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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Easter 5, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
May 3, 2015

Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8


‘God is Love’

When have you seen your own life “bear fruit” because you have experienced Love? God be with you …

Some people don’t much like John’s Gospel. Some Christians say they don’t like it. As a portrait of Christ, it is, they say, too heroic, too triumphant. The verse that attracts most criticism is in John 14, where Jesus says: “I myself am the Way—I am the Truth, and I am Life. No one comes to Abba God but through me” (14: 6). Certainly, it is a verse prone to misinterpretation. And taken in isolation, it smacks of arrogance, intolerance, self-righteousness, and all the attitudes—sins—that are (biblically) unacceptable.

Today’s homily is a brief word in defence of John’s Gospel, which, as a whole, is the antithesis of such attitudes—John 14 and 15 especially so. The Evangelist voices the incredulity and puzzlement of the church—then and now—as to the person and work of Jesus—via the doubts and questions of Peter, Thomas, Philip and Judas.

In our liturgies we've included a translation by Richard Kearney: Jesus says: “I am now part of you, my way is yours, you will not get lost” (John 14:6).

Far from being an exclusive “guru” figure dispensing eternal wisdom to followers, Jesus invites all who see and hear him to join him in humiliation as the One who goes to the cross, united with Abba God in redemptive suffering for the whole world.

John’s Jesus is strong, yes. John’s Jesus is confident. John’s Jesus is no wimp, no doormat. And yet, his strength is his confidence, his faith in redemptive suffering. That qualifier is so crucial. To be one with Christ in his humiliation means to come to grips with the kind of suffering he endures ...

Redemptive suffering … To redeem means to win back—we might say it means, also, to heal, to recover, to reconcile, to include. When I am subjected to some kind of violence—when the poor are subjected to any kind of persecution—when the outsider, like the Ethiopian eunuch in our reading from Acts, is threatened, by hostility or indifference—then I may discern the action best suited to redeeming/including the violent one, the persecutor, the hostile or indifferent ones.

How difficult. Especially in a week that has seen the executions of two remorseful prisoners. We wonder whether humanity will ever learn. What action now is best suited to redeeming/including the violent one?

John’s Jesus shows me that such action will shun vengeance, will resist blaming and shaming, will seek the Way of Truth and Life that is most respectful, most “adult”, most loving—in order to win back, to heal, to include. And it is into this kind of non-violent love that Christ invites us when he says: “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Christ calls us into a mature and responsible loving—in an imperfect and hostile world, a loving that is willing and able to suffer. 

Graham Long, pastor of the Wayside Chapel, wrote the following words this week to friends and supporters of the chapel. “My word to the sad is that there are times when the only gift possible for humanity is to carry a heavy heart. Your hope for a dignified and fair world has been offended. In times of such grief it’s common to strike out with angry words and quick judgements. We need to not shield ourselves from the full sadness that comes from the haunting thought of bullets ripping through the flesh of those executed ... but we also need to know that our grief is just that, grief. It is not the time for us to find new ways of offending Indonesia. Let the grief blow us where it will but let the healing begin soon. Indonesia’s position on the death penalty will not move while we are waving our fingers and beating our chests. Both countries are sickened by the work of drug pushers and both countries could work together to form policies and practices that are humane and constructive. Australia is not superior; we’re not even more humane. If there was a referendum calling for the death penalty for pedophiles in this country, I promise you it would be successful. There is a dark side in both our countries and it requires people of good will in both countries to look for the best in the other and work for the best of both.”

Sometimes, when I see that someone has really found a home in the church, is really finding Christian liturgy and community meaningful and life-giving, I am a little overwhelmed—to quote a Johannine phrase, I am reborn, I am pruned and prepared for new life. When I see that someone is finding peace and strength in Christian liturgy and community, I ask myself again why I am a part of it, and the answer seems to come from within and inspire some other kind of patience, respect and reverence for the world around me. Christ calls me into a mature and responsible loving—in an imperfect and hostile world, a love that is willing and able to suffer.

Love is strong and confident—willing and able to suffer for the sake of others in thrall to violence, or resigned to it. The strength of Jesus—and John’s portrait is heroic—is that he is neither in thrall nor resigned to violence. He knows and shows another way.

Most scholars think that the letters we have as 1, 2 and 3 John are works from the same community as that which produced the Gospel of John. The Johannine Letters deal with divisions, real and potential, in the community. And the cause of the greatest tension is a certain Gnosticism or spiritual escapism. The tension has to do with some members of the community teaching that Christ is a spiritual power only—that Christ did not really come “in the flesh” and deal in physical, political, human realities. This is the common refrain throughout the letters: “Many deceitful people have gone out into the world, people who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 7).

The way that Jesus knows and shows is a way of the world, a way of flesh, a way of social and political engagement, a way of actual, bodily suffering—redemptive because it is, above all, a way of love. It calls us to stand up for ourselves and for all those who are downtrodden. Our reading for today is from 1 John 4: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God in them … our relation to this world is just like Christ’s …”.

I like that last phrase in particular: Our relation to this world is just like Christ’s.

When have you seen your life “bear fruit” because you have experienced Love? Take a grape and place it near the Cross as you share … Amen.