SERMON FOR 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER
10th May 2015, Baptismal Sunday
Acts 10:44-end ; 1 John 5:1-6 ; John 15:9-17
A cartoon. Charlie Brown is lying on his back with his head propped on a stone for a pillow. Lucy is looking at him in this prone position, but with some confusion. Charlie says to her, “If I tell you something, Lucy, will you promise not to laugh?” Naturally she replies, “I promise.” In the second frame, Charlie, still on his back, tells her earnestly that “this is very personal, and I don’t want you to laugh.” “You have my solemn promise,” she assures him.
In the third frame, Charlie explains his concern, “Sometimes, I lie awake at night listening for a voice that will cry, ‘We like you, Charlie Brown!’.” In the fourth frame, all we see is Charlie flipped over on his head, while Lucy, with not a thought of her solemn promises, screams with laughter in utter delight at the absurdity of this nightly voice Charlie hears: “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!”
The American philosopher James Schall commenting on this cartoon says: ‘Human life is all there, isn’t it? – the desire to be taken seriously, the fear that it is all rather silly -these highest things: this desire to be loved, to know joy.’
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The connection between love and joy, which Jesus makes in our reading, is a deep one. If we have to define joy in human terms, it is what we feel when we delight in a particular thing – a flower, a poem, a piece of music, a landscape – when we are able to hold an attitude of steady loving attention towards it. That means an attention which is loving rather than possessive or evaluative or defensive or self-centred. When we hold this attention it is the difference between death and life, dark and light, never and forever. In religious terms we are seeing the landscape, the poem, the flower in the light of God – in the light of His goodness in creating and sustaining it. This
is the quality of attention we are called to give things, even if we don’t always succeed Sometimes it is a person which we give this attention to. The best kind of friendship is like this. One friend has a joy, a delight in the other, has ‘simultaneous delight and rest’ in the other. We delight in our friend – in their uniqueness, in their difference from us, in their otherness; not because we ‘always like’ people with those
looks or that lifestyle or that way of thinking, because ‘they are who they are’. Then we look at them as God’s gift, God’s creature, in the light of God’s love for them. And that way we sometimes look at a friend we love, shows us something which is otherwise very hard to grasp: how God looks at us, the love God feels for us, the delight, the joy He has in us.
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‘I do not call you servants any longer’, Jesus says, ‘but I have called you friends’.
This is a friendship between what is divine and what is human – and that seems from an ordinary point of view impossible. But this is what God offers us. God does not demand from us a slave-like submission – at least, not the kind of submission of a servant who does not know what the master is doing. ‘No’, says Jesus, ‘I do not call you servants any longer – but I have called you friends’. In a friendship with God, we can learn and grow. Friends teach us things, share what they know . ‘I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my
Father’ says Jesus. In a friendship with God, we know ourselves as chosen by him. For our friends choose us. ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you.’ says Jesus.
One friend, often, chooses the other. But then the one chosen sees that the friendship is a good one – and she chooses it also. And that is how we can see Baptism – as a matter of being chosen, being called, by God. The pouring of the water, the bringing of light, says, this is God’s chosen one, God’s friend, one in whom God delights. And in return, those whom God has chosen respond by choosing Him.
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Because of who God is, choosing Him means accepting His Way, what He commands – centrally the commandments of love: for God; and for neighbour, as for self. ‘I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’ – the fruit of love.
And because of who God is, choosing Him gives us someone we can keep faith with to the end: a faith that will not be conquered by the world – even when the world throws its worst at us. ‘This’, says our Epistle, ‘is the victory which conquers the world – our Faith’.
Faith does not give up when the world turns against us. When, like Charlie Brown, we long for the voice that cries ‘I like you’, but no voice comes. When we deeply yearn that someone should delight in us, but noone seems to.
That happens. It is tough reality of human life that, sometimes, it may only be God who delights in us. We have all seen this. And so has God: ‘He trusted in God that He would deliver him’ said the mockers to Jesus on the Cross, ‘let Him deliver him if he delights in him’. And our Lord was delivered, on the third day, and had the Easter Victory.
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And so, we rejoice. For who is God’s chosen one? Today, Nel – and each one of us. Which is God’s chosen people? All of us – ‘a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages’.
God rejoices in us, and calls us to rejoice in Him! What a thing, brothers and sisters, to think of, when you hear the night-time voices. God likes you. In fact, He loves you. He delights in you, he rejoices in you. He wants you to know joy, the eternal joy for which he has created you
Let His joy be in each of us. And let it be complete. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen