Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sermon, Sixth Sunday of Easter 2009

“Abide in my love” (John 15: 9)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us to “abide in my love.” What a lovely English word “abide” is! We do not have a lot of true Old English words, since English today is about 60% French, with many other borrowed words. Nor is it a Saxon word. No it is one of fewer than one thousand truly English words, and as I say, it is beautiful. “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,” is my favorite hymn for funerals.

“Abide” conjures up a sense of stability, of belonging to a place and a family. Its conjugation is “abide, abode, abidden.” (I did some etymological research for this homily, you know.) So we can see the derivation of “abode,” a place where you abide.

When Jesus tells us to “abide in his love,” he means therefore to indwell it. To put it on. To use it like a house we build about ourselves, as it were.

What is the quality of this love of God in Jesus? A few lines later he tells his disciples, now his friends, “You did not choose me; I chose you.” In other words, God’s love in Christ is a gift. We did not deserve it, we did not go looking for it, it is just there, a fact, a given. There is something not human about this love, in that it does not depend upon how we respond. When we love, we look for something in return. God’s love is just given, like it or not.

So there is a passive side to this love: we are chosen first. It does invite a response, of course, and this is what I think Jesus means by “abiding” in his love. He has given us commandments, which by keeping them we abide in him. And these commandments are, first, his summary of the Law of Moses, welding two disparate verses together: “love God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” The second is his own, “new commandment,” that we love one another as Jesus has loved us.

I have to say that this strikes me as very difficult. Can you order someone to love another? I mean, I like (indicate someone), but God orders me to love him/her. Whoa! This commandment is not like the others, more familiar: “do not steal, do not bear false witness,” etc. These are negative, like the ones we were given in childhood. “Pierre, don’t touch that hot stove!” “Don’t you hit your sisters!” (I have four…)

But love one another? Let us consider what God’s love is. It does not come to us as a Word, or a book, or tablets of stone. God shows us this love in the form of a…baby. And this child grows to become a “man of sorrows.” His life is characterized by suffering. An intense loneliness stays with him all his life. He endures the adulation and then the rejection of the masses. His family thinks he is crazy. Finally even his friends abandon him to a terrible death, one which he ardently wanted to avoid but could not, for love of us.

So through this Jesus we come to see that it is in our own suffering, rejections, loneliness, fear of death and its pangs, that God in Jesus comes to meet us and share them. It is not only in the sweetness of this life that we encounter the love of God, but also, oddly enough, in those circumstances which so many today like to raise up as proof that there is no such love, no such God.

What follows Good Friday is of course Easter. Death could not conquer Christ, and his love for us, his choice of us before we could respond, promises that it shall not triumph over us either. To abide in the love of Jesus is to be free to face whatever each new day may bring, for we never face it alone. It is to be free to take chance on loving others, as we are loved. In the power of Easter, we can also learn to love our selves, such as we are, for we have first been loved. We have a future, which nothing can take away from us, if we abide in the love of Jesus.
And finally there is what happens when we choose God back, when we purpose to dwell in that unswerving love. When you go to a museum and you see something that is one of a kind, how much is it worth? It is literally priceless. And you and I are therefore priceless in God’s eyes, infinitely precious, because each of us is unique.

There has never been and never will be again a Pierre Whalon (some might rejoice at that). There will never again be [indicate] or you or Father Russ or… Each of you is priceless, irreplaceable, one of a kind. And here then is the key to happiness in this world: to abide in Christ’s love by seeking to do that which God has purposed to do through us. Jesus Christ is unique and priceless, and only he could accomplish on Earth what he was sent to do. You too are unique and priceless, and God has designed you to accomplish that which he has purposed through you. It may seem very small in human eyes, this thing you are to do, but God does not respect our opinions. What seem like great works to us may well be paltry in heaven, and what seems of little account here may well turn out to be decisive in heaven.

So abide in the love God in Jesus Christ. Let yourself be free to love as you are loved, to love God with all that is in you, to love those around you as God loves them, to love yourself, and to enjoy doing that for which God chose you to begin with.

For that is where it all began. So now the question is, how will it end for you?

-The Rt. Rev. Pierre W. Whalon