Sermon on John 13:31-35
You can listen to it HERE.
One of my favorite authors is Neil Gaiman. He is world-renowned, heavily awarded, and very invested in his fans. He regularly communicates with them through interviews, websites, blogs, Q&As, etc. In one of these “Ask Neil” moments, he shares a story about a time he was lucky enough to be invited to “a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things.” As he gathered with all of these great people, he says that he felt that “at any moment they would realize that he didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.”
On his second or third night there, he was standing at the back of the hall during some musical entertainment and began talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including their shared first name. As they talked, there was a point where this older gentleman pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.” To this, Neil Gaiman says, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
This moment lifted something for Neil Gaiman because, he thought, “If Neil Armstrong felt like an impostor, maybe everyone did… all of us [are] doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”
And isn’t it true, that most of us have felt this creeping suspicion, that we are not worthy, that all of our deepest fears about ourselves will come true, that we will be found out – a fraud. There is a name for that. It is called the Impostor Syndrome. This syndrome, or a version of it, is something I have seen play out in my life and the lives of those I love in crippling ways. It is not just a syndrome, it is a whispered lie that creeps from our subconscious and holds us back from fully living into the truth of who God has called us to be and how God has created us to live together. Here is the Truth – and I will say it over and over today – we are loved, we are lovable, and we can love. If any of you are struggling with knowing your purpose, your call, your mission in life, this is it. Love.
I heard somewhere that there are more words for love than there are human languages. Quite a few languages even have multiple words for love; and yet, in our English language we have but one monosyllabic word to encompass it all – love. Even saying this word is such a pleasure, the flick of the ‘l’ the open, round vowel, the closing vibration of the ‘v,’ which leads us so naturally to a smile. It is a beautiful word. Maybe that is why we are so quick to dismiss it, calling it too easy or simple for it to really make a difference; saying it is just for dreamers and idealists. Maybe that is why we are so quick to abuse it, using it for objects that could never return and share it; or using it to manipulate others to feed our own egos and get what we want.
The grace of love is that it is free and to be freely given. Yes, it is that simple. That simplicity is what terrifies us. That simplicity is what leaves us susceptible to the lie that we must earn love, be worthy of it, justify ourselves, prove ourselves, and others must do the same to receive it from us. We are terrified because we continue to believe that we are in it alone. Even as we celebrate the Risen Christ during this Easter season, we think we are in it alone. Hear me clearly now – the terrible simplicity of love is not just what keeps us from it, but what equips us to embrace it and live it. It is both. Because it is that simple, we actually can do it. Love’s truth is that it does not exist alone. Love thrives and grows in relationship.
One-sided love, the love we try to do on our own, dependent on ourselves, doesn’t bloom and grow. It festers. It can warp and twist into infatuation, lust, and objectification. It ultimately becomes about helping ourselves, fixing our insecurities and hurts of the past, rather than healing, growth, and wholeness. The Love of God is wholly dependent on God who leads us to act and spread love without the need of compensation. In this love, we love in response to God’s love, for the other. We do not need someone to feel the same way or repay us for what we have done. We love and share love as conduits of the source of our love, God. One-sided love is stagnate. Rather than freely flowing from its source – the living, loving relationship of our triune God – we are limited by our own imaginations and abilities, distracting ourselves with the things we need in order to purify it, keep it, and not lose what we have. One-sided love comes from a perspective of scarcity and it is the antithesis to living the abundant life of Christ.
Our Easter theme is “Sent to live.” Isn’t that just what Easter is all about? The abundant life of Christ that even death cannot stop. Love is our life force. As Paul says, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Don’t believe the lies that whisper at you. NOTHING can separate us from this love.
It is because of this love that we are enlivened and sent in peace. When the resurrected Jesus meets his disciples, he breathes onto them the life force of love, the power of peace, to infuse their lives. So that this peace, which surpasses all understanding, will carry them – and all of us – through those moments when the lies creep in and try to keep us from living the full truth of love.
We are sent in abundance. The love of God is ever-flowing. It is generous. It flows and flows. We cannot stop it, but we can join the party.
Last week, we focused on the message that we are “sent in the way.” We know this way because we have been shown it through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He sends us to live in the Way and the Way of Jesus is love, always love. Rozella White speaks to this in her book, Love Big. She writes that this “is called the incarnation and is the most passionate act of a God who is desperately in love with humanity: God chose to become human and be with us. The incarnation is proof that God is the ultimate lover… Love that is patterned after God’s love for us creates, liberates, and sustains us on this journey called life (White 15).”
This love, embodied in Jesus, is where we see the glory of God. This love is what Jesus was referring to in our gospel today. This love is what we speak of when we say we are sent in love. We are loved. We are lovable. We can love.
We are loved because God has claimed us and has expressed this love for us through the life/death/resurrection of Jesus. We are lovable because from the very beginning, we were created in the image of God. And we are good. We are worthy and valuable because God has made us this way. We are lovable to one another because we see God in one another. And as we see God in one another, We can love. Nothing can separate us from this love. This love has changed everything in the world we think we know so well. Although personal, this love is not individualistic. Love comes alive in our relationships, in the new life we can live together.
This love calls us from scattered, segregated lives focused on separateness and into a life together of wholeness and healing. In this way, we are not alone. Love is not just up to us. We need each other. It is also not just up to someone else, who we think is better than ourselves, or has more experience in that department, or is maybe some kind of superhero. No, God is glorified, when the love of God is lived and shared between two normal, kind-of-okay people who were there for each other. God is glorified despite our imperfections, brokenness, and feelings of unworthiness. God is glorified when we move beyond our individualized understanding of love into an understanding of love that is lived out relationally within the systems of our world. It is not just how I love because I’m a nice person in my own life, but how this love calls me to work within systems for the liberating power of love for all people. When a system of power does not reflect the love of God for all, we are not living out our calling as loved, lovable people who love because of who has first loved us. We are ignoring Jesus’ words to love one another as he loved us.
Rumi said, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” What terrifies us about love is not just its simplicity, but those barriers within ourselves that we have built to protect us. We wish to be protected from vulnerability as well as the fear we harbor toward it. Vulnerability is scary stuff. When we are vulnerable, we are open to see the ways we have failed this wondrous call to love one another. We are open to see the ways we get lost in our systems so that the atrocities continue. But who created these systems? Who can shift their trajectory? We can. We are loved, we are lovable, and we can love.
These barriers, these walls we build, crumble in the face of true love. We are emboldened by the love of Christ to see the whole truth of love. We are vulnerable, yes. We are wide open to face death and struggle with the pain of grief – for things done and left undone, for lives lost and our inability to change it. And still we are loved, we are lovable, and we can love, even at the foot of the cross, face to face with death. This is the love by which we are sent out into the world, a love that calls us to take up our cross and follow Jesus. A love that walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. A love that faces our worst fears about ourselves, our individual and systemic failures, our nagging Impostor Syndrome, and says, “That’s not all.” This love says again and again, “All is not lost. Death is not the final answer. You are loved. You are lovable. You can love again.”
God is glorified when we live this love together, when we love one another as Jesus loved us. In our worship together today, as we leave this space and move on to our next tasks of the day, remember this truth. We are sent in love, to love one another as Jesus has loved us. We are loved. We are lovable. We can love – yes, even the person who cuts us off as we leave church, even the person who speaks a different language than us, even the person who just moved here from another state, even the friend that let us down, or that one who broke our heart. Love.