Pastor Amy's Blog Homepage
You all might know that I have a love for yoga—a love which borders on obsession. A couple of times a week I head up to a yoga studio in Mt. Airy for an hour of breathing, stretching and posing in various pretzel-like positions. Perhaps it seems like a strange way to spend my time, but it is a lifeline for me—a way to get through my busy week.
Unlike the other parts of my day, that hour is my most focused. I am not thinking about the sermon I’m working on, or the tasks on my “to do” list. I’m not distracted by the sound my phone or computer makes when I get an email or text message. The only think I’m thinking is “breathe.”
It’s when I’m not breathing properly that I get distracted. Breathing in yoga practice is different than regular breathing. In our daily life, our breath is usually shallow, using only a part of our lungs. Yoga breathing fills the belly, the lungs the shoulders—the entire chest cavity. The breath in is slow and full, and the breath out is as slow as the breath in. And with every breath, there is another movement—another yoga pose—connected with it.
This breathing and moving together creates a focus, a unity between the breath and the action, the body and the mind. And, somehow, it creates a space where distraction is a little less possible.
I used to joke that my hour of yoga was the only time in my day that I willingly obeyed anyone. I don’t joke about it anymore—It is a truth for me. I internally fight every instruction I’m given, every demand, every responsibility thrust on me—I think that is the curse of human nature. I whine and complain to myself about what I know I must do. But, in yoga, there’s no conflict, no back and forth. If you can’t do something that’s asked of you, you just get down on the mat and rest. And that rest is obedience to your body. It’s listening to your body’s demand to stop.
But that rest doesn't mean that you are interrupting your yoga practice. That resting on the mat is active. There on the mat you regain your breath, you breathe deeply, staying present, remaining—abiding—in focus and in breath.
This morning’s text from the gospel of John is all about abiding—in love. This section of the gospel of John is part of Jesus’ farewell passages, his final words to the disciples before he leaves them bodily.
There are three key concepts in this passage we must address—love, obedience and sacrifice. And these are themes that keep coming up in the gospel of John.
Let’s start with what seems like the easiest one—love. Jesus says, “God has loved you, I love you. Remain, abide in my love. And this is how you’ll do that. Live on in my love by following my commandment. Just as I have lived on in God’s love and followed God’s commandment. And this is my commandment—and notice here that there is just one (unlike the 10 commandments, or the hundreds of laws in Leviticus)—love each other, in the same way I have loved you.”
Love and obedience are intertwined here. To love is to obey—to follow the commandment of Jesus. To obey is to love each other. These two things go hand in hand.
Jesus goes on to spell out what it means to love each other. Love is laying down your life for a friend. This is a new and subtle turn in Jesus’ theology in the gospel of John. In John 10, Jesus says this: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd would die for the sheep. The hired hand, who is neither shepherd or owner of the sheep, catches sight of the wolf coming and runs away…..I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me…and for these sheep I will lay down my life.
Now, as Jesus prepared to leave to leave his disciples in John 15, he made the incarnation—the God with us and in us—the disciples’ responsibility too. “You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I no longer speak of you as subordinates (or sheep) because I have made known to you everything I have learned from Abba God.” You already know what I know. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” Jesus moves from talking about the disciples as sheep in chapter 10 (small, fluffly, mindless creatures), to talking about the disciples as dear friends and companions on the journey in chapter 15.
I have to admit—It’s kind of a disappointment to break down this text. Remain in my love, Abide in my love. It sounds so beautiful—romantic even—doesn’t it? So peaceful and tranquil. We don’t have to do anything except remain in love.
Except that when we break it down, love is active. Love is a verb. And more than being a verb, it is a commandment—our only one from Jesus in this passage from John. It requires that we give something of ourselves. It requires a sacrifice on our part. This sacrificial love is not unlike the love that goes into bearing children and raising them. It’s a love that comes with physical and emotional pain. There’s the pain of childbirth, the pain of the unknown as you wait for your child in the adoption process, the pain of having your kids mad at you, watching them suffer, knowing that sometimes they have to experience life’s hard lessons without your guidance. And this is something we parents do willingly. Moms willingly allow their bodies to be distorted through pregnancy. Parents forego sleep in favor of feeding or comforting their child in the middle of the night. Parents sacrifice nice things, jobs with better pay, opportunities, and relationships because of this being they are raising up.
That is the same kind of sacrificial love God has for us. That’s the love of the good shepherd who would willingly give up her life for us. That’s the love of Jesus who allowed himself to be silenced in death by state execution. That’s the love Jesus is instructing us to have for each other.
Abide, remain, be fully present in a love that asks for everything, but brings us to a fuller, deeper understanding of God that—according to Jesus, is joy in its fullness. There is substance to this love. And it requires all of us. It requires us to follow, to live into the one thing Jesus asked us to do, the one thing on which Jesus was singularly focused—love.
But how do we get to this abiding in love state? How do we get to the place where we are following the command of Jesus to love, where we are being fully present in the love of God? It seems like an impossible state to obtain.
In my yoga practice, when I think at the beginning of class about getting myself into a half wheel position, I am sure I can’t do it. (Half wheel is a difficult position. It is where you are laying on your back with your knees bent, and you put your hands beside your ears, and push up into a rainbow shape.) In fact, if I was to try the position at the beginning of class, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I have to work myself into it. I have to practice breathing for an hour, I have to warm up my muscles, and I have to get into the rhythm of breathing deeply, of filling my lungs fully, then releasing the air slowly. I have to practice. But when, at the very end of class I get the chance to do a half wheel, I am focused and stretched, and it is pure joy to push my body into the air, and allow it to do the thing I never thought was possible for this out of shape body, that’s been distorted by childbirth.
So it is with abiding in God’s love—we have to keep practicing it. We have to practice loving God and loving each other. We have to breathe in the love of God fully into our spirit, and breathe out the love for our neighbors. These things must be a constant in our lives. And with practice, we can do together what we never thought was possible.
Looking across the room, we see our brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of you have worshipped with each other for a long time, some for not so long. Some people in this congregation may be easy for you to love, some take a little more practice, a few extra deep breaths, to help make that love possible.
Every Sunday we gather together for an hour or so of worship. We sing, we pray, we share our joys and sorrows, we eat. We practice abiding in love. This is our yoga studio, or our love studio. This is our chance to practice abiding in love, being fully present in love. But we don’t just sit and revel in it—this is an active love. It requires continued practice. So we take it with us when we walk out the doors of the church, and we practice this abiding in love with our neighbors. Even though they are too loud, or leave trash on their sidewalk, or their kids pick our flowers. We abide in the love of God and love each other. And when we can’t love any more, we rest on the mat, still breathing in God, regaining our focus, and we try again.
We are Easter people. We are resurrection people. This makes the commandment to love a little less terrifying because we have already begun to abide in love. We’ve read the stories of the witnesses to the resurrection. We've shared our own stories of hope and resurrection. We are abiding in love. We are working towards being fully present to the love of God as we love each other. As impossible as it might seem. We keep on breathing, we keep on loving…
What can I do?