Circling Back Home, John 15:9-17, 8/25/13

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Aug 282013
 

Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church

 

9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

 

12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants* any longer, because the servant* does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (John 15:9-17, NRSV)

 

This passage begins with Jesus’ astounding words: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”  As God the Father loves God the Son, so God the Son loves us.  The fact that I can declare this aloud this morning and we can all remain upright is proof that we aren’t even close to understanding the full impact of what this means.  For if we did, every single one of us would fall on our knees, overcome with amazement and gratitude.

 

Remember, there is no greater force or power in the universe than the eternal love which exists between the three persons of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It was out of this mutually-shared divine love, in fact, that all of creation sprung to life.  God’s triune love is the force behind all the exists, and Jesus is telling us here that he loves us with the same love that the Father has for him.  This truth is simply inconceivable.  You and I will never, ever be able to comprehend the depth of God’s love for us.

 

But there’s more.  Jesus goes on.  “Abide in this love,” he says.  “Make your home in my love.  This is where I want you to live.”  This love which Christ has for us, this love which is so vast and so deep, Jesus wants us to make this love our home.

 

What does that mean?  How would I go about making Jesus’ love my home?  What does it mean to make anything your home?  I mean, what is a home in the first place?

 

Dorothy had to go all the way to Oz to figure out that there is no place like home.  Others have told us that home is where the heart is.  Bill Cosby once noted that human beings are the only creatures on the planet that allow their children to come back home.  (For some of you here today, that hits close to home!)  Robert Frost pointed out that home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in.

 

What is home?  Jesus’ words got me thinking about that this week.  If I ask you the question, “Where is home?”, what comes to mind?  Some of you immediately think of a house, the place you lay your head every night.  Others of you might think of a city where you don’t now live but once did.  Still others of you might think of people, your family or your closest friends.  As long as you are with the people you love it doesn’t matter where you are, you’re home.

 

The more I thought about this, it occurred to me that home is the place to which you always circle back.  You may travel a lot of places in life but at the end of the day your home is the place to which you return, the place where you belong, the place where you are welcome, the place where you can most be yourself, the place where you can rest and be restored.

 

By this definition, when Jesus tell us to make his love our home, he is telling us that no matter where life leads us, his love is the thing to which we are to circle back time and time again.  His love is where we belong.  His love is where we are welcome, where we can most be ourselves, where we can rest and be restored.  Life can only be lived as it was meant to be lived when the love of God, through Christ, has become our home.

 

Think about a young child who grows up with parents who love her unconditionally.  Their love for her has nothing to do with her achievements, her physical appearance, her personality, her successes or failures.  Her mom and dad simply love her because she is their daughter, completely and unreservedly.  As this little girl grows up her home has little to do with the house where she lives.  Her home, rather, is the love of her parents, something she will return to again and again.  And so, when things go well for her in life she will not allow her achievements to have too great an effect on her identity.  She doesn’t need her identity boosted because she rests secure in the belovedness she has known since her birth.  In the same way, when things do not go well for her in life she is not devastated, no matter what trial or disappointment comes her way.  In failure or pain she knows she can always go back to a home where she is assured that she is somebody of great value.

 

Of course, none of us have or are parents who love perfectly in this way.  In fact, some of us had parents who were not this way at all.  As a result, we may have spent the better part of our lives searching for the home we never had when we were kids.  As you know, people search for this home in a thousand places – in the arms of countless lovers, in money and wealth, in achievement at work, in status and fame, in their own children, the list goes on.  All of us are looking for that place to which we can circle back and always know that we belong.  Tragically, so many people have never found it.  You don’t have to live on the street, you know, to be homeless.

 

Here is Jesus saying to us, “Abide in my love.  Make my love your home.  No matter where life leads you, circle back time and time again to my love for you, to the identity of your belovedness.”  The love that God the Father has for God the Son, the love so powerful it birthed all of creation, this love is meant to be your home.  No matter what circumstances come your way in life, no matter how much you succeed or how much you fail, no matter what anybody else says about you or thinks about you, there is a home where, if you go there, you will find that you can finally rest secure.  As we say around here often, in Christ you are God’s beloved son, God’s beloved daughter, in whom He has found favor.

 

Is this your home?  If you do nothing else this morning, will you at least honestly ask yourself that question?  Is the love of Christ your home?

 

In verse 10 Jesus goes on, “When you keep my commandments, that’s when you are making your home in my love.”

 

What does Jesus mean here?  Is Jesus saying that he only loves us when we keep his commandments?  Does God’s love need to be earned by good behavior?  Can we only come home after we prove ourselves?  No.  Of course not.  The rest of the Gospels, in fact the whole of God’s Word, makes clear that we are saved by grace and that we are loved even in our sin.  As Romans 5:8 declares, “God proves his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

 

When we keep God’s commandments, when we trust and follow Christ wherever he leads us in life, we don’t earn his love but rather we experience his love.  You see, God made us, which means that God knows us completely, inside and out, better than we know ourselves.  And since God also made the world we live in, God knows how best to live in this world.  Now, the God who made us and the world we live in loves us completely.  You see, our Heavenly Father is a perfect father, which means that unlike any parent on earth his love will never fail us.  God always wants what is best for us.  God’s desire is that we thrive and flourish in this world, that we live life as it was meant to be lived, abundantly and eternally.  All this means – follow me here! – that when we trust God and follow his commandments, the boundaries he has set for us in life, we experience the fullness of life, the best of life.

 

A parent tells her young child not to run off the sidewalk and out into the street.  It’s a rule she gives her young son, a rule that is motivated by love, motivated by her desire for this young boy to experience the best life, a life that does not include getting run over by a truck.  As that young boy trusts his mother, even when what she says makes no sense from his five-year-old perspective, as he trusts her nonetheless, in a very tangible way he experiences the love of his mother on the safety of the sidewalk.  Her love-motivated commandment, when trusted, promotes the fullness of his life.

 

Out of love God has given us lots of commandments and boundaries in life.  God teaches us not to hoard wealth, to take a day of Sabbath rest each week, to protect the gift of sex within marriage, to honor our parents, to refuse to envy what others possess, to show compassion to the poor, to care for this earth, and, above all, to love him most and love others as we love ourselves.  When we follow these commandments of God we experience, in a very tangible way, God’s love for us.  And when that happens, we, as Jesus points out here in verse 11, experience the joy of Christ and that joy is made complete in us.  Trusting God leads us to make our home in Christ’s love.  Making our home in Christ’s love makes our joy complete.

 

Now, considering our context this is a strange place for Jesus to be talking about joy.  Remember, this is the night before Good Friday.  Jesus knows that the very next day he will experience suffering as the world has never known.  He will be tortured and then nailed to the cross, left there by his Father for death to claim him.  All this awaits Jesus in a matter of hours and here he is talking about his joy, about his joy that he wants to share with his followers.  I don’t know about you, but I think joy might be the last word I’d choose to describe myself if I were in his shoes at this point.

 

That’s because I fail to understand joy.  Too often I equate joy with happiness and that’s a mistake.  For happiness, unlike joy, is all tied up with circumstances.  Happiness follows good fortune around like a lovesick schoolboy.  If things go well for me I’m happy.  If they don’t, I’m not.  And herein is the main difference between joy and happiness.

 

Writer Fredrick Buechner says, “Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it to – a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation.  Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.”  You see, joy is not tied to our circumstances, to whether or not things go well.  Joy runs deeper than our happiness because joy runs deeper than our circumstances.  This is because the source of joy, true joy, is protected from the influence of life’s circumstances.

 

Can you begin to see why Jesus says that if you make your home in his love for you, you will find his joy, and your joy will be complete?  The circumstances of life can and will strip everything else away from us – our youth, our beauty, our health, our loved ones, our careers, our strength, our time, our possessions, our worldly status, even our very lives.  The only thing that circumstances cannot ever strip away is God’s love for us.  Psalm 136:1 proclaims, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”  Psalm 136 goes on to repeat that phrase 26 times!  “God’s steadfast love endures forever.  God’s steadfast love endures forever.  God’s steadfast love endures forever.”  Over and over again until we get it.  Nothing else will last.  God’s love for you will.  When you make that reality your home, there is joy.

 

Journalist Bob Garfield once wrote a piece for the Washington Post Magazine called “Fort Wayne, Bath Gel and Execubabes.”  Judging by the title, not a place where you might expect to find joy.  Buried deep in the article, however, is a short little story Garfield relates about a time he was traveling in Seoul, Korea.

 

One late evening, after a hearty dinner…and a pub crawl with a half-dozen South Korean advertising executives, I retired to my hotel room in downtown Seoul.  But as I prepared for bed, I was stricken with crushing chest pains, radiating down my arm and into my back.  Obviously, I was having a heart attack.

Or a gas attack.  How are you supposed to tell?  I thought of calling for help, but then I considered the problems of communication, and the chaos, and the potential for embarrassment — to say nothing of the uncertainties of Korean cardiac care…

So I decided to take my chances.  I managed, through the pain, to write a brief, tender note to my survivors, and lay down at peace with myself.  I loved my family.  They loved me.  I had accomplished some interesting things in my career.  No felony convictions.  Sufficiently insured.  Go to sleep now, Bob.  Maybe you will wake up.

To the best of my knowledge, I did.  And when I did, I was joyous — not that I had lived through the night, but that I had not been afraid to die.  I was at peace with myself, a priceless revelation.[1]

 

Now, I don’t know the source of Mr. Garfield’s joy, whether it was the love of God or not.  Therefore, I don’t know if the joy he felt was the “complete” joy Jesus speaks of here.  Nonetheless, he hits on this marvelous truth – joy runs deeper than circumstances, even deeper than death.  This is why I have met people, some of you in fact, who have faced death, either their own impending death or the death of a dearly loved one, and in the midst of their great loss and pain they still know joy.  Not happiness, of course.  But joy.

 

When the love of Christ for us is our home, that place to which we circle back to in life again and again and again regardless of the circumstances, we discover joy.  And it is Jesus’ desire that this joy would be complete in us.

 

This joy becomes even more profound we read on and hear Jesus proclaim that not only does he love us with the love his Father has for him, but that he also considers us his friends.  The God of the universe, the holy and sovereign creator of all there is, come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, considers every person who could come after him to be his friend.  And once again, the fact that I can make that statement this morning and we can all remain upright is proof that we aren’t even close to understanding the full impact of what this means.

 

“Of course”, we say, “Jesus is our friend.”  And the fact that we accept this so easily shows that when we look at Jesus we tend to focus mostly on all the ways that Jesus is like us.  He is human just as we are human.  We have failed, however, to focus enough on all the ways that Jesus is not like us.  Specifically, we have, too many of us, too low a view of this man about which scripture says, “In him the whole fullness of God dwells in bodily form.”[2]  Jesus, man as he is, is also God.  And when we begin to think in these terms, we find it much harder to believe that it is actually God who wants to be our friend.[3]  Okay, perhaps Jesus wants to be my friend.  We can accept that.  But God, we’re not so sure that it’s friendship God is after in this relationship.

 

Imagine meeting your hero, somebody famous you have for years admired from afar.   When I was younger, Michael Jordan was one of my heroes.  Like a lot of other young people, I wanted to be like Mike, at least on the basketball court.  If I had been able to meet Michael Jordan when I was a young man that would have been a thrill for me.  And I’d like to think that if such a meeting would have occurred that he would have at least given me a few minutes of his attention.  Asked my name.  Agreed to sign an autograph and pose for a photo.  Answered a few of my questions.  If he had done these things, especially if he had done them happily, I would have been impressed.  I would have told people, afterwards, “I met Michael Jordan and, you know what, he was a really great guy.  He could not have been nicer.”

 

Well, imagine that I actually did meet Michael Jordan one day and instead of just offering me a few polite minutes of his time, he tells me, without even a hint of condescension in his voice, that he’d like to have the chance to really get to know me.  So we go off to have lunch together, just me and MJ, and as we talk it becomes clear to me that he is genuinely interested in a friendship with me.  He wants to come and see where I live and meet my family, and then take me to meet his.  He has lots of questions about my life, just as many as I have about his.  As I get to know him over time he shares everything with me, his dreams, his passions, his fears, his failures.

 

Can you imagine that ever happening?  Consider this.  Michael Jordan is famous and widely revered only because he’s been exceptionally good at putting a leather ball through an iron hoop.  That’s it.  That’s why he’s considered great.  Yet even when you put it that way, I still can’t imagine that Michael Jordan or, for that matter, any celebrity would respond this way to a common fan like me, as interested in me as I would be in him, genuinely desiring a friendship.

 

In contrast, here is Jesus, the holy, sovereign, eternal Son of God, creator of the whole world, truly and infinitely greater than any other being in the universe, saying to those who come after him, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

 

How can this be?  How can one who is so high desire friendship with ones who are so low?  As we sing in the old hymn, “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?  What wondrous love is this?”

 

Having then declared his desire for friendship with his followers, the exclamation point on everything Jesus says here might just be the thing he says next.  In verse 16 Jesus declares, “You did not choose me but I chose you.”  Did you hear that?  In this relationship, this relationship between you and your Lord, you did not choose Him.  In spite of all the reasons you might think he had to not do so, Christ chose you.

 

This is such good news because have you ever tried to love somebody you know does not love you?  Or maybe you don’t know whether or not they love you?  It’s possible to love first or to love alone, or course, but it’s not easy.  How much easier it is to love and entrust yourself to somebody you know already loves you, and loves you absolutely.

 

In our relationship with Christ we are never the initiators.  Truth is, we’re the ones running in the other direction.  We’re the ones wanting nothing to do with this friendship.  It’s not us but Christ who is the one doing the choosing.  Christ is the one calling us by name as he pursues us to the far-reaches of creation.  Christ is the one with his hand extended out towards us.  Christ is the one stepping forward to close the gap between us.  Christ is the one laying down his life for us.  Christ is the one promising joy.  Christ is the one declaring his love.  Christ is the one turning on the porch light, unlocking the front door, preparing a room for us, and inviting us to come home, to come and make our home with him.

 

“As my Father has loved me,” he says, “so I have loved you.  Abide in my love.  Wherever life leads you, my friends, circle back again and again to my love which is your home.”

 

Amen.

 

 

The Next Step

A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application

 

 

How do you respond when somebody asks you the question, “So, where’s home?”  How do you define “home”?

 

Read John 15:9-17.  What do you notice?  What strikes you?

 

Jesus says that he loves us with the same love that the Father has for him.  What does this mean to you?  How can this be possible?

 

Jesus says that we are to make his love for us our home (i.e. “abide in my love”).  How does a person make Jesus’ love their home?  Have you?

 

In verse 11 Jesus talks about joy, complete joy.  What is this joy?  Have you experienced it?  Can you be joyful and sad at the same time?

 

Do you think of Jesus as your friend?  Do you think of God as your friend?

 

Did you choose God or did God choose you?

 

Suggested Scriptures for the Week: Taken from the Seeking God’s Face resource our church is using daily.

Monday:                               Psalm 60: 1-4, 10-12 ~ Leviticus 26: 1-5, 11-13

Tuesday:                               Psalm 61 ~ Numbers 6: 22-27

Wednesday:                         Psalm 62: 1-8 ~ Numbers 13:1-3, 26-33

Thursday:                             Psalm 63: 1-5 ~ Numbers 14: 1-9

Friday:                                   Psalm. 64: 1-8 ~ Nu. 14:1-2a, 10b-13, 17-24

Saturday:                              Psalm 65: 1-4, 8 ~ Numbers 27: 12-18, 22-23

Sunday:                                 Psalm 66: 1-4, 16-20 ~ Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 5, 9

 

 

 

 



[1] Bob Garfield, “Fort Wayne, Bath Gels and Execubabes”, The Washington Post Magazine, March 14, 1999, p. 38.

[2] Colossians 2:9.

[3] As if Jesus and the Father could be separated like this.