Summit Presbyterian Church
May 6, 2018
Abiding in Love
I’d like to invite you to take a moment and think about a time when you made the decision to join a congregation and you were excited. I hope everyone was excited about joining Summit but it’s OK if you’re thinking about another church at another time. It may have been when you were confirmed as a teenager and stepping into an adult faith. Or it may have been when you reaffirmed your faith as an adult, after a sabbatical from church. Perhaps it was when you found a congregation that felt just right, after trying others. What hopes did you have? What hopes did you have when you stood in front of that congregation? When I joined the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn in 1989 I was hoping for a stronger connection to God. I was hoping to dig into scripture and to hear God’s word in this compelling but strange and contradictory book. Most important, I was hoping to make friends who would be there for me and vice-versa; to find a loving community that would feel like home. I was so excited when I got my certificate of membership. It was embossed with the PCUSA symbol. I guess the Holy Spirit knew what she was doing when she guided me to a denomination that values paperwork.
Now think about what happened when those hopes collided with reality. Perhaps it was at a Session meeting, when you had a 15 minute debate on where exactly to hang a bulletin board (and then it was never actually hung). Or maybe it was in Bible study, when you realized all the scholarship in the world wasn’t going to make you appreciate Paul. Maybe it was when you were sick and scared, on the prayer list, and never got a phone call from the pastor or a card from the deacons, let alone a casserole. Now, since you’re here, that encounter with reality did not deter you. I’m so glad. But still, given reality, when thinking about church, JOY may not be the first word that comes to mind. Instead, that word may be stress, when you think of all those meetings and the things that you promised to do. It may be frustration or irritation, when you think about the people you promised to do them with (including the pastor). It may be sadness, or grief, if you’re feeling far from God. Whatever it is, chances are there’s a gap between your hopes upon joining the church and the reality of discipleship.
In this way, we’re different from Jesus. For Jesus, according to the gospel of John, there was no gap between his hopes for his mission and its accomplishment. When he breathed his last he was able to say, “it is finished.” There was no gap between him and God, whom he called the Father. “Whoever has seen me has seen the father,” said Jesus. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me. . . . The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” There was also no gap between his expectations for the disciples and the reality. When he invited Andrew to “Come, taste and see”; when he found Phillip and said, “Come, follow me”; and when he saw Nathanael under the fig tree Jesus knew exactly who he was getting. He knew that he was calling together a band concrete thinkers: that when he used a figure of speech they would hear the literal meaning. That when he spoke of himself as the bread of heaven they’d say - wait, your father was named Joseph. That when he spoke of himself as the good shepherd they wouldn’t understand what he was saying. Jesus also knew that they would squabble among themselves. That they would judge harshly the women who followed him, whether it was the Samaritan woman at the well or his friend Mary who anointed him for burial. He knew that Judas would betray him, and that Peter would deny him three times. Yet . .
Jesus loved them. He loved them in their in their fragile and uncomprehending faith. He loved them in their self-centeredness, their impulsiveness, their pettiness, their betrayals. He taught them patiently. He nourished them and healed them. He washed their feet. He called them friends, even though he could have treated them as servants. He revealed everything that God had revealed to him. He felt joy in their presence. He laid down his life for them.
He also commanded them to love one another. For even though he knew them in all their unloving, petty, obtuse selves, he had every confidence that they could love one another as he loved them. With grace and kindness. With patience and generosity. With truth and faithfulness. Knowing them as he did his expectations were realistic, but they were also high. And he promised them that if they loved one another, they would abide in him and he would abide in them. They would bear good fruit. His joy would be in them and their joy would be complete. (That was quite a promise. Do we dare to believe it?)
My friends, Jesus also knows us. He knew exactly what he was getting when he called us from under our particular fig tree and invited us to “come, taste, and see.” He knows us in all our obtuseness, our pettiness, our sin. And just like with those first disciples, he has every confidence that we can love one another, as he loves us. With grace and kindness. With patience and generosity. With truth and faithfulness. . . Now, we’ll never love one another with the perfect love of Christ. We’ll never be one with God the way Jesus and the father are one. There will always be a gap between our hopes for discipleship and reality. But that’s OK. We can still narrow that gap — and not only by lowering our expectations. We can narrow that gap by being more Christ-like in love. We only need to be more Christ-like to bear fruit. We only need to be more Christ-like for our joy to be complete.
So — let’s strive to love one another as Christ loved us. With grace and kindness. With patience and generosity, truth and faithfulness. And we begin, again, at the table. Where we encounter the Risen Christ and are nourished and strengthened in love. Where we serve one another, and are gathered with the saints of every time and place. Where we see a glimpse of the Kingdom, a foretastate of the heavenly banquet, where we love God and one another with a perfect love, in a world of justice and peace, where our joy — and the joy of every person and every creature — is complete.