It Is So Simple
Easter 6B Mother’s Day John 15:12-17
It is soooo simple. Sometimes, the answer to a complex question is simpler than we realize.
You’ve heard the saying: “It is as plain as the nose on your face.” (Whenever this phrase is said during the sermon, the preacher always slowly touched his nose with his finger, and this repeated gesture helped drive home the point of the sermon.) Your nose is obvious to everyone else, but it is very difficult for you to see it. And sometimes the solution to a problem is plain to everyone else, but you can’t see it because too close to you. The solution is “as plain as the nose on your face” which you can’t see very well.
You’ve heard the saying: “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” Sometimes, the trees are so much in front of you that you can’t see the forest. The trees are right in front of you but you forget that they are part of the forest.
Sometimes, the solutions are sooooo simple, right there in front of you, and you can’t see them. Let me give you some examples from around the house to illustrate my point.
Pastor John O’Neal, my colleague in the ministry for the past fifteen years, is a mechanical genius. He can fix anything. Not me. I am a mechanical moron and I can’t fix anything that is very complex. I am a mechanical moron and proud of it. By that I mean to say, I am standing before you as a living example of a person who can’t fix anything and am, by some standards, still successful in life. I am a living testimony that you can be a mechanical moron and still do quite well in life.
So, the other day, I couldn’t get the front seat of my car out, and I notice two little screw-things holding the seat in place. I went to my tool chest which is very tiny, and pulled out two long slender things. One is named after Darrell Phillipson in our church; it is called a phillips screwdriver; and the other one was just a plain one. I don’t know the name of the plain kind. I took this phillips and pushed and twisted and that little screw wouldn’t come out. So I big, long, husky looking phillipson screwdriver and really leaned into that screw. Nothing happened except for creating a round hole on the top of the screw. So I got out my hacksaw and was going to cut the top of the screw off....and ....and....I noticed two little levers. I pushed them, and out came the front seat. It was so easy. It was so simple, and I had made the solution to the problem so complex.
Another illustration. Have you ever been in that situation where you call to your spouse, child or friend and say: “I need another pair of eyes. I just can’t see it.” So my tape measure has this problem of forever getting lost. It wanders away from where I place it. So the other day, I couldn’t find it again and called to my wife, Jan, to come and help look for it. I needed a fresh pair of eyes. And she said, “There it is. Right there by the tool chest.” And she was right. It was right there in front of my eyes.
The same thing happens at church. Carol, our church secretary, will put a needed piece of paper on my desk, and after looking for it for a while, I finally call to Carol after fifteen minutes of looking and ask for her eyes to help me find it. “Here it is,” she says, “right underneath your telephone directory.” You know that story. The answer is right there in front of us; we just can’t see it, for whatever reason.
Now, this principle, “the solution is often as plain as the nose on your face,” also applies to human relationships. Let me explain. I have been a marriage counselor for nearly thirty five years now. I was first trained back at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, where I took four quarters of Clinical Pastoral Education. And I have been counseling couples ever since. And when people come into see me, their marriages are often such a mess. Like when a fishing reel spins and all that line comes reeling out and creates what seems like a thousand knots. That fishing line becomes a tangled mess and many marriages seem the same way. Or like a ball of yarn in the closet, all tangled together in one glorious mess. And when you work with these marriages which feel like tangled messes, you don’t know where to begin. Do you try to unravel each knot, each conflict, each argument? And sometimes you have to cut through the tangled mess of fishing line and come up with simple solutions. Like....I have found that most marriages get into trouble because of a breakdown in communication and a breakdown in commitment. I am not sure which comes first; if the breakdown in communication leads to a breakdown in commitment or a breakdown in commitment leads to a breakdown in communication. But of this I am sure: that in this tangled mess of a marriage, if both the husband and wife strengthen their commitment to the marriage and their communication with each other, it always gets better. It does. Sometimes the solutions to complex conflicts can be so simple; as plain as the nose on your face.
Or another application of this principle. I have had many people talk to me lately, echoing the theme: “I just don’t’ have any purpose anymore. I am not sure what I am doing, where I am going, what the purpose of my life is.” It seems to me these comments are being made primarily by people in their 30s, 40s, and early 50s. These are often tough years. O yes, I know the toughest times in life are “growing up,” from early teens to the late teens or early 20s. It is tough growing up, going through all those transitions from childhood to adulthood. And another toughest time in life is “growing old,” when you can no longer live in your home and you have to get rid of your things and move into a nursing home, like Agnes Tronson is doing now, after 65 years of marriage. It is tough growing old; it is tough growing up. And in between, there are some other tough times
such as in those middle years when people often say: “I lost my sense of purpose. I’m bored with my job, bored with by wife, bored with the family, just going through the motions and drifting emotionally.” And somewhere in that conversation, I may say: “Well, the purpose of your life is pretty simple; it is pretty clear.” “O yah, like what!” “Well, to love other people like God has loved you. That’s all. Pretty basic.” “Pretty basic is right. Pretty simplex. Pretty simple for what I am going through.” “You may be right, but the purpose of life is.....as simple as the nose of your face. To love one another as God as loved you.”
It is with this beginning that we approach the Bible passage today from John 15. We are still at the last supper of Jesus where he teaches for four chapters, giving a long discourse about many things. And when we get to chapter 15 for today, we hear these grand words about love: “As my Father has loved me, so I have loved you; and as I have loved you, so you are to love one another. And this is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” This commandment is so very, very simple.
Some people want to make the Christian faith as something complex, as a tangled fishing line of knots and theological conflicts and problems to be solved, as a tangled ball of yarn from the closet, with so many odd pieces and slices and ravelings of Biblical truth. Some Christians want to mix it all up and tangle it all up, like a mess of fishing line. To illustrate, like many of you, I try to have devotions every day. Right now, I have all the books highlighted in yellow, except for Jeremiah, so I almost done highlighting this Bible of mine. So let’s say we’re going to read the whole Bible in one year; that is 66 books, 1189 chapters, and at three chapters a day, five minutes per each chapter, that totals 92 hours of reading. So I want you to summarize the whole Bible, the 66 books, the 1189 chapters, the 92 hours of reading. What would you say? How would you summarize the whole Bible? With a tangled history of the Jews. With a tangled list of theologies that appeal to? How would you summarize all your reading? The Lord does with eight words: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Eight words to summarize 66 books, 1189 chapters and 92 hours of reading. Eight words. It is so simple, so very simple. It is as plain as the nose on your face. But some Christians aren’t satisfied with that. They prefer a messed up fishing line, all knotted and twisted.
Some people always want to make the simple truth more complicated. One time a nit-picking lawyer approached Jesus and asked him what he must do to be saved and inherit eternal life. Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself. Do these and you shall live.” And what was the lawyer’s response, make it more complicated. “Well, who is my neighbor Jesus?” or
“How would you define the word, “all,” or the word “love?” Some people always want to complicate the simple truth of loving God and neighbor. They want to make it so hard.
So let’s hear the key lines in the text again: As God the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. And as I have loved you, love one another.” So the logical thing to do is to focus on the words, “as I have loved you, so love one another.” “As I have loved you.”
How has Christ loved you, me, the world? How has Christ loved? That is the way we are to love each other.
So I asked myself this past week, what was Christ’s finest hour of love here on this earth? What was his finest moment, when the love of God shown through most clearly? I think that most people would answer: “when he died on the cross.” As Jesus was being killed on the cross, he looked out at those who were crucifying him and taunting him and with the look of compassion in his eyes, he said: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” I think that was Jesus’ finest hour of love. And Jesus says: love each other in the same way. When those around you, family-school-work-, hurt you, taunt you, create great pain in you, have a heart of love. In life, we get hurt so deeply, so very deeply, sometimes by those the closest to us, and our deepest desire is to get even or get away from them, and Jesus says: love one another as I have loved you. It is as plain as the nose on your face.
During this past week, I was thinking, how has God loved me. What are the ways? And I thought of how God has been so abundantly generous to my life, showering his blessings upon with such abundance. This past Wednesday night, Chris Kramer, our youth director, gave a great sermon in which he described standing underneath the surging, flowing rush of water called Snolqualmie Falls, standing underneath the falls trying to catch the water with a little plastic bucket. And then he told how God, in the book of Malachi, compares God to opening up the windows of heaven and pouring out a waterfall of blessings upon us. And I have been trying to catch them. The abundance of nature that I love: the sun, moon. stars, heavens, mountains, Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound, the flowers, the trees, the..the..the list is endless as I try to catch God’s blessings in my little bucket. And then the abundant blessings of my family: mother, father, grandparents, brother, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, wife, children, grandchildren, friends, you. How can I catch all of this abundance in my little plastic bucket? And this abundant waterfall has no end. I stand in one moment of time and I look up the fall and it never ends but rises into the beginning of time and I look down the fall and it never ends but falls into all eternity, and this abundance of love for you and me is for all eternity. God has shared this abundant generosity with me, freely, and I am to love in the same way, sharing the abundance of generosity with all of God’s children around me. It is as plain as the nose on your face. It is soooo simple. Love one another, as I have loved you.
The heart of the text for today is this: As God the Father has loved me Jesus, so in the same way have I loved you people; and the way I have love you, you are to love each other. So then I focused on the words, “as God my Father has loved me. love each other.” But instead of Father, I put in the word, Mother. “As my mother, Edith Markquart loved me, so you are to love each other.” Each of us has someone on this earth who epitomized the love of God for us and to us. Today, on Mother’s Day, you may think of your mother, but it may be someone else. Who, more than any other person, symbolizes God’s love for you?
So I telephoned my sister, Rene, and asked her, “What was Mom’s finest hour of love here on this earth. If Jesus’ finest hour of love was his death on the cross, what was Mom’s best moment of loving.” And Rene said: “The way she made each and every one of us think that we were so special. Every grandchild thought he or she was Grandma’s favorite because she treated every one so special. She lifted each one of us up. Each one of us was so sacred to her, so very special.” And the way that my Mother loved us, is the same way that we are to love those around us. Treating all those around you as special, as a favorite special person to you. It is sooooo simple, as plain as the nose on your face.
And my sister asked: “Well, Eddie, what do you think was Mom’s finest hour of love?”And I said, “Well, that she loved Dad so deeply at the end.” “Oh yes,” she agreed. You see, my Dad had hurt my Mom deeply during his life. Sometimes, people get messed up for a number of years and they inflict enormous pain on those around them,and my Father was messed up for many years and the pain was enormous within my mother. Us kids? We never could quite forgive our Father for who he was and what he did. But Mom? She not only forgave Dad. She truly loved him at the of their life together. And the way that my Mom loved us is the same way that we are to love those around us. And people around you will go through some bad times and do some pretty terrible things to you, and perhaps the miracle of God’s love will be yours, so that you will be able to forgive and even more, to love them at the end of your time here on earth. Why, it is sooo very simple. It is as plain as the nose on your face.
Tomorrow morning I will pick up my Bible again for morning devotions. I have almost read the whole thing. Only Jeremiah left. I highlight in yellow as I read, and I am almost finished with 66 books, 1189 chapters, and 92 hours of reading. And when someone asks me to summarize the whole thing, all 66 books, all 1189 chapters, all 92 hours of reading, I may start to give a long, complicated dissertation, but then I will stop and use eight simple words: “Love one another as I have loved you.” It is so simple, as plain as the nose on your face.
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