As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I 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. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I 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. 16 You 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. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Complete joy. What comes to mind for you when you hear this phrase? Is it a person? An activity? A place? A moment? A surprise? A long-awaited arrival? Jesus’ life and ministry is compelling on many levels, but the essence of Christ that speaks so clearly to me is that of pure joy. Here he says it’s because of JOY that we engage the hard, gritty work of love like we spoke of last week. It’s all about sharing my joy, Jesus says.
It’s about envisioning the world the way Christ does- a world where all creation co-exists in deep and lasting friendship. “You are my friends,” he says, because I hold nothing of my goodness back. It’s yours for the taking. And it’s free- because I want to give it to you.
That’s real friendship, right? When we completely trust that our friend offers us goodness simply because of love, not in expectation of anything from us. Do you have a friend like this? Someone you trust to share your deepest self w/out fear of judgment, rejection, or needing to repay them? We each have seasons of friendship, and my prayer is that you do- have a friend like this. And if not, my prayer becomes one for our church- that we might offer friendship in this spirit to one another.
Friendships are created because of shared joy and love. Some people get lucky and have that deep friendship last from a young age on...but many of us continue to search it out. And for good reason- we were crafted by a God who values friendship SO MUCH, that he offers to be our friend. That’s how valuable joy is to Jesus.
I have a friend like this, who expects nothing from me, is always there for me, and I delight in being there for her. I’m lucky to call her my sister. She was in worship with us 2 weeks ago. Alison and I shared a room growing up, engaged in all sorts of antics, including our fair share of fighting. But by the time we were in high school, something clicked- and we became a source of solidarity and joy for one another.
One of the joys we share into adulthood that neither of us could have imagined in our early years is the opportunity to love one another’s children. When I reflect on Jesus’ words “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” I hear this truth: we need one another to complete joy. I love my kids, but that joy becomes bigger, deeper, more resolute when I make space to love my sister’s kids too.
And that circle of love keeps expanding the more we receive it- joy begets joy, and joy is at the heart of friendship the way Christ describes. In fact, this is what I cherish about our faith family- we get to share the joy of Taylor graduating high school, because she’s invested in this church and we’ve invested in her, creating the type of friendship that draws us closer to one another, and closer to God.
It occurred to me this week that friendships, built on trust by sharing a million small moments together, includes being there for each other in both joy and sorrow. And at first, I thought, well it’s the sorrow that’s harder, right? But I think I’m wrong. The more I consider where our energy gravitates, we pray MUCH more often for one another’s sorrows, don’t we. that comes easily to us. It’s harder to share unencumbered joy.
Why? Because we’re taught not to brag. Because we get jealous, because sometimes someone else’s joy reflects our lack of it. Because society has conditioned us to be quiet about our joyful moments. Because we’re human- and competition got us to where we are today, all tangled up in plenty of guilt and anxiety.
Jesus lived the human experience, he gets it. He’s as humble as we come, so it stands it stark contrast the world’s messages when we hear Jesus extol joy: his joy, our joy, shared joy! What would it look like for us to simply share joy with one another? To pursue those deep friendships Christ envisions for our lives: where joy is made complete.
“I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” This is freedom, allowing ourselves to experience joy in friendship. If you have that kind of close friend that emulates Jesus’ free-flowing goodness in your life, thank them today. If you’re still searching for that deep bond, my invitation is this: draw closer to Christ, because he truly, deeply, without reservation wants to be your friend. And draw closer to this faith community- as we boldly pursue joy, made complete in the love Christ has for each of us.
Joy begets joy, may we be people who embody Christ’s joy for one another. Amen!
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 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. 18 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. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 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. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
Brene Brown is a world-renowned sociologist and Christian who left the church only to find herself drawn back for the community dynamics unique to a faith home. In 2018, she offered a sermon in the National Cathedral that speaks to me of the distinctive character of a Christian community, and why the concept of Holy Communion matters. Brene says it like this. “I’ve learned there are three things I love about church:
1. I want to sing with strangers
2. I want to pass the peace with people who 6 days a week, I might like to punch in the face. I do, she says. I want to go to church with people that I don’t vote like, believe like, agree with; and on that day, I want to look at them and send them a prayer of God’s blessing; I want to look at them, shake their hand, look in their eye and say, the Lord’s peace to you. And I want to hear that back.
3. I want to share the rail and break bread in communion with people I don’t know. That’s why I go to church.”
One of the most significant metaphors for the church community is that of family. I hear it often, I feel it myself. Church is my chosen faith family, does that idea resonate with you?- And we in the UCC know that we aren't choosing our faith family because of a common creed. Just two days ago, I celebrated this truth with our new members. We have no creed- in fact, you and I might hold different understandings of God’s love at work in us. Heck, we just might be worshipping next to the person who 6 days a week, we might like to punch in the face. (or maybe a more Midwest passive-aggressive move) All the while, we are drawn together because of a common person, a common God: Jesus the Christ. What makes us family is our willingness to break bread together in the name of Christ, not ourselves nor our own ideologies. What makes us family is our willingness to do the hard work of love.
Jesus has a lot to say about sharing faith by engaging in acts of love. Like passing words of peace to our neighbors who can make our blood boil. “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.” Ouch! That is tough stuff to hear, even harder to do.
You want some good news? You don’t have to like someone to love them. I know that’s a bit cliché, but it’s true, especially in church! We will disagree on plenty, and we need healthy community practices that acknowledge this AND create ways for us to engage differences in love...because when we assume we ought to agree on all things, wars are waged and families split and love is nowhere to be found.
“If we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.” We exist as a faith family because love exists, and we are drawn into the work of embodying that love. Wow! That’s a lot of agency God places in our hands. That is what’s at stake as we practice Holy Communion: Abiding in love across real difference.
If I were to summarize what Holy Communion means to me it’s this: A sacred recalling of who we are, by embodying together whose we are: the body of Christ. We are pivotal members of Christ’s body, you and I, but it’s not really about us either, is it? Without this identity as the body of Christ, without this cornerstone act of coming together, we would simply exist for our own selves, our own way of understanding God. The church of Emily, the church of Cherlyn, the church of Larry.
Holy Communion reminds us to be who we were created to be: members of one body, Christ’s body. I want us to celebrate three ways we as a faith family got it right just this weekend, abiding in love as the body of Christ.
On Friday, our newly formed deacons connect team shared stories and laughter with our prospective new members. And our faith family grows stronger for the new voices we invite to the table.
Today, a crew of young people and a few parents are offering our strength to clean up yards for Dorinda and Glenn, a poignant reminder that we all cycle through moments of giving and receiving, AND when one (or two) are lifted, we all rise.
Finally, we abide in love as we lift in prayer our beloved sister Bev Huckins. She has devoted more years of service to this church than I’ve been alive- and in a very real way, she is family. She has embodied Christ’s love for us, and now we embody Christ’s love for her and her family in a moment of deep sorrow.
Abiding in love causes this poignant moment to occur, when we realize it’s not about any one of us, it’s about what we can create together in the name of Christ.That is why our Holy Communion matters as much today as ever. Thank you for being that faith family, for adding your testimony of faith, for helping us all see Holy love at work. Thank you for choosing us as your faith home, abiding together for the sake of love.