law all over the place:
— “You have heard it said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ I say if you are angry you have murdered.
— You have heard it said, ‘do not commit adultery.’ I say that if you lust you are guilty of adultery.”
Jesus was not a bar lowerer. People forget that Jesus raised the bar on moral expectation at every turn. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ was not that he gave us a free pass to be jerks. Grace is not permission to behave badly. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ is that he went to the cross, came back from the dead, ascended to the right hand of the father, and sent the Holy Spirit to abide within us to give us the power to be transformed as we… Here is that word again: to ABIDE in his love. (eat a grape)
Now Jesus goes on to tell us what love does. Love isn’t mushy feelings. Love is a verb. An action. Love does stuff! What does love do?
1st. V. 13 Love Gives (No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.)
2nd. V. 14 Love Obeys (You are my friends if you do what I command you.) Jesus spells love: OBEY. Kids: You want your parents to know that you love them: Do what they ask. It tells them that you are open-hearted toward them. Love obeys. But how do we know what to obey? Jesus tells us: “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) So obey what scripture says. Psalm 119 tells us that, “God’s word is a lamp unto our feet.” Now it does not say, “Thy word is Google Maps to your feet.” The Bible does not give foolproof “directions from here.” A lamp only shows the next couple of steps. So the rest of the journey remains a mystery, but we have the lamp of God’s word that show us how to obey Jesus in the next couple of steps.
3rd. V. 15 Love makes friends (I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing;
4th. V. 15 Love reveals the Father. (but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.) Do you love someone? Share the love of the Father with them!
Moving to verse 16, Jesus goes back to the vine-and-branches imagery, “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.
Here is comforting news: Our relationship with God does not depend on you and me. Our salvation was the Father’s idea, purchased at Christ’s expense, and dependent on the Spirit’s sanctifying presence in our lives. And God chose you and me “to bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
Fruit is interesting (hold grape). I have noticed two things about fruit: First, plants only bear fruit after their own kind. I had an apple tree. Strangely enough, it only produced apples. I had orange trees. They only produced oranges. I had a grape vine. It only produced grapes. They make what they are! Second, fruit bearing is natural. I have never seen one of my trees out in the yard trying like mad to squeeze out an orange. Fruit bearing is not like having a baby!
Trees naturally produce… but only when the pretty branches are connected to the trunk. Only when they abide.
Jesus wraps us up with (17) I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Again, when Jesus said, “Love one another” he meant: Love Does Stuff! It:
— gives sacrificially
— obeys Jesus’ Word
— makes friends
— reveals the Father
Now it is also trendy to say that what people believe is not important “as long as people are loving.” What we mean is “as long as they are nice.” But love does not just do stuff, Love believes stuff as well. Our underlying beliefs result in actions. And actions become habits. Habits shape our character, and our character becomes our destiny.
A really nice kid I knew a decade ago, Elton Simpson, got messed up with a group of militants… he believed what they taught, and living out of that belief, he and a friend took guns to Garland, Texas to commit an act of terror. Elton was a kid I used to high-five after basketball games. He came to our youth group. Elton slipped through the cracks of the Christians on his campus. Elton is forever etched in my mind as a graphic illustration that every kid counts… that every Christian needs to disciple (or mentor) a young person… that youth ministry doesn’t stop when kids graduate from high school.
I am not saying Elton becoming a terrorist was my fault. But I am saying that Elton got through the net of God’s love and was captivated instead by an ideology of anger. The fruit of abiding in God’s love by giving, obeying, befriending, and revealing the Father, didn’t get to Elton.
Beloved, abide in God. Demonstrate your abiding by loving. Love by giving. Love by obeying. Love by making new friends. Love by revealing the father. Love does stuff! Love believes stuff. And it looks and tastes great. (Eat another grape)
If you are here today and you have not yet been connected to Christ, you do not yet have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, I encourage you: see one of us. Come see us about starting a relationship with Christ.
If you are here and you have begun a relationship with Christ, my encouragement is to abide in God and bear the fruit of abiding (Hold a grape).
— You will bring glory to God.
— You will have great joy.
— You will know you have been chosen of God.
… And who knows but that you might even be the difference between life and death for someone else.
(Eat one more)
The Rev. Matt Marino is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Augustine, Florida.