Sunday Sermon 9th May - What does our friendship mean?
The chosen hymns for this week, Beauty for brokenness and These are the days of Elijah can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
What does our friendship mean?
John 15: 1-10
John 15: 11-17
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 9nd May.
We have been living with social isolation for over a year. Cut off from friends and family, maybe even feeling we are cut off from God.
With Easter we saw how God reaches out to us, offers us a new chance for a relationship with him.
But what does that look like?
We saw last week that we can confuse admiration with what God is seeking from us.
God doesn’t want is admiration.
We admire Olympic athletes, we admire football players, we might even admire people with great political power, but that admiration doesn’t affect our lives and what we do, it doesn’t change who we are.
Jesus had a lot of admirers, he had crowds of thousands following him around, and more often than not he chased them away.
He didn’t want admirers; he didn’t want people seeing him as entertainment.
Jesus wanted people who dedicated their lives to God.
This week we carry on that reading and see where it takes us, what does it mean to be truly dedicated to Jesus?
I have a stash of lollipops like these.
These are safely hidden and only to be used in extreme circumstances.
I know that sweets aren’t good for me, I also know I really like sweets.
So I have a deal.
I have this stash of lollipops.
And if I have a really bad day to go through, then once that day is finished I treat myself to a lollipop, that way, even though I know the day is going to be bad, I also know that at the end of the day something good will happen.
Or if I have something in my life that is truly wonderful, then I will celebrate that event with a lollipop.
The day I have my first game of competitive squash, I will come out of the court, go into the car and there waiting for me will be a lollipop.
I see these lollipops as something really special.
My granddaughter however has a different relationship with these lollipops, she just sees them as something to be eaten as soon as possible.
My granddaughter discovered my stash of lollipops and said, ‘Granddad, I see those lollipops.’
‘Yes they are hidden over there because they are for special occasions.’
‘Granddad, I know where you could hide a lollipop.’
‘In my mouth.’
As you can clearly see, a very different relationship with my lollipops.
And I think in our readings today what Jesus is trying to get to is a very different relationship with God.
I have been studying the Old Testament a lot over lockdown.
I regard the Old Testament as a wonderful book about the development of understanding about God.
Here were a people that knew very little about God, and through their interactions with God they begin to understand what God is like;
how important his guidance and help and wisdom is to us,
how important his path for us is,
how destructive and meaningless our lives can be without him.
But when you only look at God from a distance, then it is easy to misunderstand that relationship.
Fore instance there is a vein going through the Old Testament of people trying to do deals with God. There is a man called Jacob who seems to spend his whole life doing deals with God, trusting no one. And God works with him and helps him but it isn’t a great relationship.
And I am sure that every now and again we can be like that with God.
A bit like my children when they were young.
Occasionally one of them would ask for something and I would say no and then they would come back with. ‘If you give me this then I will never ask for anything ever again.’
I would demand this is in writing so that every time they then asked for something then I could just show them the note they signed when they were three.
But for some reason my wife felt I would be taking advantage of them.
But it is not uncommon for me to hear adults say things like, ‘I don’t know why this has happened to me? I don’t know what I have done to deserve this?’
Which is just another way of saying, ‘God and I had a deal. I would be good and he would make sure that bad things never happened to me.
It’s Ok for bad things to happen to other people, but not to me, because God and I had a deal, and God has broken it.’
And it is easy to look at some of the Old Testament and think that is what is happening.
God has a special deal with the Israelites and as long as they do as God says; worship in the Temple, give the right sacrifices, then God will look after them.
Even though that is not what God wanted, that was the way some understood their relationship.
So in our passage Jesus is trying to explain what our relationship is like.
And at first glance it doesn’t make much sense.
Jesus has been spending years telling people that they can all have a relationship with God, that that relationship is unconditional.
And Jesus has shown that in his ministry.
10 lepers where cured, one of them wasn’t even a Jew.
A Roman soldier’s daughter was healed, to the Jews that would be like Jesus healing a Nazi’s daughter.
Jesus reached out a relationship with God to people who would never have been socially acceptable; tax collectors, women caught in adultery, women of other faiths.
Jesus told parables where non Jews, like Samaritans, were the hero’s.
All through Jesus’ ministry Jesus is saying, God’s love is there for everyone.
And yet, and yet here Jesus is saying, ‘If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my father’s commands and remain in his love.’
So what is it?
I think the clue comes when Jesus says, ‘I do not call you servants any longer because a servant doesn’t know what the master is doing. Instead I call you friends...’
I think Jesus is trying to make it clear that often we get it wrong when we think of God.
We think our relationship is uneven. There is this all knowing, all powerful God, and then there is us.
Our job is not to question God, our job is not to doubt God, our job is not to think, just obey, no matter how hard or cruel or unloving those instructions are.
We are servants.
We don’t question, we just obey.
If we don’t obey then the master can do anything he wants to us for we have no rights.
If that is what our faith is like then our job is to avoid punishment at all cost, and we do that by meticulously obeying what we think God says.
But Jesus says that is a mistake.
And when we look at history, when we look at what people have done in the name of God, done in blind obedience to what they think God says, then I think we can safely say that Jesus was right.
Instead Jesus says that the relationship is more even than that.
God offers everyone his love.
But there is a huge difference between love offered, and love received.
A true disciple not only sees the offer of God’s love, they receive that love.
And they show that they have received that love, by offering that same love to others in both word and deed.
I started with a story about my granddaughter and sweets.
So I will finish this reflection with another one.
You see I have another stash of sweets.
These are the treats my granddaughter gets every time she comes up to see me.
We disappear into the study and she points to the sweet bucket that has jelly babies in it.
I say, ‘How many sweets do you think you should get?’
And she will think about it for a couple of seconds and say, ‘I think I should get three because I am three.’
These are sweets that are from the abundance of my heart, these are sweets that are freely given. She knows that those sweets have never run out.
Sometimes she looks into the bucket and there aren’t that many left, but miraculously the next time she visits the bucket is full again.
And so I will say, ‘What about mummy? Do you think mummy would like one?’
And she will say yes and goes and picks one for her mum and then come back to get her own.
She has learnt that she can be generous with her sweet bucket because it never runs dry.
Now she could decide that mummy shouldn’t get any sweets because maybe her bucket will run dry one day and it is better to be safe.
She could decide that they are sweets for her only and not to be shared.
But ask yourself this...which child will have the better heart?
The one who is confident enough to share
or the one fearful of anyone else having her sweets?
What heart would you want for that child?
But then we need to ask ourselves, which heart would we want for ourselves?
Because God is offering us a relationship of love and care and guidance and help and strength.
That bucket never empties either.
And we have a choice, because God says to us, ‘But what about your child, what about your parents, what about your spouse, what about your neighbour, do you think they would want to share in this generosity and love and guidance?’
Do we then encourage within ourselves a heart of generosity and openness and so show them that same love and care,
or do we encourage a heart based round fear that maybe God’s love has a limit and we shouldn’t share?
God’s love has been offered to us, the question we should reflect on, is have we received that love?
Let us pray
You ask us to bear great fruit in our lives; the fruit of love and care, patience and forgiveness.
But such fruit can only come from a generous heart.
Such fruit can only come from a heart that is open and secure.
Forgive us when we act out of fear.
Forgive us when we feel that you are limited.
Forgive us when we feel that you are not enough and that we cannot rely on you.
In those times help us to see the truth.
Help us to see all those times in the past that you have been our strength.
Help us to see all those times in the past that you have forgiven us our mistakes.
Help us to see that even when our motives have been their darkest, especially when our motives have been at their darkest, that your hand of hope and care has reached out to us.
Your offer of friendship, or relationship, is constant, help us to be wise enough to accept it with the generosity in which it is given.
As we have been greatly loved, may we love greatly.
As we have been so generously received, so may we generously give.
So may our hearts be full of thankfulness and hope.
This we ask in Jesus name.
Remember, if you want to see our worship live then phone me up between 6-9pm Monday-Friday. Places are limited so they are given on a first come, first served basis.
But if you are unable to attend for whatever reason you can also watch them the way you are watching this service.
We are also open for anyone to come in for private prayer and reflection on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am and 1pm.
And a reminder to the trustees that the Board and Session will be meeting at 7pm on Tuesday 11th May.
A closing blessing.
And so we go in joy and in gratitude for the love of God,
the care and compassion of Jesus
and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Let us go into the world to share that love and joy with all whom we meet.
And as we do,
may the blessing of God almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
rest and dwell with us all.
Today, tomorrow and always.