Joy Made Complete

Last week we said farewell to a beautiful man in our congregation who lived a joy-filled life. His joy was so complete, it spilled out from his pores whenever you were near him. From his vigorous bell ringing to his infectious smiles to his proud excitement over announcing his Special Olympics medals and achievements, he was simply pure joy. Our sanctuary is a bit dimmer in his absence. He knew that God is love, and he exuded that love everywhere he went. Now he knows completely what he only knew in part here on earth. A life-long fan of The Wizard of Oz, his eternal life over the rainbow is a source of joy for all who mourn his passing.

Do you know this joy? The joy that comes from living a life fully centered in God’s presence?

We continue with Jesus’ last set of discourses to his disciples, and we find a clue in the 15th chapter of John about how our joy may be made complete. Would it surprise you to know that it comes from obedience? Not the “obey the rules, don’t rock the boat, stay in the lines” kind of obedience, but the type of obedience that comes from living IN the love of the father where obedience to his commandments brings harmony, peace, ease, and relief. Think about that for a moment. While following the rules brings a certain kind of order and calm to our lives, real joy comes from remaining inside the boundaries of God’s love:

John 15 (Common English Bible)

“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 

Jesus instructed his disciples to keep the main thing the main thing: to love one another just as he loved them. This kind of love is the key to joy. It is the gateway to peace on earth, if we could just be obedient!

Jesus offered the extreme example of sacrifice by giving up his life for that love.

13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. 

And so we are left with this…the call to obedience to God’s commands is centered on the greatest command that we love each other. And when we lay down self and selfishness and do just that, the world indeed will become a place of complete joy.

17 I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.

Tim-man’s Rainbow by Lola Hilton

Bee Still

When it comes to gardening, I have a real “black thumb.” I don’t come by it honestly. My Dad was a terrific “green-thumb” gardener and I grew up eating fresh vegetables from his back garden. Plants die easily in my care, including silk ones. You think I’m kidding. I received a gift of a beautiful plant in a ceramic holder a few months ago. I put it on my coffee table and was so grateful that the giver had chosen an artificial plant for me. A few weeks later I returned from a long trip to discover that the leaves had turned black. I can’t even tell real plants from fake ones.

I have a raised planter at the side of my house that I was determined would hold some vegetable plants this year. I make this determination every year. Friends have built a new house on that side, and so my garden of weeds is making me a little self-conscious, as my new neighbors will be able to look down into it from their upper deck. I read that we shouldn’t tend our gardens until the temperature is above 50 degrees, so as to not disturb winter pollinators who take refuge in dormant gardens. The world’s bee population is being decimated by insecticides and climate change, and we all need to do our part.

When the temps rose, I went out to really study it and see about taking down all the weeds so I could plant some tomato plants in their place. Lo and behold, my “garden” of weedy wild flowers is full of bees. I have decided to just neaten it up by trimming the edges, and I may put a sign in the middle that says “Bee Garden.” Perhaps the kindest thing I can do is just let the bees have it…I don’t think I can kill them if I just leave them alone. If I can’t grow plants, maybe I can grow bees!

In our passage from the fifteenth chapter of John, we see the image of God as a Master Vineyard Keeper. He lovingly removes unproductive branches and trims the remaining ones to produce more fruit.

John 15 (Common English Bible)

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 

People-branches are trimmed by the word of God. When we read scripture and allow it to take root in our lives, our behavior changes accordingly. We stop doing unproductive things and engage in activities that grow our faith and pollinate the world with God’s message.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 

John reminds us that apart from God, we can’t do anything. Did you get that? Apart from God, you can’t do anything. I know people who are very proud of their self-reliance, as though everything they have achieved and everything they possess is by their own hand. Yes, hard work and perseverance are part of success, but apart from God, we have nothing. God calls us to remain in him and he will cause us to produce much fruit.

If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.

Today is a good day to be humble and thank our Master Gardener for everything that he provides. Our true vine is our source of all things! Let us take root in his word. Thanks be to God.

Sound Roots and Branches by Lainie Reed