Sixth Sunday of Easter; May 6, 2018, Year B
Acts 10.44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5.1-6; John 15.9-17
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the one who loves you, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
When I say the word, “God,” what image first comes to mind?
Just this week I saw an artistic depiction of God in a church youth room. God was sketched as a stick-figure, human male with a white beard standing on top of clouds.
For many, this is how they picture God. God is far off, above the clouds, is definitely male, and has the aura of harsh judge or something other. It is important for us to have our minds expanded when it comes to how we think about God because how we think about God is directly related to our spirituality and life of faith.
For example, if you think of God only as a harsh judge, then how can it be that you could believe that God loves you and has your best interest at heart?
Our Gospel reading today invites us to expand our horizons as to how we think and feel about God. Jesus speaks of God the Father’s love for him, and his love for you. He invites us: “Abide in my love.”
We will get to what abide means in a moment, but first we need to become familiar with other language for God.
Scripture gifts us with many images for God. In the Gospels of Matthew (23.37) and Luke (13.34), God is a mothering hen who gathers her brood underneath her wings.
In Isaiah (66.13) God says: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”
The Psalmist speaks of God as a refuge and stronghold (Psalm 46). “God is my strength and shield (Psalm 27.8).”
In Hosea (11.3-4) God says: “I took them up in my arms … I led them with cords of human kindness with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
These are only a few ways Scripture speaks of God in contrast to a male sitting on a throne.
I raise this up because I am particularly struck by the word, abide, in our Gospel reading. If you’ve never heard of this word before, it can also mean and be translated as: “remain, stay; live, dwell; last, endure, continue.”
We are invited to remain, stay, live, and dwell … just be … in the love of God.
There are words on the back of our bulletin cover to help us imagine what this means or looks like. At the bottom of the second paragraph it says: “Imagine God as a father stretching out his arms to us, or a mother welcoming us into her embrace. Climb on in. Abide here. Let my love surround you on all sides. Let us nourish you and warm you. Let your heart beat right alongside mine.”
Sure, there are times in our lives in which we need God to give us a bit of a kick in the pants. We need God to set boundaries and parameters in our lives, otherwise know as commandments, because we just can’t function very well without them.
But there are other times in our lives in which we need God to be like a mother who lovingly embraces and holds us.
If you’ve never imagined God in this way, today is a good time to try it. Some of us struggle with trust, or thinking of ourselves as worthy of forgiveness. God loving us has nothing to do with how good or bad we might be, but everything to do with who God is. God is love.
As I’ve been thinking about the word “abide” this week and our Scripture readings for this Sunday, it seems as if I was bombarded with stories and images for illustrating this very point.
I flew to Nebraska this week and while I was in the airport returning home, I saw a man who was probably in his 70’s. He was your typical looking, German from Russia, stoic guy sitting in a chair waiting to board the plane. A few seats away from him was a young woman with what looked to be an 18-month old child. I noticed the woman speaking a couple different languages and she looked to be from the Middle East. These two people seemed to be on opposite ends of the spectrum.
I watched the little boy toddle around and the mother chase him back when he ventured too far. He became a bit fussy and pouted some on the floor. All the sudden I heard and saw the man go, clap, clap, clap, “Come here!”
I was startled by it and I thought the child might burst into tears. The man did it again: clap, clap, clap, “Come here!”
The little boy looked up at him and considered the invitation. I saw him rise to his feet and without any hesitation walk over to the man, lift up his arms and wait to be picked up. The man reached out and lifted him up to sit him on his lap. The mother, stunned by this, said, “Wow!”
The man then said, “He must know I’m a grandpa!” The little boy looked perfectly comfortable sitting there and remained there until we boarded the plane 20 minutes later.
I also saw a friend’s video this week of his daughter among 5 new baby goats. There was one of the goats in particular who loves to be held. The daughter snuggled that goat right up in her arms. My friend said that any time someone walks in the barn the goat goes right up to them and crawls in their arms.
I had the privilege of meeting Brixton James on Wednesday when he was just two days old. He was content and cozy in his parents’ arms.
I heard another friend tell me a story about her grandmother. She said, “She was a pillowy woman and I would just lay on her as a child. It was the best place to be.”
God wants us to know that we can come to God with our struggles, our hurts, our addictions, our sorrows, and our joys. Like a best friend, we can come to God with these things. And like having a good mother, we can simply rest and remain in God’s presence.
Jesus challenges us to think about him as a friend and as one who has already laid down his life for you. We know that our friends deeply shape who we are and who we become. If all of our friends do drugs, then that’s what we will end up doing too. If all of our friends are sober, it’s that much more likely I will be sober too.
Unlike “friends” who simply abandon us when we get locked up, or betray us, Jesus is a friend who will never betray or abandon us. Jesus chooses each one of you and it’s a powerful thing to be chosen, even when we are not at our best. Jesus still chooses us even when we are at our rock bottom and have nowhere else to turn.
Author, Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, “You must be very close to God.”
The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, “Yes, he’s very fond of me.” [pp. 68-69]
How would our perception of God change if when we first pictured God, the first thought that popped into our mind would be, “Yes, God is very fond of me.”
Every time you leave worship on a Sunday morning know that: “You are someone Jesus loves.” It may take a while to trust and believe that, so I will keep reminding you: “You are someone Jesus loves. He is your friend. Remain and abide in the love of God.”