Choose to Love 

by the Rev. Paul Nancarrow

This sermon is based on John 15:9-17. Click here to listen to an audio version of this sermon. 

A couple of weeks ago my son Aidan posted a selfie to Facebook. This is something he does from time to time; this in itself is no big deal. But since I use Facebook as a fairly easy way to keep in touch with my kids, I saw that selfie just about as soon as it was posted. And I have to say that was a picture of Aidan like I have never seen him before.

Apparently he had just come back from a run. Aidan has taken up distance running, you see, and he is working himself up to the Twin Cities Marathon in October. And because he’s running, he’s watching his diet: Aidan has gone Vegan, not just vegetarian, but Vegan, which is a dietary choice I have experimented with on single days in Lent but do not think I could maintain all the time. All of which means Aidan is turning himself into a tall, trim, lean, mean, physical machine – not quite the cute little kid I remember. And because he’d been out for a run his hair was swept back and wild, and his beard was glossy and dark, and he had the drinking tube from his hydration pack stuck in the corner of his mouth like a fat cigar, and stereo earbuds in his ears, and a look in his eyes that, frankly, I did not realize human eyes could make. The whole impression was wild, and a little scary, and altogether disconcerting to stumble upon in an online forum.

And when I opened up Facebook and saw that picture, my first response was “Ohmigod, that’s my son!”  And my second response was “Ohmigod, that’s my son!”

Because that picture was so Aidan. It captured his sense of ironic, playful humor. It captured his way of doing serious things but not taking them too seriously. It captured his enjoyment of doing the unexpected. It captured the way he just loves living his life.

And as I looked at that picture I realized this was not the toddler I used to carry around piggyback. This was not the kid I helped climb the rocks at Lake Superior. This was not the teenager I taught to drive even though he didn’t really like driving very much. This was not the student who lived part-time with me and Lee and part-time with his mom until he was old enough to move to a college dorm and have a place of his own. All those Aidans were there of course; but this was something new, this was someone who had added more layers to his experience and to his being; this was someone I had not raised and I had not chosen. But I liked what I saw; and I looked at the wild humor in his eyes in that picture and I said to myself, “Yes. This is good. I love this boy.”

And I think what I experienced in that moment of seeing that picture is something most parents will recognize. In fact, I think it is a mystery of love that all lovers will recognize – spouses, friends, partners, pastors, parishioners – anyone who has loved another person will know what this is. But I think perhaps parents know it in a particular way: that sense of loving someone you did not choose to love, but whom you do choose after all, whom you choose to accept and affirm and care for, and whom you keep on choosing, time and time again, in one situation after another, discovering and rediscovering and re-rediscovering who this person is and choosing to love again each time.

I think of how a mother must feel when she holds her newborn infant for the first time: Here is this new little life, this tiny person she’s never met before. She has no idea who this little person will turn out to be, what life experience will shape him, what trials and tribulations and triumphs and joys she’ll know, what woman or man this little baby will one day become. She did not choose this child, she did not design it or program it or sequence its DNA for just the desirable characteristics. This child is a surprise, a gift, a grace, a life that has come to her from beyond her own power of choice. And yet, in that first moment, in that moment she did not choose, she must also choose: she must choose to accept this child, to let his child be who this child will be, to give herself in a love that will be part of her for the rest of her life. The love of a mother for her child is not a choice but is a choice; it is a love from beyond herself that is also an act of her self; it is something that is given to her but something she also gives. And it is an unchosen love she will choose and choose and choose again as her child grows.

And today, on this Mothers Day, it is worth reflecting how the mystery of a mother’s love for her child is a reflection of the larger mystery of the love of Christ. This past Friday was the commemoration of St. Julian of Norwich. Julian was a mystic and a visionary who lived in England in the fourteenth century; and she received a series of revelations, or “showings” as she called them, of divine love. In one of her visions, she saw Jesus revealed as our Mother, and she wrote compellingly about the beauty of that vision. Listen to her words:

“The mother can give her child to suck of her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and does, most courteously and most tenderly, with the blessed sacrament, which is the precious food of true life; and with all the sweet sacraments he sustains us most mercifully and graciously….

“This fair lovely word ‘mother’ is so sweet and so kind in itself that it cannot truly be said of anyone or to anyone except of him and to him who is the true Mother of life and of all things. To the property of motherhood belong nature, love, wisdom and knowledge, and this is God. For though it may be so that our bodily bringing to birth is only little, humble and simple in comparison with our spiritual bringing to birth, still it is he who does it in the creatures by whom it is done. The kind, loving mother who knows and sees the need of her child guards it very tenderly, as the nature and condition of motherhood will have. And always as the child grows in age and in stature, she acts differently, but she does not change her love. And when [the child] is even older, she allows [her child] to be chastised to destroy its faults, so as to make the child receive virtues and grace. This work, with everything which is lovely and good, our Lord performs in those by whom it is done. So he is our Mother in nature by the operation of grace in the lower part, for love of the higher part. And he wants us to know it, for he wants to have all our love attached to him….”

Isn’t that wonderful? I love how Julian gives us that vision of Jesus our Mother, and the glimpse into the mystery of the love that we do not choose but do choose anyway.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus says to his disciples, “You did not choose me but I chose you,” and “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” And that is part of the mystery of love too: the love of Jesus, the love that Jesus chose to share with his disciples, was not something the disciples chose, it was not something they designed or programmed or planned to meet their needs, it came to them from Jesus and from God and from well beyond themselves. And yet they did also have to choose it: they had to choose to get up and follow when Jesus called, they had to choose to accept that he loved them, that he loved them enough to accept them as they were and loved them too much to let them stay that way. They had to choose to let Jesus’ love for them become the standard of how they would love each other. And they had to choose to love each other, to actually do the hard work of loving each other, and to choose it again, and to choose it again as they grew and changed and became new people themselves in love and action and spirit.

And that is the mystery of love into which we are invited, too. Jesus chooses us, Jesus chooses you, Jesus chooses to love you. And because Jesus chooses to love us, therefore we also can choose to love him, and for his sake to love each other, and to love everyone around us, and to go on choosing to love time and time and time again, in each new situation, in each new personal discovery, in each sorrow, in each joy, in each struggle, in each accomplishment. Jesus today invites us into the mystery of the love we do not choose but do choose anyway, the love of God that abides in us as we abide in God.

My prayer for you today is that you will know just how much Jesus chooses to love you, and that you too, over and over again, will choose to love. Amen.