Filled to the Brim

Proclaim Sermons
Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Easter Sunday 6 May 9, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Jesus wants us to be completely flooded and fulfilled with joy. Such filling happens when we practice self-giving love.

His funeral was held on April Fool's Day, which would have amused him. He had an irreverent sense of humor, along with keen insights into the pitfalls and the possibilities of Christian ministry. Working as a pastor for 60 years, he served a total of 15 different congregations over the course of his ministry. He preached the gospel, helped the poor, advanced race relations and even shook hands with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As a pastor, he bore fruit, as Jesus says in John 15, "fruit that will last," impacting many lives in a positive way.

His name was Roger, and he lived a life that was full of faith, love and joy. He knew what Jesus was talking about when he said, "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." Roger certainly knew joy - he had a crazy, weird sense of humor. But he also knew something about the word "complete," which is an even more important word from this verse. Jesus says he wants our joy to be complete, using the Greek word plērōthē , which means "may be full." To be full in this way is to be filled to the brim, flooded, accomplished, carried out, completed and fulfilled. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says that he has "fully proclaimed the good news of Christ."1

Pastor Roger's life was plērōthē : Filled to the brim, accomplished, fulfilled, fully proclaimed. After preaching his last sermon at a resort community, he said to himself, "That's it. I'm done." He was finished and complete - fully proclaimed. He taught a class and felt the same way - accomplished. He realized that his work as a pastor was plērōthē - filled to the brim and carried out. May the same be true for each of us when our lives on this earth come to an end.

Filled with love

Today is Mother's Day, so it is appropriate that Jesus speaks of a love grounded in family relationships. "As the Father has loved me," says Jesus, "so I have loved you; abide in my love." Jesus wants us to abide in his love, to live in it the same way that people live in a house. The word abide means to live or dwell, which is why we sometimes call a house an "abode."

"Abide in my love," says Jesus. Live in it. Dwell in it. Jesus wants us to feel the same love that he felt from his heavenly Father, the same love that Pastor Roger showed his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his church members and his friends. This is not a sweet and sentimental kind of love, but it is the love that the Greeks called agapē - the love that always seeks the welfare of the other person. It is the love that is solid and unconditional, patient and kind, never envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It is the love that "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."2 It is the love shown by a good father ... or a good mother.

In 1983, northern and southern Presbyterians finally healed the split that had divided them since the Civil War. They reunited and formed a new denomination called the Presbyterian Church (USA). One of their first challenges was to write a brief statement of faith, which eventually became part of the denomination's Book of Confessions, for use in worship and Christian formation.

One of the lines of the statement says, "We trust in God, whom Jesus called Abba, Father." No surprise there, since the Aramaic word Abba , meaning "Dad" or "Daddy," is a distinctive sign of the close, loving and intimate relationship that Jesus has with God. But since we know that God is not truly an old man with a white beard, the statement goes on to say that God is faithful, like "a mother who will not forsake her nursing child."3

This turn toward the maternal side of God is not uniquely Presbyterian. Instead, it is deeply biblical. In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God says, "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb."4 Isaiah understands God to be one who carries the people of Israel like a mother carries her children, holding them close and protecting them.

Since many people have positive experiences of their mother's love, this image of God can expand our understanding of how deeply God cares for us. Jesus wants us to be flooded with the love of God, filled to the brim. This is the love of a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, the love of a father who runs to welcome the prodigal son. This is also the love that we are challenged to show one another, which is why Jesus says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

Self-giving love

So, how do we love each other in this way? Jesus says, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." We rightly attach this verse to people who bravely put themselves in harm's way to protect their community or nation: police officers, fire-fighters or members of the military. We think of people who give up wealth and status to be preschool teachers, nursing assistants and caregivers of various kinds. And, of course, we remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, giving his body and blood to bring us forgiveness and new life. But there are other ways to seek the welfare of others and practice self-giving love, often in quiet and private ways.

Pastor Roger was a big supporter of younger clergy, and he wanted to help them in any way he could. In retirement, one of the ways that he showed his love was by repeatedly putting newspaper clippings in envelopes and sending them to a younger colleague. Roger read more newspapers than any busy parish pastor could ever keep up with, and he always clipped interesting articles about faith and culture and human behavior. Those clippings ended up being the foundation of some of the best sermons that younger colleague ever preached. When Roger died, the colleague said, "My sermon quality is probably going to take a dive."

That's self-giving love, the agapē that always seeks the welfare of the other person. Each of us has the ability to show this kind of love, following the commandment of Jesus to "love one another as I have loved you." If we are filled to the brim with this kind of love, we are going to be able to love one another with a Christ-like love.

Fully carried out

"If you keep my commandments," says Jesus, "you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." Once again, we come across the word "complete," plērōthē , meaning accomplished, fulfilled, fully proclaimed, filled to the brim. Jesus wants the very best for us, and he knows that complete joy is grounded in self-giving love.

The challenge of loving each other in this way might seem impossible to some. Too much of a challenge. But the truth is that we can succeed in loving because we have been created to love. The commandment to love is not "an external directive," says Pastor Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, but rather "a description of the inner structure of reality. Maybe the commandments of God are something like the laws of nature - like gravity, maybe, or like the speed of light. When we love each other well ... then we're living in alignment with divine reality."5

Think about this. When we tell the truth in love, when we offer each other encouragement and support, when we sacrifice for others, when we reach out in love to the stranger, the marginalized, the forgotten and the lost ... all of these actions connect us to God and fill us to the brim with joy. But when we "hold back from love," says Pastor Margaret, "when we cling to our own opinions and insist on winning and being right; when we turn up our noses at certain people and write them off as lesser than ourselves" ... then we are "living against the grain of divine reality."6 We become disconnected from God and our joy drains away.

Jesus wants his self-giving love to be fully carried out, and he promises that when we show this kind of love then our joy will be complete. Everything that Jesus teaches is for our benefit. Everything Jesus commands is designed to align us with divine reality.

So, let us live in such a way that we will come to the end of life feeling complete. As was said at Pastor Roger's funeral on April Fool's Day, "Through his faith in Jesus, his physical body has been changed into a spiritual body. All of the pain and illness of his life on earth has disappeared. His earthly life is plērōthē - filled to the brim, completed, and fully carried out. Only his love for us remains - remains as an example of how to love one another as Jesus loves us." Such a life reminds us that we have been created to show each other self-giving love, and to experience nothing less than a true fullness of joy.