From Pastor Kenny's Desk
May 6, 2018
“As my Abba has loved me, so have I loved you. Live on in my love. And you will live on in my love if you keep my commandments, just as I live on in Abba God’s love and have kept God’s commandments. I tell you all this that my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And you are my friends, if you do what I command you. I no longer speak of you as subordinates, because a subordinate doesn’t know a superior’s business. Instead I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learned from Abba God. It was not you who chose me; it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit. Your fruit must endure, so that whatever you ask of Abba God in my name God will give you. This command I give you: that you love one another.” John 15:9-17
Have you ever asked yourself, what is happiness, exactly? When do we know we’ve found it? And how do we go about it pursuing it? Realizing we are notoriously bad at predicting what will make us happy, it occurs to me that perhaps it’s because happiness isn’t, finally, something you can pursue and catch or possess in the first place. Rather, perhaps happiness is the by-product of worthy activities. Perhaps happiness is the feeling you get from a job well done, or from achieving a goal, or from being honest and trustworthy, or from helping someone out. In this sense, happiness is less a commodity to be pursued and possessed than it is a by-product of noble efforts or, even more, simply a gift to be received.
And I think the same is true … perhaps even more so … when it comes to joy, the close cousin of happiness that Jesus talks about in the Sacred text above. One of the helpful mantras of the yoga world is the invitation and imperative to choose joy. I regularly remind myself of just how many times I actually do have a choice about how I view something, react to something, focus on one thing or another, knowing that each of these things can be an instance of choosing joy over frustration, anger, hopelessness, and more.
At the same time, and in light of Jesus’ teaching here, it seems that joy is also and
simultaneously beyond our choosing and comes to us, often at unawares, as sheer gift. Jesus commands his disciples to remain and abide in him and his love for them. But he also just plain loves them … enough to give his life for them … and us! Also, he is pretty clear that, whatever they may have thought, they didn’t actually choose him, or decide to follow him, or consciously become his disciples. Rather, he chose them. He chose them.
Which will be critically important to the disciples in the hours to come. Keep in mind that this conversation takes place the night before Jesus crucifixion. In just a few hours he will be arrested, tried, convicted, and executed as an enemy of the state. He endures all of this in order to demonstrate the love he has for his disciples and the profound love God has for the whole world. But that action will not only witness to Jesus love for the disciples, it will also leave them feeling confused, alone, and frightened. Which is why Jesus both urges them to abide in him and reminds them that what is more important is that they know he will abide in them. And so he tells them that they did not choose him; rather, he chose them.
This matters because if it’s up to us to choose Jesus, to remain in him, to obey his commandments, to pursue happiness, or to choose joy, then we are lost ... we simply don’t do it ... maybe we can’t. We can try, and there is something courageous and noble and important about trying. But when push comes to shove, whether you’re telling someone to accept Jesus or choose joy, you may be giving good advice, but you’re not proclaiming the Gospel.
The good news that God chose us ... that God loves us ... that God plans to use us to make this world God loves a better place. That can be hard to remember, especially after the events in Parkland, Syria, Economic Segregation, Charlottesville and more than likely any number of households in our own community.
Not that God’s choosing us is a cure-all, as if none of the difficulties of this life matter. Rather, knowing that God has chosen us, loves us, and will use us, gives us the courage to face the challenges of life, and renews our strength to do something about them. Ultimately, we cannot fix, let alone redeem, this world. That’s why that’s God’s work. But knowing that God has promised to do so can provide us with the strength and energy to work to make the little corner of the world we live in a better place ... and that matters!
The future is God’s, a gift given, like joy, to God’s beloved children. May we live knowing we are invited to abide and choose all of that is certainly good advice, let us also hear and receive the good news that God has chosen us…once and for all.