It’s only been a week since my mother’s death. My world is off-balance and out of focus in ways I did not expect. Combine this with the events in the world this week, and I’m overwhelmed. I grieve for my mother who lived with a lot of fear and judgement. I pray for the courage to live more fully than she did. With these thoughts, I read the texts for this week…
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. These words from 1 John will be read in thousands of churches this week, but I wonder how often they will be heard. The racism that permeates our society and triggers the kind of pent-up rage that leads to riots seems to know nothing of love. Let me make it clear that I am not blaming anyone who participated in the riots in Baltimore. The responsibility for what happened lies with all of us who participate in a system that allows black people to be murdered by white police officers and then denies justice to the victims. The responsibility lies with all of us who do not speak out against the injustice of our criminal justice system. The responsibility lies with all of us who do not embody transformative love in the overwhelming din of racism and hatred.
It is clear to me that this call to love in the face of all that is not love is closely linked to Jesus’ vine and branches imagery. However, I’m struggling to find the words that adequately describe the connection I see. I’ve always thought this passage was about some kind of litmus test for Christian faith. If you failed, you were cut off. The image that comes to mind is being voted off the island Survivor style. When I read these words this week, I realized that I was completely wrong in my understanding of this passage.
It isn’t about judgement or about being good enough. It’s a simple statement of fact. If we abide in Christ and Christ abides in us, then amazing things happen. All those things within us that do not bear fruit are cut away. And the fruit we bear becomes all that much more flavorful. Jesus wasn’t describing an external process or suggesting community faith policing. Rather he was describing the spiritual process of pruning and growing that happens as a natural response to living in the Spirit. Whenever we pour our energy into words and actions that are not loving, we are not being fruitful and are in danger of withering away.
Even though it is rather cliché to say it, I will; life is short and all life is a precious gift from God. We can choose to bring more love into the world or we can choose hatred or ambivalence. However, if we are followers of Christ, we are called to love one another as Christ loves us. Jesus is the vine. If we are truly the branches, then it is time for us to be bearing fruit that silences racism, hatred, poverty, hunger, violence and all the other ills that thrive in our society. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What fruit will you be known by?
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 Jesus is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 3, 2015
1 John 4:7-21