Tag Archives: discipleship

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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Filed under Easter, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

Unshakable Faith

Peter was crestfallen. He had just proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ. Jesus said that he would build his Church on the testimony Peter. But shortly after this statement Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” What had happened? From Mark’s Gospel we read:

Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   (Mark 8:31-33)

Peter could not accept what Jesus was saying. He lacked something. It was early in his discipleship. Later he would grow, but for now he was missing the essential ingredient of discipleship. He lacked unshakeable faith. To understand this type of faith we need to look to Abraham. From Genesis we read:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.   (Genesis 17:1-4)

What is this unshakable that Abraham had? The Apostle Paul wrote about Abraham’s faith in Romans:

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”   (Romans 4:18-22)

Abraham had unshakable faith because he believed God no matter what circumstances he found himself in. Even when God, as a test, asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, Abraham remembered that God would make him a great nation through his heir. Abraham held on to that promise.

If we believe in Jesus, then we will trust him in all things. Peter already had in his mind what he thought Jesus would do to establish the kingdom of God on the earth. He could not understand why Jesus would do anything else. When Jesus spoke about his suffering and death this did not make any sense to Peter. Peter’s way was better to Peter’s way of thinking.

Have we ever been like Peter in our thinking? Do we always need to figure things out? Perhaps we need to “faith” things out instead. Jesus offers this wonderful illustration in Mark’s Gospel:

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?   (Mark 8:34-38)

Unless we are able to deny ourselves we will never be able to understand what God is saying and doing. We will handicap what God can do for us. God wants to do great and mighty things in our life and within our souls. Will we let him, or will we oppose him because he just is not doing what we want, the way we expect? Who knows better?

Unshakable faith is the path to righteousness. God honors such faith. When we exercise this faith God counts it as righteousness. Not only that, but such faith frees God to the work in us that only he can do. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.   (Philippians 2:12-13)

Our sins have been forgiven through the blood of Jesus and our spiritual growth is assured when we put our whole trust in his blood. Thanks be to God.

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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B