Scripture: John 15:9-12
What does one say to their beloved community after two months away on family leave? First, one says thank you. Thank you, beloved Lyndale, for the tremendous gift of a just and generous family leave. As I begin my last month of leave, spreading it out over May and June half time, I want to affirm again how horrifying it is to me that paid family leave is not a right in this country. And I want to affirm how beautiful it is that Lyndale is a church that does the hard work of modeling the practices of the world we believe is possible instead of just imitating world we have been given. Thank you.
As an offering of gratitude, I feel like I should have some earth-shattering revelation to share with you. After all, I’ve been hanging out at the holy edges of life, with my infant who is finding the world for the first time and with my mom who had a stroke while I was on leave and who is finding a new relationship to the world. Instead, much of the last few months feels like a fog that has yet to clear, and I have just a few new glimmers of God that have managed to shine through so far. Here are some of them, through the lens this morning’s scripture:
Our scripture says: “As God our Parent has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”
That sounds lovely, right? But what does it mean? “Abide” is such a poetic word. It means so much and so little to me at once. It’s too pretty to be concrete. Some other translations of the root Greek word we have translated as abide are to “wait, endure, live, remain, stay, stand.” My favorite of these is to “endure.” Something changes for me when I read this scripture as Jesus telling me to “endure in divine love.” Because if we are going to grow spiritually over the course of our lives, it will be an endurance sport, not a sprint.
My beloved August Jane is teaching me that this kind of abiding, this kind of enduring in Love, is first and foremost a reflex. It is how we are born. And only over time does it become a conscious muscle instead that we have to strengthen, that can get injured and need repair. When she was first born, there was no life outside of utter dependence on the love surrounding her. Calling out for our food, help sleeping, a diaper change or snuggles with tears and squawks was reflexive. And receiving our love hungrily was too.
When does the reflex to abide, to wait in, to endure, to live in utter interdependence with Love dissipate? How does it change from an involuntary response to become a muscle we must choose? How does that muscle grow weak or tear? How does it heal and grow strong and nimble again? Depending on our lived experience and the experience the world imposes on us, depending on the histories that live in our bodies, the story is different. But I want to believe the reflexive instinct to endure in love still lives in each of us. And I want to believe that in each other’s and God’s company, we might find the healing and strength training we need abide in divine love as if by reflex again.
Our scripture continues as Jesus says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Beloved Lyndale, we spend a LOT of time talking about building a more just world here and now. But why? Why are we up to all this hard work of changing the world in the way Jesus has taught us? In the way God leads us? For the sheer joy of it, and the brilliance of joy still possible for you, for me, for everyone.
I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to forget that in the day-to-day struggles. I don’t know about you, but these days, as our country keeps spinning further and further out of the orbit of justice, joy can feel like a cliché, or naïve, or just pretty fragile and far away. I need the hyper concrete to ground me in the possibility and purpose of joy again. These days, even long exhausting days, August is like the sun, pulling me back into joy’s presence.
Have you ever had the honor of going into a baby’s room to get them up after they wake up from a nap? Let me tell you about what it’s like when August wakes up. Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes she just chats with herself until we come in. But either way, when we walk in and greet her, she smiles and clasps her hands as though she has never seen anyone so beautiful or lovable in her whole life. She positively squeaks with joy. And her joy is contagious. I wonder what she notices in me that I struggle to notice sometimes. Her little soul is more recently present in this world so maybe she sees me in ways closer to how her source, God, sees me – a possibility for complete living joy. How do I live into that possibility? How do all of us who are a little further away from that time of total union with God in the spirit world maintain the ability to see joy in each other? And feel that joy? Maybe we all need to practice greeting each other the way August greets me after a nap – as though we have yet to develop object permanence so we have sheer wonder and amazement at the mere fact of each other’s existence.
Our scripture concludes, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” My friends, I will spend my life trying to figure out what that means, how exactly one loves as God loves. That is the work, in fact, of all the generations of humanity who have read this scripture.
August Jane is also teaching me harder new things about what it means to love as God loves. How many of you have heard of sleep training? This might be one of the more controversial topics I’ve ever preached on. Parents these days almost universally have strong feelings about it. Sleep training is a catch phrase for a zillion different methods and theories to teach your child to fall asleep on their own. In the midst of exhaustion beyond what I have ever known after 4 months of sleeping in 1-3 hour blocks, I read four books and many articles – because information is what makes me feel some semblance of control in the world – in attempt to figure out what would be best for our particular kid and our particular parenting. The method we chose we knew would involve some short periods of crying for our baby. Turns out, it also would involve some periods of crying for us too. But what surprised me was how after just one night the crying subsided dramatically – for all three of us. And after just a few days, our baby was putting herself to sleep faster and with less crying than when we rocked her and shushed her and loved her to sleep. This was humbling, to say the least.
What does this have to do with God? And loving like God? August is teaching me that loving like God means loving with deep humility and respect for the limits of our own power. I thought my daughter’s sleep depended on my holding her just the right way for just the right time under just the right circumstances. I thought I was the omnipotent God of her sleep, to put it theologically.
But I don’t actually believe in an omnipotent God. I believe in an omnipresent God. Maybe just like us teaching our baby to sleep, God is hunched over the video monitor of our lives, timer running for this block of learning, cheering us on, achingly loving us through the pain of watching us learn through our tears and sometimes crying along herself, knowing she can’t do it for us, but she can love us through it. Maybe She too comes into our rooms after we have fallen asleep, sniffs our heads and kisses us in holy wonder. Maybe this is the power of God’s ever-present love – not to do it for us but to teach us our own resilience, our own power.
“As God our Parent 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 Parent’s commandments and abide in her 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.”
May it be so.