Easter 6 Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 10 May 2015
Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
We hear Jesus say: “Abide in my love.”
What does it look like to abide in God's love?
“Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing", as you may know from the song made popular by many singers.1 At times we are told “love is blind.” Blind love is a theme that runs through Louise Penny's skillfully written murder mystery, Still Life, which my husband, John, & I listened to as he drove on our 14-hour trip to be with our son in Washington, DC.
Although we were not blind during that trip, once we were in town on the way to his apartment, we could not see how to obey the law staring at us from the government construction vehicle we were stuck behind at a signal light in bumper to bumper traffic. We could not turn onto the side street: it was one-way in the opposite direction. We could not pull into street parking: every spot was filled. So how could we follow the written instruction on the back of the huge truck? It read: Construction Vehicle: Do NOT follow.[Photo shows 3rd such truck we were behind - the 1st I could get to my phone in time to get photo. Truck mentioned in homily was larger; its sign said "Construction Vehicle..."]
We see & hear in our scriptures today the work we have to do as friends who follow Jesus. Our scriptures repeat the words: love, joy, victory, conquer, & abide. Notice: we hear the word love used as both a noun & a verb.2
Jesus assures us in our Gospel that we can abide, dwell, live in his love by keeping his commandment to love each other as Jesus loves us. Jesus says we are friends, not servants, & we work with him in the fruit-bearing business, as one Bible's footnote calls our work.3
The key to this fruit-bearing business is the work of prayer. We see the early harvest of fruit-bearing in our first lesson when Peter & the other Hebrew followers of Jesus are surprised by the Holy Spirit being given to Gentiles. We hear joy as God's Good News spreads & grows in the world beyond Jerusalem. We hear love's conquering power over evil in our 2nd lesson. Yet our key question remains: What does it look like to abide in God's love?
It looks like being the most beautiful place in creation. It looks like accepting what St. Teresa of ávila, the 16th century Spanish nun, has written: “Believe the incredible truth that the Beloved has chosen for his dwelling place the core of your own being because that is the single most beautiful place in all of creation.”4
YOU are the most beautiful place in all of creation!
As the single most beautiful place in all of creation, you can embrace this beautiful relationship as God's Beloved. Katerina Whitley, who was our diocesan ECW's featured speaker at st. Anne's in Tifton says “(Jesus) makes it clear that this relationship is not just two-sided. The source of all this love is God the Father...”5 This is about our relationships with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with each other & the people we meet along life's way, including drivers with irritating, “irrational” signs on their vehicles.
One of the essentials to our fruit-bearing work is prayer. As St. Benedict's Prayer Book says in its “Prologue”6: Some may think prayer is about getting “our...way with extra-terrestrial help”,
- saving us from facing life's problems,
- helping us escape reality,
- getting an emotional high to feel good,
- or a way of expanding our consciousness through self-discipline & self-improvement efforts.”
“There is a bit of truth in these ideas, yet they miss the point of Christian prayer.” The book goes on to say:
“We are called into communion with One who loves us....prayer is the only way to open our hearts to (God's gift of) love. It is the response God asks of us and for which (God) waits with infinite patience.”7
The words we say are not the point: we can speak without thinking of what we are saying. We can read Holy Scripture & our Prayer Book prayers “without ever letting it penetrate our heart...8, yet that is exactly “what we need; it is the true purpose of prayer...For those who listen prayer is never...one-way traffic...If we listen 'with the ears of the heart', as St. Benedict (says), the word of God comes to us here & now to teach & guide & (God's) love touches our individual lives. It makes all the difference.”9
What is that difference? It's that hard to pinpoint experience that Argentinean anthropologist & mountain climber Dr. Constanza Ceruti writes of in her poem “Summit Breezes,” which she read during her talk at Christ the King in Valdosta a few years ago when she was lecturing at Valdosta State University. The first woman to reach the summit of the world's highest volcano, she shared this reflection about her experience, which speaks to our fruit-bearing work, our work of prayer as we abide in God's love:
Biography of Constanza Ceruti. http://constanzaceruti.com/ Accessed: 8 May 2015.
“Constanza Ceruti: Anthropologist/Archaeologist”. National Geographic Emerging Explorer Bio. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/constanza-ceruti/. Accessed: 29 June 2013.
Ceruti, Constanza. http://constanzaceruti.com/. Accessed: 29 June 2013.
DeGroat, Chuck. toughest people to love: how to understand, lead, and love the difficult people in your life – including yourself. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2014.
“Dr. Constanza Ceruti”. The University of West Georgia Department of Anthropology. http://anthropology.westga.edu/index_7644.php. Accessed: 29 June 2013.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Is_a_Many-Splendored_Thing_%28song%29 Accessed: 9 May 2015.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 7 April 2015.
Lesser Feasts and Fasts: 2003. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated. 2003.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Penny, Louise. Still Life. CD read by Ralph Cosham. www.macmillanaudio.com.
Saint Benedict's Prayer Book for Beginners. New York: Ampleforth Abbey Press. 2000.
Somerville, The Rev. David. “When Obligations Become Gifts: A Reflection on the Gospel for May 10, 2015, the Sixth Sunday of Easter.” http://upcominggospel.com/. Accessed: 8 May 2015.
Whitley, Katerina K. “Love one another”. 6 Easter (B) 2015. Accessed: 8 May 2015.
1 Music by Sammy Fain. Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Is_a_Many-Splendored_Thing_%28song%29 Accessed: 9 May 2015.
2 Whitley, Katerina K. “Love one another”. 6 Easter (B) 2015. Accessed: 8 May 2015.
3 New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. Pp. 1309-1310.
4 Quoted P. 141 by DeGroat, Chuck. toughest people to love: how to understand, lead, and love the difficult people in your life – including yourself.
5 Ibid. Whitley. “Love one another”.
6 Saint Benedict's Prayer Book for Beginners. New York: Ampleforth Abbey Press. P. 9.
7 Ibid. Pp. 9.-10.
8 Ibid. Pp. 10-11.
9 Ibid. P. 11.