A few years ago, I was fishing with friends off Martha’s Vineyard and we were having a banner morning, so great, in fact, that we let the Fog roll in. Yes, before we knew it, we were surrounded by thick, dense fog- five miles from home. I remember those slow minutes as we crawled along in the 17 Ft Boston Wailer – Montauk…thinking if we can just hear the Nobska Lighthouse or see the Nobska Buoy then we would be home or close to it.
If we found these markers then we would be oriented towards home was all I thought as we moved through the soupy fog.
“Orientation is the beginning of something relative to a changing environment, the understanding of our position relative to this new position or our new location.” Many times orientations relate to “new things” – like starting school, graduating from school, marriage, new jobs.
Orientations also remind us where we have been and who we are. Today, we are oriented back to Mom.
Orientations carry with them a full bag of emotions. The excitement of a new job, or first days of marriage. The struggle of learning to walk after a hip replacement. The joy of a memory of Mom, or the grief of a death.
The Orientation of today’s Gospel is Love.
Our Gospel today picks up the end of the Farewell Discourse. Christ is about to head into the Garden and will be betrayed. Though we stand in the light of Easter today, the disciples heard these words in their last time with Christ which marks the beginning of new life – our orientation – that begins and ends with Love.
Jesus knows how we are hardwired and he uses a grammar that resonate with our logic of orientation. Our logic of orientation is conditionality, and it works most of the time. If I find Nobska Lighthouse, then I’ll be near Great Harbor. This logic is part and parcel to our existence. Christ knows this well and speaks to us with the grammar of the old Adam – which thrives on a logic of if, then. And, there is no bigger form of conditionalizing that with love, right? The I love you, but or I love you, if… David Brooks, describes this type of love as “Directed Love” – A love that is based upon conditions, I love you because you are so good at fill in the blank…school, friendships, sports, arts, business, the list is endless…Our hearts and minds bend us back towards the “If” the “driver” to the “I” love you. This is not harmful per se, but it not unconditional.
Jesus directs our love, as well. Jesus directs our love back to him with compassion and knowledge of our inability to keep this commandment. He knows what the 19th-century clergyman, Rev. Sydnet Smith, wrote to his wife in a letter called “practical advice” – “Number 11. Don’t expect too much from human life – a sorry business at best.”
Christ, days away from hanging on the cross and dyeing, knows that we will fail this orientation class. The disciples must think, we got this, we love Jesus…They are days away from betraying, denying, and running away from Him. This is what we do, right? I like to practice my sermons in the car. I ramble into my recorder on my phone. As I was preparing for this sermon on the love of neighbor and listening to my own thoughts, right in the middle of my sentence was a great big…”What, why are you cutting me off? You SO and SO.” Yep, there I was loving my neighbor as I screamed at him for driving in front of me! My experience the absolute love of neighbor lasts as long as this sentence.
So, what next? If we fail our orientation then where do we go for remedial work? We now begin to see the true north that Christ is pushing us towards in this final discourse. Christ diverts from his conditionality and offers three absolutes.
Number 1, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Boom. The final conditional. To die is the greatest love. A good Shepard laying his life down for his sheep. There is a no greater love than one dying for you. We know this through our experience, right. In the 1970s a great example of the power of this type of sacrifice happened at the Special Olympics:
Years ago at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants lined up at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the sound of the starting gun, they all started off in their own way, making their best effort to run down the track toward the finish line. That is, except for the one young boy who stumbled soon after his start, tumbled to the ground and began to cry. Two of the other racers, hearing the cries of the boy who fell, slowed down and looked back at him. Then without hesitation, they turned around and began running in the other direction—toward the injured boy.
While the other contestants struggled to make it to the finish line, the two who had turned around to run in the other direction reached for the boy and helped him to his feet. All three of them then linked arms and together they walked to the finish line. By the time the trio reached the end, everyone in the stands was standing and cheering, some with tears rushing down their faces.
Number 2, You are no longer servants but friends. A servant is beholden in the conditional sense, you perform your task then you are in right relationship. A friend in the purest sense is accepted for who they are. This horizontal relationship can be tainted by sin, but the distinction that Christ is drawing is that between you and Him – You are no longer a servant to the law of conditionality, but rather you are under a new orientation.
Number 3, The New Orientation requires no classes, no remedial work and has no string attached. It is unconditional. It is about a Man, who laid down his life for you and me, so that we will know the absolute truth of God that He does not think of us as a servant, but rather a friend, a friend he chooses to love without condition. God Chooses you, me, each one of us and he chooses us despite our imperfections, inabilities, weakness, – he chooses us through the greatest of all love, the sacrificial love that died for you and me. This is the Great News. This is the indissoluble bond of Baptism – that Christ, God, has chosen you. Not based on merit, work, deeds, proper thoughts, but based on His unconditional Love.
In a 2001 Commencement Address Fred Rogers captured this love, he wrote:
IT’S YOU I LIKE,
IT’S NOT THE THINGS YOU WEAR.
IT’S NOT THE WAY YOU DO YOUR HAIR,
BUT IT’S YOU I LIKE.
THE WAY YOU ARE RIGHT NOW
THE WAY DOWN DEEP INSIDE YOU
NOT THE THINGS THAT HIDE YOU
NOT YOUR DIPLOMAS…
THEY’RE JUST BESIDE YOU.
BUT IT’S YOU I LIKE,
EVERY PART OF YOU,
YOUR SKIN, YOUR EYES, YOUR FEELINGS,
WHETHER OLD OR NEW.
I HOPE THAT YOU’LL REMEMBER
EVEN WHEN YOU’RE FEELING BLUE,
THAT IT’S YOU I LIKE,
IT’S YOU YOURSELF, IT’S YOU
IT’S YOU I LIKE! (LOVE)
- John 15:9 - 17