Acts 10.44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5.1-6; John 15.9-17
But the Hug Machine found a way to hug both the porcupine and the whale. Philip invited the Ethiopian to be baptized and be a part of this new community. The eunuch’s response: “Even though I’m a Eunuch?” Philip’s response to that question resounded grace to me: “Why would that matter? God loves you the way you are and that’s good enough for us.” Those words have echoed in my ears as I prepared this sermon.
The words we hear from Scripture in today’s readings are about love and choice - God’s love is not only deep and wide, but it stems not from our choosing God, but God choosing us.
In the face of such enormous love, we often find ourselves overwhelmed, even wondering how this can be possible. And we mutter the same words as the Ethiopian - “even though I’m a….failure, sinner, fraud, mess...”
Sometimes we let the world convince us that some part of who we are, some part of our identity means that we are not good enough, we are not worthy of joy or love or welcome.
This question of identity is an important one. How might we respond when someone asks us who we are? We are likely to respond with the roles that society most recognizes. We might name our job or use a label like parent, spouse, friend. Many of these labels define us in relationship to others. There is a theory in sociology called the “theory of the looking glass self” - that you become what the most important person in your life thinks that you are. It makes sense, because we are by nature relational people, but if our identity and how we see ourselves is linked to others, who do we want that most important person to be? Who sees the best in us, causing us to reflect our best selves back to the world?
There is a disciple mentioned in the gospel of John three times who is simply referred to as “the one Jesus loved.” The question of who exactly this disciple is has been assumed and studied and pondered throughout the centuries. For today, though, I think of these words as an invitation to slip on this identity and recognize it as the most important part of who we are - we are the ones Jesus loves. We are the beloved of God. What a profound gift - for no matter how else we see ourselves, no matter what the world sees us as, being God’s beloved will always eclipse any other identity we could slip on.
And in the night before his crucifixion, in the midst of what is known as his “farewell discourse”, Jesus is making abundantly clear what it means that our primary identity rests in being beloved of God.
Being the ones Jesus loves means profound love. Jesus says “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” I have been told that becoming a parent is profound, and the love felt for a child is unique. But the reality is that not all parent/child relationships are loving, and even if they are, they are often complicated. When Jesus uses the metaphor of parental love for how God loves us, it is a love without any of the earthly complications. God’s love for us is a parents’ love perfected and magnified, beyond even the greatest earthly example of parental love.
Being the ones Jesus loves means choice. Jesus says “you did not choose me, I chose you.” God is not obligated to love us, it is not forced, it is a choice made knowing the struggles, sin, and suffering to come. Jesus states this choice clearly, but we can see the evidence of God choosing humanity again and again as we tell the stories of our faith, stories in which the chosen of God choose something else. They lose their grip on who they are and whose they are - and over and over again God chooses to continue to love them, to love us, in the midst of all of our failings.
Claiming the identity of being “the ones who Jesus loves.” is profound because it is contagious. This is not a zero sum game. If I am the one Jesus loves, this does not prevent anyone else from also being the one that Jesus loves. This is what all this talk about commandments points back to because the commandments are all about how we treat God and how we treat one another. When Jesus says “keep my commandments” a better translation might be “hold dear my commandments.” Jesus is not asking us to blindly obey a set of arbitrary rules, but instead to hold dear how we treat one another. Jesus reminds us that we are always called to interact with the world from a place of love.
1 John 4.19 says ‘we love because he first loved us.’ If the source of our love is God, then it is a well that will never run dry. The love we receive from God is not to be hoarded, but is meant to move throughout the whole world. We are the ones Jesus loves, and we are the ones who respond to that love by holding dear what Jesus asks of us - to love one another.
We are freed for this action because it is the action of God that frees us from having to define ourselves and others. When the first thing we see when we look in the mirror is a beloved child of God, we have a constant, an anchor for our lives. What roles we embrace, the things that we do, these will keep changing throughout our lives, but God’s choosing to love us will remain the same. When the first thing we see when we look at others is a beloved child of God, we have another constant, an anchor for our actions. We have a reminder that the command to love one another is about the other, not about ourselves. Loving the other will not save us. It will not make God love us more (which I would argue isn’t possible). What it will do is make the world look and feel a bit more like God intends it, it will give us a foretaste of the feast to come.