The Fifth Sunday of Easter

“We are already standing in God’s love.”

In his letter, John tells us this morning that “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” He says,  “We have never seen God but when we love one another God lives in us and God’s love is perfected in us. 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.”

Whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

John… this sounds so hard. It sounds like something I can never accomplish. I need to have no fear, no worry and perfect, flawless love for others. But when I try to love others, I do not always get it right and sometimes I worry. Does this mean I am not abiding in God?

John writes, “Whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

This sounds so judgmental, but, in fact, judgement is opposite of John’s intention. John is not expressing God’s judgment over us. Instead, John is expressing how we are empowered by God and can be bold in our faith.

So why does this sound so judgmental to us and yet John intended it to be empowering? Part of it is the meaning and context of the words “fear” and “perfection.”

The Greek word for “perfect”, “telos”, refers to the purpose of a thing. When our modern ears hear the word “perfected”, we think of something that was flawed becoming flawless. But in Greek, something being perfected then meant that something was being accomplished or fulfilled. So the ancient Greeks might say that the “telos” of a car is to help us and our things get from one place to another. So you might say my car is not perfected when I merely think about driving the car and leave the car sitting in my driveway to rust away. The car is perfected, however, when I drive the car from my home to work. The car is fulfilling its purpose when I use it to drive from point A to point B.

In the same way when we love one another, God’s love in us is perfected. It is accomplishing its purpose. The purpose of God’s love in us is not that we think about loving things to do for one another. The purpose of God’s love in us is that we actually go out and do the loving things.

God’s love is not in us so that we just think about the idea of a food pantry. God’s love is in us so that we go out to the grocery store, buy food, and then drop it off at church. God’s love is in us so that we go to church one day in April to put together 59 meals for those who do not have enough to eat.

When John says that God’s love is perfected in us, he means that God’s love is enacted. It means put into action. God’s love in us is perfected/accomplished when we go out and love one another.

And when we love one another… when we fulfill the purpose of God’s love in us, we no longer need to fear. But this is not just any fear. John clarifies. We no longer need to fear punishment. The Greek word for punishment here can also be translated – “correction.” We no longer need to fear correction. When we fulfill the telos of a thing, the purpose of a thing, we, by definition, do not need to worry about being corrected. There literally is not room for correction because we are doing what the thing is supposed to do.

No one is going to approach us and question why we are using our car to drive to work. On the other hand, if we bought a new beautiful Porsche and left it for years in our driveway to rust away, we might worry about a neighbor or two judging us: “Why haven’t you used that incredible car? Why haven’t you ever taken it for a drive?”

In the same way, if we do not love one another, it is as though we have left God’s love to rust and rot in the driveway of our heart and when we do this, we may fear criticism and judgement. But when we love one another, we are accomplishing the goal of God’s love in us and we do not need to fear. The fear of correction and judgement will be cast out, thrown out of you.

Now we are so conditioned to hear perfection as flawless execution of something and fear as worry and anxiety, that some of you might still be thinking, well… but I don’t always get it right… I’m not sure I’m loving others in the right way all the time, so I still worry about whether or not I am fulfilling the purpose of God’s love in me. I am still afraid I don’t get it right.

Jesus tells us very bluntly in the Gospel today. You won’t get it right all the time.

He says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

He explains this by using the metaphor of a grape vine. He says that we are like the branches and Jesus is the vine. If we try to cut ourselves off from Jesus and go it alone, we will wither. But when we abide in Jesus, like a grape branch still connected to the vine, we will bear much fruit.

To mix metaphors here some, you cannot drive the car from point A to point B by sitting in your living room thinking about it, you need to get into that Porsche that is sitting in your driveway and actually drive it to get anywhere.  You need to get into Christ, abide in Jesus, to love one another. To fulfill the purpose of God’s love in you, to love one another, you need to be standing firmly in Christ, aligned with Christ.

All of us want the key. We want to know how we can get the car out of the driveway. How do we align with God so we can love one another, fulfill the purpose of God’s love in us such that there is no room for correction and fear is completely cast out.

Do we pray morning, noon and night? Do we read certain scripture? Do we fast at certain times? Do we attend a certain number of worship services? Do we volunteer in certain ways? What do we do to align ourselves with God so we can “perfect love”, so that we can fulfill the purpose of God’s love in us, so that we can love one another and not fear? We want to love as God would have us love and we are tired of being afraid, anxious, worried that we are not doing the right thing. So, God what do we need to do?

And Jesus’ answer this morning is clear and to the point: “You can do nothing…”

He whispers to us quietly this morning. Open your eyes. You are already in the car. Just don’t get out. You are already on the vine. Just don’t cut yourself off. As a believer, realize that you are already in Christ. John this morning is telling us to realize that we are already in Christ, we are already in the car, we have the key, so, John says, be confident, be bold, turn on the ignition, bear fruit. Go out and love one another and embrace the freedom from fear that you have been given in Christ Jesus. Go out and love one another because you are already in Christ and as a believer in Christ, you have been given the power to love because Christ first loves you. When you are in Christ, Christ loves you and that gives you the power to love others. You do not need to figure out how to love, you already know how to love because, John tells us, Christ first loves you.

One of my most favorite pastors of all time, my childhood pastor, the Rev. Maurice Boyd, always said, “You have been loved into loving, smiled into smiling, laughed into laughing.” Your Father in Heaven has loved you into love. You know how to love because God first loved you.

Our relationship with God is not transactional. We do not need to love in certain ways to receive love back from God. That would be a relationship rooted in fear. Our relationship with God begins with God’s love for us and it is by this love for us that we are then able to go out and love one another.

God is telling us today in John’s letter and in Jesus’ words that we do not have to do certain loving things in a flawless way and have no fear.

Rather is telling us today…. that we are already in the car. We are already on the vine. We are already standing in God’s love. So go out. Be bold. Love another and you will find that there is no room for fear of judgement or correction.

Let us pray. As we close our eyes in prayer take a moment now to imagine God’s love as an image like a car or a grape vine or your favorite special place… whatever image comes to mind as the most loving image.  Now imagine yourself in God’s love, connected with God’s love. Take a moment to acknowledge that you are always and everywhere in God’s love.

God help us to live and love standing in your Love, acknowledging that you first love us. Help us to love one another without fear, without judgment, confidently rooted in you Lord.