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It’s all about Love: Riffing on the Johns

Easter 6, Common Lectionary Year B

John 15:9-17, 1 John 4:7, 16, John Lennon

©2015 Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

First let me deal with the anthem.
It will become apparent in a moment that another ‘anthem’ from the Summer of Love, 1967 is the one that’s playing in my head, but thanks to the choir for getting us in the mood!

Now, I need to offer an explanation for this peculiar sermon title.
Weeks ago now, when putting the first creative strokes to our worship for this season,
Douglas and I sat working through the texts
and came to this week;
a quick skim and I said, “1 John again?!

and John’s Gospel again?

Let me guess,….let’s see, uhuh…
It’s all about love… all you need is love.. love…”
and Douglas, not missing a beat, finished

“love is all you need.”

John the Gospeller, John the letter writer, John Lennon…

I chose “riffing” also as the sermon form,
because riffing can mean a short repeated musical phrase
“All you need is love…yadadadadah”

or it can mean a stream of consciousness on a given topic”
I asked Middle Zone, and FB friends to ‘riff’
on this topic so that this sermon is as much theirs as it is mine.
So we’re going to let these three texts riff with one another, beginning with Gospeller John.

For those of us who were here last week, we imagined ourselves to be among the disciples who were sitting with Jesus,
after the last supper had been eaten, as he cleared his throat
and wove an image around us,of God the Vine-Grower, Jesus the Vine,
and we, the branches, grafted, entwined, pruned, clipped for fruitfulness.
Held in the image, we could almost smell the sweet grapes, and feel our grafted connection to the divine and to one another.

Well, if we can, we need to get back into that moment,
because only one breath is taken
before Jesus uses the vine image
to describe the intertwining love of God,
Parent for child, Father for Son,
and both for those whom Jesus calls ‘friends.’
Just as branches of the vine entwine the rootstock
and support one another as they reach for the sun
and grow heavy with fruit,
so it is with this abiding love for and of God for Jesus, and for us.
Riffing on this for a moment,
trying to find a way to imagine what this command
to ‘abide’ in God’s love might look like,
I imagine it like this:the newborn infant on your lap,
she has you in her steady, serious gaze, trying to figure you out;
you smile, open eyes wide, instinctively using the facial language of love
to connect to her, to teach her her place in the bonds of love.
Jesus models for us the love of God in much the same way,
and we know the results of both:
that wild, mutually enriching fruit of pure joy,
the first smile, the connection made,
the world turned![1]

As one of our Middle Zone (Grace Chang):
True Love – the Love that comes from and is born of God –
is mirrored when,as a big sister,she takes care of her younger brother,
having learned to care from the example of her parents.
If that’s what love is, then surely Lennon is right:
“All you need is love!”

Let’s riff some more,
this time with John the Letter-writer.
At first glance, it sounds like a repeat of the Gospel,
“ Love one another, Love is from God,
abide in God’s love, as God abides in us….
perfect love by learning from,
modelled after this (perichoretic)[2] intertwined, grafted
love of God in Christ.”
But his unique riff is this:
“…because perfect love casts out fear.
Fear has to do with punishment, and reprisal,
and that kind of fear leaves no room for love.”

This writer was of course writing from experience;
this doubly, even triply persecuted group
of new Christians were trying to live the Gospel
in a militarized big-brother Roman Empire,
pariahs in their homeland, forcibly dispersed,
seeking refuge among hostile strangers.
The insidious creep of legislated fearfulness
is something we would recognize.

This writer has worked out that
the long road between love and hatred is paved by fear.
The sort of pinching fear that thinks the worst, mistrusts, runs from risk,
sees enemies where there are none, and leaves us blind to the possibilities for love,
connection and compassion and care.

Another of my Middle Zone sermon inspirers (Samantha McLaren)
wrote that love, on the other hand, is brave.
It takes courage to dare to love,
to risk the vulnerability and honesty
of loving each other;
and it takes tremendous courage to love enough
to risk everything for a friend.
It takes courage to choose to live by love in a fearful land.[3]
What all our Johns and we have in common,
and we with them, is that love is a brave, courageous,
self-less, choice that is hard before it is joyful or fruitful.

Lennon’s urge to write “All you need is love” was born out of a desire to use his art
to unite people in a force for change for the better.[4]

Whether we live in first century Roman occupied land, or 21st Century culture of increasing fear of the other, we have a brave choice before us;
to choose to live in the abiding love of God;
to choose to love rather than to fear;
to choose selflessness, generosity, care, rather than hatred or despite;
to love the global community not because it owes us, but because we are grafted to it,
it is us, part of us.
Choosing to love all creatures because even in them,
God models the perfection of love….
the snuggle of a cat on your lap,
the majestic gentleness of a whale against your kayak,
the constancy and dedication of family love,
the upending riskiness of intimate love,
the God-like love that against all logic,
produces such joy, as in that baby’s smile…..

If this is what love is….
then, all our Johns,
and all our sermon inspirers on FaceBook, and MiddleZone email are right:
“Love is all you need.”


[1] Thanks to Susan Hedahl for this image, in Working Preacher (May 17,2009)

[2] Perichoresis is a way to describe the mutual indwelling of the Trinity, often imaged as an intertwining dance. (See Leonardo Boff, and the definition in Merriam Webster).

[3] See the book by Henri Nouwen  Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story,  which tells of the selfless courageous love of a priest working among the Mayan people, who was executed by a death squad.

[4] From Rolling Stone article, in response to journalist Jade Wright’s question about whether using slogans as propaganda, as in “Give peace a Chance” and “All you need is love” was his intent, said “Sure. I’m a revolutionary artist. My art is dedicated to change.”

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