I John 5:1-6 John 15:9-17

May 10, 2015 by Ken Dale

So ? when you think about God do think of the awesomeness, greatness, sacred otherness of God ? or is God ?your friend?? In our gospel lesson this morning we just heard Jesus ? God with us ? incarnate if we haven?t lost touch with the Christmas message yet ? we heard Jesus call his disciples and so us ? ?no longer servants but friends.? While preparing for Bible study this past Wednesday I was reading the William Barclay commentary on Romans. An H G Wells? story was shared of a man who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The man?s doctor told him that the only thing that would help him find the peace he needed was fellowship with God. The man responded: ?What! ? to think of that, up there, having fellowship with me! I would as soon think of cooling my throat with the Milky Way or shaking hands with the stars.? The point of course was that for that man God was unfindable.

We think of the awesomeness of God! That comment about the unfindable God brought to mind a term I once came across: ?Theological Astrophysics.? The metaphor, actually lifted for the message of our reading from I John, stated this: the orderly attraction of a stable gravitational field ? one in which belief, kinship with God and one another, love, obedience, the commandments of God, triumph over the world, and ?our faith? are all elements encircling each other, held in orbit by a centering energy point, named by the writer as Jesus the Christ. ?Theological Astrophysics? came in when the point was made that the writer of I John, speaking to his readers in concern for false teachers in their midst, was wanting to exert a redemptive pull on those who are drifting slowly out of orbit from the magnetic energy surging forth as Unconditional Love.

??????????? Did you follow any of that? This is in reference to ?our faith.? Perhaps some of you did ? but I didn?t. I never took physics?. barely made it through chemistry!

So how about this. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize and was asked ?What can we do to promote world peace?? She answered, ?Go home and love your family.? The question was about world peace ? and her answer was go home and love your family. Pretty simple, straightforward and clear wouldn?t you say? No theological astrophysics there.

There is that gift of God called unconditional love and the call to us to obey God?s commandment to love one another as we have been loved by God. Today ? Mother?s Day or Festival of the Christian Home is a great day to consider that. In I John we have heard everyone who loves the parent loves the child. And in the gospel reading we heard Jesus tell his disciples, I do not call you servants any longer?but I have called you friends. In the Greek they are no longer ?slaves? but friends. In ancient times being a slave of a good master was not denigrating but could actually be a title of respect. But a slave was most certainly not the same as a friend. It was the obligation of a slave to support a master, say through a difficult or challenging time. But a friend would do it freely and quite naturally out of a sense of commitment to that other person and no doubt it would be mutual. Such love between friends is not burdensome ? we might almost say it just happens automatically because it is what it is.

For John, I think that is what that theological astrophysics is. Believing, obeying, and the kinship that results ? and then John says, that victory of faith is what conquers the world. What?s that all about? In a nutshell doesn?t it have to do with God?s love changing the way the world works? God?s love as we see in this passage and in our Gospel lesson this morning is a self-emptying love. Today we are reminded that God loved Jesus. But God sent Jesus into the world to live this life we live. In him and through his life God came to be with us and show us what that love was all about. And that love brought changes for the better ? in that he called us to love one another.

The reading from Acts this morning is a brief reading that tells of those first new Christians who came out of Judaism ? being astonished that the Holy Spirit had been poured out ?even on the Gentiles.? They didn?t think that was a possibility ? but God had bigger ideas than what they held as possible. And Peter said, ?Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have??

We believe in a still speaking living God ? and a God who in Christ is filled with a self-emptying love that spreads God?s love in surprising places and ways. We believe in a God who is living in our midst and that love ? God?s grace ? continues to stretch us and we don?t like to get stretched sometimes. We don?t always like change.

I love Martin Copenhaver?s story about Lyman Beecher, the great Puritan preacher, who was minister of the Congregational Church in Litchfield, Connecticut, in the first part of the nineteenth century.? During that time a debate arose in the congregation about whether they would install a wood stove in the meetinghouse.? Before then they had never had any heat at all in the meetinghouse.? If it were cold, you would come to worship thickly bundled.?? Some in the congregation thought a wood stove would be an improvement, but others were dead set against this new technological intrusion in their sacred space.? Eventually, the pro-stove contingent prevailed. The first Sunday after the stove was installed some of those who had opposed the installation of the stove complained that the meeting house was too hot for them.? The men started taking off their jackets and loosening their collars.? Some of the women were furiously fanning themselves, trying to stay cool. Lyman Beecher got into the pulpit and said, “You will notice that this is the first Sunday we have had our new stove.? And next week we will put some wood in it and start a fire.”

For many of us that unconditional love of God, that self-emptying love, is experienced in the context of family. Sometimes that love reeled us in, kept us back where we needed to be. Sometimes that love was greater than we thought and allowed us to stretch ? even called us to stretch. In the world in which we live today the form a family may take is different in many ways ? and we need to be open to that living God and that expanding love and how sometimes it?s greater than what we?re comfortable with ? at least great enough to surprise us, to new thinking, new ground, just as those early Christians were surprised that even the Gentiles were filled with that Holy Spirit, and that love of God. Like Beecher?s congregation, we may be too quick to complain about the heat.

The ultimate test is to see if the love of God is behind it. Is it possible that God?s love is stretching once again to some new space and open up some new avenue for grace to flow? In our gospel lesson Jesus calls the disciples friends and so calls us as well. Without losing the holiness, the divinity, the awe of God and of God in Christ ? it is nothing short of miracle to be called friends of Jesus. Dr. James Howell has an interesting perspective on friendship. Our notion of friendship is having fun, sharing interests, someone you?re side by side with – But in that ancient world a friend was someone who helped you be wise and good and what Jesus addresses is our help in loving God. And he says there is no greater love than to lay yourself down for a friend ? that self-giving love. Are we willing to go there? And we are chosen ? and chosen to go and bear fruit ? and that fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It should be automatic ? theological astrophysics?

That?s faith ? that?s what conquers this world in which we live! May we be open to that Spirit ? as today we celebrate the Festival of Christian Home ? and remember that we are ? brothers and sisters ? in God?s family.???? ??????????????????????? Amen.