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Worship Service Message

May 5, 2024
6th Sunday of Easter

The Vine of Love and New Commandment

1st John 4:16-21 & John 15:9-17

Rev. Dr. Jaegil Lee

The Bible can inspire both the most loving individuals and the most monstrous ones—like Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler. More accurately, how we read and interpret the scriptures significantly influences our personal development and the way we lead our lives. As reading and studying the scriptures, what kind of a person are you becoming? 

We will have a Pulpit Sharing Sunday next week. If you are prepared for it, please wait patiently. If you are not ready for it, you have one more week to prepare. Moreover, as I did last week, I will assign tasks for you to complete, so you can share your experiences of completing these assignments next Sunday.

By the way, one of you texted me to share your experiences with the assignment. I was delighted to know that at least one of you took my message seriously and put it into action! I hope that next week we will have a rich Pulpit-Sharing Sunday, where we can share some of our experiences of putting Jesus’ word into action.

Both of today’s scriptures speak about love. By the way, did you know that the Gospel of John and the letters of John are closely related to each other? Although it is traditionally believed that John, the beloved disciple, wrote them, this is not accepted by most New Testament theologians. However, we know the Gospel of John and John’s Letters are closely related because they share the same theology, language, metaphors, and writing styles. 

Today’s two scriptures are excellent examples. The words of these two are so similar that if one were to mix these scriptures together and ask another person to sort them out, it would not be an easy task. Both texts address Jesus’ new commandment, which is “Love one another,” and emphasize the importance of love. And this love must be concretely expressed in one’s love for neighbors far and near. For this reason, scholars believe the Gospel of John and the Letters of John were written by and read in the same faith community, which they call the “Johannine community.”

Last Sunday, we explored Jesus’ metaphor of the Vine and Branches and drew some practical implications from it. I referred to it as the “Vine of Love” due to the context in which the metaphor of the Vine is addressed.

Today’s Gospel lesson is an important part of that context. I hope you have realized that today’s Gospel scripture immediately follows that metaphor of the Vine and Branches. In other words, the Gospel lessons from last Sunday and today consist of Jesus’ last Passover meal discourse. They should be read as one segment of Jesus’ words to the disciples, even though we have read them separately for the 5th Sunday of Easter and the 6th Sunday of Easter. 

Did you notice that the key teaching in today’s Gospel lesson is Jesus’ new commandment? This new commandment doesn’t sound new because it is “You love one another as I have loved you.” Anyway, what is important is that Jesus’ metaphor of the Vine and Branches must be contextualized in Jesus’ commandment to love one another. 

Last week, we learned that to abide in Jesus means to abide in love. Staying connected to the Vine of Christ means staying connected to Divine Love and becoming a channel of that Divine Love. In today’s scripture, Jesus explicitly instructs his disciples to “Abide in my love” and to do that, “love one another.” And then, at the end of today’s scripture, Jesus says, “Go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

So, once again, it is clear that the metaphor of the “Vine and Branches” represents that of “the Vine of Love and Branches of that Vine of Love.” The only way we can stay connected to the Vine of Christ and the Vine of Love is through love and by loving one another. 

While Jesus’ metaphor of the Vine and Branches is better understood in the context of his commandment of love, the converse is also true. Jesus’ commandment to love one another is significantly clarified through the metaphor of the Vine and Branches.

What I mean by that is, Jesus bid us to love one another. Not because love is merely a nice thing to do, but because love is the only way for us to stay connected to the Vine of the Divine Love. Just as a branch can only survive by remaining connected to the vine, so too can we humans stay alive only by channeling Divine Love through our hands to serve our neighbors. Therefore,

     Love is not a luxury.

     Love is not an option to choose.

     Love is not something that can be done when we feel like doing so.

     Love is not a leisure activity we can do when you have spare time.

     Love is not an extra task we can add to our to-do-list.

     Love is not a side dish that we may eat only if it is on the table.

     Love is not a seasoning that we can conveniently add to our food.

     Love is not a supplement that we can take when we are not well.

     Love is the only main task on earth.

     Love is the only duty to be fulfilled.

     Love is the only food that we must eat.

     Love is the only nourishment that will feed our soul

     Love is the only drink that we must consume.

     Love is our full-time job, 24/7.

     In truth, love is who we are and what we will become.

Let me express this lesson in a more poetic way even though I am not a poet:

     Every day, the lady of Love looks for hearts where she can give birth to her child.

     Every night, the lay of Love groans due to laboring,

     searching for a kind and compassionate midwife.

     Every moment, the lady of Love seeks hands that care for her child.

     However, the lady of Love appears in disguise,

     As a beggar,

     As a drunkard,

     As a substance user,

     As a schizophrenic patient,

     As a prisoner,

     As a house-bound elderly person. 

     Every moment, the lady of Love seeks hands that care for her child.  

Then how can we offer our hands to the lady of Love and to Christ? Mother Teresa answers this way: “What we need is to love without getting tired. How does a lamp burn? Through the continuous input of small drops of oil. What are these drops of oil in our lamps? They are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being silent, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. Do not look for Jesus away from yourselves. He is not out there; He is in you. Keep your lamp burning, and you will recognize Him.”

Time for assignments. You may continue to do the last week’s assignment. That is to take a few concrete loving actions to abide in love. Perform 2-3 kind and loving actions for your church family, particularly for those who are undergoing a difficult time due to physical or mental illness, family situations, financial hardship, living alone, or homelessness. You may pray for them every day. You may write a letter or card to them, or call them to talk on the phone. You may visit them. You may cook and bring them food. Be creative in finding your own way to perform kind and loving actions for them. You will have the opportunity to share your experience with your homework assignment at our next Pulpit Sharing Sunday, which will take place in two weeks. 

Or each morning during the week when you wake up, take a pause and ask three times, “What would You, the God of Love, like me to channel your love today?” Then listen. Keep reminding yourself of this during the day and see where it takes you! 

We will share our assignment experiences next Sunday. And I am looking forward to it!

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