In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that the only commandment that matters is love, and he gives us three ways in which that love is manifest. Let us look at each in turn…
Firstly, Jesus says that the heart and point of life is to abide in God, which means to abide in love. Note well the words abiding, or dwelling: this is not so much about believing anything, or doing anything, but simply being something. Often the Church has given the impression that God wants us to believe something, or do something, in order to be OK, righteous, justified. That puts the cart before the horse. God doesn’t really require anything of us except that we abide, dwell, in the love of God. Being with God, being in God’s love, is so much more important than believing anything about God, or doing anything for God, however good those things may be. Isn’t that such a wonderful message of freedom? That is why Saint Augustine said memorably: "Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved."
Of course, abiding in love is a much more difficult thing to do than simply believing things about God, or doing things. No wonder we human beings end up substituting belief or actions for being with God, and abiding in true love. This misses the point. Can you remember the first part of our parish vision? Being focused in Christ is what counts. Everything else flows from this. So how do we become focused in Christ so that we may abide in God’s love? Well, this is the life of prayer into which we are all called: paying attention to the presence of God with us. One lady I met recently has begun her own way of abiding in God. She has been reading certain passages of the Bible over and over. In doing so, she has even worn out parts of her Bible but it has helped her begun to overcome her stress. Christian meditation, prayer walks, quiet times: all these are ways into abiding. Together we need to help each other find our particular pathways.
For, secondly, our dwelling in love is strengthened, and made more meaningful, by sharing our abiding with others. That is a central purpose of being Church, being community, together. We are called by God to be friends to one another. For just as ordinary friends are vital to our health and growth, so spiritual friends are crucial to help us dwell and grow in the love of God. Sometimes we can forget this and forget that we are called to share friendship together. All of the Church is a ‘Religious Society of Friends’: that is not just the official title of the Quakers. So what is to be a friend? What difference might that make to our life together as a Christian community if we were to begin to take that seriously? What does it mean to love one another as Jesus has loved us? What would you do for your best friend? What would Jesus do for each of us? How will you be a friend of Jesus to someone else today?
For, thirdly, in today’s Gospel Jesus calls on us to bear fruit. This is the outflowing of our dwelling, or abiding in God. For being and doing are not separate things when it comes to the love of God. If we live in God’s love then we will begin to love others with God’s love. The more we abide, we more we will do things fruitfully. It doesn’t really work the other way. We can do things for God, or believe things about God, but if we don’t ever dwell in God’s love then those things can easily shrivel, harden or dry up. That is why Jesus uses the great biblical image of the vine as a metaphor for a healthy spiritual life. What a wonderful image it is! For it is hard for a vine branch to bear beautiful and tasty fruit if it is not in relationship with the rest of the vine. Viticulture, growing grapes, is an art which requires care and attention to do well. So it is with our own lives. We can try to live apart from God’s love, the deepest reality of life, but our fruits will not come to full fruition. If however we abide in God’s love, we can bear fruit which will last, creating wine of joy for us and others. This week we have an opportunity to bear fruit – in our own ways and together in our special event for Nepal this Saturday. May we do so, not like the White Queen: not trying to believe or do six impossible things, but being friends of Jesus, abiding more deeply in the eternal; love of God. Amen.
by Jon Inkpin, for Easter 6, Sunday 10 May 2015