Sixth Sunday of Easter | John 15:9-17
Lectionary Project—Part of an ongoing three year project of weekly posts related to the Sunday reading from the Revised Common Lectionary.
Some people turn away at any thought of God, not accepting any such concept, loving or otherwise. We might pause to consider that the author of the Gospel of John also rejected many ideas about God.
The bearded old man reading our thoughts. The angry judge. Inventor of disease. Permitter of evil. Rule maker.
I don’t blame anyone for not believing in that sort of god. As others have said, I don’t believe in the god they don’t believe in either.
The God in John’s Gospel is not a tyrant in the sky. In this Gospel we find a God who is present with us, one who suffers as we suffer, the same things we suffer. This God, not content to be called master of anyone, chooses to be called friend, chooses to call us friends.
Clearly, God’s odd.
It is easy to love the stranger, a people far away. Not knowing them, we are able to project any trait or personality onto them. We can imagine their loves, their needs, their gratitude.
It is also easy to hate the stranger, people far from us. From a distance, we imagine their failings, their enmity. We assign their guilt, dole out their punishment, decide their fate.
Real people are harder. They destroy our expectations. Up close, they are difficult to love. They are hard to categorize or generalize, impossible to idolize, harder to demonize. They disappoint us. Without distance, we lose the simple clarity of right and wrong. Choices settle into ambivalent shades of gray. We lose our secretly cherished ability to be right all the time.
Some people are monsters, true enough. That is easily seen, almost as easily accepted. What is harder is realizing that the monsters are still people, still like us, still loved by the God of John’s Gospel. God, this Gospel claims, does not love some people but everyone. Monsters included.
Up close, we lose sight of our enemies in the faces we can see. Up close, our enemies change as their hands reach out to hold their children or to support an aging parent.
Our friends may not be like us. They may be better looking, or smarter. They may be better athletes or artists. They may be broken, poor, unable to walk or speak. In fact, it may be that friendship is their only gift.
If the God of John’s Gospel chooses to be our friend, that does not make us the same as God. It does not make God the same as us. It does give us a new way to consider the idea of God. Someone who likes us. Someone who does not judge us. Someone who wants to see us reach our potential, follow our calling.
This is not a God of rules, a God of ‘shoulds’— how you should act, what you should do. This is a God who listens to our hopes, knows our dreams. This is a God who knows our failures and who accepts us anyway, an act of redemption.
Friends redeem us, to the extent they are able. Imagine what that means with God.
This is not the god that radical atheism opposes. This is not even the god that radical creationists preach. That entire spectrum of belief and denial is built upon gods they themselves have defined, gods limited to the functions of universe-maker, time-winder, anthropomorphic clay-shaper, with a handful of traits thrown in to suit one argument or another—supposedly omniscient, all powerful gods most peculiarly limited by the imaginations either of supporters or opponents.
The God in John’s Gospel doesn’t even sound like theirs, either the one some people deny or the one other people insist we accept. A god of our own making, whether for denying or following, is not real. A god of our own making, however powerful or clever or amazing, is not this God of the Gospel.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. That is the command of this odd God, the heart of this odd Gospel. Not that the idea was new. The prophet Micah had figured it out long before the Gospel of John was written: What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.
You know. All the things a friend does.