Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 06, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
When I got back from my father’s wedding last weekend, I was touched by how many people cared, and were curious to know how it went. But months ago, I was touched in a very different way. I’ve always held my father in great respect and admiration, and while growing up inevitably makes us reevaluate our parents in the light of their flaws, and our own, I came through to adulthood respecting my father more, not less. So while I can only imagine what was like for the disciples when Jesus looked them in they eye and said they were no longer his servants, but now his friends, his peers, what helps me to imagine that feeling is the experience of my father asking me to be best man at his wedding, along with my brother, Craig.
It’s not like I was going to say no. The thought never crossed my mind. But other thoughts did, like, what can I do for him? And sure enough, there wasn’t a lot he needed my brother and me to do. As you might imagine, when two priests are getting married, they don’t need much help with the planning. There wasn’t much free time in the run-up to the wedding, which meant Craig and I couldn’t give Dad the bachelor party we wanted to — though in retrospect, Dad might have planned things that way for that very reason. The only thing we could do was take him out to a nice lunch, but it was a joyful time.
Jesus told his disciples, or rather, his friends, that one of the reasons he had taught them was that his joy might be in them, and that their joy may be complete. Which certainly sounds great, even as it raises the question of what Jesus’s joy might be. While joy and happiness are certainly related, joy goes much deeper. A good meal may provide much happiness, but sharing it with beloved family makes it joyful. Even sharing mediocre food with people we love can be joyful. And I would go so far as to say that we can even find joy in painful experiences, like a sacrifice that saves someone we love. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
As Dad’s wedding grew closer, everything was running smoothly. As far as everyone else knew. But between the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner, we got word that someone might try to disrupt the wedding. And so I had to think about what kind of best man I was going to be. It was an awkward spot. But I realized, this is my time to do something for Dad. I decided that I would do whatever it took to keep the wedding on track, no matter the cost to myself. And in the end, all that was needed was managing anxiety, keeping the concern to ourselves, a little communication, and making sure Dad knew he had our complete support. Nothing happened. The wedding ran like clockwork, and everyone had a great time. You might say the whole thing went off without a… hitch?
But looking back, I’m astonished at how quickly I went from feeling that I didn’t have much to do, to feeling that I had an essential purpose, a role no one else could perform. From being the one who was counting on Dad to take care of everything, to being the one Dad was counting on. And I realized that our relationships with God can be similar. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, the love he has for us is the same love that exists within the Trinity. Think about how immense that love is. To say God’s love is overwhelming is an understatement. God’s love is so powerful that it would seem to leave nothing for us to do, but Jesus also reveals that there is everything for us to do. “I appointed you to go and bear fruit,” Jesus said, “fruit that will last.”
While we can never take Jesus’s place, he does call us to be like him, which is why we can be not just his followers, but his friends. And if we are like him, that means not only abiding in his love, but also acting from the security and confidence that his love gives us, living the way Jesus taught us, living fearlessly, dedicated to Jesus, in order to bring the same love to the world. As the first letter of John says, “His commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.”
This conquest is not some violent military action; indeed, our victory is peace through peace; but neither is it some ephemeral, immaterial thing that doesn’t really matter. Our victory is in every good work, every time we lay down a little piece of our life, often something as simple as giving our money or time to help others — though ideally those little sacrifices are evidence of a faith that is willing to make any sacrifice for the sake of love. Every sacrifice made in Christ’s name, that is, on his behalf, gives glory to God, and joy to us.