TEXTS: Acts 10:44-48; John 15:9-17
There once man who professed Christ as Lord and Savior, who dearly wanted to be faithful, who went to church just about every Sunday, and who listened patiently to the pastor’s sermons, even when they went a bit long and became rather tedious. We will call this man Walter; Walter the wandering Christian. Now Walter just happened to be having a particularly difficult day on this particular day. As I have noted, Walter wanted to be faithful to the call of Christ, and on that particular day had listened intently as the pastor preached a sermon about loving others as Christ loved us. Walter really did believe that he wanted to love others as Christ loved him, but didn’t the church and the pastor understand that there were people out there who were just unlovable?
Take for instance Walter’s neighbor Arthur; Arthur whose dog regularly fertilized Walter’s flower beds and sometimes dug up Walter’s prized pansies; Arthur who was always borrowing Walter’s tools and ladders and such and who often didn’t return things promptly and when he did Walter would find that they had not been thoroughly cleaned.
Take for instance that young clerk at the local grocery, who always had to call for price checks; who didn’t always ring up Walter’s coupons correctly; who bagged his tomatoes improperly. (There was nothing Walter hated more than a bruised tomato.) Take for instance the guy that always stood at the corner of 10th and vine, asking for loose change, the guy who Walter walked past in order to get to the Diner to meet his “Friday lunch gang”. They guy was always asking for change – and reeked of cigarette smoke. (Yes, Walter knew where most of that change went. That guy needed get a job like everybody else.)
And speaking about his Friday lunch gang, there was Sid, who was always carping about his latest health problem, whether it be gout or high blood pressure. Take for instance cousin Frieda who would call at all hours of the day and night and yak forever about their family history. (A topic that Walter had no interest in whatsoever.) Frieda, who would go on and on about how her no good ex-husband was always bothering her for money.
Of course there were those people in Walter’s life who he had no trouble at all loving; like his granddaughter Meg who had been the most precocious child Walter have ever known, and who was developing into a very astute young lady, smart as a whip. Walter had no trouble at all loving Meg, except of course for that time when at the age of twelve she decided to dye her hair blue and Walter had refused to speak to her for a month. Walter hadn’t spoken to his son and daughter-in-law in nearly that long, as he had put a good deal of the blame for the hair incident upon them for allowing such a thing to happen.
Walter got along very well with his many friends and golf buddies; many of them old business associates who carried relationships over into retirement. Walter especially loved those who he also appreciated, those who shared his opinions and reminded him every so often what a good guy he was. Of course sometimes that shifted, especially when the gang got to talking about politics and some would disagree with him. Oh, they would say that they respected him even though they held a different opinion than his. Well, try as he might, Walter just couldn’t respect them in return, because their different opinions were . . . just wrong.
Walter had loved his wife dearly. Talk about being willing give his life for someone as pastor had noted that day in talking about the gospel of John, Walter would gladly have given his life for his wife. He even tried to give a kidney when hers failed, only to find that his was not a proper match, whatever that meant. But his wife had the audacity to get sick and die on him, the most painful thing that had ever happened to him in his life; and sometimes, especially when he was in a black mood like he was on that particular day, Walter was even angry at his wife for leaving him and for suffering as she had suffered before him so that he had to share her suffering.
Now I know that there are some you out there who might just believe that wandering Walter is not a terribly lovable person himself, and I would not dare tell you that you are wrong in your opinion, as I respect you no matter what your opinions might be. You see, the problem isn’t whether Walter himself is lovable or not, but rather what we do with the Walters of our lives, or for that matter with all those “not particularly lovable” people in our lives. You know those folks; the ones who get under our skin, the ones who have the ability to push our buttons, the ones who choose lifestyles or even hair colors that we believe are just wrong. What do we do with those people whose opinions differ from ours in such magnificent ways that we really do have a difficult time respecting either the opinion or the person.
In my own humble opinion, my own take on the gospel lesson for today is that we must strive to step out of our world and into God’s divine kingdom. You see, our world tells us that to achieve loving relationships we must reshape the other person into something that we can find lovable, or that we must find that person to begin with who matches our needs and desires to point that we can love them from the start. (How many times have I heard such a sentiment expressed in ads for dating agencies. “Our people, our application, our algorithm will help you find the perfect match for you!”, as if there will then be no need to develop a loving relationship because you have been so perfectly matched to begin with.
If you don’t like an article of clothing, find another that you like better or have the one you purchased altered to fit your taste. No one should be forced “get used to” something that they wear. If you don’t like your house, hove the Property Brothers gut it and rebuild it to your specifications. The list goes on and on.
Over the years when I have done pre-marital counseling, I always make a point to say to couples that marriage is not about eternal bliss in the presence of your perfect mate. Marriage is not about taking on a partner who you can then shape into some sort of loving and loveable form. I note to couples that there will be times in their marriage when husband and wife will not love each other, especially in the traditional romantic sense of love. I tell them that there be times in their marriage when they may not even like each other very well. Marriage is about creating a powerful covenant with each other. It’s about making promises to each other that have the power to carry them through those bad times, those unloving times, to a point where love can blossom again.
When Jesus says to his disciples, “I chose you.” and when we look at the gospels as a whole there doesn’t seem to be any striving whatsoever akin to those dating apps, no intense selection process so that all undesirables are weeded out. Nor do we see a great effort on the part of Jesus to “redesign” his disciples so that they will be more lovable, or even more pleasant to be around. While we cannot know the divine mind of God, Jesus’ choices of his closest friends seems to be almost random, with many of them carrying rather noticeable character flaws. AND Jesus loves them nevertheless, warts and all!
You see, contrary to what we may sometimes experience in the world around us, love, true love, begins within us. We must choose to love others rather than spending time searching for those who are somehow naturally “lovable” or striving to reshape others into something that we find lovable or even palatable. After all, by extension from what Jesus said to his disciples, Jesus has chosen each of us as well. Jesus chooses me. God through Jesus chooses you. Through Jesus God chooses all of us, not because we are adorable beagle puppy cute but because God, in Christ, chooses.
So I think of Jesus’ words to his disciples more as invitation than command. Because we are so deeply and dearly loved, because Jesus has chosen to love us, we are invited to love as well; to love as deeply and as dearly as Jesus loves us, to love the lovable and the unlovable, to love because it is within our power to love, because we have been instilled with the intent to love by a loving God who was and is willing to lay down God’s incarnate self for our sake. Let us give thanks for the love that is ours, so freely given in Christ our Savior. Let us go forth to take up Christ’s invitation to love all God’s people and all God’s creation. Amen.