I love listening to Mateo sing the songs he learns at preschool. Witnessing how his Lutheran education is instilling the love of Christ and putting the Word of God on his lips at this young age is incredibly fulfilling. Teo loves to sing and his sweet pronunciation tickles me to no end. Lately he’s been singing a song with these biblical lyrics: “This is my commandment that you love one another, that your joy may be full.” The past two weeks the gospel readings at church have been from John, chapter 15. It was very fun to tell Teo, “Listen, it’s the words from your song!” He lit up with recognition and joy.
While Teo is learning and reciting the fundamental message of these verses, there’s so much more depth of meaning than can be captured in the lyrics of a children’s song. This chapter is rich with Good News. Jesus tells his disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” (John 15:12). Before this declarative conclusion, Jesus describes his relationship to his disciples through the metaphor of the vine and its branches:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the world that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. 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. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” (John 15:1-5).
If we are the branches, what does this verse tell us? What fruit are we to bear?
The good fruits we produce are the fruits of the spirit and the good works we do for our neighbor. When we abide in Christ and bear fruit, God, the vinedresser, will prune away the distractions of the world and our sinful nature so that we produce more good fruit. Notice that this is not a commandment. It’s not written as “Thou shalt love one another” as a demand of God’s Law. Rather, it’s an outflowing of love from abiding in Christ – “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…” As Christ explicitly tells us, we can do nothing apart from him. If we view our good words toward our neighbor as a requirement for our salvation, something we do to earn God’s favor, we are doomed. Instead, we love our neighbor out of the outflowing of Christ’s love, from the vine to the branches.
Loving our neighbor, then, is what we do as Christians. From the abundance of Christ’s love for us, we in turn love his people. But, we don’t have to make big, splashy demonstrations of love. We’re not trying to earn our holiness or prove our worthiness. Instead, we love by way of the little, day-to-day actions of serving our family, friends, and neighbors with a disposition of love and kindness.
Luther has a wonderful teaching on the doctrine of vocation. Everyone within the body of Christ has particular vocations – father, mother, son, daughter, pastor, parishioner, teacher, doctor, garbage collector. Our Pastor likes to refer to these jobs as “the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.” All of the roles and duties are important and needed within the body of Christ. We are called to fulfill our vocations in order to love and serve our neighbors. In Luther’s Small Catechism he states that God uses everyone within the economic food chain to provide our “daily bread.” God, therefore, works through people, in their ordinary stations of life, to care for his creation.
At last year’s Catechism Convocation, the pastor leading the children’s lesson described vocation through his daughter bringing him lunch. He explained that God was acting to provide him his daily bread through the entire chain of ranchers, farmers, truck drivers, grocers, and even his daughter. Therefore, while he thanked his daughter for preparing the sandwich, he also thanked God for ministering to him by using his daughter in her God-given vocation as a daughter.
I find so much peace and joy in abiding in God’s love and fulfilling my vocations as a daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend, employee, parishioner, and citizen. Knowing that God is working through me to raise my children, love my husband, serve my neighbor, perform my job duties, and enrich my family, is simple, beautiful, and inspiring.
Recently I had a realization that, given my penchant for analyzing and learning, I could fall into the trap of “always learning, never producing.” That thought reminded me of a lesson from The Happiness Trap. Dr. Harris explains that we have very little control over our thoughts and feelings, but a lot of control over our actions. In other words, instead of being caught up in your thoughts, go DO something. Figure out what you value and do something that aligns with your values. As a Christian, what I value the most is fulfilling my calling as a citizen of Christ’s kingdom, which is simply “to love the Lord your God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves” (Mark 12:30-31). I don’t have to strive to perform or struggle to succeed in these callings or vocations. He’s working through me. His love is sufficient. I can rest in God’s perfect love, while also being active in loving my neighbor.
Jesus tells his disciples that they are to love and be loved – “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9).
How blessed we are to rest in this truth: hrough abiding in Christ, we are called to love, and be loved.