Resurrection Life: Fruitful – Abide in Me
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"Abiding in God's Love"
Scripture: John 15:1-8; I John 4:7-21
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Abiding in God's Love
Jennifer Davis Sensenig CMC 4-29-18
John 15:1-8 and I John 4:7-21
Dwelling in the Word
To a culture of impatience and fear, the divine voice speaks to us of abiding, love, fruitfulness. These are not terms for quick fixes or easy answers. These are slow words, deep words. We can hardly utter these words by ourselves. Abiding, love, fruitfulness: these are communal words that have sustained us as people of God. The scripture we heard from the Gospel of John and the passage from First John that I'll share in a moment are scriptures for pondering. We dwell with words like these. They don't get old. Actually they do get old. These are very old scriptures. Thousands of years old. The Gospel of John and the First epistle of John were probably written by different people, but they are deeply related in terms of their theology and their community of origin. As much as we know about these scriptures, we as the church are still learning what they mean. To understand, to know the scriptures–indeed to understand or know God–is to live in the knowledge and love of God, always.
Images of Abiding
What does abiding in God's love look like? Well, it looks like eight people from our congregation participating in a Racial Equity Institute training event for the past two days. All eight of us white and facing the systems of white privilege and advantage that have been generated and perpetuated for our benefit, for the benefit of white people, for generations, since before the founding of this country. Facing these truths and the strategy of oppression against people of color, especially black people, not turning away from this unhappy history was for me an act of abiding in God's love. If any of what we learned is to become fruitful in our lives it will require abiding, remaining with these truths which are discomforting to say the least. But God's Spirit isn't a spirit who simply soothes distress.
What does abiding in God's love look like? Well, it looks like the life of C. Norman Kraus whom we memorialized yesterday with music, and memories and the message of resurrection. According to Norman's testimony, abiding in God's love looks like shedding our tendency toward coercion and fear in order to pursue truth and love as the church of Christ. For Norman it meant abiding and remaining with the church–from activism during the Civil Rights era, to mission work in Japan, to college teaching, to advocating for inclusion of LGBT Christians. Norman held deep conviction about Jesus Christ our Lord with an open and welcoming embrace of people who had widely differing convictions and life commitments.
What does abiding in God's love look like? Well, it looks like the 5 CMCers who visited with a couple of us pastors about their work in medical professions last week. The conditions of their field often require long hours, irregular hours, increasing documentation and an increase in the sheer numbers of patients served. Yet they abide–caring for each person with love, dignity, and their best skills. Investing in the next generations of people who will serve in healing work like theirs. Vi Miller was an example being celebrated that day for 35 years of abiding with patients at Sentara RMH.
What does abiding in God's love look like? Well, today, it looks like sending the Murch family with our prayers and blessings as they serve in Puerto Rico. We expect that they will be fruitful and rebuild some buildings and help relief workers stay organized. But their fruitfulness, their service, their active response to need is the result of abiding–the slow ordinary work of being a family that prioritizes being together, working together, being part of the church, hanging in there day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out.
James Cone, the first Black Liberation theologian I studied as a college student died yesterday. What does abiding in God's love look like? For Cone it was a vocation of theological resistance to white supremacy. In his most recent, and quite personal book–The Cross and the Lynching Tree Cone wrote about his formative context of growing up in a lynching state, Arkansas, the fear of the Ku Klux Klan, white racist preaching in nearby churches and his parents' example and sacrifice for the sake of their children. "And yet in rural black churches I heard a different message, as preachers proclaimed the message of the suffering Jesus and the salvation accomplished in his death on the cross. I noticed how the passion and energy of the preacher increased whenever he talked about the cross, and the congregation responded with outbursts of "Amen" and Hallelujah" that equaled the intensity of the sermon oration. People shouted, clapped their hands, and stomped their feet, as if a powerful, living reality of God's Spirit had transformed them from nobodies in white society to somebodies in the black church. This black experience, with all its tragedy and hope, was the reality in which I was born and raised. Its paradoxes and incongruities have shaped everything I have said and done. If I have anything to say to the Christian community in America and around the world, it is rooted in the tragic and hopeful reality that sustains and empowers black people to resist the forces that seem designed to destroy every ounce of dignity in their souls and bodies." And Cone describe the central question of his life work: "how to reconcile the gospel message of liberation with the reality of black oppression."
Biblical Storytelling as Abiding
First John 4:7-21 is an ancient attempt to describe God's abiding love and its effects among us. Like the passage about Jesus as the True Vine, this passage is rich in metaphor. The first is God the divine loving mother who gives birth to us. The second, is God the loving father who sent his son to share our experience and bear our sins. A third, is God the lover–the partner with whom we mutually abide, such that we are changed forever. Still another metaphor is God the sibling, the local familiar brother or sister, the other who draws our love into action day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out. Listen.
Biblical Storytelling I John 4:7-21(told by heart)
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God;
everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
God's love was revealed among us in this way:
God sent his only Son into the world
so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us
and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Beloved, since God loved us so much,
we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God;
if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in God and God in us,
because he has given us of his Spirit.
And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son
as the Savior of the world.
God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God,
and they abide in God.
So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God,
and God abides in them.
Love has been perfected among us in this:
that we may have boldness on the day of judgment,
because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;
for fear has to do with punishment,
and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
We love because God first loved us.
Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars;
for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen,
cannot love God whom they have not seen.
The commandment we have from him is this:
those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
One of the things I love about Biblical Storytelling is that it requires abiding, dwelling, slow rehearsal of the same thing over until it takes root in me. We may characterize our dominant culture as impatient and short-sighted, but some of us do know how to slow down, how to wait, how to practice patience. We know something of abiding. We have waited for a child. We have tended trees whose fruits come years later. We abide with those who grieve and those like our poultry workers brothers and sisters, struggling for dignity and justice in their workplaces. We are not just getting our spiritual quick fix on Sundays, but day in, day out, week in, week out, year in and year out, we abide in God's love expressed in myriad ways. We have been able to do these things–this slow, deep counter-cultural, remaining and abiding–because the Spirit of Christ is abiding with us. Beloved, we are held and held together by an abiding God who is love, a God who is in no hurry, yet will not delay.
As the True Vine, Jesus says: apart from me you can do nothing. So, let us abide in Christ, abide in love, abide in God. Let us prefer love over fear and live as brothers and sisters.
Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.
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