by James BlayJohn 15:9-17
I am exhausted. My exhaustion is not physical. It is emotional and psychological. The past few years have been hard, but especially hard for people of color and people living in poverty. The pandemic has help to further the struggles of folks already living under challenging situations. There has been a myriad of hate crimes and violence against marginalized and minority groups. So much hatred and falsehoods are spewed from houses and people of power under the guise of patriotism or nationalism. The sad reality is that there is a direct consequence to these messages of hate, and we saw it play out in Buffalo New York a week ago.
Sadly, incidents like what happened in Buffalo are becoming the norm rather than an outlier. It wasn’t long ago we were morning the senseless death of innocent people at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It wasn’t long ago we were mourning the loss of women in the Atlanta spa shooting. It wasn’t long ago that we were mourning students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It wasn’t long ago that we were out in the streets marching, demanding justice for Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Brianna Taylor and many others.
I could go on and on listing the ways hate has permeated our society and led to suffering and death and undermined society’s moral fabric. But I believe all of us bear witness to this disturbing truth. We have forgotten how to love one another. We have leaned into political ideology and allowed our moral compass to sway far away from justice. We have forgotten how to love the stranger, the so called other because we are so set on being right and righteous. We have forgotten how to love the least of these. We cower behind superficial platitudes while injustice and hate takes root in our communities.
In 1971, Marvin Gaye released his eleventh studio album titled What’s Going On. The title track carried lyrics like “Mother, mother There’s too many of you crying Brother, brother, brother There’s far too many of you dying You know we’ve got to find a way To bring some lovin’ here today, yeah Father, father We don’t need to escalate You see, war is not the answer For only love can conquer hate You know we’ve got to find a way To bring some lovin’ here today Picket lines and picket signs Don’t punish me with brutality Talk to me So you can see Oh, what’s going on (What’s going on) What’s going on (What’s going on).” The simple question the song posed to society, to the powers that be was, What’s Going On? Why is there so much suffering, hatred, and poverty happening here?
In 2003 the group Black Eyed Peas released a single titled Where is the Love. Part of their lyrics reads; yo, whatever happened to the values of humanity? Whatever happened to the fairness and equality? Instead of spreading love, we spreading animosity. Lack of understanding leading us away from unity. That’s the reason why sometimes I’m feelin’ under. That’s the reason why sometimes I’m feelin’ down. They too were wondering why so many were sowing seeds of discord and propagating a narrative that leads to a them and us scenario.
As a society, we have lost something that is foundational to our very existence. We have entered the realm of self-centeredness and personal gain, and have gradually moved from creating a beloved community. We have allowed politicians, false prophets and spiritual gurus, and sometimes our own sense of entitlement to lead us astray. The result of us straying off the path of truth telling, love, and justice is a society where, as Lin reminded us last week, the moral ark of the universe bends farther and farther away from justice.
So here we are, exhausted, frustrated, and in some cases angry needing a moment to step away to recharge, to find our motivation, to ask ourselves why am I here and how can I make things better. The text in John 15 provides what I believe is a catalyst for the shift that needs to happen in order for things to get better.
In verse 9 of John 15, Jesus says to the disciples, the same way God has loved me, I love you, so abide/rest/remain in my love. John 15 is a part of what scholars believe is Jesus’ farewell discourse spanning chapters 13-17. The disciples at this point have been with Jesus for a while. There had been some ups and downs about their full grasps of Jesus’ ministry and their role in it. Jesus on the other hand knows that his time is limited and he needs to prepare them to take the mantle and continue the spread of the Gospel. Are they ready? Do they have any idea what they are about to take on?
In the previous chapter, Jesus spends time using the vine and branches imagery to highlight the connectedness between God, Jesus, and the disciples. Jesus is attempting to give his disciples a hint of what the beloved community looks like. It is a community that is rooted and grounded in love. The example of this love is already exemplified in the relationship between God and Jesus. That is why Jesus is able to say to the disciples, As God has loved me. . . Jesus draws on the confidence he has of God’s love for him. He already rests in God’s love, and because he does, Jesus also loves his disciples.
Now we all know that these disciples are at best skeptical of this whole love talk. Although Jesus had previously told them loving one another would be a mark that they are followers of Jesus, many of them by now are still hoping for earthly king Jesus who would overthrow the powers that be. They were with Jesus, they saw his teachings and how he interacted particularly with the outcasts, but Jesus sensed they were not yet fully bought in. Scripture tells us that later these same disciples will betray him, turn their backs on him, and for a moment forget the command to love one another.
What Jesus tells his disciples is nothing new. They have themselves experienced the depth of Christ love for them. The command to love one another is something they had heard before. Now it seems Jesus understood they needed a reminder. It is not a far stretch to consider the disciples were also frustrated, exhausted, and tired. After all, they had lived under all kinds of oppressive systems. They had seen their people, including family members murdered, locked in jail, hung on crosses, and suffer under the tyrannical rule of unjust governments. They wanted something to change. They looked to Jesus for that change, but they were not ready for how Jesus proposed the change would happen.
Recognizing their exhaustion, frustration, and anger, Jesus says to them; Abide in my love/Rest in my love. Resting in Christ’s love is how the disciples are to stay rooted and connected like the vine and branches. By the time Jesus is giving this speech to his disciples he understands his time is running out and they need to be ready. Ready to continue to spread the gospel far and wide. Ready to resist oppression in all its forms, ready to speak up for those who have no voice, or whose voices have been silenced. Ready to champion the cause of the marginalized and outcasts. Ready to speak truth to power even at great risk to them. Ready to welcome the stranger. Ready to spark resistance in an effort to build the beloved community.
In order for the disciples to be ready, they needed to stay connected to Christ’s love, a love already fixed in God’s love. They had to stay attached to the vine that sustains. They needed to see their resting as resistance. For the disciples, abiding in God’s love is not a sit at home, arms folded, do nothing, thoughts and prayers, self-righteous, judgmental, Christian nationalist endeavor. Abiding in God’s love is a space for rest and renewal, but it is also a prepping room for bringing God’s love to a hurting world. This prepping room is where Jesus invites his disciples; including all of us when he says abide in my love.
I started off this morning telling you I am exhausted, frustrated, and angry. It is especially disheartening because I am a person of color and I exist mostly in white spaces. I know these spaces are filled with people who genuinely love me and want me to thrive, but every now and then it hits me that I live in a bubble. It is in those times that I am heartbroken, frustrated, exhausted, and angry. It is in those times that I remind myself to abide in God’s love, to step into the prepping room because there is work that needs doing.
I am reminded of Fanny Lou Hamer’s quote “until everyone is free, no one is free.” I am reminded of phrase “all lives can’t matter until black lives matter.” And as I am reminded about these quotes, I realize the truth of the gospel has been lost in our attempts to assume power and influence. Instead of living our faith, there are those who would rather legislate their faith by coercing, manipulating, and forcing people to have so called “Christian” values. It is not more evident than during this political season when Christian Nationalist are trying to amass votes by claiming they are bringing the country back to God. It is disgusting because some of these very people are the most hate spewing, judgmental, self-righteous individuals who are further away from anything that resembles Jesus.
We do not need laws to make people follow Jesus. Those of us who follow Jesus just need to live out Christ command to love one another. It is that abiding love that draws people to Christ. We need to rest in that love. And when the time comes when you too are exhausted frustrated and angry; abide in God’s love. When nothing around you makes sense; abide in God’s love; when you are not even sure you believe anymore; abide in God’s love; when all you can think about is asking God where are you; abide in God’s love.
Abiding in God’s love is not always a balm that soothes. The prepping room of God’s love provides comfort, but also nudges and prepares you to stay the course. Yes, you may step away for a while sometimes, but if and when you find your way back the prepping room of God’s love is always there to welcome you and prep you for the work of community building. It does not take a lot for us to see that the world around us is hurting. What we need to understand is that Christ love compels us to do something about it.
Whatever it is that we do to play our part has to be rooted and grounded in Christ’s love. If Christ’s love is the light that guides us, then our actions cannot be for selfish glory. Abiding in Christ’s love is not forcing people to join you in praying in the middle of a football field. Abiding in Christ’s love is not whitewashing history because you do not want to deal with the reality of the past. Abiding in Christ’s love is not banning books. Abiding in Christ’s love is not denying women’s choice over their bodies. Abiding in Christ’s love is not denying children the opportunity to live as their authentic selves. Abiding in Christ’s love is life giving; it embraces and promotes truth telling. Abiding in Christ’s love steers you towards resistance of evil and oppression. Abiding in Christ’s love welcomes you as you are, all broken and bruised, your authentic self. Abiding in Christ’s love is the foundation for building a community where love is the driving force of all we say and do.
Here is another thing about abiding or resting in Christ’s love. It is not an opiate or a means to escape the reality of the world around you. Resting in Christ’s love is not a fix your eyes on heaven or the cross before me and the world behind me ideology. Abiding in Christ’s love is about community. We are called to live as branches connected to the vine that is Christ’s love for us. If one branch suffers, all the branches feel the pain and work together to alleviate not exacerbate the suffering. At the center of the Johannine metaphor of vines and branches is social responsibility and corporate accountability. The steadfastness of the community is measured by the fruit bearing of the members who are grounded and rooted in Christ’s love.
So here is the end of it all. We live in a world that is hurting. We in our own spaces are hurting. Some of us are exhausted, frustrated, and angry. We are overwhelmed and feel too small, too insignificant to make a difference. We want to retreat, to turn off the news and only watch cute cat videos or binge trashy shows on Netflix. It is our escape; a momentary hiatus from this messed up world. Our mental health needs it. Our sanity demands it. I get it, all of us need a moment of Selah, of pause in our lives. But, we cannot allow that moment to be prolonged by inactivity or perceived safety.
Jesus reminds us in those moments to abide/rest in his love. Abiding in Christ love is where we find fuel for the work ahead. It is where we recognize that we are not alone. Abiding in Christ’s love draws us back to the community where we are known by our acts of love and not by our championship knowledge of scripture, or how well we judge others, or how successful we are at excluding so called ‘sinners”. As we continue to abide in Christ’s love, we have the energy and motivation to keep doing what we know is right for the sake of all and not only ourselves.