Sunday, May 16, 2021

SERMON: "Full of It? Jesus and Joy"

Sunday, May 16, 2021
John 15:9-17
Easter 7

"Bundle of Joy"

“You are my friends,” Jesus says to his inner circle, that last night, at the table. “You are my friends.” He’s just washed their feet. He’s just passed a single cup of wine, his hands on to another, and then on to another, and all the way around. Violence is brewing just outside their doors. And Jesus recognizes how dangerous, how difficult the next several hours will be. So he looks around the table one more time, into the eyes of the women and men who’ve followed him to Jerusalem. “You are my friends,” he says to them. It’s such an intimate moment. So much tenderness, so much fragility, and so much love. He needs them. And they need him. “You are my friends.”

It’s subtle, perhaps. But I wonder if these verses hold a kind of key to our own discipleship, a kind of key to our own Christian spirituality in this dangerous and difficult moment. Jesus is inviting the church into a circle of friendship, into an intimate and interdependent communion of care and compassion. Jesus is stepping toward you and me as a friend, as a partner, as a companion. “No one has greater love than this,” he says that night, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” If Christianity means anything in 2021, doesn’t it have to mean this: that friends of God bear life’s intense suffering together and celebrate life’s exquisite and routine joys together? If discipleship means anything in 2021, doesn’t it have to mean this: that friends of God love one another, sacrifice for one another, and cherish the interdependence of human neighborhoods and cosmic communities?

I hope you see how this kind of spirituality points us in a certain direction, as we anticipate summer opportunities and then fall’s promise of face-to-face gatherings, and congregational renewal. What this God asks of us, and what the world needs from us is love—and not just generic love, or sentimentality, but a bold and vibrant spirit that risks weeping and grieving; a bold and vibrant spirit that risks shared sacrifice and visionary worship; a bold and vibrant spirit that welcomes and cherishes and rejoices in our grand and godly diversity. What God asks of us, and what the world needs of from us is agape love—the kind of love that sees sisterhood in a stranger’s eyes, the kind of love that meets conflict with confidence and hope, the kind of love that lays down life for friends near and far, for a global village, for a beloved community. Agape love.

You see then, how we have to choose which Jesus we’re sharing that cup with. You see then, how we have to choose which Jesus we’re asking to wash our feet. This Jesus, the Jesus in John 15, he’s not interested in ruling over us or intimidating us with dogma. He’s not interested in firing us up with religious bigotry or supercessionist pride. This Jesus, the Jesus in John 15, he’s interested, he’s most passionately interested in breaking bread at our tables, and washing our feet when we’re weary, and opening our hearts to the wisdom of God, and preparing us for the tough work of repairing broken cities and reconciling frightened communities. This Jesus wants to be your friend, and mine, and ours. What kind of spirituality does that inspire? What kind of chutzpah does that provoke among us?

“I won’t call you servants anymore,” Jesus says this morning, “as if I’m your ruler, and you’re my subjects. After all, a servant doesn’t know what the master is doing or why. But I call you friends now,” he says, “because I’ve shared everything with you, every divine word, every holy breath, every fragile dream.” See how this goes? For some, the language of the fourth gospel is almost unnervingly intimate. This is not Jesus the Brilliant Lecturer, Jesus the Surly Moralist: this is Jesus the Lover, Jesus the Washer of Feet, Jesus the Friend. And to know what he’s about, to see the world he lives in, you almost have to let him in. Not as a premise or an idea, not as an intellectual construct; but as a friend, as an intimate, as a lover. You don’t argue this Jesus into existence, you love him into your life.


So we’re talking seriously now about re-opening the church, and about re-gathering this congregation in September, just after Labor Day. Of course, we’ll do a whole lot of outdoor worship in the summer, and this, in itself, is exciting and fresh with possibilities. But isn’t it wonderful to imagine sitting in this space together again? And isn’t it thrilling to imagine singing – even if we’re restrained in vigor and volume – isn’t it thrilling to imagine singing in this space, together again? I have this hunch that our reconnecting in these ways is going to inspire a whole new range of feelings, commitments and visions—around who we are as a church, and what we’re about as disciples, and what we have to offer the world. We’re headed for a season of renewal and creativity, at least I’m anticipating that. And it’s so delightful to imagine and anticipate doing that, being that, with all of you!

But even as we focus some energies around what happens in this beloved building, even as we dream a bit about what that will look like in September, let’s not miss the pointed and poignant invitation in this morning’s gospel, and in Jesus’ teaching at the table in Jerusalem. John 15. “Abide in my love,” he says, tenderly, provocatively, bravely. Which is to say: make your home in the network of relationships we create and nurture and grow together. Which is to say: make your home at that intersection of spirit and action, at that intersection of grace and courage, at that intersection of love and discipline I have revealed in my own life. “Abide in my love.” Don’t idolize the temples. Don’t fixate on the buildings or the furnishings or the traditions around them. “Abide in my love,” Jesus says. That’s where your mission will take root. That’s where you’ll dream new dreams. That’s where the gospel will move you to kindness, compassion and joy. Here’s where spirituality becomes potent, dynamic and transformational. At the intersection of spirit and action. At the intersection of faith and communion.


Friends, I know you’re tired. I’m tired too. It’s going to get better. And I hope you appreciate the opportunity we have before us: to renew our friendships and partnerships in this place, to collaborate in projects that restore the spirit of our neighbors, to use our resources and energies to invite reflection and courage across our community. If we “abide” in all that love, if we welcome Jesus’ friendship, Jesus’ companionship as an invitation to spiritual intimacy and dynamic faith—if we love like that, this holy place will become not just a temple of the familiar, but a sanctuary of the spirit, an incubator of dreams, a hearth for the heart. That’s what lies ahead for us, that’s the place we’ll create together, and the place we’ll love together, and the place where God will renew our tired bones and awaken our weary spirits and heal our broken hopes.

And don’t miss that promise. It’s right there in this morning’s text, and Lorna read it all. Jesus says, “I have said these things—all these things—so that my joy may dwell in you, vibrant and shining and true, and so that your joy may be complete.” Again, you have to walk this path, I think, to really grasp what he’s getting at. It’s not logic. It’s not a proof to some abstract theorem he’s offering. It’s a way of life. It’s a pattern of living and loving and affirming and welcoming and hoping. And it all has something to do, something very important to do, with joy.

God’s intention for your life is joy: that’s you, on the couch; or you, on the back porch; or you, with the cat in your lap; or you, with the kids screaming in the kitchen; or you, holding a sign that says, “Need Food.” God’s intention for your life is joy. And it’s particular joy, a divine kind of joy, a generous and vulnerable joy. It’s the same joy that beats in Jesus’ heart as he breaks bread with his friends. It’s the same joy that flows through his fingertips as he lifts up the children and welcomes the outcasts to the table. It’s the same joy that crackles among the circle as they realize he’s totally serious about washing their dirty, dusty, smelly feet. God’s intention is that you find that joy, that you tap into that joy, that you know that joy—not just as a fleeting feeling, but as the very essence of your life, the very purpose of your existence.

Spend some time with that this week, over the next month even. Let me know how that goes. Again, not the idea that you’ll feel joy all the time, as a kind of string of happy moments; but the promise that your very life is created for joy, shaped as a blessing, designed to bring light and wonder and abundance into the world. Where might that promise lead you this summer? What might you bring to us in the fall that expands our capacity to be a joyous presence in this town, on this Seacoast, in this country? How will we—together, in communion, abiding in love—how will we manifest joy and friendship in such a way that the whole world finds peace and spirit and renewal in the songs we sing, the prayers we pray, the bread we break?

You see, I don’t think Jesus asking us to believe in wildly impossible things, or to trust in irrationally impossible truths. And I don’t think Jesus is demanding to take over our lives, like a little emperor in our conscience or a bruising dictator ruling our families and habits. I think Jesus is knocking at the door, inviting himself in, asking us to make space for his dreams and his heart and his hopes. Let’s see where friendship takes us!

I hear that this morning, in the text Lorna’s read, in the Gospel of John, and I hear it, strangely, in the silences around me here in this sanctuary. Abide in my love. Abide in together my love. Let’s see where friendship takes us. It just may be that that’s the path to renewal and justice. And that that’s the path to communion and peace. And it just may be that that’s the joy, that’s all the joy, we could ever ask for. You and me. All of us. Together. All the joy we could ever ask for.