6 Easter B, 2021: The Kitchen Table

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Sermon Texts:

John 15:9-17
“Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo

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You won’t be surprised
to hear that I have a totally different view of Jesus
than that famous bit we just heard
from the Gospel of John.

If you are a traditionalist,
Fundamentalist, Literalist,
or in any other way resistant
to a perspective on Jesus
that does not conform
to the widest swath of Church teachings,
then your money is with John.

It won’t matter to you
when I point out that John didn’t know Jesus
any more than I do,
or that John’s inclusion
as one of the canonical gospels
was not without struggle and controversy
back in the day.

You will quite rightly point out
that I have zero credibility
and zero authority
and perhaps even scold me
for being so presumptuous
as to disagree a Gospel.

To which I would agree.
I got nothing in my favor…except,
that poem we heard today.

What we have this morning
is a beautiful contrast between
John’s vision of Jesus
and the poet’s description
of what I think is a wonderful metaphor
for Jesus and the realm of God.

So let’s dig in.

“I loved you as God loved me,” John’s Jesus says.
That is powerful.
It is equivalent to God’s coo in Jesus’ ear
at his baptism: “You are my Beloved.”

”I loved you as God loved me” — in other words,
no greater love
has ever been humanly given.

But then comes the contradiction: ”Remain in my love.”
That should make us wince
and hurt our ears
as if a sharp painful noise.

We have just been told — I say we,
but it was actually told to the disciples,
so we do not even know if John imagined
Jesus was universalizing this or not.

We have just been told by implication
that it is possible to not remain in his love.
Well, John tells us
that God’s love of Jesus was conditional —
dependent upon Jesus
obeying God’s commandments.

Likewise, Jesus’ love for his disciples — or us,
if we want to be hopeful —
is also conditional.
We must obey his commands
if we wish to know the joy
of being loved by Jesus as God loved him.

If John had just had Jesus say,
”This is my command: Love each other
as I have loved you,” and then
followed it up as he does
with “the greatest love a person can show
is to die for his friends,”
that would have been lovely.
But instead, he wrapped it
in a straight-jacket of conditions:

Keep my command.
Keep God’s command.
Live in this box
and you will have the joy of a love
greater than anyone can know.
Leave the box, leave the love.

So that is John’s view of Jesus,
and God, I suppose.
I do not find that compelling.

But before I offer an alternative view,
I don’t want to go overboard
with the hippie-dippy idea of unconditional love.

Way back in Exodus —
which, remember,
is the beginning of our story
not Jesus —
there is a condition.

God says to Moses,
way back at the beginning:
”IF you obey me and keep my covenant,
you will be my people —
chosen from among all the nations.”

There it is, a big, fat condition.

We can hear that as a carrot and stick,
as I believe John intends it to be in his Gospel,
OR we can hear it as a clear boundary,
as in, “do not abuse me or this relationship
because I have a limit to what I will accept.”

I prefer the latter, that God refuses
to be in an abusive relationship
with a planet full of creatures like us.

It is not that God will stop loving us
but God will not save us
from the consequences of our choices.
Instead, God offers “tough love,”
the kind that desperately hopes
and relentlessly encourages us
toward our better natures.

But God does not enable abuse
and self-destruction.
So, as I interpret it anyway,
the built-in conditionality is not about loving us
but about setting appropriate limits
on behavior and relationship.

God doesn’t stop loving us
because we have abused the planet
and climate change is upon us,
but God won’t come fix it for us either.

Every parent, sister, brother, aunt,
uncle, and grandparent
understands this choice:
we don’t stop loving the person
when we object to their behavior.
In fact, often when we see someone we love
keep making unfortunate choices
our compassion inflates our love
even more.

Tough love does not end at a condition,
it sets a boundary on acceptance
and loves fiercely
even through the powerlessness
over the other person’s decision-making.

The presence of love remains in ‘tough love,’
even when those
toward whom the love is directed
reject and abuse
the boundaries on the relationship.

The love remains present even when the other
walks away from it by violating the boundaries.
What makes the love ‘tough’
is its willingness to hold those boundaries
for the sake of itself, and the one who is loved.

To hold the boundaries with love, that is holy love.
I submit that John’s depiction is not tough love
but conditional, even manipulative,

We get it IF
and we are cut off from it IF.

Now, to the contrasting image we have this morning,
that of the poet, Joy Harjo:
”the kitchen table.”

The kitchen table is a metaphor
for the place we gather
with those we love
and where we live through the joys
and ordinary yet devastating anguish
that conflict, achievement,
and loss brings.

It may be a dinning room table,
or living room sofa,
or the altar around which a spiritual community
gathers and prays.

My vision of Jesus’ love
is the table fellowship he hosted
in which people from all social and economic castes
gathered and ate together:
men, women, and children
even though elsewhere they were segregated;
rich, poor, peasants, and artisans,
even though elsewhere they were segregated;
reputable, privileged, outcasts, and anonymous,
even though elsewhere they were segregated.

The table is the icon of Jesus’ love
and while there may have been boundaries
placed on what and how people treated one another,
the edges of that table
had no pre-conditions to their welcome.

For me, it is the table not the cross,
that most fully captures the love
within which we are held by God.

For me, the kitchen table is the altar
and rather than treat it like some rarified spectacal
that should never be touched,
revered with kid gloves,
and adorned with silver and gold,
it should have the look of life
having been relentlessly welcomed
and lived hard
around its edges.

At Trinity we do not have pews any more
so we need to rub our prayers into the table
and place our prayer stones on it,
and light our candles at it,
and gather around its edges
where we also look one another in the eyes.

In short, God is present
at the table
that Jesus hosted — wherever it.

In God’s presence
we are loved —
we are the beloved.
There is no condition to God’s presence.
There is nothing we can do to push God’s presence
out of our lives,
or away from our table.

That is the joy of God’s love.
We remain in it no matter what,
even when we have pushed ourselves away.
We remain in it no matter what,
even when we have rejected the beauty
of God’s justice
for the grimy, slimy gluttony
of our own self-centeredness.

We remain in the presence of God’s love
no matter what we do,
even though what we do
does impact
whether or not we can experience
that love.

The condition is not whether God is present
and loving us or not,
the condition is our choice to accept it or not.

Accepting it
also means trying to live in such a way
as to reflect the presence of God’s love —
basically, to be a reflection of God’s love
and so a part of God’s presence.

But even if and when we choose otherwise,
and knowing us, it is always “when,”
God continues to love us.
The joy of God’s love is abiding presence:
we can walk away from it, but not lose it.