Tag Archives: love

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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Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B

The Good Shepherd

In this world we are either hired hands or true shepherds. Jesus said:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.”   (John 10:11-13)

Fortunately, for us, Jesus was not a hired hand. He went the distance for us, even to dying on a cruel cross. He is our example. The Apostle John tells us that we are to emulate Jesus:

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?   (1 John 3:16-17)

What keeps us from doing this? The answer may be that we do not know Jesus as our shepherd. In this challenging world we face many dangers and upsetting circumstances. It is easy to become so much concerned for ourselves that we have little time and energy for others. King David wrote a psalm that reminds us who our caretaker is:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.   (Psalm 23)

In today’s first reading, the chief priests tried to get Peter and John to abandon their faith in Christ Jesus. That wa

If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”   (Acts 4:9-12)

Abandoning Jesus was not an option for Peter and John, regardless of the circumstances in which they found themselves. Is Jesus our cornerstone? Is he the author and finisher of our faith? Are we willing to abandoned all our personal cares and trust Jesus as our good shepherd. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.   (1 Peter 5{6-7)

The Apostle Paul echos Peter:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:5-7)

Jesus is our peace and freedom from anxiety. Without him we can do nothing. We cannot love others without first loving our Lord. When we bathe in his love, mercy, and forgiveness, his love flows out from us to others. His love never fails. He is the good shepherd who will never leave his sheep.

Paul wrote:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:38-39)

Apart from Jesus we are just hired hands at best. When the going gets tough we may abandon our Lord. But we are not hired hands. We are the under-shepherds of Christ. Let us go out and love others into the kingdom of God.

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Conversion of Saint Paul

the-conversion-of-saint-paul-bartolome-esteban-murilloA Conversion Experience

Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. While in route he experienced one of the most dramatic conversions recorded in the Bible. In his own words:

“I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, `Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, `I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ”  (Acts 26:12-18)

Well, that was Saul. He was persecuting Christians. Do we have any zealous people in the Church today who are persecuting their fellow parishioners? Well, that is another story.

What about those who have grown-up in the Church? Do they need a conversion experience? We need to understand that the Apostle Paul did grow-up in the Church. He grew up in Judaism which was the only church in his day. The rest of the world was pagan. He was living by the rules. He was educated in the best rabbinic tradition. Here is how he described himself:

circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6)

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  (Galatians 1:14)

We understand, of course, that this was the way Saul described himself before his conversion. How did he describe himself after his conversion?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19)

Paul goes on to say:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

Conversion opened Saul’s eyes to reality. His religion had failed him. He needed more than religion. His his Lord Jesus Christ did not fail him:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11)

Saul become the great Apostle Paul who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. Does his testimony speak to us today? What is our testimony? Are we merely rules enforcers or are we ambassadors for Christ? The lost in this world is counting on us give witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

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