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Easter 5B Sermon
1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
April
29, 2018

 

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1 John 4:7-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

John 15:1-8
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

You probably already noticed this, but the word, “love” or a derivative of it is found 28 times in our second lesson. True love, which is more than simply a warm feeling about someone based on their looks or actions, is founded in the love that Jesus showed to us on the cross. That is perfect love. It is also expected of us, since we cannot say we love God, but then go about not acting in love toward our brothers and sisters or neighbors around us. This kind of love is so powerful that it even casts out fear. It takes a lot to cast out fear because we all experience fear of something in our lives, especially the loss of control over all or certain aspects of our well-being and independence. How can love cast out fear? It takes a rare example, but when we witness it, we can be encouraged by it.

Martin Luther King Jr. said that, “Love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend.” With his non-violent protests in the midst of death threats, fire hoses and other assault, King was a man of faith to have said this. He truly believed in the power of love to transform those around him who hated him into friends.
When I was first in the ministry I remember seeing an elderly pastor from the Lancaster area at various synod events. He always had his wife with him, and he was always warm and welcoming. I came to find out that his name was Pastor Robert Graetz, and he was on the tail end of his career as a Lutheran pastor. Recently I read an article about Bob and Jeannie Graetz that told about their belief that love is the only force powerful enough to transform an enemy into a friend. The mantra that the Graetzes have always lived by is, “no violent thoughts, no violent words, no violent actions.” That was not always easy for them in their ministry. Graetz said, “Dr. King always liked to say that you have to be non-violent with the fist, the tongue and the heart.” He knew that because King said it to him, personally. The Graetzes, a white family, served the predominantly black congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Alabama in the heat of the civil rights movement of the 1950s. They were primary figures in the Montgomery Bus Boycott alongside Rosa Parks. Because they were white, the Graetzes drew more ire than most from the local racists. Their home was bombed twice, their car vandalized multiple times, and their children continually threatened while their lives were turned upside down.

After leaving Alabama they continued to work with people who needed a voice to speak for them. They worked for over 30 years in Appalachia with the very poor, speaking out for them and helping them to survive. It didn’t hurt that they were willing to live lives of poverty themselves, raising seven children with very little in their wallets. Love is so much more than an emotion for Bob and Jeannie and their family. It is the powerful force that turns everyone into a friend, not matter how unpopular they may be, and no matter how much it may cost them. It has stretched them to accept and love in ways that they never thought they would in their younger years.

In 1999 their son died of AIDS. He was openly gay and was loved and accepted unconditionally by his parents. They have a granddaughter who used to be a grandson; they have severely handicapped grandchildren; Jeannie boasts that they just welcomed their first Chinese grandchild; they have French and Moroccans in the family, there are six grandkids who are Muslim, and they even have a Republican (she whispers that and then laughs …). All joking aside, from my days of being in the presence of Bob and Jeannie Graetz I have never known them to think, speak or act unlovingly against anyone, no matter how similar or different their beliefs. The love that they have AND OPENLY SHOW for people regardless of race or color, political affiliation, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation is surpassed only by the love and concern and prayers that they have and share with people who hate others on account of these very same divisions.

Loving as our scripture calls us to today is so much more difficult, because our differences run so much deeper. Bob Graetz said, “Racism in our day was clear and overt. Nowadays, though, most of the people who exhibit racism honestly don’t believe they are racists. That is a huge problem. But the biggest issue facing the country is classism. The widening income gap coupled with so much political power resting with so few people has left the poor in America fighting to keep their heads above water.”

When I think of people who are connected with God in special ways, I think of people like Bob and Jeannie Graetz. Wherever they have lived or served, they have loved those around them as a natural extension of their love for God and God’s love for them. I have never heard a sermon from Bob Graetz. I have never discussed theology or doctrine with him. My few conversations with him – all of which were in the early 1990s – were about what it means to love our congregations and communities as Jesus loves us and them. Abiding or living and dwelling in God’s love is not just a way of life for ourselves; it is the way that God’s love is shared and experienced by those who don’t have the privilege of wealth or opportunity or great health or protection under the law from being harmed in any way. Our Christian response to these situations is love. That is how Jesus responded – he loved and healed and befriended those who were turned away by the rich and powerful and influential. They didn’t like that; they feared him. That is why they reacted as they did. But Jesus responded to their hatred with love. He never allowed himself to abandon that powerful force, and he was raised to new life through Jesus Christ.

When we remember Jesus’ life of love and we hear of the examples of Bob and Jeannie Graetz and others, we cannot help but have hope for our church and for our world. If we could only show a fraction of the love that these and others have shown, then maybe love will indeed prevail and hatred will vanish. It is a promise from God to do this; and it is a challenge and call to be part of it. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.