May 6, 2012 John 15:1-8, 1 John 4:13-21
written and preached by Rev. Natalie Shiras
I love being away and then I love coming back. I heard from many of you that last Sunday with Rick Chrisman was wonderful. The Sunday before that with our youth and choir leading us in song on my birthday was really fun! How do we express our affirmations? We can raise our arms, we can clap, we can say “Amen!” or “Alleluia” or “Preach it!” Or we can sit quietly. There are many ways to respond. The important thing is to be awake for the worship of God.
During my time away I went to a pastor’s conference called “Awakenings” just over the hills in Holyoke. We sang and studied the Bible together and heard speeches about ministries locally in western Massachusettsand globally in Korea and Turkey. I heard a great sermon by Rev. Da Vita MCCallister, Youth Minister in the Connecticut Conference about loving one another.
This morning’s scripture is about abiding in God’s love. I really like that word “abiding”. It means really settling down into God’s love, not just for a short visit. It means really practicing that love. Those who love God and “hate their brothers or sisters are blind”, the epistle for today points out, “for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have not seen, cannot love God whom they have seen.” (1 John 4:20)
Now it’s easy to love some people. When you fall in love you will go through rain and sleet and snow to meet your beloved. When you have a grandchild who you can give back to his or her parents after your visit, that is easy. When you agree with someone, then you naturally love that person.
It is much harder to love someone you disagree with, to love someone who has been beastly to you, to love someone who is just plain difficult to be with.
I’m talking about the spending money on others “kind of love” when you would rather spend it on yourselves. I am talking about the choosing new music “kind of love” when you don’t like that kind of music. I am talking about the sticky, messy difficult “kind of love” when you feel misunderstood and unappreciated and betrayed. Can you still love in that moment?
Da Vita McCallister told a story about a pelican and a grasshopper in worship last Sunday. Now the pelican and grasshopper were best friends and sat together in church. Nobody could understand how they could like one another? They were so different. One was big and plodding. The other was small and dainty. One ate fish and the other ate grass and leaves.
The pelican couldn’t wait to come to church. He came only to hear the prelude and the postlude because he loved the magnificent pipe organ music.
Now the grasshopper liked a different kind of music. She couldn’t wait until the sermon was over so she could hear the music of the offertory. There was a jazz keyboard and she would jump up on the back of the pew and lean forward in expectation, her antennae quivering with excitement.
These two experienced the holy in vastly different ways and it was OK with them to do so. The other members of the church called them the pelihoppers because they appreciated each other just the way they were!
Here at Church on the Hill there have been misunderstandings and disagreements about the preschool. It’s not been easy to have a renter in the downstairs of our chapel where church members previously have been able to use that space at will. We’ve all had to adjust to a lot of new things this year because of our decision to balance the church budget.
Balancing the church budget is good stewardship. This year we decided not to go into debt and not pull any more funds from the church endowment. Our endowment is a legacy left by our ancestors who planned ahead for us. Having a balanced budget and an endowment is a point of strength, something to be proud of.
So when we have to sacrifice by renting the chapel and closing the sanctuary in the winter and worshiping in the chapel, and having the pastor go ¾ time, it is for a good purpose of balancing our budget. We can wear that as a badge of honor.
You know the song, “They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love”. It’s not always easy. But we have the church here now for over 200 years. And we all love this church. We really have something going for us!
Jesus said, “ Abide in me as I abide in you”. (John 15:4) Settle into that abiding love. We come to church to remember that, to remember that church is a place that endures, where we can abide with Christ. We are the branches. We bear good fruit.
But we are not here in church just to settle down and receive all the benefits, receive all the fruits. We are here in order to see the power of Jesus’ love in us, in order that others might see the results of that love. We know that Jesus loves us and sometimes forget the part about bearing fruit.
A part of bearing fruit is pruning away some of the old established growth on the vine so that new growth can come forth, and so there is a balance between the old growth and the new growth. It is God’s determination to be served by fruitful followers but that can sometimes be painful for the followers who do not want their ideas and beliefs to be pruned.
They will know we are Christians not just by believing in that love but by practicing that love. Being willing to have that discussion with someone you disagree with. Being willing to let go that your idea or belief is the only one. Being willing to apologize for a mistake. Being willing, if you are ready, to forgive. These are the practices of abiding in love which bear fruit.
The epistle for today reminds us, “The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters.” (1 John 4:21) Amen.