6th Sunday of Easter
SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48 | 1 John 4:7-10 | John 15:9-17
Grant, almighty God, that we may celebrate with heartfelt devotion these days of joy, which we keep in honor of the risen Lord, that what we live in remembrance, we may always hold to in what we do. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
THE scriptures that we just read are probably one of the most well-known passages in the New Testament, that God is love and that he demands and calls us to a way of being in the world where we do to others what he has done for us, that we love them. Love is at the center of this Christian religion. I think it’s fair to say that something in the form of some kind of love is at the heart of every religion, particularly when we begin to challenge our understanding of love, because sometimes we just think of love as that experience we have already had with our parents or with other people and how they’ve loved us and what that felt like and how at times it felt like a burden and obligation. Other times it felt really good. It’s like everyone has different experiences of love, so when you say that God is love, it’s a little dangerous, because we, first of all, think, “Then God must be like my parents,” or, “God must be like my teachers,” or, “God must be like my first wife,” or something. It’s whatever experience we’ve had of love that, let’s say, is less than what it should be can get in the way of our understanding of what God is trying to say.
I’d like you to imagine that love is another word for truth, reality, what really is. And it’s interesting that, when God created us and he gave us this incredible experience of life here, he gave us this thing called free will, and so we have the ability to imagine anything we want, as far as what this life is all about. But the only thing that we don’t have is the ability to use an illusion, a half-truth to effect in us what only the truth can. In other words, we may have certain ways of imagining the world, but those ways cannot go against our nature or the way things are, reality, truth. So if there’s any way in which I would like you to imagine with me, any way I would like to open your eyes to see this gift of God loves us and he loves us first — and once we experience this love, then he claims very clearly that we will be empowered to do the same thing for other people. So let’s imagine that this gift of God’s love for you is somehow inviting you to grow, to become all that you are called to be to enter into what I could call full-conscious awareness of what is real. What is really going on. To somehow know that at the heart of this life we lead, there is a core understanding that creates this mysterious thing we call peace and joy. There’s a way to be peaceful and joyful in this world, and that peace and joy is not at all necessarily related to what’s happening to you in the world. That gift can be given to anyone in almost every situation. What is it?
Well, when we look at the way God showed his love for us, he sent his Son — how about this for a confusing statement — who is God. So he sent his Son, and he sent himself in the person of a human who is just like us, but he’s also God. How can two things be the same things that seem so divergent at times? But they can be. Two things that are seemingly opposites can be one. So this divine being comes into the world, and he wants to teach us, show us something. So what he does is he lives the life like we live. He experiences the world we experience, and you have to understand, that if he’s fully human, then he has the same fears, anxieties, worries that we have. He has the same struggles. If you don’t see Jesus as a fully human being as well as fully God, you can’t grasp what he’s really trying to teach us. His favorite phrase of who he was is just like what Peter says in the first reading. Peter said, “I’m just a human being.” And Jesus would say, over and over again, when they would say, “Are you the Messiah,” he would say, “Look, what I want you to understand is I’m the Son of Man. I’m the Son of Man.” That just means, “I’m a human being. I’m just like you. I’m a human being.” And why was that so important, other than he wanted to say, “I want you to see in me a way of being in the world that is the way we’re all meant to live”? And he wants to show us a way to what he calls life. “I’ve come into the world so that you can have life. I’ve done what I’ve done and shown you what I’ve shown you so that you can have life.” Another word is truth. Another word is light. Another word is love, all the same thing.
So what is it at the heart of what Jesus did for us that is this great sign of love? Well, he did something that is hard for us, as human beings, to do. He took his ego, his human drive — and if he was fully human, you know that he must have wanted deeply to be successful in what he was doing. He came into the world with a task. The task was to open the eyes of the religious leaders of this ancient, wonderful religion of the Jewish people. The Israelites were his favorite. He gave all kinds of things to them, paid close attention to them, promised to be faithful to them, continued to be faithful to them, and yet the story of that community is the story of every human community. We kept failing, failing, and failing. So he consistently said, “I’m there for you and I’m going to do something to help you get past the limitations that you have to really grasp what I’m trying to open you to. So that when you’re existing in this world, you are finding the great gifts of life, peace, and joy.” So what is it that Jesus does? An amazing thing. He basically goes into his life, and he’s seeing it unfold, and he’s longing for it to be successful. And as he goes into it, he’s three years into a public life after 30 years of preparing for it. He just had 12 men that he had to convince of some very simple things. He had the most amazing signs and wonders that he would do for them. They had to believe that he was something special. He kept asking them to loosen their minds from their narrow categories. He would say, “Look, if you’re going to be my disciple, you’re going to have to eat my body and drink my blood.” Well, that made no sense to them, and then he would go on to say, “The only way I can conquer evil is I have to give myself over to evil.” These are things that, to us, we begin to get a glimmer of what they mean, but this was so foreign to their mindset that they couldn’t grasp it. So they were a bunch of people who were constantly doubting whether this man was real, whether he was authentic, whether he really was the Messiah. They didn’t know where else to go, but they weren’t sure that he was the one. And when it came down to having to stand up and support him, all of them but John just fled and entered into their fears, worries, and anxieties.
So what does Jesus do? He says, “All right. I have to give my life over to evil.” And the way he gave his life over to evil was this: it wasn’t just that he died physically, but he had to give up every egocentric narcissistic cell in his body that wanted so much to be successful, and to accomplish what he set out to do. He had to accept his father’s invitation that was, “Son, what I want you to do, in order to save the world, is to go against every fiber of your egocentricity and narcissism, and I want you to give in to the way it’s written. I just want you to do what I’m asking you to do. It’s the truth of your life. You know what? If you say yes, I’ll empower you to do it. I will overcome every weakness in you if you will just let it all go and trust in me and my desire and my will for you.”
It’s amazing, as I look at my life, when I see what gives me value. I’m told that just because I exist, God loves me. God sees me as valuable. He gives me a destiny. He says, “Don, if you will do what I ask you to do, become who you are and be present to the people around you that I’ve placed in your life, if you will be a source of love to them, a source of truth to them, a source of light to them, you will find joy. And you’ll be a deeply peaceful human being.” He promises that to everyone. Amazing.
The words, “ I love you. I accept you. You are valuable”, is — I listen to it. I hear it, and I say, “Well, that’s nice, but I don’t feel it. I don’t experience it.” And the reason I don’t experience it is because I don’t trust it, because in place of that core love that I have from my Creator in me to sustain me — I need something else. I need something more than just these words that he loves me. I need to be successful. I need to do things. I need to accomplish things. When I live in a world of needing to accomplish things or do the right thing, I’m living in a world that is very complex. That is because I have one foot in this present moment, and then the rest of me is somehow either in the past, worrying about what I didn’t do or should have done, feeling guilt and shame, or afraid of the future. And I’m sort of angry in the midst of all that, that I can’t seem to find peace. I can’t seem to find this joy that is promised to me. So what’s wrong? What’s wrong is, when I’m in that mode of having to accomplish something that gives me a sense of my value — isn’t it interesting that that’s exactly what Jesus went through in the Garden of Gethsemane, he said, “I want to be successful. I need to be successful. I want to do what you called me to do.” I used to think Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. Everything was going to be great, and all he had to do was give in to a few hours of pain, and everything would be great. But then he wouldn’t be human. He had to want to succeed, and his need to succeed could have been considered, in some ways, “I need God to feel I’m okay.” The famous phrase, when Jesus is on the cross, “Father, why have you forsaken me,” many people say that’s because he was reading a Psalm, and he never, ever thought God would ever forsake him. Well, yes. Yes, I’m sure he had that kind of core faith, but we can have a core faith in something and still, as a human being, doubt it and feel frightened. You can have a deep, deep committed relationship with someone, and you really do love them, but you can be so angry at them at some moment that you want to do something negative to them. Look at God in the Old Testament, how one minute he’s doing anything to save the Israelites and the next minute he wants to kill them all. That’s part of God’s nature. It would seem natural to be part of our nature. Is that really a sin, or is that just being human? Emotions are human. If I’m afraid, I don’t say it’s a sin to be afraid. I just say it’s a weakness to be afraid. Sin is not the same as weakness. Sin is a decision of the will and the mind to go against the core nature of who we are and who God is. It’s very different than our human weaknesses.
So this set of readings is reminding us that we have a very, very powerful witness, Jesus, who’s inviting us to do what he does. When he says, “I love you,” when God says, “I’m showing my love for you in the person of Jesus, the Messiah. I want to show you what I’m willing to do. I am willing to go against every selfish thing in me — and I know I’m talking about selfishness in God, but please don’t get too literal with me, because I’m not saying that God is selfish — but human beings, and we’re made in his image and likeness. And the Old Testament implies that there are things that God said and felt that didn’t seem like a loving God, when he wanted to destroy the Israelites for going back to their old ways, but don’t put it into some kind of tight, philosophical, logical argument. Get loosed of that and trust that this God is like you, that Jesus struggled and we struggle. The fundamental struggle is with that part of you and me that works so hard to get a sense of our value. To do. To do. To do. You and I, we live in a world of doing, doing, doing. “I’ve got to get this done. Then I’ll do that. Then I get that, and I feel good, because everything is done. A good day is when I get my list completed and everything is done.” Yeah, it’s true. It does feel good, but there’s another, even better way of feeling good. It’s to not put that kind of pressure on ourselves and to give in to one simple truth. When I am who God has called me to be, when I am doing the best that I can, when I am there for the good of those around me, if I connect with my servant nature, that feels good. It feels peaceful. It feels joyful. Somehow when that’s in you, you radiate a kind of acceptance and love that people feel. It is nurturing. It is transforming. They say things like, “There’s something about you that’s younger. It’s lighter. It’s like a light. I feel better.” It’s all in that same mode of leaving the world of the ego and entering into the world of this marvelous thing that God calls love.
Father, we are in your image and likeness. We are your children. We need you as our Father. We need you as our brother. We need you as a spirit of truth and light inside of us. Bless us with this presence. Bless us with the fruits of this presence that we will be able to lay down whatever it is that we need to lay down, that forces us to work so hard to find value. Let us let go of those things as we open our hearts to the presence of you in us, we in you, and we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen