6th Sunday of Easter
On Monday this week I got a call from my dear friend Kozen. As you may or may not know, Pastor Earl from White Salmon United Methodist has accepted a new call up in northern Washington and will be leaving his church at the end of May. He and Kozen have become very good friends over the last several years, and as a group, MAMA (Mt Adams Ministerial Association) has become very close. For a long time, MAMA was just me, Kozen, Earl and John Boonstra, but as all things do, our group is changing as new ministers coming to town and old ministers move on.
I’m sharing this with you because when Kozen called on Monday, he was feeling rather sad about Pastoral Earl leaving. We talked for a while, and then he said “I’m sending you an email of Pastor Earl’s sermon from last Sunday.” So I got the email, and it was, in many ways, a love letter. Like the Gospel of John from which our lesson comes today, this sermon was part of Earl’s “farewell discourse.”
So if you don’t mind, I’m going to share parts of Earl’s sermon with you today, along with some of my own thoughts and reflections about Jesus’ farewell discourse in today’s Gospel reading.
Jesus’ farewell discourse, his teachings about love, are placed in the Gospel story before his crucifixion. He was preparing them for life without his daily presence. When we have this in mind, these love letters become a bit sad; Jesus is saying goodbye to his faithful friends.
This set of teachings holds the disciples and us in a place of tension. On the one hand, it means things will be different. Life as it has been is going to change. On the other hand, if we are abiding in God’s love, those changes will lead to growth and abundant life. And so it is within this tension that Jesus calls the disciples his friends.
When I taught Ethics in high-school, we studied Aristotle’s work on friendship. Aristotle believed there are three kinds of friendship: 1) those that are useful to us (networking); 2) those that are pleasurable to us (people we enjoy hanging out with); and those that are formative (people who challenge us, who deeply care and love us). For Aristotle, the third type of friendship was the most important, and the most difficult to achieve because it required of both parties a mutual respect, a mutual granting of dignity, and responsibility for one another.
It is this kind of friendship that Jesus talks about with his disciples. In the ancient world, if you were a slave to a good master, the relationship was as positive as it could be…very little to no abuse, meager but living wages; you may even be a trusted companion. But as a slave, you were never equal to your master; there was always a power differential. That’s why it’s important that Jesus tells the disciples that they are not slaves, but friends. They are equal. There is mutual respect. There is responsibility to one another. Friendship, is in essence, a covenant…not to be entered into lightly. And it is in the spirit of this friendship that Jesus has given the disciples everything they need to go ahead with the spreading of the kingdom of God. What does he give them? A reminder of God’s abiding love, and the commandment to love one another. Why does he do this? So that their joy may be complete. Jesus doesn’t leave behind a “how to” manual for his friends. He leaves them with love and friendship. It is that love and friendship that calls the disciples into ministry and into the joy of the kingdom.
As Pastor Earl reminded his congregation (and me):
“Too often we get “love” all twisted and bent out of shape. For a multitude of reasons we associate “love” with our feelings; how we “feel” about others. Even Webster’s dictionary associates “love” with “feelings”. Love: strong affection; an attraction; a warm attachment; enthusiasm or devotion.
So our “love” for others is often based on our “feelings”. If they are kind….. if they are generous… if they are respectful…. If they do nice things for us… then we “love” them. But…..if they don’t love accordingly to our standards…. to our likings, to our approval… if they don’t love the way that we love…if they don’t do it our way….if they don’t, we don’t have to love them. Many of us are “conditional lovers.”
So what does real “Christ-centered” love look like?”
As I shared with you last week, Jesus calls us to abide in love...It is a love the lives within, takes rest in, dwells within. It is not a mushy, warm-fuzzy, emotional love, but a love that calls us into a covenant of mutual respect and responsibility with one another.
Pastor Earl had other words of wisdom to share that I think are worth repeating:
Everyone here today… can find a reason not to love someone. Maybe it’s because of your childhood…. Maybe it’s because you were conditioned that way… Maybe it’s because you had your heart broken…. Maybe it’s because of some ill-taught, ill-conceived set of principles... Maybe it’s because they are just weird, strange or eccentric…. Maybe it’s because they are Korean, Iranian, or Mexican…. Maybe it’s because they are female, black or white. Maybe it’s because they are richer, smarter, and/or more talented…. Maybe it’s because they are gay, bi-sexual, or transsexual.
Maybe it’s because… they remind you of who you are not. And then again, maybe it’s because they remind you of who you really are.
Everyone here today… can find a reason not to love someone else. It’s really easy and it takes very little energy and/or effort. Your reluctance to love others is not because of who they are…your reluctance to love others is……because of who you are.
And as the gospel of John reminds us, Jesus said,
“You did not choose me but I chose you.” Jesus chose us. He chose us to be his friends…to love one another, respect one another, and be responsible for one another. He chose us to bring about the Kingdom of God. With that in mind, are we willing to be called friends and abide in his love?
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.