View from La Verna near Assisi, Italy
Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love." - John 15:9
Good Morning! It is so good to be here! Thank you for being here. It is good to see you – particularly in our church. It is good to worship with you in this holy sanctuary. There are many topics and stories and “things” I want to share and hear about from you – but, what I am most excited and grateful to do this morning in all honesty – is talk with you about the good news of God in our lives.
And there is so much good news in this little excerpt. There is a reminder that God loves us. Jesus loves us. I pray those words always have an impact. God loves you is something we hear and say – maybe take for granted. But remind yourself of a time you said – I love you to someone and it was a big deal. Remind yourself of the time someone, maybe your child – did – said something – that really crossed a boundary – and yet, you know – you still love them completely, fiercely.
God loves you – like that – completely, totally – with weight and importance – and with that fierce familial hold – and there is nothing, no boundary you could cross – that God wouldn’t bridge to get you back.
And – there is this rich good news that answers the question of why - I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy be made complete That’s it – that’s the whole point – of everything he has done and said – so that you and I can connect with our deepest joy and know that sense of wholeness.
Good news and a teaching in itself – how many activities, relationships, ways in which you spend your time circle back towards that joy – because – that Jesus is saying is the point of living – the glory of being a human fully alive.
I know its Easter season – but he tells the disciples that because it’s the last night he will be with them. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of remembering something someone said to you – before they went from this life to the next. I think that’s why we listen to this passage again – post-resurrection. Remember that the point – the hope – the direction our hearts and minds and feet are to be pointed – is joy. That’s good news.
And then Jesus names the quality of his relationship to his disciples and to us. We – aren’t less than Jesus – he may be the Master, but we are his friends. Jesus says, I’ve told you everything that God has told me. There is nothing I’ve hidden from you – no secrets. Because you are my friends – friends who have been chosen for this relationship – and friends who choose to be in this relationship with God.
One of the places I discovered while being away – is a famous bookstore in Paris – Shakespeare and Co. An English bookstore kept pretty much as its always been since it opened in 1919. And yes, they sell books – but upstairs – in nooks and crannies – it’s more like a library. And customers are encouraged to pull books off shelves and read. I kid you not – the first book I happened to pull off the shelf had the word – Rector – in the title, so I put it back.
Decided to look at the spines – and came upon another book – looked quite old – and pulled it out because of the title – God’s Apology. I opened it – and on the inside dusk jacket the summary began with this sentence – Friends, are God’s apology for [family] relations.
That made me laugh out loud. And I took a pix with my phone – and texted it to one of my closes friends – who also happens to be a priest. Yes, indeed. Friends – the people you choose – the people who choose you.
You don’t find God in a building. In the last couple of months I think I’ve been inside at least 30 churches. I saw many incredibly beautiful things – art, icons, statues, altars, pulpits, carved choir lofts, frescos, vaulted ceilings, etc. etc. – all to convey the majesty – all to transport you into another realm. But God isn’t in those spaces. God is known between people – in communities of people – in the relations between friends.
Towards the end of March – I led a women’s retreat. It was a weekend retreat on the Brené Brown work I teach on vulnerability, courage. So on Friday night we met – and before I took the floor to tell them about myself and how I came to do this, and be a priest, etc. – of course I asked them to go around the room – introduce themselves – and talk about what drew them to this weekend.
There were about 30 of them – they all attended the same church, a committee, of course, had organized the weekend. And some people talked about how the topic interested them or that they had heard Brené Brown’s TED talk, or read her book, but some women there had never heard of her, and weren’t entirely sure what our retreat was going to be about.
But almost every person there said, the real reason they all signed up was because their friend from church, asked them to. They loved the networks of friendships that had formed in their church – and they wanted to expand, they knew they’d meet new people.
That’s where they knew they’d find the joy – their joy wouldn’t be found in the topic, or the space – the joy would be in the experience of being together and discovering something new – which always happens in relationships – between people who care about the common good – the gift of life and living. That’s where you find God – my friends.
(And so, of course, after we had gone around the room – and they had all shared who they were and how excited they were to all just be together – it came back to me – to get us started – and I said, I’m sorry – but I just gotta tell you, because I was getting that lump in my throat – y’all are really making me miss my church!)
That’s how and where we find God – between people – between the joys – and the struggles – between people. As Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered, I will be in the midst of them.”
I’m well aware that our lives do not always feel like good news. Personally – I can’t claim that I walk around feeling joy – every minute of every day – but – even when we don’t feel it – Jesus is telling us this morning – it is there – it is within us – abide, grow your connection to what God has given you.
If you’ve ever taken yoga here at Good Shepherd – or anywhere else – any practice I’ve ever been to (and just a reminder, the practice of yoga which began about 5,000 years ago, or more – isn’t to get Gwyneth Paltrow arms – it is to prepare the body for prayer and meditation) – and any practice I’ve ever been to ends with the Sanskrit word – Namaste. The literal meaning is “I bow to you” – however, the ritual usage of this sacred word is richer – Namaste – the light in me honors the light in you.
That is how I hear Jesus use the word – abide. Abide in me, as I abide in you. Honor the Christ in you – honor the Christ in others – just as you honor Jesus. Abide – stay put – in that place. In your sorrow and joy. In sickness and in health. For not even death, will ever tear you apart from God.
Because it’s not a place. He says abide over and over in chapter 15. Abide – stay put – which is somewhat ironic because Jesus never stays put, ever – and he doesn’t seem to want those disciples too either – go out, two by two – spread the word – share the bread – teach. Transfiguration happens atop a mountain, his friends, the disciples say – let’s stay put, let’s abide here – he says, nope, gotta get back down. Let’s go.
Mary Magdalene – first to see the resurrected Christ – and she grabs hold of his feet – she wants him to stay. Mary – he says – you gotta let go! Let go of me – and go and tell those disciples what’s happened. Go, go, go.
But - stay put in God. That is your home. Is your mother – your father – only your parent in certain spaces? Are they only your dad and mom in a house? Or are they your parents no matter where you go – no matter where they are?
As the Father has loved me – so have I loved you, Jesus says – abide in God’s love. The relationship we have to God is a constant – it is always there – no matter where we go, no matter where we are – no matter what we feel – stay put in that – remember to abide in what you already have. The light within you.
God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good. May each of us – this day – seek and find ways to abide in the goodness of God. Amen.