CCC May 6 2018 John 15 :9-17
I have a confession. I am not that much of enthusiast of the Gospel of John. There I have said it, my colleagues here know it but I am coming right out and saying it from the pulpit.
Of course, all scriptures are there for our edification, so I don’t discredit the gospel of John. It is in the Bible, I would rather deal with the first three gospel writers anytime. I am rather a practical man, a practical Christian I guess you could say. I just want to know what it means to follow Jesus, and the first three gospels are filled with lots of practical instructions, teachings, the sermon on the mount being my all time favorite.
But today, I have been given John.
What do we know about it? It was written between 90-110 C.E., roughly 20 to 40 years after the first gospel was written, which was Mark. It is written to a community that was going through difficult times, persecution but also separating itself from its Jewish origins. The Church then was in a process of further refining who it saw Jesus as the Christ to be. Jesus did not likely talk about himself in the way the gospel writer of John has him doing. What we have then, is the Church’s growing understanding of who Christ was. Now with that understanding, I can go further into today’s very beautiful text to see what we can learn about Christ.
This week as I studied the text, I was struck by three things.
The first is this idea of abiding in Christ’s love. That is where it all has to start. If we are going to follow Christ, we need to begin with this experience of abiding in Christ’s love. I am not talking in an existential way, but in a way that goes to what we feel, what we breathe.
We will have a hard time following Christ, facing the future, and its many challenges, if we are not abiding in Christ’s love.
I love some of those old hymns that expressed the important message that we are to abide in that divine love. They can get kind of shmaltzy, and some of the theology is pretty bad for our 21st century sensibilities, but there is nothing like singing 532 – ‘What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer’ to get the message through our heads to our hearts.’ We can dwell in the love that Jesus has for us. He is truly a friend.
So that is the first point I wanted to make. If we are to follow, first we must abide in that love of Christ for each one of us, for Jesus is our friend.
Let’s continue then. The next point I want to make is the shift in the nature of our relationship with Christ. We call Jesus Christ Lord, that would seem to indicate a certain type of relationship. A lord, a king, will make decisions and simply give out the orders for people to follow.
Some work places use that management style. I remember getting a job at a college in Alberta as the first director of the Augustana Scandinavian theatre Festival. For over a decade earlier, I had been a pastor in Ontario where decisions were always pretty much made by consensus. So, I still remember the shock, I felt, when I presented to my boss and the president of the college, a proposed logo/ad for the festival. I was thanked for the presentation and told I could leave the office and they would decide. Well, that was one style of leadership.
We call Christ, Lord, definitely a hierarchical expectation of authority and obedience but here, the writer is making it clear. The disciples are friends of Christ. Jesus Christ has made known to them what he knows, from God the father. Friends share with each other what they know. That is the nature of the relationship. They are not in the dark.
Sure, there are the instructions to obey, but we have to tie that in with the words of abiding in love and that we are friends. I hear Christ rather saying, Be in tune with me, as I am with God the Father. As friends, let’s stay with the same game plan. Christ is lord, but he is also our friend and he has shared with us the plans he has to usher in the Kingdom of God.
So to follow Christ, we are to abide in his Love and follow as a friend because he has shared all he knows about what God is dreaming for us.
That leads to my final point. In a way we are back to the beginning. Our part is simple. We are to love like Christ loved us. The gospel writer was dealing with a community that was struggling and he was clear. They are to love like Christ loved. We began with abiding in Christ’s love and we go out, loving like Christ.
Henry Nouwen, a catholic theologian of the end of the 20th century, wrote that we are to love Jesus and love the way Jesus did! That is powerful. Nouwen also wrote that we have been chosen to make our own limited & very conditional love, the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.
There is no wonder that Christ tells us to pray and ask for what we need so we can love. We need God’s help to love like Jesus did. It isn’t easy, but God will give us what we need to do so.
As I was thinking of examples of this type of humbly loving as Jesus did and I thought of two people, distantly related, with the last name, Bessette. The first you might know, André Bessette, also known as Brother André. You might not know his story but he was the door man, the portier, at an all boys school, Ecole Notre Dame on Queen Mary. He was a brother in a religious order called la congregation de Ste Croix. He came from a small farm, was not that educated and entered the order. Although, he did not have a very important role, or any authority in the school, he had an incredibly strong devotion to St Joseph. Somehow, he convinced people to open a little chapel on the mountain in front of the college where mass could be said, by a priest, not brother André. From the photos, we can see it was not even an enclosed building. This later was replaced with a chapel where brother André had a room in a loft with a little window looking down on the chapel below. At the same time, there were miracles being recorded of people being healed after being anointed with oil that had been blest. His fame grew, the chapel could no longer hold those coming, so the oratory we see now was built, over several decades, and the healings kept happening.
As a child, I loved the oratory, and I would head there by myself. The hundreds, if not thousand of crutches hanging in a hall with red votive candles burning, and a huge statue of St Joseph in the middle of it, marked deeply my 10-year-old soul.
The other thing that did, was in his little room overlooking the older second chapel, that still stands today, had a little message that talked about how the devil would tempt brother André at night. You can still go up the outside stairs to see the room, but that message is long gone. As a child, I was impressed. It was not till I was an adult that I realized what that temptation of the devil was all about when I found out a family story about him. My paternal grandmother had gone to see him asking him to heal her sick son, my father’s twin brother. Well, he did not, rather he scolded my nanny for her dress, being a big bosomed woman, and her son died.
You see, brother André was very human, he was a sexual being. With his vows of celibacy, he had his struggles at night, and at day.
Yet with his love of God, of St Joseph, he tried to share that love, limited & conditional as it was, with the sick who came to him. God blest this porter’s ministry which became the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.
Now decades later, a distant cousin of brother André, also joins the same religious order, and becomes a brother. His name is Fernand Bessette. Fernand has had various ministries over the years but where I have seen him, is in his work with inmates, and ex-inmates. He visits them in prison, or escorts some to Open door, a program where some inmates are allowed to come into the community to be part of an evening of fellowship with volunteers. Peter … and Michelle …, from our congregation are involved with the English speaking open door. Fernand has been involved with both English & French speaking ministries. Fernand is known for his hugs, it shows his & God’s unconditional love for these inmates. Big guys don’t get hugged very often in prison. Fernand is there with his hugs. He tries to love as Jesus loved, and his love becomes the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.
Two men, with all their human frailties, one was, the other still is, grounded in their prayer life, seeking to love as Jesus loved.
Each one of us, in our own way are called to love as Jesus loved. We too can go to God and ask for what we need so we can seek to love as Jesus loved.
Brothers and sisters on the journey, I began this message by saying I was not really into the Gospel of John. Yet today, the gospel of John has given us a wealth of important truths to equip us on our journey as disciples.
We are to abide in Christ’s love. Love is where it all begins.
We are to follow Christ as our friend who has shared with us his plans for this world.
Finally, as we go to God for help, our love for this world, as feeble as our attempts may seem, will be empowered and will reflect the love of God for this world. Amen.