Kris Litman-Koon, Isle of Palm, SC
Think of someone who is not a member of your immediate family yet who has influenced who you are today. How did they do this? How would you describe their style of influence? (e.g. nurturing, stern, disciplined, laissez faire, hovering, etc.)
I am the father of 18-month old twin girls. That means my life has changed significantly in the last two years, and one aspect of my life that has shifted course is the content of what I read. Our home now has an entire shelf of books (if they were not strewn about the house) that discuss how parents can survive the stages from embryo through toddler. Then there is another shelf of books (likewise scattered) that say in summary, “So you have twins? Scrap everything the other books say.”
Any healthy parent desires to raise a child or children in the best way possible. Yet, there are many opinions and studies on what the best method is, and there is no definitive answer. That doesn’t stop people from publishing their theories, nor does it stop parents from clicking on links to read a new insight. (That new insight is usually a snippet from a newly released book that the publisher hopes will be added to the disheveled bookshelves of parents.)
One of the links I recently clicked took me to an article on NBC’s website (goo.gl/9iPtzv) about a German method of raising children called Selbständigkeit (have fun pronouncing it). The translation is “self-reliance.” The first takeaway of the article is that parents shouldn’t intervene in every dispute between children; by the time children are four-years old, they can possess the vocabulary and the skills to work out their own disagreements. Of course intervention is necessary if violence is erupting, however this philosophy inherently critiques the parental methods of always interceding whenever a child has a dispute with another child.
I’m certain this method expects that a lot of work has already been done in the first three years of the child’s life. Namely, the parent has talked with the child about the benefits of getting along, modeled how to build understanding and consensus, and taught the methods to establish a mutually beneficial ceasefire. Once the child has a grasp of those skills, the parent should allow the child to use them, even if the parent thinks it would be more efficient to intervene. The point is that the parent will not always be present to settle things and force the children to hold hands, so the child needs to develop the skills to resolve their own conflicts.
- Does this method of allowing children to settle their own disputes appeal to you? Why or why not?
- Have you had an experience when you had to settle your own dispute?
- Have you had an experience when a dispute needed a third party to settle it?
Sixth Sunday of Easter
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Today’s gospel passage comes from Jesus’ final discourse with his disciples before his crucifixion. This passage is actually the continuation of last week’s teaching that Jesus is the vine and his disciples are the branches. So this passage is the application of that image to the church’s way of life.
If you didn’t keep count, the word love (agape) is used nine times in this passage. Also, the word friends (philoi) is used three times. However, our English word for “friend” does not fully suit what Jesus was saying, because the word philoi also derives from another word meaning love. Although it is not commonly used in English, the word “beloveds” is the best translation of philoi. These are people outside of the family who are loved as much as family. That means Jesus uses our word “love” a total of twelve times in the passage, both to name the act of loving and to name his disciples. This re-emphasizes what he said in verse 9, that he loves his disciples to the same extent that the Father loves him. The love he has for his beloveds is witnessed in his handing himself over to death for us (v13). All of this is an immensely powerful statement, but his point doesn’t end there. There are ramifications to this enormous and infinite love that Jesus has for his disciples.
When we reach verse 17, Jesus says he gives us “these commands so that you may love one another.” What are his commands? He commands that we abide in his love (v9), that we love one another (v12), and bear fruit (v16). Bearing fruit is commonly understood as the love that is generated when a Christian community finds its identity in Jesus alone (the vine) and they live a life of kinship and concord (the branches). So verse 17 can be understood as saying, “I am telling you to love one another so that you may love one another.” That sounds a little weird, but it can be paraphrased; “If you can’t figure out how to love one another, do it.”
Love is hard, and it takes a lot of work. It is not easy to love when we instinctively want things our way and other people want things their way. This happens everywhere in the world, including in the church. Even if you haven’t seen it in your congregation, people there have butted heads in the past, and people there will butt heads again in the future.
What is supposed to make the church different is this: Christ is our source (the vine), and we are to abide in his enormous and infinite love. The vine mysteriously joins us together as one to be his indistinguishable branches who bear the fruit of our communal love. Inasmuch as the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves us, so are we to love one another (v9). In this final discourse before his crucifixion, Jesus was telling his disciples (including us) that he won’t always be physically present to settle our disputes. We are going to have to work things out, and the method to do that is by abiding together in his love.
- Can you name any beloveds in your life?
- Are you challenged by Christ’s command that we love fellow disciples to the same extent of God’s love for us?
- When we live by this standard, how are disputes within the church different than disputes outside the church?
Divide into groups of three people each (if you must, two people each). Each group will make a line, with the person in the middle holding a hand of each person next to them. Do not let go of hands. Attempt as a group to perform these common tasks:
- Untie and retie the shoes of the people in the group.
- Fold a paper airplane.
- Blow up and tie off a balloon.
- Stacking and unstacking chairs.
- Any other common tasks suitable for your space.
Processing: What was it like to do these common tasks as a group? Did your group have any disputes? Did your physical place in the group (left, center, right) impact your experience? What were the hardest and easiest tasks for you? How is this activity like the image of the vine and the branches? How does this activity connect to Christ’s command to love one another as he loves us?
Triune God, you freely share the fullness of your love with your people. Help us to not only be mindful of your infinite love, but to apply that love to our interactions with others. When we have disputes, help us to see others as you see them. Give us a full measure of your compassion and understanding, so that together we may fully abide in your love. Amen.