Sunday of the Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17

One of my favorite books to teach was “All Quiet On The Western Front.” The book gives us a visceral glimpse into the life of a front-line soldier in World War I. Following a German trench infantryman named Paul Baumer, loosely based on the author, we see him and his friends trying to survive and maintain their humanity and dignity in the grinding wheels of the war. Moment to moment, there might be artillery firing on the line; a rush on the enemy line, and take a bullet, a bayonet, or get caught on barbed wire; or, the clank of the mustard gas canisters, which, if you could not get your gas mask on fast enough, would liquify your lungs, causing you to drown internally. Worst of all, the commanders were throwing these soldiers into the grinder as if their lives didn’t matter as long as the generals got their glory. Yet, in the midst of this horrifying narrative, are some of the most poignant human moments I have ever read. In the midst of the horror, these men found moments of humanity and joy with one another. My favorite is when Paul and one of his friends, Kat, steal out at night and steal a goose. They find a shed to cook it in, and have a satisfying meal, the roasting meat smells warming their hearts, the grease deliciously covering their fingers, and Paul reflects that in that moment of mutual sharing, of silent enjoyment, of peace, he and Katcinzsky are “closer than lovers,” two men bound together in a love that is, I would say, spiritual. They then take the remainder to their other friends, sharing together the briefest moment of blessedness. While the author doesn’t say it, I would say that in that moment of human sharing and respite from the darkness of life, they found in their way, God.

We are able to avoid facing the horror of life because we have many comforts, and indeed have access to many of the beautiful things in life. Most of us have likely not experienced a situation where we are so bereft of the good things that the simple act of eating a decent meal in silence with a friend is transcendent. This, however, I think is an apt image of what it looks like to “love one another as I [God] have loved you.” Unlike the leaders the world provides us, the logic of both the John and first John passages today is that God has loved us because God is love, and that because he loves us we are both freed and called to love one another. And in doing so, we find the path to surviving the dehumanizing world that would take what it can from us and leave a husk.

We are called to bear the fruit of love for one another because God loved us first by sending Christ to be our savior. There are so many resonances between the two passages from John’s hand today. To begin with, we receive conceptually in one and explicitly in the other that “God is love.” Not, “God does love,” or “God would like to love,” but “God is love.” As Thomas Oden puts it, “God’s holiness does not remain trapped within itself, but reaches out for others…Love is beheld in God’s desire to communicate the depth of divine goodness to each and every creature.” 

John tells us in the gospel that “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” God has loved us first, and out of his love desires that we obey Jesus. To obey Jesus is both simple, and the hardest thing in the world, to love him and to love one another. But two things have to be understood about this: first, we are not called to do it alone, but as 1 John tells us, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit”. Second, this is not just an arbitrary command, the angry demands of a stern Father who just wants to be obeyed, but it is an act of God’s love towards us “so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” The resurrected, new creation life is available for us all right now, if we live in love, in the Spirit, by the power of Christ.

Aristotle is oddly helpful here, in his taxonomy of different kinds of friendship. The first is friends of utility (useful to me), the second friends of pleasure (I like spending time with you), but the highest, true friends, are those of virtue, where both of you desire what is good for the other. God is the friend of humanity, loving us because he desires that we have joy, found in following Jesus Christ; and this is seen by our love for one another, the freedom and joy of caring about one another not for what we give each other, but because we desire what is good for one another as God does. 

What sets us apart from animals is society, a unified group acting towards a common goal. And mutual love is essential if that is to happen effectively. Jesus is here in John establishing a new society, rooted in God’s love, the vine that bears the fruit in us for one another. It is a society, existing underneath and alongside all human constructions of society, where we support one another, even when it hurts; it is a society where, instead of condemning another as demonic or unreachable, we forgive; it is a society where, when we speak the truth, it is to be in love, with the intent of restoration and joy, not to crush and destroy; it is a society where, when there is disagreement or conflict, we seek to follow Christ together, seeking the best for the other, not to merely make them conform to our view of the world. It is, when the world rages around us, full of poison, roaring, death, we find moments to eat a goose, to share common joy together, to love one another in the midst of horror. We are to love one another because in doing so, we create, even if only briefly, the presence of the Heavenly New Creation here, now, in the Christ-like love we share between us. 

We, then, must rest in God’s love, abide in it by loving Jesus and loving one another. We find in communion with one another that while the world rages, we can maintain bonds of peace, sharing, and mutual love. And we do this in representation of the God who loves us and lives in eternal love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


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