Sunday, May 25, 2003

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide.

We love to have bananas in the house. Bruce's typical breakfast is a glass of juice and a banana as he is running out the door in the morning. The only problem with bananas is that they go bad so quickly, particularly in the heat. I bought bananas one day -- choosing some green ones with the fewest brown spots. By the time I got home, they had ripened and were already growing brown spots. Bananas certainly are not fruit that does not last.

What kind of fruit does last? I would like to think that the good things I have done for other people will leave a lasting impression. I pray that the impact I have had on my children will become a lasting memory as they grow and have children of their own. I have planted some trees in our gardens over the years. Wouldn't it be terrific if those trees gave shade to the people who live in those homes for generations to come?

Yes, it would be nice if all those things would last, but they won't. The good deeds will be forgotten, we will all perish, even the trees will likely be cut down to provide wood for a house or to make room for a parking lot. The things of this world, no matter how wonderful, are not lasting.

So, what did Jesus mean when He said, "...but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide"? The only things that will last are the things of God, only in Him will anything find eternal life. The Psalmist in today's lesson sings a great hymn of praise. "Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song; For he hath done marvellous things: His right hand, and his holy arm, hath wrought salvation for him.  Jehovah hath made known his salvation: His righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the nations." (Psalm 98:1-2)

The passages from John's Gospel and Epistle use the words "obey" and "command" several times. It is so easy from our human perspective to grasp onto those words and embrace them, yet miss out on the true message of these lessons. We like to know that we have done something good, that we've had an impact on the people of this world in some way. We are quick to list our good deeds before men as proof of our love for God. We even point to these passages and say, "See, this is how God told us to live!" That's the way it was for the Jews in Jesus' day. If they lived according to the Law, if they were good enough, gave enough, did enough, then they would be children of God. The trouble is, none were able to carry this heavy burden. Those who thought they could be of God by their own works were blind to their own sin, hiding behind a facade of self-righteousness and justification by excuse. They pointed their fingers at others while denying their own inability to live rightly before God. They saw themselves as greater than the others and had no mercy on those they deemed as sinners.

But God turned things around, sent Jesus to reveal to the world the truth of God's love which is found only in His grace. God does not love us because we have done good things or because we have lived according to a set of rules. He loves us and because He does, we can love Him back and be the vessels by which He reveals His love to others. That's exactly what happened in the lesson from Acts. Peter was telling a gathering of people at Cornelious' house about Jesus and His ministry in this world. He told them about Jesus' death and resurrection, His appearance to a select group of witnesses, His command to preach the Gospel and to testify that He is the Christ. "To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins." (Acts 10:43) These people were not Jews, they were Gentiles, yet God's love reached them also as the Holy Spirit fell upon them at the hearing of those words about God's grace. The Jews were amazed that they could become children of God. Those who were there were baptized into the Church of Christ and became part of the Kingdom of God.

John tells us in his first epistle how we can know that we are children of God. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God." (1 John 5:1, NIV) When we are born of God, we are His child. What happens for those who are born of God? We overcome the world. What does this mean? Last week we heard that the only way to bear fruit is to be connected to Jesus, who is the vine. We are part of Him by faith and as such He bears His fruit through us. That fruit is salvation -- forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God achieved by the blood of Christ Jesus. We overcome those things that have burdened us, the desires to do good and be perfect, given the victory through faith in Jesus Christ. In Him we are made perfect, justified by His grace and called to remain in His love.

It is only after God has given us that great gift of salvation that we become His children, and as such we show the world His righteousness by our right living. It is only then that we can carry out His commands. What is it that He commands? "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you." (John 15:12) In faith, we love as God first loved us, a sacrificial love, willing to give everything we are for the sake of another. Peter did this in the home of Cornelious, first of all entering into the home of a Gentile which was against the Law of the Jews. He spoke to them about Jesus, which must have seemed like a waste of time to the circumcised believers because how could they believe if they had not been obedient to God's Law?

Yet, God gave them the same gift -- faith in Jesus Christ, salvation and the Holy Spirit. They became part of the vine, part of the Kingdom, part of God's love. They become part of the circle of friends of Jesus, who by His power will love others into the Kingdom.

These scriptures do seem as though they center on our obedience to God's commands, our need to prove our love for God through good works. But those works are just like rotting bananas if we are not connected to God by faith in Christ Jesus. It is only that which we do in the love of God that will last, because only Jesus is able to bring salvation and draw all people into His Kingdom and make them children of God.

Together with all creation we will sing the song of praise and thanksgiving, "Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all the earth: Break forth and sing for joy, yea, sing praises.  Sing praises unto Jehovah with the harp; With the harp and the voice of melody.  With trumpets and sound of cornet Make a joyful noise before the King, Jehovah.  Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; The world, and they that dwell therein; Let the floods clap their hands; Let the hills sing for joy together Before Jehovah; For he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with equity." Psalm 98:4-9 (NIV)

Thanks be to God. 

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