I love this letter from John. I suspect that while Paul and I would have argued a lot (and probably both enjoyed it), John and I would have gotten along just fine.
It’s all about love again today. A clergy friend is fond of saying that each of us just has one sermon we preach, the way we say it is all that changes. I’m not entirely sure that’s true, but if it is my one sermon is pretty clearly: God loves you, go and do likewise. Which is why John and I are sympatico.
You’d think that if someone like Jesus comes along saying that God loves us that would be welcome news, we’d all grab hold of it and not ever let go. It’d sweep the world with one big sigh of relief. I’m a little bit Vulcan in that I love logic, reason, and for things to make sense.
So it drives me round the bend that so many people seem so resistant to the Good news we get from both Jesus and John today. What is it about us humans? Why is the truth that we’re loved, just as we are, so hard to grasp? A lot of my favorite clergy are active on twitter. It’s good practice for people who tend to drone on for ages to have to be super brief I suppose. And we love to debate, which Twitter seems made for.
We were talking this week about grace and love. And one particular person kept coming back insisting that all our talk of “love” and “grace” (for certain folks) was going to back fire on Judgement Day when we were faced with the wrath of God. Y’all this dude was supposedly a Christian minister.
He was convinced that Jesus had died to save us from God’s wrath and righteous hatred. (And yet some folks wouldn’t actually be saved in the end, or something.)
And here is why I think Christians often can’t talk to one another well: there’s no common ground when some of us believe in an avenging deity who is out for our blood, and the rest of us believe really and truly that God loves all God’s children.
If you’ve ever tried to grow something you know that wrath isn’t helpful. If you hate your grapevine, rosebush, daisies they are not going to thrive. I’m a gardener, it was one of the most important things to me when we bought our house here, to have a yard where I could grow roses, and big mounds of perennials, and old fashioned hydrangea.
I love this time of year because I get to put my hands back into the soil, to gently feel the new green leaves, and carefully trim away dead winter killed limbs. It’s a labor of love. I know every rose, I remember the stories behind them (I helped their hybridizes test some of them!). I know their habits and what they prefer. I love watching them grow bigger, healthier, more beautiful year by year.
While I might not be keen on the shepherd and sheep imagery, I love when Jesus uses gardening analogies because I get it. The God who prunes the Body of Christ like a grape vine has to act out of love and care, not anger and vengeance. It is a slow, careful, and patient thing a gardener does who grows grape vines. They take years to become mature, decades even. The pruning work is exacting.
And here’s the thing: we often hear about God’s work with us as something painful, to be endured. But when you prune away dead wood it doesn’t hurt or harm the plant. You are removing that which holds that plant back, which gets in the way of its healthy growth!
The liturgies that shape our lives are the form on which God trains us up as a community, using those strong posts and wires to give us something to grab onto, something to train and shape us into a good and healthy community, into healthy members of the body of Christ.
And as such we each have a purpose. There is no part of the vine that is not needed, no part of the vine that is not vital to the health of the whole. The older the branches the more weight they support, the more fruit they produce. The young ones might grow vigorously, might send out lots and lots of runners but if you’ve grown anything you know that maturity and time and patience are key.
We are loved by God, that I can tell you with absolute certainty because I have felt and experienced that love. And we are little shoots, producing fruit of love to feed and nourish the world. That’s our invitation, that is our gift. No matter who we are, no matter what other qualifications we think we might or might not have. We have love, and that is enough.