Sunday, May 10, 2015

John 15 part II: 6th Sunday of Easter

(Listen to this homily here).

            This will be John 15 part two.  Last week I preached about the first eight verses of this chapter.  Remember the image of the vine and the branches?  We also heard about the themes of remaining in God, love and bearing fruit.
            Today we heard my favorite verse in all of Scripture.  To prove I’m not just blowing smoke and making up my favorite verse, here’s a little show and tell for you.  This is my holy card…on the front side is St. Sebastian, my patron saint.  On the back, you eagle eyed people can see a verse—John 15:13: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  This verse is also etched into the bottom of my chalice.
            A few powerful points as we continue walking through John 15.
            First, laying down one’s life.  Jesus is the ultimate example as he laid down his life on the cross for his friends—his friends of old and his friends today.  He offered himself as a pure sacrifice for our sins.
            The Second Vatican Council had an insightful message about laying down our life.  In Gaudium et Spes the Church taught that, “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift through a sincere gift of himself.”  We are unrecognizable—even to ourself—if we do not lay down our life in love for others.  This is what Jesus did, and this is what we must do.
            Another point—friendship.  This theme also has a special place in my heart.  For many years the description of friendship in the Scriptures has inspired me.  Here’s another show and tell item—this is my Master’s Thesis [showing it in book form].  Don’t worry, I won’t make you read it!  The culmination of my research came in Jesus’ declaration, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing.  I have called you friends.”  This features an entirely new way of relating to God.
            In the Old Testament, only two individuals (Moses and Abraham) were described as a friend of God.  And such a description was only used once!  Every individual in the Old Testament—David, Solomon, Isaiah and the rest—were always called a servant or slave of God—never a friend.  Now Jesus says to his disciples, and to us, “I have called you friends.”
            Remember that Jesus isn’t referring to us as friends as a sort of drinking buddy, fishing partner or chum.  True, Jesus wants to be with us through every day life, but the friendship to which he refers is much deeper.  In ancient times, the greatest love that was humanly possible was the love between friends.  This exceeded the love of a man and his wife!  The spirit, it was thought, was not clouded by passions and the love was a disinterested sort.  Jesus calls us to friendship, and that is completely new.
            Another theme addressed—“You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  So often we think about how we can grow in our faith.  How can I pray more?  How can I discover God in new ways?  In what ways can I serve better?  These aren’t bad, but the fullness of our spiritual lives does not come in finding God—it comes in recognizing that God finds us.  There’s a great poem called The Hound of Heaven which describes God as a relentless hound that hunts us across the globe.  God is searching for us long before we search for Him.  Our faith isn’t so much as finding God as letting us be found by God.
            Finally, everything is about joy: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”  Jesus wants us to be happy.  God wants us to be happy.  The Church wants us to be happy.  We can only experience joy through what Jesus teaches us in this powerful passage of Scripture.  We must lay down our life for others, seek friendship with God, be found by God and allow joy to grow in our hearts.
            I’ll finish this week as I did last week—please take John 15 to prayer.  Discover what God wants to speak to you in this powerful section of the Bible!

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