Abiding Love

None can stop the Spirit – “Abide in me as I abide in you” 

  • Acts 8:26-40  Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
    1 John 4:7-21  “Beloved….love is from God”
    John 15:1-8  “Abide in me as I abide in you”

Jesus’ Resurrection and Easter(tide)

Chriust is Risen!

In Dostoevsky’s classic novel Crime and Punishment, the main character Roskolnikov is living an intense spiritual struggle. In the recent Intiman theater version of Crime and Punishment, Roskolnikov hears a haunting question over and over again, “Do you believe in the resurrection?”

Roskolnikov’s struggle and this resurrection question are one’s we face today in one way or another. Do we believe in the resurrection? How does our struggle for belief become living with the risen Christ?

Our scriptures this Sunday reveal the true ground of our resurrection question and struggle to be in Jesus who abides in God. But we begin first with a story from the early church to reveal who abides in Jesus who abides in God. The story comes from the book of the Acts of the Apostles.

Acts 8:26-40 – Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

In those years after God raised Jesus from the dead, in the early Christian movement, such struggles and haunting questions were real: Who believes – that is lives – the resurrection? Often these were struggles about who was pure enough to be included and who was impure and outside.

In the tumult of the times we have a fascinating story of an Ethiopian Eunuch who worshipped God and searched the scriptures. What an unlikely hearer of God’s Word – a stranger from another land and a sexual minority and official in the Queen’s court — a definite outsider.

This Ethiopian Eunuch who had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was now heading home sitting in his chariot reading the prophet Isaiah.

The apostle Philip passed by and the Spirit prompted Philip to “Go over to this chariot and join it” (v. 29).

To get a sense for how we might hear the Spirit’s prompting to Philip, imagine yourself a few years ago seeing Condoleezza Rice or Donald Rumsfeld riding along in an armored personnel carrier reading Isaiah. You see them at a distance and you hear the Spirit tell you to go over and join Condi or Don in the military vehicle. Would you listen to the Spirit? In such a situation would we hear the haunting question: “Do you truly believe
in the resurrection? Do you believe that God welcomes everyone to this resurrection life with Christ?”

Returning to Gaza 2000 years ago, Philip hears the Eunuch reading Isaiah and has the presence of mind and goodness of heart to ask, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Eunuch replies, “How can I, unless someone guides me” (v. 30-31). So Philip opens God’s Word to the Eunuch.

As they travel they see some water and the earnest Ethiopian Eunuch asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”  

The obvious answer is, “Everything! You can’t be baptized. You’re a stranger and a Eunuch.”
The Ethiopian Eunuch is a double outcast, twice rejected by those in control of
religious sentiment….his sexuality has excluded him and his distance from the
holy city makes for a difficult pilgrimage (Robert Wall, Acts, IDB, Vol. X, p. 145).

But is that the answer Philip gives? No! They stop and there in the water Philip baptizes the Eunuch into the death and resurrection of Christ. Then Philip goes on to proclaim the good news all across the region.

Anyone who seeks God and is committed to living with the risen Christ may be baptized. Baptism is the ritual act of dying and rising with Christ to live the resurrection life.  

We witnessed that act of resurrection with Evan and Dylan and Brian who were baptized in Lake Washington on Easter morning! We join the Ethiopian Eunuch and all the community of the risen Christ in that act.

John 15: 1-8 – The Vinegrower, the vine, and the branches

The gospel heard today from Jesus’ great teaching in John 15, takes us back with Jesus before his crucifixion and resurrection. Here we are given an image, a metaphor for who we are in Christ.

Last Sunday that image for Jesus was as the Good Shepherd. Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a primary metaphor for us in the Gospels. It is the primary metaphor for our children in the Atrium. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. But no one image captures the fullness of who Jesus is and what that means for us. So Jesus gives us another beautiful image in this Gospel. What is that image?

In this great teaching Jesus tells us: “I am the true vine; God is the vinegrower.” These vineyard images were not new to Jesus’ hearers. These vine and vineyard images were familiar “in Hebrew scripture and in Israel’s memory. Beginning in Genesis 9:20 with Noah, the ‘first one to plant a vineyard,’ the image of vines and vineyards is used over two hundred times in the Bible. For nomadic people, a vineyard is a natural symbol of settling down, calling a place home….It is not surprising that many of the biblical writers found this image a useful one in speaking of God’s promise to Israel, as well as Israel’s failure to live according to the covenant” (Wes Howard-Brook, Becoming Children of God, 330).

It brings to mind the prophetic words of “Everyone beneath their vine and fig tree shall live at peace and unafraid” ( )…..or “For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit…O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing. Do not be afraid…(Zech 8:12-13).

Eugene Peterson translates this gospel this way: “Live in me. Make your home in me as I do in you.” Then we will know and be love. 

The vine is a source of life when there is a vinegrower to care for and prune it. In a nutshell this vinegrower, vine and branches image comes down to one central word: love. The vinegrower cares for the vine and branches so that they bear the fruit of love.

1 John 4: 7-21 – Love is from God…God is love

With that in heart and mind we turn to the first letter of John which is all about love. We hear the word “love” a lot in John’s writings. Love is the heart and soul, the life and breath of what it means to abide in Jesus who abides in God. To walk in the resurrection – that is to truly answer the haunting question: Do you believe in the resurrection? – and be a follower of Jesus is to be love. Love is the measure of believing of faithfulness.

One of the great preachers and peacemakers of our time, has been the late William Sloan Coffin, a former chaplain at Yale and then senior pastor at the Riverside Church on the upper west side of New York City. He became a leader in the Nuclear Freeze when I
was working on nuclear disarmament with the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Office in the early 1980s. William Sloan Coffin once said that “The students at Yale thought cogito, ergo sum was what it was all about and Yale was encouraging them to think that way, whereas, I feel deeply its amor, ergo sum.”

What does cogito, ergo sum mean? I think, therefore I am.
What does amor, ergo sum mean? I love, therefore I am or I am loved, therefore I am.

Next Saturday and Sunday Tony Brown and Steve Ratzlaff will be with us for a special peace weekend. Tony is still a member here at SMC although he has been teaching at Hesston College in Kansas for the past decade. Steve was the pastor here through the 1980s into the early 90s. Tony will be singing songs for peace and sharing with us about his Peace it Together Foundation traveling around the world singing for peace. Steve will share from his new book 7 Steps to End War and Save the Planet. Steve will be proclaiming God’s Word from John’s Gospel and First Epistle building on these scriptures heard today in his sermon on “Love in Action.”

In this Easter season we proclaim again that God is Love and that God’s active eternal unconditional love calls us to be God’s love in action.

John 15:1-8 – With God and our Mothers in our hearts and minds

This is Mother’s Day. In recognition of mystery and magnitude of God’s love, we acknowledge that no single image of God, particularly God as male encompasses all that we strive to know in God. [Hillary Watson’s poem, “God is Not”] Also in honor of our mothers, what better way is there to recognize God’s love than to also acknowledge our mother’s love? Listen to this “dynamic translation” of this beautiful portion of John’s gospel (Jeffrey K. London, http://www.lectionary.org/Sermons/London/John/John_15.18_CutQuick.htm).

1) Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and God is like a mother who lovingly and carefully tends the vineyard garden. 2) She wants the vineyard to grow and be prosperous so she removes every branch from the vine that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit she prunes carefully, constructively, and surgically to make it bear more fruit. 3) You, all of you together, are my much loved faithful ones. You continue to be pruned and washed clean by the word that I speak to you. 4) Live forever in me as I have promised to live forever in you. You know that a branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it is intimately connected to the vine, so neither can you live wholly and completely unless you live forever in me. 5) I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who live forever in me and I in them will always, always bear an abundance of good fruit…

Each Sunday of Easter we listen to our testimony of the risen Christ and God’s boundless love in Christ and for us, for all people, and for all creation. This Sunday I want to give you an opportunity to share how you see and know God’s love in the risen Jesus. Perhaps it is something you have seen, felt, or sensed about God’s presence in the Risen Christ. Or perhaps it is a word about your mother.

I want to give tribute to my mother who just turned 90 a month ago. A few days after Marg and I were in Iowa with my parents and siblings in March, my mother fell and broke her leg. She is now slowly recovering in a retirement home. I also give tribute to Marg as the mother or our beloved daughter Tamra and son Justin. I also am grateful for each one of you who is a mother and for all of our mothers. Finally I wish to give tribute to a precious friend in Cincinnati, Mary Luken. Mary is a mother who is living her final days dying from cancer.

What word of gratitude or glimpse of God’s profound presence in the Risen Christ do you wish to offer on this beautiful Sunday of Eastertide? Please share your resurrection word in pairs with someone next to you. [approx 3 minutes for personal sharing….]

May the peace of the Risen Christ be with you. AMEN