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Jesus Gives Us Life

Reverend Philip Stringer

John 15:1-8

1 John 4:7-21

Acts 8:26-40

LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Speak to us now with your Holy Spirit -- through our worship -- through this meal -- and through this sermon -- that we may be filled with your endless love, now and forever. AMEN


SEURAT PAINTING-- A SUNDAY ON LA GRANDE JATTE


In many ways, life is like that. Our lives can be busy, we can have full schedules and know lots of people -- we can have successful careers, wealth and power -- and all of the appearances of order and control — but it doesn’t mean that life makes sense.


Today’s readings speak to us about how the love of God -- and in particular, how Jesus makes sense of all things. And SPECIFICALLY for us today, they show us that Jesus not only makes sense of the world, but Jesus can make sense of your life and mine.


Every Wednesday in Taiwan, I gathered with some Chinese people to read the Bible. Some of them were Christians and some were not. Some of them had never read anything from the Bible before -- or had started to read it on their own, but it didn’t seem to make any sense to them.


Often during our time together, after reading a passage I would ask, “what do you think?” -- and it was not uncommon for someone to answer, “I think this is a very strange story. It does not make sense.”


When Philip came upon the Ethiopian eunuch, wrestling with the Scriptures, it was much the same situation. And each of us can likely relate to the difficulty, too.


Reading the Bible can be tough -- and dangerous! Without a proper grounding, the Scriptures can be twisted into supporting any agenda. In Luther’s day, the church in Europe felt that the Bible was too dangerous to be placed in the hands of the laity -- so it was only printed in Latin -- the language of church scholars -- and only clergy were allowed to read it. It was deemed too complicated for common people, so clergy interpreted it for them.


Luther knew that the Bible can be dangerous in ANYONE’S hands -- including the church’s. And in his day, ESPECIALLY the church -- because the church had taken the grace of God out of its interpretation of Scripture. The result was a religion of fear and intimidation. People cowered under the judgment of God, whom the church told them was angry with their sinfulness and was certain to send them to hell if they didn’t make amends. The people knew nothing of the love of God. They knew nothing of grace (Love of God in action).


The reformation was about re-inserting the love of God into the teaching and faith of the church. When Luther read about the love that Jesus had for a sinful humanity, he knew that the love of God in Jesus was the key to understanding Scripture.

That is precisely what the Ethiopian eunuch discovered that day in his chariot with Philip. Jesus made sense of the Scriptures, and when the eunuch heard the good news of Jesus’ love for him, it gave new meaning and purpose to his life, too.


Jesus is the key to understanding Scripture, and what we see in Scripture through him is a loving God at work in all things to bring life and healing to a broken humanity.


What Jesus does for our interpretation of Scripture, he also does for our lives. “I am the vine and you are the branches” he said. “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”


Jesus IS the love of God in action -- and without the love of God at work in us, no amount of success, wealth, education, power or good works will amount to anything.


CLUELESS— DESCRIBING GIRL: “SHE IS A FULL-ON MONET”


Without Jesus, we are left with life that is perhaps very busy and ordered, but a life of law and works of the law that we can never perfect; a futile existence that doesn’t make sense in the end.


But just as with the Ethiopian eunuch, when the love of God is at work within us, life takes on new sense and purpose. Jesus makes sense of our lives because grace (God’s love in action) becomes the foundation for how we see ourselves and how we act in the world.


MY NO-LINE TRIFOCALS — have to search for focal point.


Jesus makes sense of our lives by placing the love of God at the center of our understanding of ourselves, and our relationship to the world.


John speaks of this in our SECOND READING for today, when he writes, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another . . . he has given us of his Spirit . . . So we have known and believe the love that God has for us . . . we love because he first loved us.”


Without Jesus, life is burdened with the weight of the law -- a burden too heavy to bear -- a law impossible to keep because of sin.


I vividly remember a moment from my childhood, when I was 6 or 7 years old. I could not yet swim, so I was in the shallow end of a public pool with my brother, who was two years older. We had kickboards and were paddling back and forth from side to side in the shallow end.


I had my toes tucked instead of pointed -- and I started to go backwards! I was going into deeper water, over my head. My brother held the side and reached out as far as he could. I couldn’t reach. He told me to let go, but I was afraid and kicked harder and harder -- and the harder I kicked, the deeper I went. I was doing the right thing, but I was doing it the wrong way!


Finally, I let go and sank to the bottom. After drinking what felt like half of the pool, I was able to bounce my way back to safety. I can still see the water-streaked image of the lifeguard -- casually walking along the edge of the pool, watching me -- apparently unwilling to get his suit wet.


Sin does this to all of our efforts to have a meaningful life -- and even to be righteous before God. Sin is all about selfishness and fear, and the resulting quest for control. There is no room in sin for love, and without love the law of God loses its purpose of directing our lives to fullness and righteousness. Anyone who shows kindness to someone in order to save their own skin misses the point entirely. They are doing the right thing, but they’re doing it the wrong way. The harder one works in such a state, the further they get from God’s true desire -- that they have peace through the love of God for THEM -- and that they live in love with their neighbor.


We do not live the love of God as we should. When we think of love as a tool for our own salvation -- we ultimately fail.


But here are wonderful words: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”


Our hope is not in the power and perfection of OUR love, but in the power and perfection of God’s love.


People are hungry for meaning and purpose in their lives. They are eagerly trying to make sense of the world they live in, the use of their time and resources -- their relationship with others. They are trying to make sense of the divine -- and quite frankly they are confused by the church as an institution and even by the Bible. And who can blame them? We’re confused ourselves half the time.


Without God’s love, nothing makes sense. Even Jesus’ words in our gospel reading sound frightening and confusing: “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”


Those are frightening words without love. But just like Philip visiting the Ethiopian eunuch, the Holy Spirit is at work in us to reveal the love of God -- and sends us forth with the love of God to give these words new meaning. Yes, it is true -- we are being constantly cut off because of sin. The fire of God’s righteousness burns our sinful life to ashes.


But the one who speaks these words is Jesus -- the Lord of Life -- the one through whom the dead have new life. The one who speaks these words is the Resurrection and the Life. And he gives US life. Not because we love him, but because HE loves US. He loves us to life.


In him we discover: To love IS to live.


When you come to those moments in life when you feel all used up and your spirit is dry;


When things are out of focus;


when you’re not sure what to do;


when you find yourself feeling empty, or discouraged about the direction your life is going.


When tragedy strikes;


When things seem wrong and out of place and nothing seems to make sense -- remember Jesus.


Remember that you are loved.


Remember that Jesus loves you to life.



When you don’t know what to do, remember: To love IS to live.

AMEN

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