Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 5, 2024. Texts: Acts 10:44-48; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17.

Some stories you can’t make up. I remember Fred, a retired aeronautical engineer and dairy farmer. He was farming on the Rogue River when Henry and his mate arrived on the farm. They were adult white geese. Very shortly after their arrival Henry’s mate became the victim of a coyote. Henry was heartbroken.

Geese have a well-earned reputation for being ornery. They like to get a good pinch of your skin, and they know how to give a wicked twist to the pinch that’s very painful. Henry’s condition as a widower perhaps made him just a touch touchier than most geese, and he became the scourge of the farm. No one was safe from Henry.

Fred liked animals a lot. But Henry had pretty much worn out his welcome even with Fred. One afternoon Henry got crossways with Fred one too many times. He told Henry that if he didn’t start behaving better he’d be Christmas dinner.

Then to make himself clear, Fred got a good grip on Henry and gave him a mighty toss that tumbled him goose-tail over teakettle. Henry picked himself up off the ground unhurt and eyed Fred carefully. But he kept his distance. Fred went in the house. Looking out he saw that Henry had taken up a station in front of the house, just staring.

Next morning Fred came out and Henry was still there. Fred eyed Henry who eyed him back.  Fred was curious to see what the gander would do so he knelt down near Henry. Did I mention that Fred was fearless?

Henry gave a strange long cry Fred had never heard before and then, well, for lack of a better description, Henry chest-bumped Fred. You know, like football players after a touchdown.  Henry bonded then and there with Fred in true brotherly love, and was his inseparable friend thereafter, following him around the farm, supervising the milking and even riding in the cab of Fred’s old truck.

Love doesn’t always come easy. I guess that’s at least part of the insight I get from the story of Fred and Henry. It comes at some effort. We contemplate this reality today as we hear the Johannine community’s early instruction about love, friendship, and joy in Jesus.

At the heart of John 15 is this simple instruction from Jesus: love is not what we do, it’s what God accomplishes through us when we hold fast to the commandments. Keep the commandments and love will be the outcome.

The letter of 1 John echoes this profound instruction. God loved humankind enough to give us commandments. Our commandment keeping shows our commitment to God. Jesus raised the profile of that commitment from a matter of service to the high calling of being friends with him and becoming for him a source of complete and mutual joy.

All that Jesus said, he said to the whole community of disciples. Keeping the commandments is the means by which we love God and one another. Agape is the word Jesus used for love. Agape isn’t about how we feel. Agape’s conceptual meaning is to will the good for someone else.

Willing the good can be costly. Jesus willed the good for us as he stretched out his arms on the cross and died. We are not necessarily called to die, but to commit our life’s energies to doing things in his name.

Willing the good requires certain commitments. The prophet Micah famously said, “God has told you O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” (6:8)

Jesus knew this wasn’t something we could handle alone. We keep the commandments together. We remain in friendship and community praying in the name of Jesus together. God hears us and grants whatever is necessary for us to be fruitful – not by pursuing individual interests or wishes, but in willing the good for all.

Back to Henry again. Fred’s daughter wanted to incubate some goose eggs for a project. She carefully tended the eggs, all of which hatched into adorable little goslings. When they were old enough Fred helped his daughter build a little chicken wire box with no bottom so that the goslings could enjoy some time in the grass and be safe from predators.

One day Fred decided to let Henry get close to the goslings. So he removed the box. Henry took a good goose-eyed look at the goslings, spread out his large wings and moved purposefully forward. He gathered up all the goslings under his wings and from that day until they were grown, tenderly cared for them. Even though at times, the little ones nearly ran Henry ragged, he was all in, willing the good for them all.