May 6, 2018 For the Bible Tells Me So

Somewhere mid-semester in my middle year at Seminary, I hit the wall and had what might be called an “out of body experience”.  Well to be more exact- my feet never left the floor, I did not levitate or hover near the ceiling- I just stood there flat-footed with my overstuffed backpack right smack in the middle of the theology aisle of the seminary bookstore. I was surrounded by other students trying to match the in-stock items with those on the required readings lists. Then there were also the supplemental reading lists, in addition to all the new releases. Their tantalizing covers beckoning me just as much as the Hershey bars at the Safeway check out. Anyway there I stood, not only overwhelmed at the quantity, but dismayed that there were so many books and so little time… when it came to me as surely and as urgently as my need to read them all.

“ Thousands of books, millions of words, all to say, “ Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”

Of course I knew where I was – I heard my classmate Nat laughing one aisle over, I saw Jenny and Augusta calculating their grand totals while trying to reconcile that figure with anticipated scholarships. Professors stood nearby perusing their colleagues’ latest offerings… BUT I just stood there seeing it all--- as if for the first time. Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.  Certainly the scriptures for this sixth Sunday of Easter- shout this Truth to us! Of course this message of the love of God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit isn’t reserved for this Sunday only.

In Passion for Pilgrimage, Alan Jones reminds us:[That]this is the basic message of Christianity.“God has fallen in love with you so much that he has sent his son into the world to bring you home.” He recalls being told by one of his mentors 25 years earlier “That the truth that I was loved all the way through was the brute fact of the universe.” But as this former dean of Grace Cathedral continues, “I am now just becoming to believe it. Christianity is a love affair beginning with the gasp of astonishment with which all love affairs begin.

Christianity is the School of love.

It is a hard school in which there are battles of life and death. (And)It is the only school that matters.”( Passion for Pilgrimage, p.79) Christianity, then is an invitation to fall in love, an invitation to come home. Jesus issues this invitation to fall in love on the night before he died for us.

By the fifteenth chapter, John’s Gospel is heading toward its climax. In a little while Jesus will leave the room where he’s broken bread, go out to the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, to a garden called Gethsemane. There as we say, things will start to fall apart at the seams. But only after Jesus issues his invitation to love: As the Father has loved me so have I loved you…That you love one another as I have loved you.

 While he was Bishop of Chicago, Frank Griswold observed that [Jesus’ invitation] that his ability to love is the direct fruit and consequence of his being loved: As I am loved… so have I loved you. Why is it that our love is so faltering and short-lived, so subject to moods and patterns of natural affinity? Because we have not allowed ourselves to fall into the hands of the living God and to experience in its full force the brutal gentleness of the divine love. The brutal gentleness indeed!

During our Thursday Morning Bible Study this passage from John was read aloud. When the reader finished there was a bit of silence then one of the group said: It’s as if Jesus is saying “It’s so basic. Any questions?” I liken the invitation to a form of spiritual connect the dots- you know those games found on the backs of cereal boxes. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you…That you love one another as I have loved you.

Pretty basic really- the invitation is issued and we are to spend the rest of our lifetimes responding. The Good News is that we don’t have to fully understand or fully comprehend or have read all the books before we can respond to this divine RSVP. Just remember that it was not the nails that held Jesus to the cross….. love did.

We may squirm or make excuses. We may take two steps forward and then three backward.  We may love unfaltering and then fail to love at all. Yet all He asks is that we keep responding- Jesus said: “ These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” So imagine seeing and hearing Jesus issue this invitation to joy. Imagine seeing and hearing him as if for the first time. Imagine Him dressed like an angelic waiter- with a dazzling white coat, blazing halo and a soft linen towel over one arm. With a raised eyebrow and a twinkle in his eye, he lowers a silver platter down to our eye level. “Oh my…,” we say. As we see the wobbly dish of joy- full of sugar crystals, moonbeams, limericks, choirs giggling, children running in the sun, perfect sermons, soaring hymns, God with us always, lobster in lemon butter, and so on…

“Oh my,…” we say, “you’d best give that to someone more deserving. I’ll take that little dried up piece of bread over there. Yes, just give me a little part of that rice cake, maybe a graham cracker with nothing on it. Thank you, Jesus. That’s what I deserve.”

Blessedly, Jesus pays no attention to us. He tosses the silver platter like a Frisbee into the air and down comes that dish of joy right on our silly heads. (Deborah Laporte, AHA, p.43)  No, as hard as I tried I never read even a third of those books in the seminary bookstore. But I did run across this old Scottish hymn- God Moves in a Mysterious Way, the second verse of which says:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take

The clouds ye so much dread-

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings  on your head.

Why yes- Jesus loves me as the Father has loved Him and as he calls me to love others in return.

What a joyous blessing- for the Bible tells me so.