Sermon John 15: 9-17
Preacher Revd Alan Sykes
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were in a restaurant and, as so often these days in such establishments, we were regaled with a continuous stream of recorded music.
But I don’t wish to be churlish about our meal. On this occasion the music wasn’t very loud and it was reasonably easy on the ear. The playlist consisted of various popular classics sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Not my kind of music but, as I say, it wasn’t too loud so generally it didn’t irk me too much.
One of the songs was an old standard called You’re nobody till somebody loves you. It’s been sung by many crooners over the years. The words have always annoyed me a little because they seem to imply that you can’t be a proper human being unless you’re involved in a romantic relationship of some sort – and I’ve always thought that that was nonsense, as well as being insensitive to those who aren’t in a relationship.
Now, though it would be idle to expect any profound wisdom from the products of Tin Pan Alley, it occurred to me during our meal that this song lyric – or at least its title – could be interpreted in a theological as well as in a romantic sense. The song, I think, is right to suggest that it’s love that makes us authentic, real people.
We human beings need to feel that we matter in some way, that we have significance. And the significance that comes from being loved is the most positive of all. Now, human love can do that to some extent – and thank heaven it does. So the song is right in a sense but human love is always limited, even at its deepest. It’s the love of God acting at the most fundamental level of our being that accomplishes that transformation into significance from insignificance most fully.
If we see the ‘somebody’ in the song title as being God, then, yes, there is a definite sense in which we are ‘nobody’ unless we are loved by him. God gives us ultimate significance. God makes us definitively real.
Without the love of God I suggest that each one of us would be a pointless, random collection of atoms on an insignificant planet swirling in the vastness of space. That is literally what we would be – and nothing more. There would be no purpose, no meaning, no love really – just random collections of atoms barging randomly into each other from time to time.
That’s what some people actually believe and without God it’s not at all an illogical conclusion to reach. In fact, if I didn’t believe in God, that’s probably what I would believe.
Without God it’s difficult to see what more we could be other this random collection of atoms. There is absolutely nothing we can do to give ourselves the slightest real significance whatsoever – try though people might. And they do try. But who are they trying to kid? It’s the merest whistling in the wind. Everything would be and would remain forever meaningless. I don’t see any way out of that abyss – except the existence and love of God.
The love of God changes everything. And the power of God’s love resides in its boundlessness, its infinity. Because God’s love is infinite, he can and does love all things infinitely – whether they be small, large or middling. Inevitably and mercifully, that includes us.
We are indeed nobody unless somebody loves us – but in the last analysis that somebody has to be God. Only God turns real nobodies with no significance into real somebodies with eternal significance.
And only when we become somebody through the unconditional love of God, can we love other people unconditionally and indiscriminately. It seems to me that without that experience of God’s unconditional love, an awful lot of human love is conditional and selective.
So, bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at today’s gospel reading.
Jesus is talking about being connected. In the verses that come just before this passage he talks about being the vine and about his followers being the branches. There’s an organic connection between the two.
And in today’s passage, just as we are to abide in his love, so Jesus abides in God’s love. There is a flow, an interconnectedness of love between God and Jesus and us. And that love is meant to flow out from us to others. Jesus tells us, commands us to love one another. And we don’t pick and choose. Not to pick and choose, to be indiscriminate in our love, that is what Jesus calls us to. The more we connect to God, the more indiscriminate our love becomes.
That’s difficult. Our natural inclination is to love some people and not others. But that’s just not good enough when it comes to God.
Jesus talks about us going out to bear fruit, fruit that will last. That fruit is the genuine love that we show to others – yet all rooted in God himself. And we can’t show genuine love unless we are genuinely rooted, genuinely connected.
Coming back to that song from Tin Pan Alley and its emphasis on romantic love, as if it were the solution to all our problems and hang-ups. We all know it isn’t. It doesn’t really matter if you’re romantically involved or married or if you’ve got loads of friends. Those aren’t in any sense bad things to be or to have – far from it – but what really matters is that we’re connected to other people, to the created world, to the ultimate, creative reality that we call God.
You could be a hermit living in the middle of the Gobi Desert and feel deeply and indiscriminately connected to other people, to the created world and to God. You could live in the midst of the family and social whirl and not be really connected at all. It’s that deep connection that really matters.
It matters because, if we are journeying – however falteringly and let’s face it, we are all faltering to a greater or lesser extent – but if we are journeying into the heart of unconditional, indiscriminate love, we are journeying into the very heart of God. And that is the purpose of our existence.