John 15:9-17

A sermon preached at St. George’s Anglican Church Calgary, by the Rev. Clara King, May 6, 2018.  

Easter 6 – Year B
Acts 10:44-48
John 15:9-17  

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.  

I’m sure that everyone here knows someone like my friend Sammy. Sammy is a wonderful guy, but he just can’t settle to anything. He’s got this kind of restlessness that he can’t seem overcome – a sort of unshakeable belief that things will be better somewhere else.  

Somewhere else, there are new opportunities; somewhere else, there are better training programs; somewhere else he’ll be better supported to do that thing (whatever it is) that he’s just discovered his life has been truly leading up to.   And then he goes.

But that place doesn’t pan out, or the support doesn’t materialize quite the way he was expecting, and soon the restlessness comes back again. He starts looking around for another place – another “somewhere else” – that would be the making of him.  

And the thing I’ve never quite been able to say to Sammy is this: perhaps being somewhere else isn’t the fix you need?  

I can’t help but think that maybe the problems that are really holding Sammy back aren’t outside him, but inside. And he just keeps carrying them around with him, and unpacking them wherever he goes. Because while he may stay in different places, he never leaves his own head.  

Now that’s pretty much what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel reading for today – only Jesus goes one step further (of course). He says, in effect, wherever you go make sure your head and your heart stay with me.  

It all hinges on a delicate little pun on the word “abide”.  

This word “abide” means to stay in a place. It has a very practical meaning. It is the word you’d use if you were staying with a friend, or staying in a region. “My cousins are coming to stay in Calgary during Stampede”, I could say.

Until Jesus started using it, this word didn’t really have a very spiritual meaning.  

When Jesus talks about “abiding” in his love, he is talking about his love as if it is a place that you’d physically go and stay. And if you stop abiding in his love, you physically get up and leave. It’s that concrete.  

And then Jesus says, “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.” And what is Jesus’ commandment? That we love one another as he has loved us.  

Basically, if Jesus’ love is a place that we can go and stay, or get up and leave, Jesus has just told us that we enter in by loving; and we leave by not-loving.  

Now we add another layer. Jesus says to Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world.   Kingdoms in this world are places. They have geographic boundaries. In order to leave, you physically get up and go.  

Jesus’ kingdom is not like that. It is not a place with geographic boundaries: it is everywhere that we go. We can be anywhere in the world, and still be in the kingdom of God – because we don’t enter the kingdom and leave the kingdom by moving around.   We enter the kingdom and leave the kingdom by the thoughts of our hearts, and by our actions, and by how we relate to others – wherever we are in the world.  

Jesus knew that his disciples would move around a lot, just like he himself did. They stayed with new people, and became friends with those they’d never before met. And they crossed the borders of many different lands in the process. Yet the Kingdom of God was always close to them: always just a small choice away: will I spread love, or will I close my heart – right now?  

Now, here in this place, we are people from many different kingdoms, yet we gather at the table of our one Saviour. We live many different lives, and our daily circumstances may be very different from one another – and yet for each of us the Kingdom of God is very close.

Jesus calls us to enter his kingdom and to live our lives there: and each of us have a choice, every minute of every day whether we will abide in the kingdom right now or not.   We make our choice by how we live our lives right now, in this present moment. We make our choice by whether we open our hearts to give and receive love. We make our choice by how we respond to conflict, and how we show compassion, and how we care for one another.  

Jesus tells us, “I have said these things so that… your joy may be complete.” Friends, what better kingdom would we wish to live in, than one in which our daily lives, everything that we do, all our interactions, all our relationships, all our tasks are marked with the sanctifying love of Christ, and the deep peace which passes all understanding?

And we don’t even need to go anywhere else to find it. It is here, even now, within reach of each one of us.  

But just like Sammy, what’s holding us back is what’s inside. Jesus offers us the joy and promise of the kingdom – only we hold ourselves back from stepping forward in faith.   There are three things we’re doing at St. George’s to help us step into the kingdom Jesus offers.  

The first is our Parish Council book study, “Practicing Right Relationship”, which will help us discover some core skills for healthy, loving, Christian interpersonal relationships. Anyone who is interested is welcome to join – just come and speak with me.  

The second is a small program developed by the Support and Accompaniment Ministry team. Over the course of May, they will be asking us some basic questions to help us get to know one another, and get to know more about the parish. If Jesus wishes us to enter the kingdom and abide in his love now, the best way we can do that is by learning how to love and support one another. So thanks to the SAM team for helping us do that!  

The third piece is a very special service we’ll be having on Pentecost, Sunday May 20. Sometimes we’re held back from this wonderful kingdom Jesus invites us to enter by the hurts in our past. That’s why we’ve spent so much time on our healing from the spiritual and emotional abuse in our past: so that we can say yes to Jesus and move forward. On May 20, we will celebrate the rebirth of St. George’s. The service will be full of joy and light, and will be our turning point to the future.  

In all these things Jesus is calling to us, inviting us to step into the kingdom of love and grace which he is unfolding around us on every side. 

As we prepare our hearts to say yes to his invitation, and step into his light, may he bless us abundantly, and transform us in his love, to the glory of his name.