Sunday, May 6, 2018, The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Kristin White

The Sixth Sunday of Easter | May 6, 2018

John 15:9-17

Dear Sugar:

I’m afraid to be alone, and I can’t find anyone that measures up. And my friends are all settling down with their boyfriends and starting to talk marriage. Please help!

Sincerely, Scared & Confused[1]

Dear Scared & Confused:

You aren’t torn. You’re only just afraid. And fear of being alone is not a good reason to settle. Trust yourself. And know that trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

Yours, Sugar

Dear Sugar:

I’m writing this from the little couch/bed at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. My husband and I just found out that our six-month-old daughter has a tumor. She is having brain surgery tomorrow. If there were a God, why would he let my little girl have to go through life-threatening surgery?

Signed, Abbie

Dear Abbie:

What if you allowed God to exist in the simple words of compassion that others offer you? What if faith is the way it feels to lay your hand on your daughter’s sacred body? What if the worst thing happened, and you rose anyway? Could you see the miracle in that?

Yours, Sugar

Dear Sugar:

What the heck? What the heck? What the heck?
I’m asking this question as it applies to everything, every day.

Best, WTH

Dear WTH:

Ask better questions, sweet pea. This is your life. Answer it.

Yours, Sugar

Dear Sugar:

I’m 29 and dating a man that I adore. I have family and friends and hobbies and interests and love. So much love. And I’m desperately afraid that I’m going to have cancer, as both of my parents have, as so many members of my family have. I’m terrified that sooner or later, I’ll be diagnosed.

Signed, Scared of the Future

Dear Scared of the Future:

You’re here. So be here, dear one. You’re okay with us for now.

Yours, Sugar

Tiny Beautiful Things is a book which is a compilation of advice on love and life from Dear Sugar. Originally an anonymous advice column, and now a podcast, the writer at the time the book was published is Cheryl Strayed – also the author of the book Wild. Now Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, the original Sugar, share the podcast.

It’s a salty book, peppered through with language and circumstances that can make a person alternately blush or cringe or laugh out loud or weep. It’s real. It’s excruciatingly honest.

In his introduction to the book, Strayed’s colleague and friend Steve Almond writes:

“I happen to believe that America is dying of loneliness, that we, as a people, have bought in to the false dream of convenience, and turned away from a deep engagement with our internal lives.

“We’re hurtling through time and space and information faster and faster…but at the same time we’re falling away from our families and neighbors and ourselves.

“(Sugar) understands that attention is the first and final act of love, and that the ultimate dwindling resource in the human arrangement is not cheap oil or potable water or even common sense, but mercy.

“(I believe we need Sugar. We need her) because we are all, in the private kingdom of our hearts, desperate for the company of a wise, true friend…someone…who recognizes that life is short and that all we have to offer, in the end, is love.”[2]

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” Jesus says to his disciples in today’s gospel lesson. “I do not call you servants any longer, but I have called you friends.”

Jesus is leaving, and he knows it. In the gospel of John, Jesus knows everything that will come to pass. He is the one who was in the beginning, the one through whom all things came into being, without whom was not anything made that was made. In the chapters beyond this one in John’s gospel, Jesus will not be surprised by Judas’ betrayal; he anticipates it. Later on the same Maundy Thursday that is the time of this gospel passage, Jesus will step forward in the Garden of Gethsemane, toward the soldiers and the officers, the scribes and the Pharisees. He will tell them to leave his friends alone, that not one of them might be lost. As he is crucified, he will give his own mother into the care of the disciple he loves: “Behold your son,” he will say, “…behold your mother…”.

But that is all still to come. Today’s gospel lesson is Jesus’ preparation of the disciples for the times that are ahead of them.

Scholars refer to this section of the Gospel of John as Jesus’ farewell discourse. It spans a good long length. Of the 21 chapters that comprise John’s telling of Jesus’ life and ministry, fully four of them are him saying goodbye to the disciples who have given their lives to follow him.

We are right in the middle of this discourse – his extended advice to them on how to live and who to love. We are right smack in the middle of this series of tiny beautiful things…which it turns out aren’t so very tiny after all.

At its heart, here is the advice Jesus has for the students who have become his followers who have become his disciples who have become his friends…whom he will soon have to leave: “As God has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love. Keep my commandments so that my joy may be in you, so that your joy may be complete.”

It will be just a few short chapters from now that they will come for him, Judas with a kiss, and the soldiers with torches and swords. Just a little while longer, this very night, and his friend Peter will lose sight of this call to abide in friendship and trust and love…and instead, he will say three times: “I do not know the man. I do not know the man. I do not know the man.”

“Abide in my love,” Jesus tells them. “Keep my commandment, that your joy may be complete,” he promises.

In the end, it’s what we have, isn’t it? Our salty stories, peppered through with circumstances that make us blush or cringe or laugh out loud or weep. Our hopes, our failures, our denials, our dreams, and the ever-present promise of reconciliation: “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus will ask his friend, when he appears there on the shores of the Galilee, after that awful night and the three days and now this mysterious presence. When Peter responds yes, Jesus will say:  “Feed my lambs.” And again: “Peter, do you love me? Tend my sheep.” And still once more: “Peter do you love me? Feed my sheep.”

In the end, it’s what we have: at our core, the longing for a true friend. At our center, that deep desire for the promise of a love that will hold.

Today we will enfold and lay hands on and bless young people from this parish who will be leaving us in the months ahead. We’re preparing for the time that we will send you out into a big world of hope and possibility. You are a reminder to us, Ella, and Lucy, and Franklin, that this time we share with you is precious, that it will always feel like it is not enough. I have all these bits of advice which you haven’t necessarily asked for, all crammed together to give you, these tiny beautiful things to share: Trust yourself – go live out what you already know to be true. Ask the best and most real questions you have, the ones that scare you; and listen well for the answers. Know that you are okay with us…you always have been, you always will be, and this will always be your home. Look for miracles – because they’re right there, ready and waiting for you to see.

And I guess that inside and underneath it all is a desire for mercy. The hope of good friends. The knowledge that life is short, and that what we have to offer, in the end, is love.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Jesus says to the friends he loves, the friends he will have to leave.

“I appointed you. So go. And bear good fruit, fruit that will last. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”


[1] This and the paraphrased excerpts that follow are taken from: Cheryl Strayed. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. New York: Random House, 2012.

[2] Steve Almond, ibid. 5-9.