Sixth Sunday of Easter — Preaching Notes

May 21, 2017 (Year A) | Becoming One with Each Other
by Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser

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This week, you will again deliver your sermon from a seated position at a dining table. Remember that preaching from this position changes the dynamic between you and the congregation. Try to be a little less formal, a little more intimate and personal, as you speak with your congregation.

As we enter our second week in our series, “Becoming,” this week and next week we continue listening in on Jesus’ final conversation with his disciples on the night before his death. Imagine that we are sitting with Jesus and his disciples around a table. Jesus has already tried to show what God’s love is like to his disciples. They have shared a meal. He has washed their feet. He has told them he will not be with them for very much longer.

Last week, we talked about how, just as Jesus reached out to embrace his disciples, Jesus reaches out to embrace us. He invites us into unity with the Triune God. He draws us into the body of Christ. It is his work, not ours, that makes us one with him.

Now he tells his disciples, and he tells us, that even though he is going away, he is not leaving us alone. The Father is sending an advocate, the very Spirit of God, to be with us forever. In addition, Jesus is leaving us something to follow besides him. He is leaving a new commandment. We are to love one another. We are to love one another as he has loved us. If his disciples obey his commandment to love one another, Jesus says, even after he has left the world, and the world can no longer see him, his disciples will still be able to see him. He says that when we have the commandments and keep them, we will be loved by his Father and he will love us and reveal himself to us.

Abba is not "Daddy"
The name “Father” for God was not unique to Jesus in first-century Judaism. Nor did Jesus characterize God the Father as “Daddy,” as you may find asserted (with no warrant, linguistic or historical) in some Christian literature. Such a title never appears in the New Testament or anywhere in early Christian literature. “Abba” in Hebrew and Aramaic is regularly and properly translated “Pater” in Greek and Latin, and it carried the same connotation that includes both intimacy within the family and some formal distance and respect for the nature of the leadership and authority the father was expected to exercise within and on behalf of the family.

So Jesus is very clear here in his instruction. He tells us exactly what to do. He tells us to love one another as he has loved, and he promises that the Spirit of the Triune God will continue to be present as we live into his command to love one another the way that he loved not just his disciples, but all God’s people.

We are to love one another the way that Jesus loved his disciples.

How did Jesus love his disciples? He loved them by giving, not by taking. He asked not that they serve him, but that serve one another. He taught them how to love with his words. And he taught them how to love by his actions.

  • He showed how to love by the way he lived.
  • He showed how to love by the way he acted in the world and by the things that he did.
  • He showed how to love by continually looking for ways to give himself to everyone else in the world.
  • He showed how to love by giving of his very life for others.

And I’m not just talking about giving his life away on the cross. The cross was only the final act. Long before the cross, in all that he said and did, Jesus gave himself in love to almost everyone he met.

Jesus loved all kinds of people. He loved the poor, the oppressed, the outcasts, the sick and diseased, the mentally ill, the deformed, the blind, the lame, the deaf, and the dumb. He loved women and children. He loved those inside his faith community and those from outside it. He loved people from cultural and ethnic groups other than his own.

Jesus gave himself in love to others by teaching them, healing them, and just plain old hanging around with them. Jesus didn’t surround himself with the successful people of his generation. He didn’t hang out with the glamorous, beautiful, powerful, and wealthy folks. He didn’t choose friends and associates for what he could gain for himself out of those relationships.

Jesus chose to spend his time with the rejects of his generation. That’s who Jesus went around with. Because Jesus wasn’t into relationships for personal gain. He wasn’t looking for fame or worldly power or popularity. He was not looking to get something out of his relationship with someone else.

He was looking to give himself to anybody and everybody who needed someone to love them and do for them.

Now, of course, you and I are not Jesus. Most of us are not able to give ourselves to the people of this world in the same way that Jesus gave himself. But we can try. We can practice. And the more we practice, the more we learn to love by concentrating on giving rather than getting, the more at peace we are with ourselves.

The good news is, when we are trying to learn to love one another the way that Jesus loved his disciples, we are not alone in this work. God helps us. The Father has sent an Advocate, the Spirit, to us to strengthen and lift up our hearts.

The Spirit of God precedes us in our work of loving. The Spirit is already at work in the world. God’s Spirit is all around us: in nature, in the sun that warms the earth every single morning—winter, spring, summer, and fall. God’s Spirit is here, in all the multiple and various forms of life that surround us, whether we live in a tropical place or the Arctic, the jungle or the desert, the mountains or the plains.

On Giving
by Taylor Burton-Edwards
What Jesus Gave His Disciples: John 17:6-8. Jesus has given his disciples two things: knowledge of the name of God as Father, and the words the Father gave him. 

Giving the Name: “Knowledge of the name” is more than knowing a title and using it to address another. It is about knowing the character of the person, and ultimately the person herself or himself, and learning to relate to that person in keeping with the name. So in giving his disciples the name of God as his Father, Jesus was at the same time teaching them to relate to God as their Father as their primary connection to God. [continue reading]

No matter where we are on this beautiful earth, some form of life, some evidence of God’s creation, some testimony to God’s steadfast love for this world, is with us. And the testimony of all forms of life is that we must give ourselves away for the good of the next generation. Each life form must give sacrificially in order for the next generation to continue to thrive.

I have a confession to make. I used to be a hardcore Judge Judy fan. I remember a particular Judge Judy episode in which there was a man who had somehow gotten into a car chase with his son. The incident ended with the son wrecking the car he was driving. I think the father was suing the son for the damage to the car. Well, Judge Judy was absolutely incensed with the father. She told him that even the simplest, most unthinking life forms on the planet instinctively knew it was important to protect their young and not put them in danger. Lions protected their young, she said. Deer protected their young. Birds protected their young. Her point was that no matter what, this man should have known, instinctively, that to put his son in danger by chasing him down the street in a car stood in sharp contrast to the normal behavior of most of God’s creatures. It simply was not right for a father to go after his own son in this way, no matter what the son had done.

We human beings may be very smart creatures in the animal world, but we have a tendency to lose focus. Our self-centeredness gets the best of us. It is our particular sin to bear. It overpowers our will to do what is right. It tempts us to prioritize ourselves—what I can get, what I can achieve, what I can be, how much money I can make for myself and for my family—and takes our focus away from loving others.

Praise God that Christ does not abandon us to our own fallen natures. Praise God for sending the Spirit to help us. God’s Spirit is here, all around us and in us, reminding us and nudging us to love others as Jesus loved his disciples. All we have to do is follow in the way of Jesus. All we have to do is read the stories of how he loved. God has already given us the very best example on earth of how we are meant to love one another. We learn to love the right way by getting to know Jesus.

As we talked about last week, our first step in getting to know Jesus is to say yes to his embrace. When he reaches out to us, we have to say yes to his invitation into unity with him. But there is more to knowing Jesus than just saying yes. While it is important to say yes and to turn and take a first step toward having a personal relationship with him, the fact is, saying yes to being embraced into unity with Jesus is only the first step into the relationship.

To really know Jesus requires many steps and a much greater commitment. We get to know Jesus by making our relationship with him a priority. We get to know him by devoting our time daily to studying his life and ways. We get to know him by reading and rereading the Bible. We get to know him by partaking of the bread of life and the blood of the new covenant. We get to know him by comparing our own experiences of Jesus with the experiences that other followers of Jesus have had. We get to know him by doing on-the-job training: through worship and through mission and and through practicing over and over the art of loving others the way that Jesus loved.

It isn’t an easy thing. It takes time and effort, trial and error. It takes trying to intentionally love others over the course of our entire lives to learn to love God’s world as Jesus loved it. So the sooner we get started learning God’s way of loving, as taught by Jesus, the better off we are.

The reason we are better off is because there is both an immediate and long-term benefit to learning to love as Jesus loved. The immediate benefit is the peace that following Jesus brings to our lives. This is what Jesus was talking about when he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give it as the world gives.”

The world does not teach us to give away our love. The world teaches us to seek to be loved. It tells us that getting love, being admired and adored by the world, is the thing that will bring us the most satisfaction in life. It tells us that the only way to happiness is to get as much as we can for ourselves and our families. It tells us to forget about everyone else’s needs. It tells us to think first about what is in it for me, and what can I get for myself out of my relationships with others.

But when we get off that worldly track and start down the path of trying to give as much as we can to other people, almost immediately we start feeling at peace with the world and at peace with ourselves. We all know this is true. We’ve all had experiences of how much more satisfying, how much better, it is to give than to receive. And we know that it brings us peace.

But there is a long-term benefit too. Jesus says, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

Once we start trying to keep Jesus’ commandment to love others as he loved—when we seek through accountable discipleship to engage daily in acts of devotion, and try to offer compassion to others, and engage in acts of justice on behalf of those without voice—it is transformational. Christ is revealed to us in new ways. Our spirits find a kind of peace we have not known before. We come to know, deep down in our hearts, that we are not only one with Christ, but increasingly one with our brothers and sisters.

We have talked about becoming one with Christ. We have talked about becoming one with each other. Next week, as we finish our journey through the Great Fifty Days of Easter, we will talk about becoming one in ministry, so that on the day of Pentecost we may celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to allow the transforming love of Christ to flow through us into all the world.

On Giving

by Taylor Burton-Edwards

What Jesus Gave His Disciples: John 17:6-8. Jesus has given his disciples two things: knowledge of the name of God as Father, and the words the Father gave him.

Giving the Name: “Knowledge of the name” is more than knowing a title and using it to address another. It is about knowing the character of the person, and ultimately the person herself or himself, and learning to relate to that person in keeping with the name. So in giving his disciples the name of God as his Father, Jesus was at the same time teaching them to relate to God as their Father as their primary connection to God.

This is part of what Jesus means in John 14:8-10 in response to Phillip’s demand, “Show us the Father.” Jesus says “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (v. 10). One of the most important ways Jesus gives us the name of the Father is by giving us himself. Holy Communion is one of the primary means by which Jesus continues to be shown and communicated and given to us, collectively, as the gathered community of his disciples. So participating in worship and having people who are able to lead us in Holy Communion are essential ministries that also help make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry. Indeed, Holy Communion is a primary means by which we express and embody the reality of being one in ministry.

Giving the Words:  Jesus gives us the name, and so the relationship with God the Father. He also gives us “the words you gave to me” (v. 8). What in English we often call “The Ten Commandments” in Hebrew is “The Ten Words.” “Words” in this context means instruction, both direction and guidance in how to live as “children of the Heavenly Father” (see UMH 141) and his own disciples in the world. Through his words, his instruction, Jesus formed his disciples to be in the world what the Father had sent Jesus to be, and to do what the Father had sent Jesus to do: to give others God’s name (bring them into relationship with God the Father) and to instruct them in the way of Jesus as Jesus had instructed them.

Being One in Ministry: Now, in verse 11, Jesus makes his first request of the Father for the sake of his disciples: “Protect them in your name that I have given you, so they may be one as we are one.”

In giving his disciples a relationship with the Father, and in giving them the instruction for living and working in the world as his disciples, Jesus gave his disciples (and through them still gives us) a grounding for their common life and common ministry  within the life of the Trinity, and most specifically within the relationship of the Father and the Son, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

This is a big claim! Our oneness in ministry-- being sent by Jesus as the Father sent him-- is grounded not in our own giftedness or our own capability to “get along with others,” but rather in the relationships and life of the Trinity. We have responsibility not to get in the way of the process of being one in ministry with each other locally and worldwide, and indeed responsibility as well to facilitate the mutual respect and love needed across age, expertise, and cultural difference. But at ground, the power for our unity in ministry is in the Trinity, not in ourselves.  

Categories: Year A, Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 21, 2017