*Sermon of Sunday, May 6, 2018, at First Christian Church (Hampton VA), on the sixth Sunday in Easter. It is an odd thing but I find that so many of us have a hard time remembering how Jesus views us, view ourselves or others, and just how much of his ministry was lifting people up, looking them in the eye, and pronouncing worth. The sermon title is, I think, the place we should start and end every day. Also, I realize that I made a few changes during preaching that are not reflected here, but so it goes! -Vinson
Gospel of John 15:9-19 (New Revised Standard Version)
16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants[a] any longer, because the servant[b] does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
There is just so much packed into the words of Jesus that we have heard this morning from the Gospel of John.
Words which speak of abiding in the love of Jesus as much as Jesus does in God; which speak of experiencing genuine joy, all-encompassing, sustaining joy; which speak of being called to love one another as Jesus first loves us; and which speak of invitation to the ultimate friendship, and the comfort of being chosen.
Words so rich in meaningfulness, I find myself wondering if each of these phrases were spoken as points upon which Jesus elaborated more fully in person than the Gospel records. Perhaps their summation is best put in Philip Yancey’s “What’s So Amazing about Grace?” wherein he writes, “Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words, ‘I am the one Jesus loves’” [see Note 1].
When Yancey called the friend who sent the postcard, he was told that this simple statement had come from the author and speaker Brennan Manning who had referred to Jesus’ closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as “the one Jesus loved.” Manning, his friend recalled, had noted that if John were to be asked, “What is your primary identity in life?” he would have not replied “I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels.” Instead, Manning said that John would have simply said “I am the one Jesus loves” [see Note 2].
WHY I BRING THIS UP
This brings me to ask this morning, how does it change our view of ourselves and of others – if we would identify ourselves in our own minds and hearts foremost as “the one Jesus whom loves.”
A century ago, Charles Cooley articulated a theory that sociologists call “The Looking-Glass Self.” In this theory, people develop a sense of who they are and what to think of themselves by watching the reactions of the people in their “primary group” as well as those they meet throughout their lives. Cooley thought “we gain a sense of who we are by observing our own actions… but we also pay close attention to what others think of us — or to put it more exactly, what we think others think of us” [see Note 3]. In sum, we become what the most important person in our life thinks we are.
Now while no one theory does it all, this seems to have some merit when looking at this passage from John. I think back on when I was overseas on a carrier based out of Japan and the chaplains office handled all the American Red Cross messages. We averaged 2,500 to 3,000 per year. Some were happy events, others not. Some were the classic “health and welfare” from parents who had not heard from their sons, but 6-10 messages a day were death notifications… many for grandparents. I noticed, amid the grief processing as their stories emerged, that these young men, as children, had experienced the kind of blessing that grandparents give that is just different than parents. I refer to it as the “you’re loved and you’re OK” acknowledgment which sends them out into the world. It became clear to me that a lot of how those young folk saw themselves… as having potential… as having talent… as being worthy of love – was very much influenced by how their grandparents saw them. It particularly reminded me of my relationship with my Grandpa Miller who, even in the little things like teaching — then trusting! — me to pick out the watermelon, changed forever how I saw myself.
On the other hand, I’ve been amid enough stories during counseling to also know that people are fallible and whether family, friends, bosses, or others in society – some leave marks of injury, even serious ones, which cloud how some view themselves. Relationships, after all, can be complicated. So the limit of “The Looking-Glass Self” theory in this regard, isn’t that it is wrong – it is that the image imposed and accepted can sometimes be less than healthy. It’s no wonder then that, as the Bible speaks of “the sins of the father to the third and fourth generations,” or “the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge”, “STUFF” can get passed along that may negatively shape the next generation’s view of themselves – and can be limiting, even debilitating. The same is true for every relationship, work or home, as stuff can be projected upon us by others that becomes a part of us in not always life-affirming ways, whether we are talking racism, sexism, or a host of other soul-damaging examples. They are out there.
Standing amid this mix of backdrop, with not everyone assured of coming out of family systems or life experiences at school, work, in society and relationship which provide a positive “looking glass,” there is the Gospel message. WE are the love of Christ. OUR belief in Jesus’ words changes how we see ourselves, one another, the world, and the circumstances of our lives. It is this very belief which equips us to keep his commandment to love one another. It is when we know these TRUTHS about ourselves, through the eyes of God, that our only response can be one of love. We can do nothing else. As the Psalmist declared, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” [Psalm 37:4].
Knowing this is actually how our Lord looks at us. Not at our histories… not at our perceived failures or imperfections… nor at how we sense others have looked at us and judged us. I ask you to listen carefully to the words of Jesus and take them to heart – not diminishing or dismissing them one way or another, but absorbing them into your being:
I love you with the same love that the Father loves me. You have what I have.
I give to you the joy the Father and I share. You are part of us.
YOU are my joy, my life, and my purpose.
I want your joy to be full, complete, whole, and perfect.
You are my friends, my peers, my equals.
I have told you everything. Nothing is held back or kept secret.
I chose you. I picked you. I wanted you.
I appointed, ordained, commissioned, and sent you to bear fruit, to love one another. I trust and believe you can do this.
All of this brings me to ask something of all of us this morning: Will we see ourselves, first and foremost, in our own minds and hearts as “I am the one Jesus loves?”
And, once this conception of being so cherished is cemented in our spirits, will this change our view of ourselves, since life in Christ is always a “we and Jesus” not a “me and Jesus”? At least in theory, it SHOULD change our sense of place and purpose, along with our sense of wellness and peace.
Let me ask you also to take this concept of each human being we meet out into the world …this hour, …this day, …this week. Every single person whose path we cross is also “one whom Jesus loves” – regardless of their situation physically, mentally, financially, emotionally, regardless of their position in society or their perceived shortcomings or their all too human weaknesses or their feeling of how overwhelming and challenging this life can be in the moment, or the week, or the year. Let us leave here to meet all whom Jesus loves right where they are…… one loved one to another.