Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17
The Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis
Last week I phoned a friend in the middle of the work day. He answered in a whisper, “Just a minute.” In a normal tone I inquired, “Friend, are you acting like I am an important call so that you can get out of a work meeting?” “Yes,” he replied. “Yes, I am.”
Many of us have had seasons of work or volunteering when it felt like our job was to sit in meeting after meeting. Bored and excruciated we would have happily taken part in the cheesiest of ice breakers or the most difficult of yoga poses to break the cycle of sitting and listening.
I was once in a two-day meeting feeling certain my body would meet its lethargic demise by the end of the second day. But half way through the first day, we were called to our feet and into techniques from the Theater of the Oppressed. During the activity we became sculptors using one another as our media. “Sculpt compassion,” said our guide. The sculptor then had three or four people to shape somehow into a human expression of compassion. A second technique called “freeze frame” was also applied. In freeze frame, the sculpture taps one of the subjects and assumes the shape they were in.
Amazingly whether you were the sculptor, the subject or the viewer, you almost always experienced the feeling depicted or an emotional response to the phenomenon depicted. I might have sculpted love and then been made to take the shape of love that I had created. In so doing I could feel love.
One of the concerns of the poetry of the Gospel of John is the replication of love. How does the pattern of love get repeated? More specifically, how can human love pattern after divine love?
There is a line in the song “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down” that says, “Like my father before me, I will work the land.” In the song, the voice of Virgil Cain harkens back to an era when vocations were inherited. The farmer’s child is raised up to work the land. The bricklayer’s son becomes a bricklayer, because he grew up into the trade. The midwife’s daughter becomes a midwife, because she came of age at the side of her mother in works of midwifery service.
While it does not happen often in the modern era, vocations sometimes get handed down from one generation to the next. A beloved Episcopalian with an art gallery and frame shop in the Montrose died unexpectedly a few years ago. Arden’s occupies the first floor of a two-story stand-alone building on West Alabama. On the second floor above the shop, the owner and his wife raised their children. After his death, the owner’s daughter took over the business as a rather young adult, and you can find her there extending the business with the same grace and kindness her father showed to all who entered there.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the tradesman who inherits the craft of essential love. He is the answer to the question of how human love patterns itself after divine love. His craft he inherited from his birth father, a carpenter, but from the one to whom he prayed; his father in heaven.
Jesus mastered his craft and became the mediator of divine love for anyone who would care to learn it in his era and through to today. For generations people the world over have signed on for Jesus’ apprenticeship program.
And yet some days it can be hard to want to show up for work. So often we want to replicate divine love, but do not try because we feel certain we will fail. Poets, sages and healers agree that the place of love in the body is the heart. So Christian apprenticeship is fundamentally an exercise of cultivating our hearts. In theory it should be a simple exercise to mediate and live from that central organ of our being.
In reality, however, we do not often pursue Jesus vocation fully because we fear we do not have enough love in us. We are overly aware of our non-loving feelings like anxiety, distraction, ambivalence or resentment and cannot always the love that we manage to make. It can be easier to believe in God sometimes that it can be to believe in ourselves.
Some of us do not pursue the Jesus apprenticeship, because the church tells us Jesus was perfect. We know we are not. So we need not apply or try.
I like to believe that Jesus was exceptional not because of some tale of his born perfection, but because of his attainment to God’s love in the record time of his short life span. I like the think this is what makes him the timeless intermediary and spiritual master to those who pursue his essence and spirit even today. For those of us in the Christian apprenticeship program, we have a spiritual teacher whom we cannot see but who we somehow can come to understand, imitate and be sculpted by. Someone whose shape we try to take in hopes of attaining original Love.
As a child I slipped my feet into the shoes of my father and my mother. I was not trying to be them. I was trying to be the bigger me I was on my way to becoming. Today my three-year-old daughter slips her feet into my shoes. I am convinced she is not pretending to be me but rather she is practicing the version of herself that she intends to become. The way to Christ feels impossible when we go it alone or when we make it overly serious. The way to loving as God loves is easier when we step into shoes left for us in our spiritual dress up box by someone who already knows how to love in the ways we want to learn to love. Following, borrowing and imitating is how we will imitate the love we wish to generate, and in so doing explore becoming the spiritual persons we are training to become.