May 14, 2017 | John 15: 9-17 | Rev. Nancy Talbot
One of my favourite children’s books of all times is simply titled “No, David.” In his author’s notes David Shannon says this about the book: “A few years ago, my mother sent me a book I made when I was a little boy. It was called No, David, and it was illustrated with drawings of David doing all sorts of things he wasn’t supposed to do. The text consisted entirely of the words “no” and “David.” (They were the only words I knew how to spell.) I thought it would be fun to do a remake celebrating those familiar variations of the universal “no” that we all hear while growing up.”
My children loved this book when they were younger and they still do. Their anxious giggles about what horrible thing David is going to do next and what’s going to happen to him because of it would escalate with each turning page as David gets in trouble for things like drawing on the wall with crayons; tracking mud across the carpet; standing on a chair to reach for the cookie jar; running down the street naked and splashing water out of the bathtub while festooned in an admiral’s hat and snorkelling mask. My children love David. For some reason they seem to be able to relate to him.
I love David too and in my best moments I can relate to David’s mother who after an entire day of saying no, no, no finally remembers that the most important job of a parent is to gather your children in your arms to say “Yes, David, I love you.” Despite all the dreadful things you have done, despite my anger and frustration with your behaviour, I love you.
On this day of celebrating mothers, we have before us, a lesson from the heart of the Christian Gospel. “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”
I can’t think of a topic that has been written about, sung about, spoken about, painted about, danced about and talked about more than the subject of love. So this morning I don’t want to talk to you about the word love as much as I want to talk to you about the highly overlooked and humble word “as.” Because it’s this word “as” that makes all the difference in the world in this passage about love.
How are we to love one another? AS we have been loved by God. In the Christian understanding of what it means to love, the gift of love precedes the sharing of love. It’s the gift of love that makes possible the kind of love we are called to offer one another.
Many years ago I went away on a retreat where I was asked to intentionally remember and pray about all the things in my life that caused me shame. Over the course of several days I sat in silence allowing myself to remember and reflect on all the hurts I had inflicted on others, all the disappointments I had caused, all the things about myself about which I was not very proud. It was not a very easy or pleasant thing to do and there were many moments during those days when I wondered what the point was of dredging up all this horrible stuff about myself.
But then one morning, the group of us who were gathered on retreat undergoing this gruelling process came together for worship. The retreat leader began the service with a story:
Once upon a time, there was a man was walking home late one night when he saw his neighbour down on his hands and knees searching the ground under a street light. “What are you looking for?” asked the man. “My car keys” replied the neighbour. So the man got down on his hands and knees and started to help his neighbour search. After they had done this for some time with no satisfactory result the man asked his neighbour “where did you last remember having your keys?” “Over there where the car is parked” his neighbour replied. “Then why are we looking for the keys over here?” asked the man. “Because it’s too dark over there, I can only see where the light is” the neighbour replied.
Suddenly I realized that the key to understanding how deeply I am loved would never be discovered if I was unwilling to go looking for that love in the hidden and shadowed corners of my life.
When Jesus commands his followers to love one another, he does it at the point in John’s telling of the gospel story when things are just about to really go south. Jesus gathers at table with his friends the night before he is sent to his death and he knows that what is going to be demanded of them in the days to come will be beyond anything they had ever imagined. He knows them well enough by now to know that when the going gets tough they are going to run and hide and then feel terrible about it afterwards. He knows they are going to say things they wished they hadn’t said and do things they wished they hadn’t done. He knows they are going to act out of their worst fears and their weakest selves. He knows all of this and yet he loves them anyway. He calls them friends and he commissions them to be the bearers of his love in the world.
The poet Rumi has a wonderful poem called The Guest House that goes like this:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
This poem is a wonderful reminder of the way we are called to love ourselves, loving and tending not just the things we like about ourselves, but the bits and pieces of ourselves that are hard to love. It’s a reminder of our need to love and welcome the dark thought, the shame and the malice about ourselves, because if we can’t welcome those things in ourselves and be gracious with ourselves, how will we ever be able to welcome those things in one another?
It’s interesting that when the going gets tough in Jesus life and he is pushed to condense his message into its simplest form he doesn’t command his followers to heal the sick and cure the lame, to feed the hungry and clothe the poor and reverse global warming. When the going gets tough, he boils his message down to two simple rules for living: Abide in my love and love one another. As if to say do these two things and all the rest will follow. Stay connected to the source of love and you will be rooted and grounded in the power you need to love others as you have first been loved, to make the changes in the world you once thought impossible to make.
The thing that makes the story of No, David such a great story is that David brings light to the truth about each and every one of us. We mess up. We mess up when we’re children and we mess up when we’re adults. But our messing up does not and will not ever make us unworthy of love. It’s the radical and everlasting truth of the story of Jesus. The only way to really begin to appropriate how loved we are, is to acknowledge the David inside of us and to throw our arms around him and say “I love you, David.” That is the “AS” in how we are to love.