May 9, 2021

Prayer of the Day

O God, you have prepared for those who love you joys beyond understanding. Pour into our hearts such love for you that, loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises, which exceed all we can desire; through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Acts 10:44-48

44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Psalm 98

1Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done | marvelous things,
  whose right hand and holy arm have | won the victory.
2O Lord, you have made | known your victory,
  you have revealed your righteousness in the sight | of the nations.
3You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the | house of Israel;
  all the ends of the earth have seen the victory | of our God.
4Shout with joy to the Lord, | all you lands;
  lift up your voice, re- | joice, and sing. 
5Sing to the Lord| with the harp,
  with the harp and the | voice of song.
6With trumpets and the sound | of the horn
  shout with joy before the | king, the Lord.
7Let the sea roar, and | all that fills it,
  the world and those who | dwell therein.
8Let the rivers | clap their hands,
  and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord, who comes to | judge the earth.
9The Lord will judge the | world with righteousness
  and the peo- | ples with equity. 

1 John 5:1-6

1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

  6This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

John 15:9-17

[Jesus said:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
  12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Sermon – Meggan Manlove

Today Jesus builds on his simple metaphor: he is the vine, and we are the branches. The imperative is quite clear: love. I find that there is so much in the passage from John’s gospel that is corrective to what ails the world, balm for our wounded communities, a tonic that could clear our vision. 

My sermon preparation began last Saturday afternoon when I attended my first Eagle Scout Ceremony. Ryan Beeson is the young man who organized the building of the pergola for the Trinity New Hope gathering space. He and another scout were the two being celebrated for earning the highest honor—the Eagle. 

There was one line in the ceremony that really stood out to me: “I charge you to be among those who dedicate their skills and ability to the common good.” I had not read or heard that phrase for a long time. It almost brought tears to my eyes, this idea of the common good. I have heard much more about what is good for me. But the common good? So I starting thinking about the common good in relation to John 15. 

Then this Thursday morning I led a prayer during the Kiwanis Club’s Nampa Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. Our keynote speaker was Doug Armstrong, who was the executive of KTVB and is now the chaplain of the Idaho Senate. Doug told us how became a man of faith as an adult. But first he talked about his goal had to run a business. He told us how influential a particular book had been for him in his twenties: Robert Ringer’s 1970s best seller: Looking Out for #1

Now, it’s always a challenge to talk about something in our culture that not everyone is familiar with. Plus, I have not read this book, but I read several summaries. Here’s one: “Looking out for number one is the conscious, rational effort to spend as much time as possible doing those things which bring the greatest amount of pleasure and less time doing whatever causes pain.” That, to me, is quite a contrast to the notion in the Eagle Scout pledge of dedicating our skills and ability to the common good. It also is a contrast to our gospel passage.

Jesus says, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” In this specific case he is referencing, at least metaphorically, a specific kind of fruit—grapes. How do we know this? Because the first seven verse of the chapter are all about how Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. The fruit we will bear if we abide in God is love, pure and simple. 

How are the vine and branches related to the common good, besides the obvious command to love? The metaphor of the vine is non-hierarchical. There is no me getting ahead. There is not even room for church hierarchy—bishops, pastors, laypeople. The vine and branches metaphor is also stark in its anonymity. What I mean is that the visual image of the branches lacks any and all distinctions in appearance, character, or gifts. The question of “how do I look out for #1?” just does not fit into the picture.

The anonymity is also a contrast to other metaphors in the New Testament itself. First Corinthians 12, with its church as the body metaphor, is irresistible in the anatomical fantasy it puts before the early church: talking feet and ears, entire bodies composed exclusively of ears or eyes or noses. The Apostle Paul points to the place that his or her individual gifts occupies in the body. Paul holds together the oneness of Christ and the diversity of gifts and members of the body. And that metaphor can be helpful and life-giving. I know. I have preached and taught this metaphor a lot. 

But that’s not our focus today, and I am ever grateful for the vine metaphor. It undercuts any celebration of individual gifts in exchange for a clear focus, a directive for absolutely everyone. There is only one measure of one’s place in the faith community—to love as Jesus has loved—and everyone, great and small, ordained and lay, young and old, male and female are equally accountable to that one standard. 

What would happen if the church were to live as the branches of Christ? Well, individual distinctiveness would give way to the common embodiment of love. The distinctiveness of the community would derive solely from our relationship to God and Jesus, not the characteristics or even gifts of its members. And the mark of the faithful community would be how it loves, not who are its members. There is only one gift, to bear fruit, and any branch can do that if it remains with Jesus. 

A follower of Jesus is someone who, in every situation, tries to respond to other people with the love of Jesus. There may be responses to the world which, in the world’s eyes, “Make sense,” or which can simply be justified by reference to, “everyone else is doing it.” But Christians are those who, through baptism, have signed on, have publicly committed themselves, to obey Jesus. And Jesus has commanded us to love. 

The practice of obedience can make us Lutherans bristle when it sounds like we are obeying so that we will be loved and forgiven.  But in fact, we are all about obedience; we obey God’s commands because God has already claimed and loved us.  

Whether our obedience to Jesus’ command will make the world a better place, or lead to deeper human understanding, or help to win friends and influence people, we don’t know. We only know, in today’s scripture as well as so many other places in the New Testament, that this is clearly what Jesus commands us to do. 

It is not always easy to know exactly what loving one another means. This is where community, those other branches, can be helpful with discernment and accountability. There are some times our love needs to be that sort of “tough love.” Yet hate, violence, revenge, and the other means through which the world gets what it wants, are not options for Jesus’ people, people who are commanded to love, to bear fruit. Sometimes love means a day of discomfort when a perfectly healthy adults gets vaccinated, to help drive a virus away for people who absolutely cannot get vaccinated. Whatever it looks like, love remains the imperative.  

There is a second wonderful corrective that this passage from John addresses. Sometimes, especially in the Treasure Valley, we face a binary when it comes to following Jesus. There are Christians who will ask me, “are you a believer?” For them, I think, faith is completely a matter of the heart or mind. It is about where we put our trust, or in the words of our text today, what we abide in. 

If I am feeling just a little self-righteous, I want to respond to these Christians by asking them, “are you a fruit-bearer?” What I mean is, have you put your faith into action by feeding, clothing, visiting people in prison, welcoming the foreigner? How have you been bearing fruit?

But the truth is neither of these approaches is fully faithful and today’s gospel gets right to the heart of it. We cannot bear fruit if we are not abiding with Jesus. If we only bear fruit without abiding in Jesus, we will dry up and die OR our fruit will not resemble Jesus. And, if we only abide in Jesus, without bearing fruit, we are not actually abiding. 

However, if we truly abide in Jesus, which means abiding in God’s love, we will not be able to help ourselves. Fruit will come. Acts of love will be spontaneous. The love of God will simply spring forth like a big juicy grape.

Abiding has sometimes been a challenge in the past year. Lots of us depend on in-person communal worship to be nourished and reminded of Jesus’ love. Many of us have pivoted and adapted so much so that we are now even sick of those words—pivot and adapt. But if you have have found new ways to abide in Jesus’ love this past year, please do not let them go as we live into the new normal. Let them continue to nourish your life of faith and, in turn, our community.

Likewise, if there were habits or parts of your daily routine that you have let go of that did not help you abide in Jesus, please do not pick them up again. Just keep pruning. Be mindful of what helps you abide and what helps you bear fruit. Be mindful of love, not sentimentality or romance, but that sustaining abundant love that come from God. It will naturally become love of neighbor and yes, even love of self. 

We are part of a big world and it is easy to feel quite small and insignificant. But maybe especially when we feel powerless, the Holy Spirit reminds us through scripture passages like this one that all of us are already fruit bearers because we abide in the love of God through Jesus. 

Prayers of Intercession

Alive in the risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we bring our prayers before God who promises to hear us and answer in steadfast love.

A brief silence.Loving God, you call us to be your fruit-bearing church. Strengthen the bonds among all Christian churches. Today we pray for the Moravian Church, giving thanks for the life and witness of Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, renewer of the church and hymnwriter. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Creating God, the earth praises you. The seas roar and the hills sing for joy. Fill the earth with your love so that by their song, all creatures of land and sea and sky, burrowing and soaring, may call us to join with them in praise. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Faithful Savior, you conquer the world not with weapons but with undying love. Plant your word in the hearts of the nations’ leaders and give them your Spirit, so that the peoples of the world may live in peace. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

We praise you for the gradual lessening of the pandemic and for your gift of vaccines. Wherever the virus still rages (especially India, Turkey, and South America), wherever medical resources are depleted, wherever medical advice is rejected, extend the power of your healing hand. Be present with all who today will die, and visit all who are sick or suffering. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

We praise you for the loving support of mothers to their children. Bless mothers, stepmothers, foster mothers, godmothers, and all of each gender who give mothering care. Protect mothers in societies where women have few rights. Comfort those who grieve because they cannot mother a child. Wherever children are deprived of mothering, provide responsible and affectionate care. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Gentle Redeemer, all who die in you abide in your presence forever. We remember with thanksgiving those who shared your love throughout their lives (especially). Keep us united with them in your lasting love. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

In the hope of new life in Christ, we raise our prayers to you, trusting in your never-ending goodness and mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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