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Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Abiding in the Love of Jesus

In many of our churches today we are offered doctrine that, when followed, assures us of our salvation. It could be one of the reasons why we have so many denominations. “Your church believes this but my church believes this.”

Ultimately, doctrine has to do with the fear of punishment. It cannot eradicate that fear, however, because it cannot pay the price of sin. Even though the doctrine keeps changing, even though the goal posts are moved, sin remains. And for that reason, fear remains. Only love conquers fear.

In his first Epistle John writes:

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.   (1 John 4:16-18)

If we could teach only one Christian principle, what would it be? Perhaps we should return to the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John:

Jesus said to his disciples, ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.   (John 15:1-5)

Church doctrine for many cases is an insurance policy. It guarantees our salvation should we stray from the faith. Have we accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior only to walk away from him? If we are his disciples then that is not an option. And perhaps, if we could comprehend his love for us, we would not want to walk away.

Jesus said:

Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”   (John 15:6-8)

Bearing fruit is a product of abiding in the love of Christ, We cannot do it on our own. When we try, we fail. The proof of our abiding is in how we treat others. Again we have the words of John in his First Epistle:

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.   (1 John 4:20-21)

How can we love others when we are so focused on the self? We are called to deny ourselves and take up our own cross and follow Jesus?

Let us remember what Jesus gave up for us. Philip Interpreted this scripture for the Ethiopian Eunuch:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”   (Acts 8:32-33)

When he understood what the scripture meant, the Eunuch immediately wanted to surrender his life to Christ. What is our response today? Are we ready to abide in the  presence of Jesus? If so, our salvation is sure because we are abiding in his perfect love.

Again, we are reminded of the words of the Apostle John:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.   (1 John 4:18)

Doctrine is a very poor replacement for the love of Christ. All we need to do as true Christians is to abide in the love of our Savior.

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Friday in Easter Week

The Restoration of Peter

Today’s resurrection appearance is quite a remarkable one:

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread (John 21:4-9)

This resurrection appearance of Jesus was not the first one nor would it be the last. The disciples were beginning to understand what the resurrection might mean. Nevertheless, they were also losing focus with regard to their mission. Jesus did not condemn them. He met them at their point of need and offered reassurance that all He would be there for them.

Peter, the leader, seemed almost rudderless. He was at a loss as to what he and the other disciples should be doing. Thus, he returned momentarily to what he knew best – fishing. Even so, his fishing interlude had proven unsuccessful. Jesus understood that Peter needed more than reassurance. He had denied the Lord three times. Peter needed restoration.

As disciples of Jesus in our day we also tend to lose focus. We become confused. Often times, we do not know what to do next. Perhaps we need reassurance. Perhaps some of us need restoration. Jesus does not abandon His disciples. He will not abandon us. However, we need to remain alert to the help that He provides us, sometimes in unexpected ways. We may not recognize what the Lord is doing at first. He will make it clear for us if we do not cut ourselves off from Him.

Peter could have cut himself off from Jesus out of his own shame and fear. Fortunately, His love for Jesus and his eagerness to find his way back prevailed. Moreover, Jesus restored Peter in a very loving way. He will restore us too. He will renew us. He will revive us. He will refill us with His Holy Spirit. We need His strength and direction because we must be able to strengthen our Christian brothers and sisters as did Peter. Peter slipped, but Peter also went the distance. He endured suffering and his own cross. He was a rock for the Lord. We, too, must become rocks in our day.

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