The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jesus in love

The ongoing preaching experiment continues....  This week there's both a manuscript and a video.  For the past few weeks there wasn't a video for a variety of reasons - one week I was out of town, one week the Bishop was making his Official Visitation (and, as such he was preaching), one week I forgot the camera...  But here we are again - now with both.  Who knows what next week will offer!






Easter 7B


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This time of year graduation pictures begin appearing on my Facebook wall.  It seems that every day there are new pictures.  This week there was a particular inundation of them, as the two seminaries I attended both held their graduations.  Friends at both schools were posting pictures celebrating their achievements and their friendships.

Another friend posted a blog about those kinds of pictures.  The writer remembered that just a year ago, she, too was in them.  She remembered the pictures that she posed for, the pictures that she arranged: the people she wanted to be sure to capture the moment with, the people and relationships she wanted to remember…

As she looked back on her pictures, she remembered not just the moment that was captured, but the other moments that the pictures represented.  Relationships don’t just happen.  They aren’t begun on the day of graduation - so the pictures don’t tell the whole story.  The stories of her relationships took time to develop - and they developed through the many moments that weren’t photographed: the long conversations, the exhaustion from the difficult work, the hugs of support through challenging times and circumstances, the celebrations of smaller achievements along the way…  The graduation was a piece of the story, but by no means the whole story.  The graduation was a milestone, but the mile had already been traveled.

It’s really such a simple insight - but it means so much.

I thought about that insight as I was preparing to preach this week.

Theologians refer to the Gospel lesson for this week as “Jesus’ high priestly prayer”, but I’ve always heard it a little more intimately than that designation suggests.  I first seriously encountered this prayer a few years ago.  I was in a time of uncertainty in my life - vocationally and personally.  I was feeling troubled.  I went into the church to pray and I read these words.

It began to occur to me that these were not just the perfunctory words of some general prayer, but that they were words of love.  They were the love song of Jesus - a love song sung to God on our behalf.

In the larger story of the Gospel, this is the prayer that John imagines Jesus to have prayed alone in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was to die.  This is his last long sit down with God.  This is the culmination of his ministry among us.

Some might say that the story was already done - that this time of prayer was just the “wrapping up”.  Others might say that the story was just about to begin - that the crucifixion is the real point, and that this was all just leading up to it.

But I think of this prayer - this love song - more as a snapshot - a moment.  Not the journey itself, but a reflection of the journey - both that that had already past, and all that was about to come.

Like the graduation pictures that we all see at this time of year, this snapshot gives us a glimpse of the deeper relationships that undergird everything else.

Jesus had already been through so much - through the miracles, and the teachings, and the followers; through the maddening crowds and the anger of religion and faith gone wrong; through the tender moments and the friendships forged.  All of those moments had added up to something - they had added up to love.  Jesus had not just done a task for God - Jesus had not just shown God to the people; but he had been one of the people, and he had fallen in love.

Earlier this week, in our staff Bible study on this text, we had some interesting conversations around what I just said - that Jesus was in love with us.  We all hear it all the time: God is love, Jesus is love, Jesus loves me, this I know.

The idea of introducing love into the story of Jesus isn’t new.

But somehow, an “in love” Jesus is harder to take.

It’s true.  Falling in love is a foolish act.  When we do it, we allow our hearts to take control.  We become emotional.  We become irrational.  We become vulnerable.  It’s at least a little bit crazy.

But love isn’t an entirely intellectual pursuit.  That’s something we all know to be true from our own experience, but for some reason, the idea of Jesus falling in love - and all of the risk and emotion that that entails - can sit a little bit uneasily on us.

We want our God to be strong.  We want God to make sense.  Most of all, we want to believe that we can count on God to be strong and make sense when nothing else does.

We want God to love us, but being in love may be a step too far.  We know what being in love does to someone, and we need God to be stronger than that.

The thing is, we also need an “in love” God.

When we’re unlovable, we need irrationality.  We need love to triumph.

When we do those things that might separate us from God’s will, we need God to be emotional.  Reason isn’t enough.

When we’re in our most vulnerable places, we need a God who can be just as vulnerable at our sides - just as present and exposed as we are at our worst.

Of course the intellectual side of love is important, too.  God loves us because we are God’s own people.  God loves us because Jesus loved us.  God loves us because Jesus was one of us.  God loves us because… because… because…

But love needs something more than “because”.  Love needs something deeper.  Love needs the heart and the gut.

And that’s just the kind of love that Jesus shows for us in the gospel lesson today - love that abides not just in reason, or in a moment, but love that abides in deep relationship.  Love that grows out of experience and understanding.  Love that grows out of all the “un-photographed” moments that build a relationship.

As we end this Easter Season, remember that you are washed in just that kind of love.  Remember in your darkest nights, not just that God loves you, but that God loves you with irrational and reckless abandon.  And remember this 17th chapter of John.  We read a piece of it today, but bookmark it in your Bibles, and read it all.  It’s not very long.  Turn to it when you feel most alone and most vulnerable.  Turn to it when you feel most unlovable.  Because you are not.  You are loved.  Jesus loves you, this I know.  Amen.

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