I don’t know how to write this one. That’s not all that unusual. I often have existential angst about writing the Late Night Bible Study - which is why is sometimes come out late at night. But this one is different. Most of the time the struggle is figuring out what to say. How do I approach the topic at hand? What image can I give that will give folks an insight into what it is that I found in the scripture for the week? What experience is a window into this truth, this reality, this gospel?
But this time the road block is a little bit different. Not uncertainty, not lack of imagination, but fear. Not fear of repercussions or accusations. Not fear of rejection or even heresy or causing an uprising or a move to run me out of town with tar and feathers. Nothing like that. No, what I sit here this afternoon (and will stand there Sunday morning) afraid of is getting it wrong.
That’s not quite it either. It is sort of, but not. It isn’t a theological concept that needs to be delicately parsed. Not a complicated Greek word usage that has to be examined from a variety of perspectives. No, I’m not going to get it wrong because of a lack of knowledge. I wish it were that easy. That fixable. Study more, read more, search deeper and you’ll get it right.
No. Won’t work. My fear is this, that the presentation of this passage will lead to a shrug of the shoulders, or a nod of the head, or even a “yeah, so?” I can’t help but think of those commercials, where one person says “15 minutes can save you 15%.” And the response is “everybody knows that.”
Everybody knows that. That’s the danger I face this weekend. Everybody knows that. It is old news, been there, done that, sold the T-shirt for mission money. It is news that has become a cliche, over done, become a greeting card, a bumper sticker. I’m afraid that already your fingers are itching to go check the weather forecast or your Pintrest pictures or whether anyone has liked your Facebook post. Well, you’re thinking, get on with it.
OK. Here goes nothing. No, scratch that. Here goes everything.
John 15:8-10 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father 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 Father's commandments and abide in his love.
That’s it? You got yourself all worked up over three verses? Well, yeah. That’s it, basically. Well, heavens, we thought it was something controversial. We thought it was going to be a stretch. We thought, well never mind what we thought. That’s it?
I got an email from a church leader in the past week or so. After responding to a request for a biblical passage to read during a waiting time, the response came back: Don’t you ever get tired of talking about love?
Jesus didn’t, apparently. It seemed his mantra, his go to theme. He didn’t let too many opportunities pass by without bringing up the subject. When he was asked for the greatest commandment, he trotted out love. In at least one version of the story, the questioner responds with “everybody knows that.” Sort of. Charged with hanging around with the wrong crowd, Jesus defaults to love. You can almost hear the Pharisees rolling their eyes. Well, duh, they could have said, but can’t you do it from a distance? Approached in the middle of the night by a bureaucrat with a lot on his mind, Jesus responds by answering questions he never thought to ask and explains it all be talking about love. Love for the world. Love that saves. Sitting on a beach eating fish the day after he died, he confronts one his closest followers who had let him down big time, and thrashes him with love.
Come one, Jesus, don’t you ever get tired of talking about love? The verses above come from that long goodbye speech in the Gospel of John. After the meal, that last supper meal, the last food he would eat with this mouth of human flesh, after he had knelt down before each one of them and in spite of their protests, washed the grime of the day’s trouble from their feet. Then he proceeded to tell them something he wanted them to understand. Not just hear, but understand.
He had spent three years with them, if our accounting is correct. He taught and healed and walked and ate and slept with them. They were steeped in his thoughts and in his words. You’d think they would have figured stuff out by then. You’d think that when Jesus starts this last long speech, that they would have held up their hands and said, “whoa there, Jesus, everybody knows that.” We got it. We’ve figured it out. We can ace that test. Let’s move on to something new, something radical, something startling.
But they didn’t. As far as we can tell anyway. They sat their with their eyes bugging out and their feet dripping from the basin in the corner of the room now filled with their dirty water. They sat there, heads cocked to one side like golden retrievers trying to make sense out their master’s speaking in these things called words. Brows furrowed, hands clenched, stomachs lurching, they listened one more time as he told them what everybody knows, but nobody holds onto very long.
Ah, there’s the truth of it. This knowledge is like water, life-giving, living water. Essential, vital, but oh so hard to hold onto. It runs away, slips out through the cracks between our fingers. And what we thought we knew, what we thought everybody knows becomes a revelation. Or forgotten.
Abide in my love. What? Me? Now, here, how long? Really? Abide, he says, live in, take up residence in, live your life secure in the knowledge that you are loved. Really? Can it be? No, not me, we think. Look there, he puts an if in it. He makes it conditional. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. See, His love is like everyone else’s love. Temporary. Limited. Only for those who are able to be right, to do right, to not fall off the wagon, to stray off the path. Only those who are good enough get this kind of love. That’s what everybody knows, because that is how the world works. Every time. Every time.
Look again. The love isn’t conditional. The abiding is. Think about it. The love comes from Him. The love is never ending, always new, always available. Our grip on it isn’t all that good. Our need for it is constant, our recognition of that need is temporary, flighty, comes and goes. The love is His, the abiding is ours. That’s our choice, our willingness to claim it, to claim Him. Comes and goes. So, he offers us a way in, he invites us to live as though we did know it. As though we were aware of His love every moment. And then, He tells us, then we will have it, and know we have it, and it will change our lives. Not because we’ve got to be obedient, but because we get to live out of love, we get to act out of love. And love will direct us into obedience, not as a burden but as a joy.
Everybody knows that. Except that nobody knows that. We who know it don’t always know it. We who know it don’t always live it, don’t always claim it. We who know it don’t always let it shape our lives so that we can love like he loves. We who know need to know. Even as we are known. You are known, and loved even so.
You are loved. Really. Do you know? Loved.