As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
STORYBOOK: A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon
I don’t know if you realize it, but the gospel of John repeats itself quite a bit. I guess John just wants to make sure that we understand what he is talking about. If you remember last week, we talked about abiding in God’s love and the fact when we abide in God’s love, remembering that God is the vine and we are the branches, that we are filled with such joy that we can’t help but share it with others. Well, we heard that again today. And the week before last we talked about the phrase “the shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,” discussing the fact that laying down your life for someone else does not mean that you must die. It simply means that you share yourself and your gifts with them, which we also heard about again in this week’s scripture reading. But what I want to focus on today is verse 16, when Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
So, I wonder, what does it feel like to know that you have been chosen, and that God loves you? Not just when you get dressed up, or when you’re working really hard, or when you’re being nice to your friends, or when you’re on your best behavior. But God loves you when you are just being you – doing the things that you love, eating the foods that you like, and wearing the clothes that are comfy.
In our story today, A Bad Case of the Stripes, our friend Carmilla struggled, didn’t she? But if we really think about it, her struggle started before the stripes and the polka dots and the stars appeared. Because she was afraid to be who she was and to eat what she liked and to do what was fun for her to do. She worried so much about what other people would think that she didn’t allow herself to be Carmilla.
Friends, scripture tells us that we are each made in the image of God. But we are not made to be cookie cutter cutouts of one another. We are each made to be unique in our own special way. That’s what makes us who we are. And when we allow ourselves to be who we are, when we don’t try to change ourselves to please others or to fit into a certain mold, and when we use the gifts and the passions that God has given us, we bear fruit, we sparkle, and we shine from within, sharing the light of Christ with others.
Now I know that some of you have heard this story before, but I think it bears repeating. You see when I was a young teen, I used to sit in the pews of this very church, watching the minister and dreaming of what it would be like, teaching and preaching. Which always surprised me, because I was painfully quiet and shy, and I had a terrible fear of speaking in front of even a small group of people. But something inside me longed to do it. I dreamt of attending seminary and studying libraries of books – again which didn’t really make sense because as a child I didn’t like to read! And Communion Sundays – they were the best! I remember watching Rev. Singley as he would raise the bread and the cup, saying the words of institution. He was so strong and yet humble, and he always told funny stories to make us laugh. Yet he also reverently held sacred space for us.
I was drawn to the amazing ability that he had to balance faith and real life – not being someone unreachable, but instead being a real person, just like me. I spent lots of time dreaming of being a minister. The only problem was, in my small church circle, and with my lack of more worldly knowledge, I thought only men could be ministers. The other dream that I had was getting married and having a family, and I thought, “Who would marry a minister?” So, I needed to figure out something else to do.
After graduating from high school, I attended Rhode Island College to become an elementary school teacher, but something was missing. My grades started to suffer, and I had a hard time focusing on my studies. I changed my major several times from elementary education to social work to gerontology, finally graduating with a degree in psychology. I got a job teaching preschool, but still, something wasn’t right. I taught about colors and number and letters, but I couldn’t teach about God. I helped children learn the importance of having manners and sharing kindness, but I couldn’t teach them about the assurance of faith and the fact that God loved them unconditionally. I longed for the ability to teach balance, to help others hold the secular and the sacred together in their lives.
Well, after getting married and having three children, I finally met a female minister, and I knew that my dream was possible! But how would I go to seminary with three young kids? How would I handle parenting and learning to be a pastor? What would people think? What would my family and my husband think? After all, though in my heart I longed to be a minister, I had never spoken to anyone about it. I prayed about it a lot. I used to look online at seminary information and dream of going.
One day, I talked to my husband about it, and I told him that I was thinking of taking a seminary class, just because I was curious. I’ll never forget his response, “Kel, I didn’t marry a minister.” My heart sank, but I signed up for the class anyway. I was scared to death that first day driving onto the seminary campus. I felt way out of my league, and I must have looked like a deer in the headlights as I sat in class, because at the break, one of my fellow students told me not to worry, that everything was going to be okay. Though I was totally out of my comfort zone, I strangely felt right at home.
Well, one class led to two, which led to four, which lead to five years of seminary and a Masters of Divinity degree. My husband quickly realized that, though he hadn’t thought that he married a minister; he actually had. And he celebrated the joy, the new energy and the excitement that I had when I allowed myself to be and to do what I had always dreamed of being and doing.
I still get comments from people every once in a while, asking, “You’re a minister?” as they slowly back away. But what I have learned to do is not let my title speak for me, in a good or bad way. I’ve simply learned to be myself and not to worry about what other people think.
Now there are days when I spend a few more minutes figuring out what I’m going to wear or thinking about what to say or how to approach a situation. But what I have found is that if I follow my heart and share my honest self, being strong yet humble, and balancing laughter and reverence, I can’t go wrong. Because this is who God has created me to be. And this is the way that I bear fruit. This is where I sparkle and shine.
Now friends, no two of us are the same. Even if we grew up in the same town or even in the same house, our stories are different. But God made us the unique individuals that we are, not that we should hide our uniqueness, but that we should share it, bearing fruit to share with the world!
So, brothers and sister in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, do what you need to do to be who God created you to be. Eat lima beans, or go to seminary, or whatever it is that makes you feel the most like you. And don’t be afraid that others might judge you or call you names. Just remember that God created you to be unique and one of a kind, so that you might sparkle and shine, and so that you might share your unique and one of a kind gifts with the world!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!