Remain in My Death

Inspired by John 15:9-17

My aunt Ann has been on my mind a lot lately. I have no idea why though, all I know is that memories of her have been surfacing quite a bit lately. She died of cancer about 20 years ago. I was probably closer to her than any of my other aunts. I would even stay for a week or two with her every summer in the Bay Area. We fought like cats and dogs the whole time, mostly because I took every opportunity to get under skin. But every year she’d take me back, and I’d willing go, because I knew that she loved me in spite of my bad behavior. She left an impact on my life, taught me many lessons, and so her love for me continues to do its work on me, even to this day. That was her legacy that she left me, a legacy more precious than any inheritance could be.

In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus speaks of the Legacy that he will be leaving behind. But before we get into that let me first give you the context that this story falls in. This passage comes from what has come to be known as Jesus’ farewell discourse or farewell address or what I’ve called Jesus’ loooong goodbye. It’s four long chapters of Jesus’ last conversation with his closest friends before he is arrested, tortured, and executed. He shares with them his final teachings, and it’s also important to remember that this conversation takes place at the table, where he shared his last meal with them as they celebrated Passover. On top of that, he had just finished washing their feet as a sign of being a loving servant-leader. All of that, is the context in which he leaves his legacy with them when he said, “Remain in my love.”

“Remain in my love.” What does that mean though? Jesus could have just as easily said, I love you. But he doesn’t, he says, “Remain in my love.” So let’s break that down a bit. I think, for most of us, when we hear Jesus say, “Remain in my love”, we hear that in a warm fuzzy kind of way. Awwww, isn’t Jesus so sweet! But I’m not convinced that warm fuzzies are what Jesus was going for here, which is where the context that I spoke of earlier comes in, because in that context there are clues as to what kind of love Jesus is talking about. This command of Jesus’, comes during his last meal with them, while he gives them his final teachings, and after he washed their feet, including the feet of Judas, the one who he knew would turn him over to the authorities, leading to his arrest, torture, and execution. And on top of all that, just in case his friends couldn’t put two and two together, Jesus states it very plainly for them and for us, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.”

That’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about here. Not the Hallmark kind. No, the kind of love that Jesus is talking about here is the kind that costs you something, maybe everything. Jesus is about to demonstrate to the world what his kind of love looks like as soon as he is done with this last conversation with them. And Jesus is going to do so, on a cross, in one of the most gruesome deaths imaginable. That’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about when he said, “Remain in my love.” And when he says “my love”, it was as if he was saying, my kind of love. Remain in my kind of love. The kind of love that he had been demonstrating to them for the past three years, and ultimately the kind of love that he was about to show them, on the cross.

So, when Jesus said, “Remain in my love”, he could just as easily have said, remain in my death. Now, I know that sounds a bit morbid! It’s one thing to take away our warm fuzzies from this but come on pastor! I get it, but I’m really not saying anything new here. As followers of Christ, we are a people of death and resurrection. We are called to the constant pattern of death and resurrection, death and resurrection. We may love Easter, we may love celebrating the resurrection, but we also know that before we can get there, death must come first. And we are called to that pattern in our everyday lives—but maybe not quite as dramatic, or literal, as Jesus dying on the cross.

Following in the ways of Jesus means serving others, putting others needs before our own, sacrificing for others, dying to ourselves so that others can rise—death and resurrection, death and resurrection. Nothing new here, just another way of expressing this age-old pattern that we are called to as followers of Christ. A pattern that you are well familiar with, whether you would articulate it that way or not. You practice this all the time. Every time you sacrifice your time for someone else’s benefit, every time you sacrifice your money for the ministries of this church which are for someone else’s benefit, every time you stick your neck out for someone else, every time you defend someone, stand up for someone who can’t for themselves, every time you are kind to someone no matter how hard it may be. I know you do these things because I hear stores of the wonderful ways you bring new life to the world around you. And the stories I hear, I’m sure just skim the top.

So, that’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about, his kind of love, the kind that costs something, maybe everything. And Jesus says, remain in it—remain. In other words, don’t let Jesus’ kind of love die with him, but keep it going, make it a permanent fixture in your life. This is the legacy that Jesus has left us, and it’s a legacy that is meant to be used, every day, for the sake of the world, always for the sake of the world. It’s the only way that we are going to make this world a better place—by dying on behalf of others, by sacrificing on behalf of others, even if that dying and sacrificing is in seemingly little ways, like visiting a neighbor in need, or helping a relative fix their house, caring for an aging parent, or sending a text to someone to brighten their day. The examples are endless. All examples of putting others before ourselves.

Bethlehem does this through its various ministries, supported and carried out by you, from feeding the hungry to making quilts and prayer shawls for those in need. And we do these things with the help of some amazing ministry partners like Rise Against Hunger, Gathering Inn, and Operation Elf, just to name a few. All examples of the kind of love that Jesus first gave to us. We are merely reflections of that love first given to us. Our passage started with, “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you.” It all starts with God’s love for us, through Christ—through Christ’s kind of love, the kind of love that costs something. For Jesus, it cost everything. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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