Year B Easter 6 John 15
Called to Love, Not Like
Let's get this on the table before we go a step further. Christian men and women are not called to like everyone. The old camp song is titled "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love," and not, "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Likes and Dislikes." If there are folks to whom you do not warm, know please that you are not in violation of any Christian norm.
We are not called to like, but we are called -- and this is the burden of our text -- to love: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you," says Jesus.
Love, as it is defined by our faith, is both a revered panacea, and an underemployed practice. To say that the answer to the world's problems is for people to love each other more is both right and banal at the same time. It sounds wonderful and grand. Who would argue with the contention? But when you sit eyeball to eyeball with another person -- especially one who is cantankerous, obnoxious, difficult, unlovely, and seemingly unlovable -- it is anything but an easy task. There will be more than a few times when we say with Jeremiah: "O that I had in the desert a traveler's lodging place, that I might leave my people and go away from them!" (Jeremiah 9:2).
Frederick Buechner has observed: "In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of will." What is this saying to us about our faith's distinctive understanding of love?
- Christian Love Is Learned from God.
- Christian Love Is Eternal.
- Christian Love Is Patient.
William Shakespeare may be the second most quoted source in the history of English literature. You know what the most quoted source still is . .. The Bible. What you may not know is that every day Shakespeare scholarship adds to the pile an average of 8.8 articles and books. I don't know what biblical scholarship adds every day to the pile of knowledge, but I suspect it's much, much more than that. If the French novelist Gustave Flaubert could write, "When I read Shakespeare I become greater, wiser, purer," how much more true is it that when we read the Scriptures we become greater, wiser, purer, truer?
William Shakespeare is credited with elevating the English language to new heights, finding words to express truths and emotions in ways no English-speaking writer had ever done before. But let Shakespeare stand alone in his eloquence. There is someone else who stands alone in his ordinary command of the English language . . . . . Dr. Seuss.
I admit it. I read Dr. Seuss more than I read Shakespeare. Who can forget the rainy day antics of "The Cat in the Hat," or the tongue-twisting torture of "Fox In Sox," or the poetic persistence of “Green Eggs and Ham?” I dare you to read a Dr. Seuss book without a big smile plastering across your face.
One of Dr. Seuss' classics is "On Beyond Zebra" (1955). As the narrator of the story explains the alphabet to his young friend Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell, "most people stop" with the Z . . . . "BUT NOT ME!"
- In the places I go there are things that I see
That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.
I'm telling you this 'cause you're one of my friends,
My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!
Dr. Seuss' story goes on to offer up twenty new letters, each one a beautiful, fanciful design. In fact, I'm convinced with no more evidence than a hunch, that when the musician "formerly known as Prince" changed his name to some unpronounceable moniker, he was inspired by this book and in fact picked out one of Dr. Seuss' extra alphabet letters. Dr. Seuss' narrator needs all these new letters to name all the wonderful, strange unknown creatures he encounters in the world because the reality he's discovering requires a bigger vocabulary than 26.
Jesus wrote the first "On Beyond Zebra" alphabet, for that is exactly what Jesus did for his disciples in his Farewell Discourse. He gave them new words, and new . . .