Sermon transcript, 10 May 2015

Abide in My love by Fr. Dana

Acts 11:19-30, Psalm 33, I John 4:7-21, John 15:9-17


This morning, let’s take an in-depth look at the Gospel (John 15:9-17) and what it says to us. This is at the Last Supper: Jesus is talking to His disciples, in His last address to them before He goes to lay down His life.

Living under water

Read John 15:9. Jesus is telling them that love that He showed them – the love that He had for them, the love that He gave them – is the love with which the Father loved Him. It’s not just any love: it’s not, “Hey, guys; it’s been great, I’ve enjoyed this”; but, “I’ve given you everything I am, because the Father has given Me everything He is. And so don’t just receive My love – abide in My love. Don’t just long for it, or wish you had it, don’t strive for it, don’t imitate it – live in it, breathe it, inhale it, exhale it. Realise that you are submerged in it wherever you go.”

It’s almost like living under water. If you were to live under water, something would have to change about your lungs. Now if I’m under water for more than about 40 or 60 seconds, my body starts reacting, and my mind starts reacting and says “I need air, I need to get out of here quickly”, and if I’m close to the surface I don’t panic, but if I’m down about 12 feet I get a little worried. To live under water I have to be changed: my breathing apparatus has to change.

Sometimes we think God has just been spraying His love on us: wherever we go there’s this nice little spray that keeps us warm. It’s more than that: He’s not spraying His love on us. When we live as if it’s a spray, then when the spray stops we think, “Oh, what’s wrong?” But we’re not living under a spray. When we become a child of God, when we receive Him into our heart, and we receive His Holy Spirit, we are immersed in His love. We are not only immersed into the water of Baptism, from which we come back out: we are brought out of the water, but we are never brought out of His love. We are submerged, and we live there.

Every person is created by God and loved by God; but until they are born again into the Kingdom of God, they walk in the midst of this water without ever being touched by it. They are not submerged in it the way we are. Have you ever been in an aquarium with tunnels underneath the water with the fish in it, so you can walk and see the fish swimming over you and around you? That’s what it’s like to not know the Lord; but when you know the Lord, you’re walking in the water; you’re breathing the water, you’re breathing His love. It’s in here, it’s in your lungs, it’s in your nostrils, it’s everywhere: you can’t get away from it.

We are submerged, but we need to unblock the flow

Read John 15:10. How do we know that we are submerged in His love? How do we know that we are abiding in His love? If we keep His commandments, we are abiding in His love. But when we fail – and we all do – ninety-nine times out of a hundred we know that we’ve failed. It hurts us, and sometimes it makes us angry. Have you ever been angry at yourself? “I did it again! How many times do I repeat this same thing?” Sometimes it makes us despair: “Will I ever learn? Will I ever do it right?” And it’s usually at that point that the enemy comes in and tries to convince us that we’ve run out of His love – that He’s really only been spraying His love on us and that we’ve somehow stepped out from under the spray, and now we’re in trouble. He knows that we’re weak at that point, and he wants to convince us that either we’ve gone out of the pattern of His spray or He’s shut the water off: “OK, you blew it – I’m shutting the water off.” Both of those are a lie, because the water of His love is not being sprayed on us – we are immersed, submerged in it. He wants us to give up: “God’s shut the water off, you may as well do what I want”, says Satan. But it’s a lie. Perhaps for a moment we’re not able to breathe: something is blocking us from taking in that water of love; maybe we’ve reverted to our air-breathing lungs for a moment – but it’s only for a moment: still we are immersed in His love, and His love is still filling us, it’s still in our lungs. And when we repent and confess, the flow is restored.

That’s the abiding. We talked about “I am the Vine, you are the branch…” (John 15:5); “abiding” just means connected so the flow happens. It doesn’t mean you don’t have problems, it doesn’t mean you don’t fail, but it just means whatever happens, keep connected. To use the water analogy, make sure the pipes are connected and if something blocks it find out what it is and use whatever it takes – which spiritually is confession: “There’s a blockage here; I can tell because I’m not getting enough water.” I confess; your blockage is gone, the flow is restored. The water was always there; if there’s something that’s keeping it from flowing, that’s temporary: the water hasn’t left. The water of God’s love is still there; we are still submerged in it.

No one can take away your joy

Read John 15:11. With this love – which you can think of as a vast, permanent ocean of redeeming love – with this love comes also His joy. When you truly understand what He’s saying about being submerged in His love, you will have true joy like you have never known. Not giddy happiness – oh goody! – because giddy happiness doesn’t last. Stuff always comes around that ruins it: the world doesn’t co-operate, I don’t cooperate, my flesh doesn’t cooperate; the devil doesn’t cooperate; everything tries to defeat – and does defeat – my happiness; but it can’t defeat my joy if I know I’m walking submerged in His love, everywhere I go. I turn this way, I turn that way, I run as fast as I can… I can’t get out of His love: I can’t.

In John 16:16, 20-21, Jesus tells His disciples, “I’m going to go to Jerusalem and be crucified, and you’re going to be sad: your happiness will be gone.” But He also tells them that He will rise: “I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you” (John 16:22).

Imagine what it was like to be a disciple who has been with Jesus for three years and seen Him do all these incredible things: He walked on water, He raised the dead multiple times, and then you watch Him be crucified. “I had these incredible hopes; I knew this was the truth, I knew this was the answer, I knew this was going to be a permanent change in the world” – and He died. What is going on? Imagine the disappointment – because they didn’t understand what He was saying here. But He’s telling them that they will get it; because they’ll see Him again, and then they’ll understand all these things that He’s been saying: “I’ll rise again on the third day; the temple that you destroyed I will rebuild in three days”… And when they’ve seen that and gone from incredible hope to complete and total despair and they see Him after the despair, they will never worry again. They can’t get any lower than they were the morning after Good Friday; that’s the lowest of the low: “He’s gone, we’re done, and the soldiers are going to come for us next. It’s over.” And when He appears – if He can conquer death, what should I be afraid of?

“And your joy no one will take from you.” When you realise that His love never ends, there is no spray to walk out of, there is an unlimited ocean of love that we walk in and that we breathe and move in, and it inhabits us; His love never leaves us: we can’t find its limit, because it doesn’t have a limit, and He will never forsake us, His love will never leave us, He will never leave us – just as when He was in the grave and the disciples were dead sure that he had left them, that it was over, even then He had not left them: it was their emotions and their understanding that said that it was over. But just because they felt it, and just because they thought it, and just because every evidence of everything they looked at said that was the case, didn’t make it the truth. He never forsook them, even in the darkest hour of the history of the universe; and so He’s not going to leave you either. And if you can get hold of that, your joy will never end. It doesn’t matter how bad things get. I guarantee they won’t get as bad as they looked for the disciples on Holy Saturday: your life may be in more danger than theirs, but you can’t get as hopeless as them because you know the truth – they didn’t understand it; you do.

When we sin, often the first thing that leaves us is our joy: “Not again!” And when our joy goes, it’s much easier for Satan to convince us that His love has gone as well. We think, “I’m mad at me; God must be really mad at me, because He’s perfect and I’m not, and if this is bothering me, just think what He thinks about what I’m doing.” It’s a lie. That’s why it’s so critical for us to understand that we are immersed, we are submerged in His love, not just sprayed with it. When we sin, our happiness may leave us; but when we repent, we find that the joy never left us. It never left us because His love never left us.

Love with His love

Read John 15:12. Uh-oh! He’s been talking about how much He loves us. I really enjoy receiving. Come on, Jesus: love me as much as You want: I can handle it. Cover me up with it. He goes beyond that: “I’ve loved you; now love one another.” What? “Wait a minute – I can stand here and be immersed in Your love; but You want me to love with Your love?” Now He’s messing with our lives. He’s not just pouring in – He’s saying, “I want something to happen in here, something different.” Jesus goes far beyond His love for us. Remember, He first said that if we love Him we’ll obey His commandments. And now He gives us no wiggle-room: “This is My commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” Not just “Love one another”. Sure: I like you, Peter, you’re a good guy. Remember the episode when James and John said, “Can I sit at your right hand?” and the other disciples said “Grrr! Why didn’t I think of asking that first?” There was competition there… and Jesus said “Love one another the way I’ve loved you. Don’t just love one another as a football team: yeah, we’re all in this together, we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing; we’re going to win the game” – go way beyond that. Love one another the way I loved you.”

Love with the love that you’re immersed in. We’re not immersed in His love simply so that we can breathe it in. Mine – absorb – yes. We’re immersed in His love so that in everything we say and do we breathe it out to others. Ouch – that’s tough. Just as we carry the light of Christ everywhere we go, so we carry the love of Christ; and I would say to you that people see the light by experiencing the love. You can’t carry the light of Christ without the love of Christ.

“You need to be saved. You’re going to go to hell if you don’t get your act together.” That’s not how Jesus loved. Jesus got down in the dirt, wrote something, and said, “Whoever’s without sin, cast the first stone.” He showed love. And when everyone had gone, He said to the woman, “They don’t condemn you; neither do I. But go and sin no more.” [John 8:3-11] The message of, “Yeah, you’re not right with God; something needs to change” is still there, but the attitude is totally different. It’s not, “You’re going to burn in hell if you don’t come forward and accept Jesus”; it’s, “God loves you, and He doesn’t want that to happen. And this is who He is; this is His perfection; this is His love for you. Now what are you going to do?”

If we carry His love, that same thing can happen; because when people are touched by His love, they say: “I don’t deserve this; and if I don’t deserve it, how are you giving it to me? I can’t even love adequately the people in my life that are good to me. And you’re loving me and you don’t even know me.” – Or, “I’ve done you wrong…” or, “I’m competing with you for a job…” – whatever your relationship with this person is. If you love with the love of Christ, they will be changed – not because of you, but because of Christ.

And the really good news is – though He commands us to do more than just carry it, but to share it, to give it – we can give it to everybody we see, all the time, as much as we can, and we’ll never run out of it. We never have to worry about, “This is my last piece of the Oreo; if I give you this, then I won’t have any.” We’re not that way with His love, because we’re submerged in it; we breathe it; we walk in it.

[Unfortunately the recording ends shortly after this point: the following section is from Fr. Dana’s notes.]

What does His love look like?

And what does that love look like? Read John 15:13-15. The love of Christ looks exactly like Christ: Jesus laid down His life for us that we might be His friends. Now we are called to lay down our lives for our friend. But what friend is Jesus talking about? Is He saying we only need to lay down our lives to those who are closest to us?

I don’t think so. He has just said we are His friends, and if so then He is our friend. He is the friend we are to lay our lives down for! James 2:23 confirms this, speaking of Abraham when he offered to sacrifice his son Isaac. We are not called to sacrifice our sons – that was a specific request of Abraham that pointed to the future sacrifice of Christ. But we are called to lay down our own lives for Jesus.

Read John 15:16. Jesus chose us. We accepted His invitation to become adopted sons and daughters of God, but He was the one who made the first move. We are called to do likewise: love others long before they deserve it. Love with no expectation of being loved in return. Love for the sake of Christ, not for the sake of the one loved. If we do, He promises that we will bear fruit – others will accept His invitation as well to become adopted sons and daughters – and our fruit will last.

Remember His promise

Read John 15:17. Remember the promise: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.” If we truly understand how much God loves us, there is nothing He calls us to that we cannot do.

“Faith is not a pathetic sentiment, but robust vigorous confidence built on the fact that God is holy love. You cannot see Him just now, you cannot understand what He is doing, but you know Him. Shipwreck occurs where there is not that mental poise which comes from being established on the eternal truth that God is holy love. Faith is the heroic effort of your life, you fling yourself in reckless confidence on God.

God has ventured all in Jesus Christ to save us, now He wants us to venture our all in abandoned confidence in Him. There are spots [in our lives] where that faith has not worked in us as yet, places untouched by the life of God. There were none of those spots in Jesus Christ’s life, and there are to be none in ours. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee.” The real meaning of eternal life is a life that can face anything it has to face without wavering. If we take this view, life becomes one great romance, a glorious opportunity for seeing marvellous things all the time. God is disciplining us to get us into this central place of power.”(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 8 May)