The Fifth Sunday of Easter E. Bevan Stanley
May 2, 2021
1 John 4:7-21
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. Actually, the Greek has, “and my father is the farmer,” using the word γεωργός (georgos), from which we get the familiar name George. Then Jesus says, Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. The odd thing is that the Greek word translated by “prunes” really means “cleansed” or “purified.” If we are to be fruitful members of Jesus we need to be cleansed by Jesus word.
Then Jesus goes on with the language of abiding that we talked about last week. Remember that abide means to live, stay, remain. It communicates both intimacy and faithfulness: Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is very similar to St. Paul’s image of the Body of Christ of which we are all members. Both teach us that if we are cut off from Jesus, we die.
So, what does it mean to abide in Jesus? How do we do it? What are we supposed to do? For an answer let us turn to the First Letter of John. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. We are to live, stay, remain, domicile in love to abide in God or in the Vine or in the Body of Christ.
The logic of this passage from John’s first letter is interesting. He starts with:
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. As our Presiding Bishop of the entire Episcopal church is fond of saying, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” Then John says, “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 he loved us.” Here it is absolutely clear that the love of God is the love God has for us, not any love that we might have for God. God’s love for us is manifested in Jesus of Nazareth. Now consider the direction of the logic. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. God loves us; therefore, we should love each other. Or in the language of logic: “God loves us” implies “We ought to love one another.” Then comes: No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. This implies that the way people can see the invisible God is to see our love for one another. The second logical inference is: If we love one another, God lives in us. Putting the two together gets us: God loves us so we ought to love one another. If we love one another God lives, abides, and dwells in us. Because God abides in us, we make visible the invisible God.
This abiding in God is inseparable from the conviction that Jesus is the Son of God:
By this we know that we abide in him and he 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.
One of the benefits of this loving each other and abiding in God that we need have no fear of judgement or any punishment for our errors or faults. As the Bible says elsewhere, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” John says, “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.”
Here is the summary: We love because he first loved us.
God is love. God made us to love us. God made us so we could love each other. When we love we are like God. When we love, God lives in us. When we love, we live in God. When people see us loving, they see God, who abides in us. Loving is our vocation our call. Just as God loves first, so among humans we must love first. We need to take the first step. In every difference, every conflict, every hurt, we love first. God’s love has not limits. Just as there are no limits in God’s love, so there must be no limits in our love. Just as Jesus loved us even though it cost him his life, so we are to love even at the cost of our lives. Just as God loves everyone, we are to love everyone. We love those who are different from us. We love those whom we do not understand. We love those whom we do not like. We love those who frighten us. We love those who harm us.
By loving we God dwells in us and God comes again into the world and saves us all.