Although I am one of the few Canadians that does not have a smartphone, I am a tiny bit tech savvy – posting on the church website and using Facebook, mostly to keep up with what my adult children are doing, and now to see little videos of my adorable grand-baby. Some time ago, on the Facebook wall, there was a post, featuring a picture of the lovely Johnny Depp. And, while I am truly in love with my dear Jim, I confess that Johnny does have a certain… `hotness’ factor. So I appreciated the picture and read the poster. It said:
There are four questions of value in life…
What is sacred?
Of what is the spirit made?
What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for?
The answer to each is the same.
Only Love. Johnny Depp.
Wow… Johnny Depp – that’s deep. Thank you. Hmmm, actually, I think Jesus said that – or something very similar, a long time before Johnny. In fact we read it this morning.
What is sacred? Hello! Of course Love is sacred. That’s what Jesus’ whole ministry was about. What is the spirit made of? Can there be any question? Love is worth living for and dying for – indeed it is. Jesus says, ‘Make yourselves at home in my love, abide in my love, live in my love and love one another as I have loved you.’
It is in this very passage that Jesus says, ‘Put your life on the line for your friends,’ or, in the most poetic KJV “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends.”
We can get hung-up on the words – Love one another as I have `commanded’ you. In our anti-authority society, we immediately bock at the thought of anyone commanding us to anything – especially love, which we see often as a spontaneous and even unbidden response from the heart.
It’s like when you were a kid and had a fight with your sibling and your mom made you stop and said, “Now say you’re sorry” and you weren’t the least bit sorry, but you knew you wouldn’t be allowed to do anything else until you apologized.
So, back to Jesus’ commandment… ‘You are my friends when you do the things I command you.’ That still isn’t my favourite definition of friendship – I haven’t seen it on any greeting cards, because it really wouldn’t sell well.
On the other hand, `You are my friends when you do the things I command you’ doesn’t mean, “Do as I say, or I’ll dump you.” The status of friendship is between equals – not equal in talent, wealth, or occupation, but equal by choice; choosing to live in mutual regard, in being vulnerable with each other, in listening to each other, caring for the other’s well-being as much as we care for our own. What a wonderful world, if we would only live that way with each other. We would certainly feel at home in God’s love, for we would be at home anywhere.
Jesus goes on to say he chose the disciples rather than them choosing him. True, we hear of him walking along inviting folks to `follow me’ and some actually do.
Is it because they were the brightest and best in their field? No, nothing would suggest that. Fishermen, tax collectors, women with no social status… Their true gifts might not be seen as very valuable in the way we usually measure worth.
In Parker Palmer’s book, “The Active Life – a spirituality of work, creativity and caring”, he talks about the skills we develop in life, but he also talks about the God-given gifts we are born with. I am heartened by his reflections. He writes:
When I think of the great works we are called to in our lives, works we avoid at peril of our souls, I think of works in which we cannot possibly be “effective.” I mean such things as loving other people, opposing injustice, bringing an end to war. There can be no “effectiveness” in these tasks, only the commitment to work away at them, and if we judge such work by the standard of measurable outcomes, the only possible result will be defeat and despair.’ p.75
Parker talked with a friend who worked for years with the poor in New York City. He asked her how she could keep doing a work that never showed results, a work where the problems only seemed to get worse, not better. He writes, I will never forget her enigmatic answer: “The thing you don’t understand, Parker, is that just because something is impossible, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”
Jesus’ time for ministry is running out by chapter 15 in John’s gospel. He has given his beloved disciples an impossible ask. But he has also given them an incredible gift – the gift of believing they are up to the task. This is what he can pass along to them, this is his last will and testament – his Ethical Will, so to speak.
Months later, perhaps even a few years later, we catch up with one of those disciples, Peter, standing in the house of a Gentile, because of some crazy vision he had several days before. In the book of Acts, chapter 10, Peter’s vision of God’s inclusive love, means that he now sees Cornelius, the gentile, in an entirely new light. He sees in this man and his family, not the `other’ or the `enemy’ but a brother and a friend. He sees the humanity and divinity in this family, as they, and he, are touched by the Holy Spirit. “Can anything stop them from being baptized?” he says. He chooses the path of love, the path of inclusion, the path that Jesus taught him when he said, ‘You are my friends, if you keep my commandment – to love.’ This is my legacy and my gift to you – and now it is your gift to share with the world.
What is your gift to share with the world?
I invite you to think on these questions (in your bulletin) – if you want to share your response – you are welcome to do that; if you want to ponder them in your heart, you are welcome to do that as well.
If you knew that the end of your life was near, and you could gather with the people you most loved in the world, what would you want to say to them?
What is of most value for you to pass on to them?
What words of wisdom and encouragement would you give?