Women at Wells

This is the text of the message I preached at Lake Tyers Beach on Sunday 19th March 2017, the third Sunday of Lent in Year A.

John 4:5-42

Sometimes I am truly fascinated by the lectionary.  Now there’s a preaching nerd statement if ever there was one!  But it’s true.  Each week and for some midweek holy days as well, on a three-year cycle, many Christian churches read through the greater portion of the Bible by following a series of set readings.  Each day’s feast includes a passage from the Old Testament, a Psalm or portion thereof, a passage from one of the gospels (and in 2017 we’ll mainly be reading Matthew), and a passage from one of the New Testament’s letters.  Oftentimes these readings are collected around a common theme.  Remember last week, case in point, when the Old Testament reading was about Abram’s call to follow God to Canaan in Genesis 12 and Paul’s commentary upon Abraham’s life of faith in Romans 4.  One of the gospel alternatives was Matthew 17 and Jesus’s transfiguration, and the Psalm was 121 where I lift my eyes to the hills which might connect with either the transfiguration or with Abram the trusting nomad.  Since we’d heard about the transfiguration separately a few weeks ago, I went with the other three passages. As a preacher, I can see each week that a theme has been recommended to me in the choice of which readings go together, and generally I have been able to follow that theme.

So, this week the gospel reading is John 4:5-42 and the story of the woman at the well.  It is paired with Exodus 17:1-7 and the Hebrews whinging for water, Psalm 95 where the Jews are reminded not to whinge like they did back in the day, back on that day, and Romans 5:1-11 which follows last week’s message on justification by faith and not by ancestry or obedience.  Maybe we can link Paul’s words to the Psalmist and the writer of Exodus: in stark contrast to the sooky behaviour of the Chosen People God is looking for trust-filled Christians.

So, what’s the theme?  Well, maybe it is that pro-trust and anti-tantrum story.  That would make a great sermon.  But why, then, the woman at the well?  As I said at the outset, sometimes I am truly fascinated by the lectionary.

So, today, I’m going to both break with tradition, by ignoring the other lectionary readings and their suggested theme for reading John, and embrace tradition by suggesting another set of readings and a new theme.

First, a different “other New Testament reading”, this one from the previous chapter of John and the alternative gospel reading.  The idea was that if I’d preached on the transfiguration a few weeks back, on Transfiguration Sunday, the lectionary offered me this passage to preach on last week alongside Abraham and Paul.  I won’t bother connecting this story to last week’s message, although it does fit, but I do want to flag it for this week.  So, next to the Woman of Samaria we have Nicodemus the Pharisee in John 3:1-11.  Hold that thought.

Second, a different Old Testament reading. Genesis 24:12-20, and we could add Genesis 29:6b, 10-13.  Abraham’s most-trusted servant goes to a well in a foreign country and Rebekah brings him water.  Abraham’s servant takes Rebekah home and Isaac marries her.  A generation later Jacob goes to a well and Rachel brings him water.  Jacob goes home with Rachel and marries her.  So, next to the Samaritan Woman at the Well (in Sychar) we have two foreign women at wells in foreign countries meeting Jewish men.  Hold that thought.

John tells us in chapter 3 that Nicodemus is one of the leading Jews of the day and comes to visit Jesus at night.  He is taught that what is born of the spirit is spirit.  I heard it said recently in defence of the Bible that scripture remains the key source of our knowledge about what Jesus is like.  I want to say that as much as I value the Bible I’m not sure that that is entirely true.  It is true to say that we begin with the Bible, but as we wish to learn more about Jesus and come to know him as a present reality and not an historical figure, albeit the greatest man of all time, the Spirit takes over and we are born anew of the spirit in our understanding of God.  Someone who follows the Spirit would always be living in accordance with the Jesus portrayed in the Bible.  But you can, in a sense, “obey the Bible” but not live like Jesus if you are legalistic and literalist about it.  The Pharisees were great Bible scholars and obeyers of the Law, arguably they were more obedient of the Law than was Jesus, but were they as obedient of God?  Were they born of the Spirit in the way that Jesus was?  Nicodemus certainly wasn’t.  He was a scholar and a leader, but he was blinded by the page to the glorious freedom of “Life in the Spirit” that was waiting to be drawn out.  Yet in John 3:2 Nicodemus recognises that the presence of God is upon Jesus, that Jesus is more than a teacher is obvious to the Pharisee.  Those who follow God closest follow God as wind and spirit, not (primarily) as scholarship and interpretation.  Go beyond the book says Jesus.

John tells us in chapter 4 that there’s a new Rebekah and Rachel story going on at Jacob’s well.  This woman is not necessarily the town slut; she may have been legitimately partnered in levirate marriages (to a dying line of brothers) like the woman in the story of the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-28.  John is mucking around with the romance stories of his culture to make a point about the new way of Jesus: one part sociolinguistics, one part Mills and Boon. Jesus calls the woman “Woman”, a way he also addresses his mother in John 2:4 and Mary in the garden in John 20:15.  In John Jesus uses this form to address any female conversation partner when he is about to reveal something of importance her.   Like with foreign Rachel and Abraham’s grandson the conversation between the Samaritan Woman and the Judean messiah is loaded with meaning.

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard that the Samaritans were considered by the Judeans to be an unclean race living on an unclean land.  Alongside the regular division of adult male from adult female to whom the man is not related, Jesus in speaking with the Woman at Sychar must also overcome the barrier of Judean and Samaritan, and rabbi and outcast.  There is the tradition that she is an adulteress, which may not be true as I said before, but may be true too.  (The point is that they are talking at a well in the middle of the day, not the scandal of why she was at the well in the middle of the day.)   When the woman leaves the well she does not go home to her husband, which is what Jesus asked her to do, rather she goes into the town and rallies the men (invariably) in the town square to come and meet Jesus.

Much of this story hinges on the ideas of private (appropriate to female) and public (appropriate to male) spaces, and the introduction of the idea that the people of Jesus are like brothers and sisters, which allows for all social barriers to be crossed.  Everything that is wrong about Jesus drinking with this woman is made right if she is his sister.  Jesus meets the woman in what should be a private space (the well is secret women’s business) but which is made public space because of the time of day at which the meeting takes place (secret women’s business takes place at dawn).  But Jesus speaks to the Woman as if it is private space (between siblings) thereby drawing her into a form of relationship with him, and she responds.  The woman then leaves the now-private place to go to the most public space imaginable, the town square at midday, from where she brings others back to the place where Jesus is.  When they come, in broad daylight, in public, he invites them to hear the private wisdom he has already shared with her.   Pause and consider, take a Selah just for a moment: think how this picture contrasts with Nicodemus sneaking about after dark to meet with Jesus in secret.  A senior Jewish man meets with another respected Jewish man, Jesus, at night and inside, (so in secret), while the whole town of Samaritans comes to Jesus in broad daylight and outside. The result is that the men of Sychar invite Jesus (and presumably the Twelve) to stay on in their town, thereby including him in their private space, and Jesus is hailed as Saviour of the World (John 4:42), an ascription ordinarily reserved for the Caesars and never used by the Jews to refer to Jesus anywhere else in John.

So, in the long history of “boy-meets-girl”, where if he’s an Israelite then she’s a foreigner and they’re meeting at a well, this is an amazing story.  John’s story looks back at John 1 where Jesus is the living word of God, John 2 where in the wedding at Cana Jesus is the symbolic bridegroom, and John 3 where Pharisees visit alone and at night.  When in John 4 the entire village of Sychar flocks to see Jesus in daylight, in public, in Samaria, in the box of a traditional boy-meets-girl story, Jesus’ identity as saviour of the whole world is thrust down our throats even without the Samaritans saying anything.  But they do say it, for good measure.

So, there you go.  And yes, this story does of course fit with the whinging, thirty Hebrews and Paul’s argument that salvation comes by trust.  As a Samaritan, female, outcast, the woman of Sychar had no right to approach Jesus, so he went to her.  He didn’t owe her anything, she wasn’t relying on him like the Hebrews were relying upon the Pillar of Cloud, she wasn’t trying to prove her worth by her obedience, she was just there and Jesus spoke the grace-filled message of living water to her.  But I think that knowing what we do about Nicodemus, about Rachel and Rebecca, and about the way in which John wrote and organised the rest of his gospel, the whole story makes an even deeper point.

You are loved, you are included, you are wanted, you are provided for, and if you want it you are saved.

Amen.

Transfigured by Theophany

This is the message I preached on Sunday 26th February 27th, Feast of the Transfiguration, at Lake Tyers Beach Uniting Church. It is modified from an earlier message.

Exodus 24:12-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

The transfiguration of Jesus is probably one of those stories you have heard explained to you numerous times.  At least I hope it is as it’s supposed to be taught at least once a year, most often on the last Sunday before Lent.  As a preacher on days like this I wonder what I can say to you that is fresh and new about this story, or whether I even need to try.  It’s a good story, it has obvious truth to draw out about the glory of Jesus, the faithfulness of God, and the way Jesus is confirmed as the culmination of God’s revelation to the Jews in the presence of Moses their Lawgiver and Elijah their preeminent prophet.  The scriptures, traditions, and self-revelation of God to the Chosen People are manifest and made plain in this one episode.  And even if we have heard it all before it’s still worth hearing again.

In Exodus 24:14 we read that real life continues to take place at the foot of the mountain even when the shekinah of God is at the top.  On this occasion, Moses is meeting with the LORD for specific revelation, but Aaron and Hur who had been invited part-way up were delegated to deal with the day-today squabbles in Moses’ absence.  In 24:16-18 we read that Moses spent forty days on the mountain, and that God began to speak with him only after six days had passed.  I immediately want to know whether God and Moses had any “down time” on the mountain, and what Moses did when God was not speaking with him, even though the cloud was there.  I presume that God fed and hydrated Moses, or are such things not necessary in the shekinah? Did Moses fast?  Was he fed by angels (or ravens?)  Maybe the manna was there, but these are the questions I want to ask.  When the shekinah is there, real world stuff continues regardless.

Perhaps in contrast to the simplicity of Moses’ story, in 2 Peter 1:16-18 we read of how three apostles were eye-witnesses of Christ’s majesty.  Our narrator was there in the cloud when Jesus was transfigured: he saw the cloud, he saw the figures, he saw the glorified Jesus.  He heard the Voice and what the Voice said to Jesus and what the Voice said to him.  He was there, he knows what happened, and in the light of this experience he writes we have the prophetic message more full confirmed. That the message of the apostles would be “more fully confirmed” by their being eyewitnesses to the glory of God seems obvious, I mean if you’d seen Jesus in all his heavenly glory as Peter and the sons of Zebedee had done you’d be entirely convinced that Jesus is the Christ of God, no doubt whatsoever.  But what is the prophetic message exactly.  Why is their gospel called “prophetic”?  Well the writer goes some way to explaining that, in verses 1:20-21, where he speaks of interpretation as a matter of divine revelation.  What comes as revelation comes when the Holy Spirit moves upon women and men who are open to the spirit; it’s not a purely literary or mathematical process of logic or translation.  Second Peter is a letter to insiders, written to people who were already members of the Church to encourage them to stay focussed on the truth of the apostles’ teaching.  It warns them against being swayed by the pronouncements of a new generation of smart-alecs; men who claimed insight from their wisdom, but who didn’t know what they were talking about because they weren’t present at the events they are describing and they weren’t being honest to the Spirit’s direction. “I know because I was there,” says Peter, “I am speaking of my own experience, and I am speaking about what the Holy Spirit has done through me.”  Why would you prefer the “cleverly devised myths”, as described in 1:16, when you have eyewitness accounts written by actual apostles.

And so, in Matthew 17:1-9 we read the familiar story of the transfiguration of Jesus.  We have all heard this story before since it occurs in three places in the New Testament, once in each of Matthew’s, Mark’s (9:2-10), and Luke’s (9:28-36) gospels.  Like the story of Moses this event also involves waiting six days for the first sign of glory.  Like other stories of Moses, and of Elijah who also appears in this story, this is literally “a mountaintop experience” where the fullest experience of God’s glory is restricted to a chosen few.  Indeed, Jesus even tells Peter and the two other eyewitnesses not to tell anyone what they have seen: not only do the other nine disciples not get to see Jesus transfigured, they aren’t even allowed to know that it happened at all.  Why not, we might ask.  Since 2 Peter is a claim to authority through being an eyewitness why wouldn’t Jesus want such a reliable observer to speak about what he had seen?  By way of an answer I offer a brief insight from each of the gospel accounts.

Luke:  Luke’s account is very like Matthew’s, and indeed to Mark’s, with the added unique detail that the three disciples were rather sleepy on the mountain.  In Luke 9:32-33 we read of how they awoke to see Jesus being glorified, just as Moses and Elijah were leaving.  Perhaps this is an echo of Gethsemane, (more of that later), or perhaps Jesus had taken a few mates with him to fill some of that “downtime” we spoke of earlier regarding Moses’ extended time on the mountain. If Jesus took the men as company and as carers rather than as witnesses, there was no need for them to speak of what they were supposed to have slept through anyway.  I doubt it, but since only Luke adds the sleepy detail it must carry some significance for him or he would have left it out of the story like Mark and Matthew did.  In Luke 9:36 Jesus doesn’t say anything and it is the three men who choose to keep silent about what they had seen.

Mark: In what most scholars believe to be the original form of Mark’s gospel there are no resurrection appearances of Jesus.  In Mark 16:8 the women flee in terror from the empty tomb and the story ends there.  So, the only especially glorious appearance of Jesus is found only in this story in the middle of Mark’s account and not at the end.  We read in Matthew 17:9 that the world was not to be told of the transfiguration until after Jesus’ resurrection, so we presume that that is what the original copies of Mark’s gospel did.  The fullest revelation of the glorified Christ, in other words the only human eyewitness account to what Jesus is really like, takes place in private and some months before the crucifixion.  We could spend days just trying to get our heads around the implications of that, but we don’t have days, so let’s move on.

John: There is no story of the transfiguration in John at all.  Remember I said that there’s three stories, one in each of Matthew, Mark, and Luke?  Yep, three, not four, there’s no equivalent story in John.  Peter cites this episode as a mark of his apostleship in 2 Peter 1:17, but John who was just as much an eyewitness doesn’t mention it at all.   Why not?  Well the theory, and without boasting I emphasise that this theory earned me a High Distinction in an oral exam on John’s Gospel at Adelaide College of Divinity in 2015, is that John didn’t need to have a specific story about the gloriousness of Jesus because Jesus is glorious the whole way through John’s gospel.  The gospel opens in John 1:1-18 with a declaration of “the Word” and the majestic and universal fullness of the glory of God: how could one event in the life of Jesus ever hope to surpass that?  A transfiguration is not necessary for someone so glorious and continuously gloried as Jesus.  Once again, we could spend days thinking about John’s idea of Jesus, a constantly glorious figure walking among humankind, but we don’t have days and so we won’t.

Except for this one thing.  If Jesus is as John describes, why didn’t the twelve see it?  Let me ask you, have you ever wondered why only three of the twelve were invited to accompany Jesus to the mountain top?  Have you ever wondered why anyone at all was invited?  After all Jesus often went off alone to pray so why did he take spectators this time?  I wouldn’t be surprised if transfiguration wasn’t a regular event for Jesus and that this gloriousness shone from him every time he went off alone to pray; but on this occasion Jesus invites these three men knowing that what they will see will blow their minds.  So why these three and why now?

Like me you’ve probably been told that Peter, James and John were Jesus’ favourites who composed a sort of “inner three” within the twelve.  As the closest and most trusted friends of Jesus they were his strongest allies and most devoted disciples.  Have you heard that before?  Well that might be true, I’m not here to say that it isn’t, but I want to suggest an alternative.  Some of the best known stories about these men actually involve them failing.  Peter denies Jesus three times in the pre-dawn darkness of Good Friday, and he is actually called “satan” by Jesus and told to get out of the way of the purposes of God in another story.  James and John take Jesus aside at one point and ask for the cushy places next to him when he comes in glory as ruler in Heaven, sort of his right-hand and left-hand guys.  These are the same three, and only these three, who Jesus takes further into Gethsemane on the Thursday night to be near him while he pours his desperate guts out before God.  And what happens?  Zzzzzz.

We don’t hear of these sorts of colossal failures with regard to the other nine, except perhaps for Judas but according to John Judas was a lost cause all along and doomed by prophecy to be so…but that’s another story.  And if it was a “first called” special group then why is Simon’s brother Andrew not there?  I wonder whether Peter, James and John were actually the weakest of the twelve and rather than being a sort of elite they were more like the Special Needs kids who require extra tuition to keep up with their classmates.  Perhaps these three “slow kids” were given special booster classes in practicing the presence of God to get them up to speed for when the crucifixion and the persecution came.  And look, even in the midst of such a special class Peter still puts his foot in it and offers to build shelters.

Like Peter, James and John we have seen the fullness of Jesus right in front of us, and we have still so often missed what was going on in front of us.  Like them we are witnesses to the activity of God and we have been transformed: our experience of the presence of God has changed us.  Yet like Moses and the three we have then retuned to the foot of the mountain at times and have been overwhelmed by squabbling and confusion.  In the transfigured Jesus, we see God in the fullest expression available to humankind.  In the activity of the Holy Spirit we see the same, and whether you have seen a miracle for yourself or have only heard the first-hand account of an eyewitness, giving you a second-hand insight, the story of the actual glory of the otherwise humble brickie-cum-preacher from Galilee rings true.  The one we follow, the one we speak about from personal experience, really is the God of Ages and the promised helper all in one.  God is patient while we learn who we are and who God is: but each of us has a story to tell, no matter where we’ve been sat in the classroom or upon which part of the mountain you were permitted to walk.  Give glory to God for as much as you know, that’s all that is asked.

Amen.

Love in a time of Darkness

This is the message I preached to the people of Kingscote Uniting Church on Sunday 3rd May 2015.  It treats the readings from the Lectionary for Easter 5B.

Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 22:25-31, 1 John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8

Last Saturday, eight days ago and not yesterday, I had the privilege of leading at Anzac Day for the first time. In opening my address to the gathered people at Penneshaw I reminded them that the best known Bible verse to be associated with Anzac Day comes from John 15:13 where Jesus says greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends. I told the people that the central story of Christianity is that the purest form of love was personified in Jesus Christ who, in turn, represents God whose fullest nature is to give love, and that above claims made by us religious types about God’s saving grace, forgiveness, strength and power, what the Bible says is that love is the most central meaning of the Christian story. Today’s message is also about love, and it begins like all good stories do beside a road out the back of nowhere.

We heard from Acts 8 this morning of how an angel sent Philip to the wilderness road where he met an Ethiopian god-worshipper. Philip was encouraged to help the man interpret what he was reading and we can identify this text as the servant song of Isaiah 53:7-8. The original hearers of this passage would have understood it to refer to the leaders of Israel in their day, and possibly to the unjust treatment meted out to prophets like Isaiah who had to bring such harsh words to the nation. No one likes the man who stands up in church, or in parliament, and who says that God is angry enough to smash you; even in 700 BCE the first response was to shoot the messenger. So in the time of Isaiah this passage did not refer to the future Messiah, but it did make very clear what happens to prophets who challenge the royal and religious leaders in the way that Jesus later did. Note that Luke who wrote Acts does not say that Philip says the passage is speaking about Jesus, but that beginning with the passage Philip speaks about Jesus. The story is not that Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Messiah but that a man of God speaking to the people of God through the word of God challenges those people by accusing them of preferring to kill the prophet and shut him down than hearing the word of correction against their injustices. This is exactly what happened to Jesus, as Peter made clear in Acts 3-4 which we have read together over the past two weeks.

So why does Philip start to witness to Christ with this passage? Why not John 3:16? Why not walk the unbeliever along the “Romans Road” of Evangelicalism?   Well of course there are two reasons, a practical one and a historical one. I’ll give you the historical one first: John 3:16 and Paul’s letter to the Romans had not been written at that stage. Even though John 3:16 appears on page 1912 of my Study Bible and today’s passage is on pages 1972 and 1973 the gospels hadn’t actually been written in Philip’s time. And allowing that Saul is still a fanatical anti-Christian Pharisee at this point in history, and that his conversion story doesn’t actually appear until Acts 9, we can rule out the Romans Road too. There can be no Romans Road without the Damascus Road. So there was no John 3:16 to quote, and no Romans, and that’s the historical reason why Philip didn’t start there.

But the practical reason is the better one anyway, and would apply to us even today when we do have the entire Bible to use in our faith-sharing. Philip started in Isaiah 53 because that is where the Ethiopian eunuch was reading from. In all of our personal evangelism we must always start where the person is and then point them to where Jesus is. If the person is in Isaiah 53 then that’s where we start. If the person is in Deuteronomy 5-6 then that’s where we start, and if the person is in Genesis 1-2 then that’s where we start, and if the person is in Revelation 17-18 then that’s where we start. So Philip tells the story of Jesus beginning where the Ethiopian man is at, and when he has explained the gospel Philip agrees to baptise the Ethiopian in response to the Ethiopian’s new understanding of who Jesus is. This is the story of an individual gentile who chooses to trust in Jesus, and this is one of several such stories that some before we get to the full-blown conversion of the Gentiles and the missionary work of Paul. This is an exciting story not only because Philip is miraculously teleported in and out of the location, but because it is a story about God’s preparation of the Church prior to God’s pouring out the Spirit across all Gentile nations and the whole planet.

That, for me, is a cause of celebration. God knows who the marginal are and God makes plans to include them.

So now we turn to the Psalm for today: and just look at the cascade of imagery!

In Psalm 22:25 we read “from you comes my praise”. God is the source of our worship and in 22:26 we glorify God because of the work of justice which is acts of love on behalf of the afflicted. Those who seek God will praise God; those who live life under the reign of God will give glory to God and tell true things about God. In 22:27 we read of how the whole world shall be reminded of God because of the faithfulness of the disciples who work for justice, and how people from every nation will worship God in this way because the evidence of God’s loving-kindness will not be hidden from anyone. In 22:28 we acknowledge that God is the true and rightful ruler of every realm and because of this God alone reigns in the places where God alone is worshipped and obeyed: indeed in 22:29 the worshippers of God are not restricted to the living but also to the dead. The dead worship God and the living live out their worship of God. “And I shall live for him” declares the psalmist, or an alternative reading says “and he who cannot keep himself alive” suggesting that the person who is alive to worship God is alive only because God has sustained him or her. In 22:30 the generations to come are brought in to the communal act of worship, the universal act of worship when those not yet born will be told by their ancestors about what God has done. And what has God done? God has delivered the afflicted and forsaken. God has heard the cry and God has answered with salvation and restoration.

When Jesus cried out from the cross “My God why have you abandoned me”, quoting Psalm 22:1 all who heard him were immediately reminded of Psalm 22 in its entirety. Today, in this time between Easter and Pentecost we are reminded of the same thing. The story of Easter began with a man hanging crying on a cross, but it will end with the proclamation to every future generation and every ethnicity on the planet the magnificent deeds of salvation performed by God. And what is this salvation? What salve does the Psalmist offer on behalf of the faithfulness of God? Salvation from poverty, salvation from affliction, and salvation from abandonment. More than the forgiveness of the sins of disobedience and mutiny against God, God offers restoration of relationship and the deep knowing and feeling of being held close, safe, and dear to God. You are loved, loved beyond your ability to comprehend.

Now isn’t that a God worth worshipping and a truth worth proclaiming with great joy?

(If you were Pentecostals you’d yell “Amen!” at this point.)

But if there is any doubt that God offers such love then the apostle John won’t have a bar of it. Not only does John tell us in 1 John 4 that God is loving and steadfast John goes further and says that God is love. Let there be no doubt of this, love is not something that God does and love is not something that God offers. Love is what God is: God is love.

And what is this love that is what God is, that is the nature and character of love? The love that God is is salvific. The love of God is atoning in that it is reconciling and restorative. The love that God is repairs what was broken and especially broken relationships. The love of God is soothing and healing. John makes clear in 1 John 4:12 that whilst no one has ever seen God God is known by the love that is in us and the love that is shared among us as that love is being perfected. The more love we share amongst each other the better we get at doing it, and the more God is made known in our midst and amongst those who come to the places we are, or are in the places to which we go. God does not make Godself known through wrath or teaching or morality, God is made known through the fullness of love and the love than which no love is greater. And what is the greatest form of love? Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay aside his own life for the ones he loves. That’s the words of Jesus and our many war memorials (or “peace monuments” as one veteran told me last Saturday).

Those who love like God loves are the ones who do the will of God. The ones who love like God loves have God’s presence within them. As 1 John 4:9 says God’s love was revealed amongst us and 4:20-21 says that those who love God must also love their brothers and sisters too. It is not enough to say that you love God; it isn’t even enough that that statement be true and that you do dearly and truly love God. Unless you also love your brothers and sisters in faith, the people around you this morning and other believers who you encounter in your every day life, then you cannot truly be loving God. In other words the evidence that you love the One who is unseen is that you are demonstrating your love for the ones you do see.

So what does this love look like? Well we’ve already seen that in the Psalm and in the passages from Acts and Isaiah. Love is not affection, love is justice. Love is not kindliness, love is compassion. Love is not gooey, love is sacrificial. Love is not giving you heart to someone, love is the continuous preparedness to give your life for someone.

Well if that is all true then love is hard. No wonder John speaks about love as being perfected, it certainly needs to be an ongoing process and it does appear that even John thinks the process will not be completed on earth. We can never love as completely as God loves, our physicality gets in our way. But this is where more good news comes in, and that good news comes from John in his gospel.

In the first few verses of John 15 Jesus speaks about himself being like a vine and he says that he is the source of every good thing. This is a metaphor of course, we cannot take it literally. The literal word of God here is that Jesus literally spoke about himself using a metaphor, Jesus is not literally a plant and no one would suggest that that is the case. But with Jesus imagined as a vine and God the Father imagined as a vine-grower we can talk about Christ being the stem and the roots where we are the branches. In the story of love we can say that God revealed in Christ is the source of the love we express even as the grapes on a vine are fed by the water and nutrients sourced from the soil by the roots and stem. Like a branch cut off from the soil’s nutrition a Christian cut off from Christ will not flourish. In the same way a branch cut away from the other branches will not flourish, we need each other too.

A Christian away from Christ cannot love as God intends. We have said that even as Christians we can never love to the depths and extents that God loves, but if we remain fruitful in the work of God, that is to say if we continue to work at loving others, then Christ will continue to send love to and through us for the glory of God and for the expansion of the vine. The practical reality is that if we are cut off from people we cannot love as God intends, because as John said we cannot demonstrate that we love God unless we are busy loving other people. So if you are planning on going off and sitting in a cave alone with God for a while so that you can focus on loving God without interruption, don’t stay away too long. God does call us into times of solitude to teach us, and love on us 1:1, but if you try to live out there you’ll soon be lonely. God will allow you to feel lonely because having been disciple by the Father you are supposed to come back here and get on with the work of loving us in the midst of us in the same way that the rest of us love you.

So do it. Love one another. Be excellent to each other if you must. Are you the one God could choose to send to the wilderness road? Are you the one God could choose to sing praise to God for the gifts of love including the gifts that empower us to love? Are you the one God could choose to be the Jesus-with-skin on wherever a hug is required today in Kingscote?

Be that one. That is God’s supreme plan for you today