Recalling Robert Putnam's work, published in 2000 in Bowling Alone, the state of society then indicated that fewer people were in meaningful relationships with each other. [There is a website for Bowling Alone and some of Putnam's research - click here.] For instance, from the title, Putnam found that more people were bowling in 2000, but they weren't bowling in leagues. That was 15 years ago, and no one expects things have gotten better. In fact, the phenomena might explain how we've become so divided and unable to talk about basic social issues among people with differing opinions.
Unpacking John 15 takes us full circle back to the branches on the vine bearing fruit, the fruit of sacrificial agape love. We find words coupled in odd pairs; friend and sacrifice, sacrifice and joy. They are jarringly juxtaposed, reminding us of the transformed nature of our relationships when following Jesus' instructions. That's the conclusion of the passage, too: This is my command: Love each other.
Such transformation in relationships gets fully exposed in Acts 10. Peter is preaching to a mixed gathering of Jews and Gentiles. While preaching, the Holy Spirit anoints the Gentiles as well as the Jews. This defied the assumption of the earliest disciples who believed that Jews alone belonged in the new promise of God in Jesus, not Gentiles. Peter found the evidence unimpeachable and felt compelled to baptize the Gentiles, even though there was no precedent. The sacrificial agape love relationship included sacrificing accepted standards and beliefs, and breaking apart the closed circle with transforming love.
The R.A.C.E.S. study group among black and white church folks that started last Sunday, May 3, came away stressing the importance of good relationships based on respect, mutuality, understanding, and trust. Without such genuine and meaningful relationships, nothing can move forward. [The next RACES group session will be Thursday, May 21 from 6pm-8pm, hosted at Fairfield Pres - click the SPECIAL tab above for the flyer about RACES.]
Check out the full sermon video below, and note the downloads available below the video panel.