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Sixth Sunday of Easter

Today’s Readings

Psalm 98, Acts 10: 44-end, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15: 9-17

When I wonder what I should preach about, I try to keep in mind a simple rule of thumb; preach about God and about 10 minutes. Whether the style is humorous, or careful reasoning, or a conviction of the heart, the art of preaching (which it has to be said) is not the same as teaching, the art of preaching is to enable the spirit to make a connection between the word of God and those who listen, such that it takes root and bears fruit in our lives.

That connection is more easily made when the preacher is also pastor, that is to say, he or she knows the congregation and understands a bit about the pastoral context being addressed.

The gospel reading for today picks up Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches, and develops it in a more personal way.

What caught my attention as I re-read the familiar passage about the vine and the branches was the sentence, which begins this morning’s passage:

‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love’.

Those words stayed with me. While Jesus’ picture of the vine was an image that spoke to my mind, these words seemed to go deeper - they touched my heart. The same love and intimacy which Jesus had known with his Father, is extended to you and me also. What is given and received between Jesus and his Father is freely given to you and me also.

‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love’.

As you listen to those words, hear Jesus speaking your name: ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, John, Pat, Joan, Peter: abide in my love’

The love of God can sound like a platitude, one of those glib phrases which easily slip off the tongue, but when love moves away from the mind and enters the heart, it ceases to be a platitude. And as I returned to Jesus’words several times this week (‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you’), instead of being just a text on a page, they came alive and spoke to my heart.

All of us go through patches of dryness in our spiritual life - though we rarely tell anyone about it, and we may not even admit it to ourselves. Being an ordained person doesn’t guarantee any immunity from this experience. It’s possible to just go through the outward forms of ritual and habit when the familiar routines become dry and lifeless. At such times, it is possible to keep up appearances and say the right words - professionally training sees to that, without your heart necessarily being in it.

But it’s not just certain priests or individuals who can become spiritually dry; a congregation can become inward looking, complacent or slip into inertia, even our Sunday worship may not inspire us in the way it once did.

But if, as we believe, in worship God draws near, if you come with some expectation, if you have your eyes open, and your ears open, every once in a while, some word in even the most unpromising sermon will spark out, some scrap of prayer or hymn, some moment of silence even, the glimpse of somebody you love sitting there near you, or of some stranger whose face touches your heart will flame out. These are moments that in the depths of whatever our dullness, or sadness or lostness are, give us an echo of a gentle voice that calls us from deeper still.

‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love’.

When we pause to listen to that voice speaking to us, it may catch us by surprise. Whether it jumps off the pages of the Bible and hits us between the eyes, or an unexpected look of love from someone at the Peace, or a word sincerely spoken during a time of prayer, it comes as a gift, pure gift from a generous and loving God.

When I recall the numerous occasions in the past when I’ve received so much kindness and love from other people, it’s made me want to become more giving and generous in return. And if that’s true of our dealings with other people, how much more true it is of God himself who has loved us into being and given us life itself.

‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love’.

In taking these words to heart, we shall want to respond by living and loving generously. No area of life is our own private concern, nothing is off-limits to God, whether it’s our daily work, our relationships, our money, our time. To live as a Christian is to recognise that there’s nothing that we have or nothing that we are that’s we can hold back from God. For a Christian, the whole of life is sacramental, and whatever resources we have at our disposal - money, time, ability, and love, are gifts to be offered, freely and generously to God, the author and giver of all good things.

There’s one more thing to say; and that’s the other verse from this morning’s gospel reading which we should take to heart;

John 15 verse 16 in which Jesus says:

‘You did not choose me; no, I chose you and I appointed you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last’.

Can you believe those words?

Jesus has chosen you. Imagine for a moment God speaking your name: ‘I have called you, Mary; I have chosen you, Peter’.

To use a name implies a closeness of relationship. In the Old Testament tradition, to know and use someone’s name is to lay claim to part of their very nature, which is why in that tradition, in the Genesis account of creation, the man is given the task of naming all the creatures. It’s also explains why the name of God himself is unknowable. When Moses asked the name of the Holy One, the answer he was given was Yahweh, which is not a name as such but simply ‘I am’.

By letting God use our name, we are accepting the truth of his word to us; ‘You are mine. I have called you - I chose you’. Those are the words first spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah, the same words which Jesus heard spoken to him at his baptism, the same words with which he reassures his disciples while he was still with them. ‘I chose you’.

When you know you are called, you are chosen, you know that you are seen as a special person. God delights to know you, to draw closer to you, to love you. Long before your parents praised you, or your friends encouraged you, or your teachers and colleagues recognised your gifts, you were already chosen.

Here, the spiritual life touches on mystery - for to be chosen doesn’t mean that others are rejected: something which is very hard for us to grasp in our competitive world. Being chosen by God is radically different. Instead of excluding others, the love of God includes others; instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness.

God’s way of choosing isn’t based on competition but on compassion. Maybe our minds can’t really understand that; only our hearts.

The great spiritual journey begins, as it did for Jesus at his baptism - by recognising our chosen-ness. Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes, long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our god. Long before any person put us down or criticised us, we were addressed by the voice of eternal love. So our true worth, uniqueness and individuality are not given to us by those whom we meet in this brief chronological span, but by the One who has chosen us with an everlasting love -a love that existed for all eternity.

Being chosen is the starting point for being God’s son or daughter or friend - it’s a life-long struggle to claim that chosen-ness. But once we know that we are chosen, we will want to respond in generous and fruitful living.

‘You did not choose me; no I chose you; and I appointed you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last’. Rev Canon Nick Darby


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