Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year B – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – May 6, 2018
Love. Friendship. Chosen-ness. After talking about how amorphous or nebulous the word “love” can be, the Bible Study folks this week simply said, “that’s tough. Good luck, Pr. Annabelle.” Thanks, all! But maybe one of my favorite singers can help out. In her song “I Choose You,” Sara Bareilles sings:
There was a time when I would have believed them
If they told me that you could not come true
Just love’s illusion
But then you found me
And everything changed
And I believe in something again
My whole heart
Will be yours forever
This is a beautiful start
To a lifelong love letter
Maybe the reciprocal love of the Father and the Son, and our abiding in and sharing that love is “the beautiful start of a lifelong love letter.” Maybe everything changes in that moment we realize Jesus has found us and follow with our whole hearts.
Jesus tells his disciples, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” Jesus had called them to be his disciples, inviting them to share the good news and work in the kingdom with him. On the eve of his crucifixion, these words are empowering. They are encouragement for the followers who will soon have to be leaders. They are strength for the sheep who will soon find themselves shepherds.
And as we hear these words on the other side of the resurrection, we’re reminded that they are words for us, too. Jesus has chosen you. Jesus chooses all of us. He has loved us with the love of the Father, going so far as to lay down his life for us – to become the model for what relationship, forgiveness, intimate communion, and sacrificial love look like. But it doesn’t stop there, with the Spirit at work in us, we, too, are enabled to lay down our lives in love and service. We are drawing from a well and strength far deeper than anything we could come up with on our own because we are abiding in Christ’s love.
In the Prayer of the Day we asked: “pour into our hearts such love for you that, loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises, which exceed all we can desire…” The love we have in our hearts for God isn’t even from us – it’s from God. It’s our response to God’s love and grace at work in our lives. Martin Luther says in The Small Catechism: “…By my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith…” It is God’s Spirit at work in us that gives us the desire to love God and others, and to bear good fruit.
I was in sixth grade when my dad’s dad, my Pop Pop Peake, died. And it was at his funeral when I first heard the Gospel preached. When I first encountered Jesus it was a real, beautiful, and moving experience that took my breath away. Afterward, I wanted to experience God that same way and so in my grief and confusion I prayed – “if you’re real, you’ll show me. Do something so I can see or feel you. Let me speak to Pop Pop again.” I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do – asking God for things. But I thought God was like the Wizard of Oz – someone I thought was great and powerful who seemed like a swindler since I didn’t see immediate results. I was frustrated and disappointed.
A few months later as I began to read the scriptures, I heard of a different God – a God who loved me even though I’d made mistakes. A God named Jesus who died on the cross out of love for me. A man I didn’t know who laid down his life for me. Who was this person? What kind of love was this? Why would he embrace the depths of humanity’s worst for me? Those questions drove me to read scripture, to seek out as much information as I could, to pray and believe, to go to church, to be baptized, to keep searching, questioning, and wrestling, to hear God calling me to ministry of all things… those questions drove me from perceiving God as a genie there to grant wishes to understanding God as the lover of my soul – my savior, Lord, and friend.
There is a world of difference between a God who does tricks or whom we see as a transactional figure and a lover and friend who is there in thick and thin, listening, supporting, comforting, challenging us in order to point us to God. Jesus, the One who chooses us, appoints us to bear fruit, and calls us friends – has our best interest at heart and desires that we not only know God for who God is, but that in doing so we find out who we really are.
A god who would merely give us what we want would be doing more harm then good. In the Harry Potter books, there is the Mirror of Erised – desire spelled backwards. This magical mirror will make you happy for a time, showing you your heart’s deepest and “most desperate desires” but as wise Headmaster Albus Dumbledore explains to Harry: “this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”
I began asking for a god who would play on my terms and give me what I thought I wanted and needed, but what I received was a God who chose, loved, and wanted to show me a deeper truth. This is the God we worship – who welcomes us, loves us, forgives us, and teaches us to love others. It is not just that we hang out basking in glorious friendship with Jesus, but that the intimate relationship we have with him we share with others in his name. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
We are extremely reticent to open up to others in this way. We guard our stories fearing that people will not care for these treasures. We believe it is better to build walls around that which is most precious to us so that no one can destroy it. But when we set up defenses, we inevitably keep out things we might need to hear, know, and learn from. In the Celtic spiritual tradition, there is the idea of the anam cara or “soul friend.” John O’Donohue describes this as “a person to whom you could reveal the hidden intimacies of your life. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an Anam Cara, your friendship cut across all convention and categories. … When you are blessed with an Anam Cara, you have arrived at that most sacred place: Home.” This person does not just leave us where we are. Rather, it is in that intimate relationship that we are transformed. O’Donohue continues, “Your noble friend will not accept pretension but will gently and very firmly confront you with your own blindness. Such friendship is creative and critical; it is willing to negotiate awkward and uneven territories of contradiction and woundedness.” This is the tender but challenging love Jesus shows us. It is also the patient, compassionate, and firm love we are to have for one another and our enemies. It is in these relationships and communion with others we awaken to God at work within and around us.
Mother Teresa once said, “We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with Him at this very moment. But being happy with Him now means: loving as He loves, helping as He helps, giving as He gives, serving as He serves, rescuing as He rescues, being with Him twenty-four hours, touching Him in his distressing disguise.”
There we find that abiding joy that Jesus speaks of – dwelling in his love, extending that love and compassion to our neighbors, the most unlovable people we know, those icky parts of ourselves, and our very enemies. We find our joy not in having the whims and desires of our hearts fulfilled, but in the abiding love of the One who walks with us, who graces us that we may bear fruit, and who gives us love to share with those around us. Our joy is complete in Christ, the friend and lover our soul. The one who has chosen us and is even now writing a “lifelong love letter” on the pages of our life. Thanks be to God. Amen.