Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 9 May 2021.
• First Reading: Acts 10: 44-48 (The first gentile believers were baptized)
• Psalm 98
• Epistle: 1 John 5: 1-6 (The victory that overcomes the world is our faith)
• Gospel: John 15: 9-17 (My commandment: love one another as I have loved you)
There are places where we can hear the comment that ‘God is in His heaven and all’s well in the world’. It suggests that God had created the world and then left it to its own devices. God has done His bit and could now go off on holiday. The world may look after itself.
It offers us a picture of life as a cold and grey routine with occasional releases of amusement or satisfaction but it is really more about leaving us to deal with the difficult aspects as best we can and then get on with life.
I have to say that I find this view to be cold, uncaring and generally indifferent to life and to our encounters with one another. Life is functional but no more than that.
Perhaps this view has more to do with the squabbling deities of Greek mythology which are more akin to a soap opera than the glories of the Kingdom of God.
There is no place here for the Jesus, the Son of God to enter our lives and share our trials and reverses.
When we look at our lessons there is a very different approach. It is one where life only has any meaning as we join our lives with Jesus Christ and when we ask Him to join His life with ours.
We find that Jesus is as personally and directly committed to us as God His Father is committed to Him. Nothing less. This sense of Jesus in our lives is shown in several places in the Gospels and each embraces the other. Here, before His passion, we find Him saying that ‘As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you.’
After His resurrection, Jesus spoke with the same kind of emphasis: ‘As the Father has send Me, so I send you.’ Jesus is placing those who believe in Him, who love Him and trust Him, in the same kind of relationship with Him as He has with God His Father.
Nothing less is in prospect. He places the same kind of confidence in us that His Father has placed in Him. He urges us to the same kind of bonding with Him as He has with the Father and just as important, He urges us to the same kind of bonding with one another as He has with the Father.
This can never be a life of grey routine, blind compliance, and dull and unresponsive relationships. Jesus’ plan for us is to be fruitful in the kind of lives that He is leading us into. It means spiritual fruits that will last into eternity, and qualities of life that are themselves of the quality of the life and being of God.
In ourselves we will certainly say that this prospect is completely fanciful, that its expectations are preposterous and that the sugar rush of coming to faith will soon give way to trial and difficulty which are quite foreign to the glory and wonder of God.
But even this is short-sighted and dull of heart. It is certainly true that the life of faith will have its share of trials, temptations, failures and disappointments with others and certainly with ourselves.
There will be times when fellowship seems remote and prayer becomes a labour. Here the ‘God is in His heaven’ approach is one of resignation and even despair.
Yet the intimacy of Jesus with us is pointer to us, for what the senses do not perceive the spirit will penetrate. The trials we undergo can themselves be offered to the Lord, and can be made part of our worship. It is as we do this then they can also be brought into some kind of proportion.
I certainly recall parts of my life which were growing more and more draining until I learned to offer them to the Lord. Instead of praying for myself, the turning point was when I started praying for the other people concerned. This was when relationships and attitudes started to come under control and I was finding the situations much less difficult to manage.
The new sense of perspective is when we stop doing our self-selected things for God and allow Him to do His things in and through us.
To abide in Christ is to allow His fruit to be cultivated in our lives and not just for us to fulfil some life-aims of our own. It is the effectiveness of His agenda in our lives that makes the difference and as we yield them to His so we also allow Him to take control and to show us new aspect of His Kingdom.
The fruits that He will cultivate in us may not be the things that we expected for ourselves but we will see them as our reactions to events begin to change. It will be there when we see things more as they relate to His purposes and less as they relate to our own. Sometimes God’s pruning knife in our lives will be painful.
It will be there when we find ourselves in places and situations far beyond our imaginations and yet finding that there is a grace and a provision in them that we had never even considered let alone expected.
Yes, the Lord will surprise us with blessing never expected and relationships never looked for. New kinds of insight and new ways of paying. New ways of trusting and new ways of committing.
In its way, the fruitfulness of our personal lives and our life as a church always belongs to the Lord, for if it His fruit then we are not able to claim it. But then His is the harvest, His are the fruits, and His are the servants who make themselves open to His plans.