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(Note Pictures discussed in message are in the body of this post)
Epistle Lesson: 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 Savior 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 judgment, 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.
Gospel Lesson: John 15:1-8
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 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.
“Christ is Risen!”
Christ is Risen Indeed!
For those of you who were not here last week, let me set up the scene per se from last week’s message. We, as a faith community have been celebrating this season of Easter asking have we seen the Resurrected Jesus and if we have, where? Last week, we began to search out the question of more so where we see Jesus, and talked about seeing Jesus in others. This week, we are going to discuss seeing Jesus in the self. This for many is often a bit harder because although we naturally think more about ourselves than others , we typically do a poor job of looking inward and seeing Jesus.
So, today, as we begin to look inward, or look into the mirror, we have to first ask ourselves, “If we hope to see God within ourselves, what then does God look like?” You know throughout all of scripture this is an image or a human desire that has really never been fully answered, and yet in another way it has. Let me share with you some examples of what I mean. Let me first take you back to Moses speaking with God in Exodus chapter 33.
The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’ [Yhwh]; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” [God] said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”
So you see, Moses desired to see God, but God would not allow it, for anyone who saw the face of God would surely die. If you are anything like myself, you question everything, and so I began to question why was Moses rejected to see the true face of God. As I pondered this, and researched it a bit, I began to come to the conclusion that to see ones face is a level of intimacy. A certain level of equality with one or the other. As a child looks to an adult, the child and the adult do not as we may say always see “eye to eye”. The child and the adult are not equals. So let me now take this common phrase and change it to say they are not face to face. Moses, and not Moses alone, but we as humans are always trying to see God “Face to Face” as equals.
We call Jesus our best friend, or as one movie portrayed Jesus as “Buddy Christ” But God in telling Moses that he cannot see God’s face, tells Moses and the world that God lives within a tension. God is both transcendent, and far away, but yet at the same time God is very near and accessible. As God lives in this tension, so must we.Yet again in the priestly blessing from Leviticus we have another example of this desire to see God’s face.
“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Here again, this time though being spoken from God through Moses, we desire that intimacy with God, to know God, and note for God to be gracious to you. To be gracious is to show grace to another individual.
So as you may begin to see, seeing the face of God is all throughout scripture, but yet also no one has seen God face to face. Although in the Psalm 11 verse 7 it says something quite interesting. It says, “For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright [or the righteous] shall behold his face.” According to the Psalmist, those who are righteous will see God’s face.
And finally in Revelation 22 in the New Heaven and the New Earth it says, “But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
You know as I continue to think about the righteous seeing the face of God, and the promise that the servants of God will see the face of God in the New Heavens and New Earth, it reminds me more and more of the small group study that we have been having on Wednesday nights. This foundational understanding of desiring to see God and doing so through the Grace of God and striving for righteousness in our Christian character is the entire essence of the study and as we have been learning the basis for our lives. It gives meaning and purpose to this life on earth, that we desire this intimacy of God.
So back now to the original question, if we are looking for God within us, what does God look like? One can assume righteous, powerful, but our epistle lesson today speaks to another characteristic of God. Verse 8 of 1 John 4 says, “God is love.” If we want to see God, I promise you, we will see Love. But it continues on…listen here to verse 12. “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”. The first part of this verse we already discussed. No one has ever seen God. But IF we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is PERFECTED in us. Could you imagine that! God’s love, the love defined earlier in this scripture as God’s love for the world that he sent his Son who sacrificed himself, who although was without sin, took on himself the sins of the world and died our deaths.” That love, that we proclaim each and every week, that we recall, and remember, that we seek to live into in our Holy Communion is the love that God is perfecting in us and through us so that or in order that, “we can love because God first loved us”,
Now check this, verse 13 the next verse. By this. By God’s love being perfected in us, we know that we abide in God and God in us because he has given us his Spirit. God’s Spirit, the very same Spirit that abided in Christ Jesus is the same Spirit that abides in you when you believe and accept Christ. But accepting Christ is not graduation, it is not the end, it is just the beginning. Jesus desires to be in the hearts of men and women around the world and the more we realize that God wants to be not just a part of our lives, but to be our lives, the more we realize that we need God’s Love and Grace. Jesus in our Gospel lesson today gives us a beautiful image of referring to the relationship of God and his believers as a vine. Jesus, the true vine,the Father the vinegrower. And the believer, the branches. I personally have not spent much time growing fruit that grows on vines, but as I understand the metaphor, the branches who produces fruit, receive the nutrients that are needed to produce those fruit through the Vine that grows. As the fruit begin to produce, the fruit that are the closest to the source of nutrients are the best fruit, the sweetest fruit. The branches that begin to grow further away produce little fruit, bad fruit, or no fruit. The grower of the vine, in this case God, must prune those branches because they are taking away nutrients to the other branches. And the branches that are not connected at all to the source of nutrients, who are not connected to Christ at all can do nothing.
And so, in this analogy that Christ taught, it is a wonderful way of understanding how God is within us. We must first be within God for God to be within us. We at times may look in the mirror like this young lady, and just barely see the resemblance of Christ within us. But as we continue to abide in Christ, and we continue to love God, our brothers and our sisters,
It is a process, and a process that is only done by God’s great and wonderful grace shared with us through the life of Christ and through the means of Grace given to the Church.