6th Sunday of Easter B

“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.”  What a remarkable and amazing statement.  Our relationship with Christ begins not by our initiative, but by God’s.  It even seems a little backward.  I mean why would you not choose Jesus?  He was all-loving, just and peaceful.  He spoke the most beautiful words ever uttered, he was the Son of God, he died for our sins and he had great hair!  But we are friends of Jesus not for those reasons but because God first chose us.

Sometimes I wonder if God should have known better.  I imagine that Jesus would never have chosen me if he knew my faults, limitations and sins.  He would never have wanted me if he knew how little trust I have, how selfish I can be or my thoughts as the Mets lost every game of a homestand.  Then I remember, he does know all that.  And he chose me nonetheless.  And he chooses each of us despite our failures and shortcomings.

Once we understand that God truly wants us, then we can let all the beautiful words we heard today come down upon us and cover us like a light drizzle.   “God is love.”  “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.”  “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.  Remain in my love.”  “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”  “”I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”  Imagine that; loving God, understandably, completes our love, but our love of Christ brings joy to God.  Each line is a statement of Christ’s desirous love for us.

No we can see what the Church is and why we gather.  It is the place of celebrating God’s full and unconditional love for us.  The Church is where we learn we are the imperfect, stumbling, yet holy, blessed and loving people of God.

I met with a group of some young adults the other night and asked what is the perception of the Church among their friends.  Some said it was an institution and no one trusts institutions anymore.  And it is true, we are an institution.  Maybe the mother of all institutions.  Some said that we carry with us the barrier of history and scandal and that too is true.  Some said it is the where old people go.  That is not not true.   But if we really want to define the church, we must look at how Jesus defined it:  the loving and joyous community of the friends of Jesus.  It is a font of forgiveness, mercy, kindness and friendship.

So we gather here so that we might hear words that are two thousand years old and yet still penetrate us with insight and relevancy.  We come to know we are loved and share it in the midst of a community.  We come because Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us, cannot stop giving himself away.  He desires us so much that he gives himself again in his body and his blood.  He want to be a part of us in a daringly literal way.  And today, we are better because you color in for us the picture of the body of Christ.  We are smarter for your ideas, more capable because of your talents and more compassionate by your mercy.  Besides where else in your life are you offered an hour of peace?

That is how so many people identify our parish.  A few weeks ago a friend of mine died, leaving his wife behind.  Her children all live out of town and her daughter said to me, “We all have to leave here but my great comfort is that after we go, every time my mother walks through the doors of this church, she will be with family.  It is a great parish.”  And a few weeks before that, someone roughly 70 years younger said to me, “This is my happy place.”  This is what our community must be.  The place where you come after you get a bad grade to know it is not the end of the world; the place where you receive consolation for your hurts and your loss; the place where you come to celebrate good news with people who delight in you.  For eleven years, it has been that place for me.  It has been the nexus of my joys and consolations.  The greatest privilege of my life has been to share my life with you and to have you share your life with me.

What is the Church? It is mission and the mission is to respond to one command.  “Love one another as I love you.”