"Named" (John 15:12-17)
Sunday, May 6, 2018
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
How, exactly, did Jesus show love? John’s gospel tells us.
In chapter 2, Jesus is at a wedding. The wine runs out, a potential social embarrassment for the groom. At his mother’s prompting, Jesus works his first miracle, turning water into wine – superior wine. Not only does he keep the party going; he steps outside of convention. Typically, the good wine is served first, but when they taste Jesus’ wine, they are shocked that what came last was the best of all. God in human skin, Jesus, lived in everyday human life – the simple joy of a wedding. Turning water into wine, Jesus said “no” to joylessness.
How, exactly, did Jesus show love?
Flip to John chapter 4. There he met a rejected woman in her lonely, daily labor. Set outside the social group of village women, she trekked to the well alone. Jesus began with this woman, asking for her offering. “Give me a drink of water.” This solitary Samaritan woman was astounded and appalled that this Jewish man would talk to her in a public place. No one made room for her, she five times dumped by heartless husbands and now living with a man who would not even afford her the protection of marriage. Jesus saw her and spoke with kindness. Getting over her shock, she talked with this strange Jew who gently led her to the moment in which she realized she was talking to her Savior. Jesus made space for the outcast and in doing so, said “no” to the dehumanizing effects of prejudice, sexism, and chauvinism.
How, exactly did Jesus show love?
In John 5, he healed an invalid man who lay by the pool near the sheep gate in Jerusalem. Temple denizens supposed the water possessed mystical powers. Nonsense! Jesus showed that healing comes from God. In his act of healing the man, we hear Heaven’s resounding “no” to the dehumanizing effects of illness.”
In John 6, with a crowd gathered to feed on the words of Jesus, he would not send them away. Instead, he accepted an offering, a boy’s simple lunch of fish and bread. With that food, he fed 5000, with 12 baskets of leftovers to spare. Jesus shouted “no” to hunger.
How, exactly did Jesus show love?
John 8: a woman caught in adultery is thrown down in the dust at Jesus’ feet by a blood-thirsty crowd demanding a condemning verdict. From their vantage point, this is a contest with law and order and tradition on one side and Jesus, agent of chaos, on the other. They show no regard for the woman they’re preparing to stone to death. Jesus won’t have it. He sees her. “Whoever among you has not sinned may cast the first stone,” he says. That woman, adulteress though she may be, is a child of God. Every human language offers a score of scornful terms for this woman, derogatory names by which she will henceforth be known. Jesus has a name for her too. He calls her daughter, and he gives her peace. Jesus closes the case with his deafening “no” to the isolating effects of sin.
In the healing of the blind man in John 9, Jesus says “no” to us when we push certain people to the margins. In John 11, the raising of Lazarus is a foreshadowing of God’s “no” to death that will come in full force in the resurrection. In John 13, Jesus says to “no” to the hierarchies we so willingly accept, when He, the Lord and master, drops to his knees to wash his disciples’ feet.
How did Jesus love?
He redefined life when he said “no” to all the ways we destroy each other.
He also loved sacrificially. “No one has greater love than this,” he said, “than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. In John 10, when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd,” he three times promised to lay down his life for the sheep. Now, he makes the same point as he tries to help us see what he means when he talks about love. Godly love is the readiness to give everything, life itself.
When Jesus tells us to love each other as he loved us, we know that love is seen in his rejection of the things that destroy us and his willingness to sacrifice his own life for us by taking on himself the death sin brings. There’s a third way Jesus loves us. He names us.
“I do not call you servants any longer, … but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (v.15). Nope, that woman caught in adultery is not a “slut.” She is a beloved daughter of God. Nope, that blind man is not to be blamed for being blind.[i] In him, the glory of God will be seen. He, the recipient of God’s healing, is a son of God.
What names have been heaped on you so often you’ve begun to accept them? Jerk? Loser? Failure? Reject? Outsider? Stranger? Foreigner? Uninvited? Bum? Idiot? I won’t say the more hideous derogatory epithets, but I bet you’ve heard them. I bet you’ve heard hateful words from an overzealous relative, a racist classmate, an overbearing boss, a loudmouth on the street, or a judgmental, shortsighted pastor. Have you heard the damning names so often, you think they might be true?
John’s gospel tells us that Jesus has something for you. You are named. Jesus looks into your eyes and says, “I call you friend.” The woman from Magdala recognized Jesus when he said, “Mary.” The risen one knows your name. On his lips your name becomes new – Cathy, John, Nooshin, Igor, Lucio, Siqing, Alan, David, Laura. My daughter is the only Merone in our church, but my flights back from Ethiopia a few years ago, four the flight attendants were named Meron. Maybe there are 100,000 people in the world that have the same name as you, but when Jesus looks in your eyes and speaks your name, and calls you friend, no one on earth can claim what you have with Jesus in that moment. You are named. You are His. You are adopted as a child of God.
OK, that which would destroy us is rejected by Jesus. He says “No” to death. He lays down his life for us. And, he names us. Now what? Now, what?
“I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” If one of the new names Jesus gives us is “producer of new life,” or, “fruit bearer,” how do we understand that and live into it?
We have to grow. Fruit is a living thing and living things grow. Where do we grow in our relationship with God in Christ? Generally speaking, we grow in worship, in prayer, in time alone with God, in Bible reading, study, and meditation, and in ministry and mission. Where and when do you specifically grow in Christ, or where do I experience growth? I think it varies from person to person. Everyone who follows Jesus, must be intentional about. It doesn’t happen by accident.
After that woman caught in adultery received forgiveness, the only way she would then grow close to God is to stay in the community of followers of Jesus. If she just turned around and went back to the life in which she rejected God’s ways, then the forgiveness Jesus gave would not take root. She moves from adulteress to daughter, from outsider to family member, from lost to saved. We have to live into the new name Jesus gives.
Also, fruit reproduces. Fruit is a seed and from that seed comes more fruit. There’s no such thing as non-evangelistic Christ follower. To be in Christ is to invite others to Christ. We know people who have accepted the cruel names society has foisted upon them. We have friends, neighbors, family members who live into the names – idiot, loser, no-good. To love as Jesus loved, we must help people come to meet Jesus so they can learn their new names. We grow and we name just as we are named.
We are named. Now what?
Just as Jesus laid down his life on the cross for us, following his lead, we learn to live sacrificially. The only way to give ourselves for the blessing of others is to be intentional about it, but we can only live this way in the grace of Jesus. Sponsoring a child, volunteering with the mentally disabled, visiting the jail as part of a prison ministry, mentoring troubled teens, speaking out for racial justice, advocating for the rural poor – numerous opportunities for us to give of ourselves at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We step into those opportunities because of who Christ has created us to be – new creations. The disciple who does great thing on behalf of others is no super saint. She’s simply living out of the work Jesus has done in her.
We bear fruit. We live sacrificially.
Finally, remember the times John’s Gospel Jesus says, “No.” We inhabit that space created by the “no” of Jesus. No, Jesus said, the party does not end. More wine! Thus, we live lives of joy; abundant, abiding joy. No, Jesus says, the Samaritan woman will not be outcast. We live lives of welcome – even welcoming people we previously would have rejected.
No, Jesus says, the man will not be blamed for his blindness, the invalid will not spend his life longingly staring into waters that cannot heal, the hungry will not leave with empty hearts or empty bellies, and the sinner will not stay in sin. Thus, in our lives, as an expression of the Gospel, we help people be healthy. We help all people eat their fill. We spread the word that in Christ there is forgiveness and in forgiveness, we stand before God clean, every one of us.
No, Jesus says, humanity will not be divided into the pampered rich and the downtrodden poor who do all the dirty work. It won’t be that way in the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom, the King himself will joyfully wash the servants’ feet. And, death is the not end because death has been defeated. Like our king, we kneel to wash others’ feet so they can know they are honored, loved, and named. And we never stop insisting that in the coming of Jesus, the Kingdom of God has come near and all who repent of sin can have life in His name.
Jesus came to invite us into a specific life – the life of Christ. In that life, we are named and we are called. Have your received the name He has for you – friend of God? As we sing our final song, listen. With your voice, sing praise to God. With your heart, listen for God’s voice. He loves you. He wants you to know it. He wants you to know He’s with you as you go through life.
Jesus has named you. Live into your name.