6th Sunday in Easter

First Reading: Acts 10:44-48

44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Psalm: Psalm 98

1Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done marvelous things,
  whose right hand and holy arm have won the victory.
2O Lord, you have made known your victory,
  you have revealed your righteousness in the sight of the nations.
3You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of       Israel;
  all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
4Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands;
  lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing. 
5Sing to the Lord with the harp,
  with the harp and the voice of song.
6With trumpets and the sound of the horn
  shout with joy before the king, the Lord.
7Let the sea roar, and all that fills it,
  the world and those who dwell therein.
8Let the rivers clap their hands,
  and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord, who comes    to judge the earth.
9The Lord will judge the world with righteousness
  and the peoples with equity.

Second Reading: 1 John 5:1-6

1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
  6This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Gospel: John 15:9-17

 [Jesus said:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
  12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  The Lion and the Mouse by Aesop

“A Lion lay asleep in the forest, his great head resting on his paws. A timid little Mouse came upon him unexpectedly, and in her fright and haste to get away, ran across the Lion’s nose. Roused from his nap, the Lion laid his huge paw angrily on the tiny creature to kill her.

“Spare me!” begged the poor Mouse. “Please let me go and some day I will surely repay you.”

The Lion was much amused to think that a Mouse could ever help him. But he was generous and finally let the Mouse go.

Some days later, while stalking his prey in the forest, the Lion was caught in the toils of a hunter’s net. Unable to free himself, he filled the forest with his angry roaring. The Mouse knew the voice and quickly found the Lion struggling in the net. Running to one of the great ropes that bound him, she gnawed it until it parted, and soon the Lion was free.

“You laughed when I said I would repay you,” said the Mouse. “Now you see that even a Mouse can help a Lion.”

A kindness is never wasted.

Who represents God in this fable?  The lion.  Who is the mouse?  We are.  It is silly to think that the lion needs the mouse and yet in this story we see relationship.  In today’s text we are challenged to not see ourselves as useless mice to be spared death but to realize that we are in relationship with the great lion, Aslan, and to see that we are more than “servants.”  We are “friends.”

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON:  We are Friends, Not Servants

As we come down to the end of the Easter season we again return to that last night and Jesus’ talk with the disciples as they finish supper and head to the Garden of Gethsemane as reported in John 15. Our text continues on from last week’s vine and branches talk.  The lion let the mouse go but the story continues, and we continue to think about Jesus’ last thoughts.  As Jesus continues, he further explains about the branch abiding in the vine.  It picks up another image.  We are not servants but friends.  How is that so and why?

First:  “Abide in my love.”  Last week we talked about the branch abiding in the vine so that it has life and strength and can bear fruit.  John continues writing and is a little more specific.  We must abide, focus our thoughts in God’s love. Those early disciples – how many? 12 main ones – changed their world.  I think they did not do it just by peaching and telling people they needed to get saved.  They lived a life style that had the power to love the unloveable, the ability to die in the face of injustice, the strength to go the extra mile, and generally to live a life that was not based on natural human tendencies.  The followers were different from others because they abided in the love of God.  This abiding made a difference and marked their lives.

         John ties this abiding, this different way of loving, together with obeying God’s commandments.  This is a bit harsh on our modern ears as we tend to think of laws as constricting our freedoms and we are all about freedom.  In fact six of the Ten Commandments start with, “do not.”  Don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t slander, don’t steal, and don’t covet.  It is as we read Luther’s explanation of the commandments that we hear a more positive focus:  “We should fear and love God so that” we give life and don’t take it, value our marriages and friendships, say good things about people by putting the best construction on our speech, share our resources, and bath the other in love and not jealousy.  Living within the boundaries of God’s love, following his guidelines maximizes our lives and does not constrict us.  But it is also different from the values lived out in society today or there is a tension.  My example from today is just how grating it is on my freedom to wear a mask that I may or may not believe in.  The lion chooses to let the mouse go free which was against his nature and shows mercy.

         Abiding in God’s love and obeying his commandments brings joy.  Jesus says the outcome is that our joy may be complete.  The world would like us to think that joy comes from wealth, from beauty, from winning elections, from so many things in this world.  As I reflect, it seems that those moments are for the few but we can all know the joy of hugging a friend, the laughter of receiving an unexpected gifts, or the contentment of being complemented by a friend.  As we abide in God’s love and share it with others, joy explodes in our lives.  As we refrain from living outside the boundaries and relinquish the right to revenge or lust or gossip, we experience more joy.  The price we pay is laying down our life for another but the reward we experience is the joy of relationship and the satisfaction of knowing God’s love.  The mouse never forgot the kindness of the lion.

Second, Jesus says that we are no longer “servants” but become “friends.”  This has big implications.  There are no secrets in our relationship with God.  He knows us and he has incarnated and become known by us.  There are no hidden clauses.  One of the cute Christmas movies is Santa Clause 2.  Santa Clause discovers that there is fine print in his contract and that the “clause” is that he must find a Mrs. Clause before Christmas.  And so the adventure begins. We grow as Christians but God does not change the laws every four years. As Christians we learn to use our spiritual muscles and for sure there are times when we stumble and fall, and even fail, but God’s love is not conditional on our performance, on our report card.  Like a parent, we are always his children.  He honors his covenants and works with us as we grow.  The mouse heard the lion roar in distress and was drawn to the problem.

         The term “friend” acknowledges our agency in our partnership with God.  Servants are hired and are expected to perform the “to do” list of the master but friends have personage and agency in a relationship that allows for give and take as we each get to know the other better.  There may be tough times but friendship will stand the test of time.  Perhaps some of you know the fun of meeting friends you haven’t seen for a while and the joy of sharing a cup of coffee and catching up.  We go through those silent times when we may not feel that cozy mountaintop spiritual high and when we wonder if God is listening but then invariably spring comes and winter is over.  The mouse races to help the lion.

         Friends know each other and there are not secrets.  Friends have agency and can initiate into each other’s lives.  Friends generally share similar values and goals.  They are walking along the path of life together.  They may have different gifts, be of different ethnicities, even be of different ages but they are headed in the same direction.  We know that God is building a kingdom and we are his representatives.  We know his expectations and he knows our strengths and weaknesses.   Jesus shares that he has told us about God and so we do not need to worry.  We are secure in that relationship.  The mouse uses his talent to gnaw the ropes of the lion.

Third, we are chosen and we are commissioned as friends.  We have value and we have purpose.  We are to bare fruit, fruit that will last.  As friends we are journeying with God for eternity.  Three masons were asked what they were doing.  The first said: mixing cement.  The second said: building a structure.  The third said: creating a cathedral.  As friends of God, we have eternal perspective and we have purpose that inspires and brings joy to our lives.  We are building a cathedral  We do not love our enemies just because it is commanded but hopefully because we see their value and want to express to them God’s love and invite them into the kingdom.  We do not eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die, but have a perspective that looks into eternity.

         Again we hear the promise that we can ask God anything in Jesus’ name.  This promise we love to pull out of context and make God seem like Santa Clause.  We are reminded today that it is embedded in abiding in God’s love, obeying his commandments, knowing his will, having and a willingness to lay down our life for another.  It is not a blank check but a promise of a relationship that is transparent, respectful and two sided.

         17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another,” is our final sentence today.  The lion does not hurt the mouse and the mouse helps the lion.  The fable is not quite loving one another.  We, on the other hand, as we abide in God’s love, obey his commandments realizing they are the guides to a joyful life.  Zs we value one another we gradually realize more and more that we, each one of us, is chosen and we are not just servants doing tasks for God but are friends that fellowship with him and his body.  What an awesome privilege. 

         In the fable, the mouse helps the lion.  Is this impossible?  Maybe it is so under the realities of this world.  As friends, we are  promised that faith can move mountains and we are in relationship with the God of the universe who has the power to make it happen.  In addition to the privilege of being the friend of Jesus, we become part of a fellowship that is worldwide.  “17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”  Even a mouse like me can help a lion like God and can love one another.  Blessings on the journey!

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