May 17, 2020
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
Mark Ralls, a United Methodist Pastor, was trying to visit a member in a senior care facility. As if often the case in such visits, it took place in an atrium where another woman had been parked in her wheelchair. She said over and over again, “I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.” She stared out the window and said hundreds of times, “I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.”
When he left the care center, his curiosity got the better of him so he found the nurse to ask about her. “I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig., right?” Clearly, the nurse had heard it before, probably thousands of times. “That’s Thelma,” she explained. “She taught first grade for more than 30 years. Her little rhyme was her own special way of greeting the children each morning. As she helped them remove their coats, she would whisper those words in every little ear. It was her way to let each child know they possessed a special place in her heart.” As Thelma’s dementia had progressed she was left with that one greeting, repeated again and again.
Think about that. Before she began her day of teaching, each child was greeted with love as their first words. Again and again, day after day, “I love you little. I love you big.” Pastor Ralls suggests that this kind of cherishing is perhaps the best way to understand what Jesus means when he says “I am in the God, and you in me, and I in you.”
He says, “Thelma gave this kind of love to her students. That is, she gave them a sustained cherishing, not mere mindless repetition. This is why she greeted every student with a hug and a rhyme—and it’s why, even now, she can’t seem to stop greeting them. Her students reside in her. And for those who accept this rarest of gifts, she resides in them.
What does it mean to be cherished? To have a God who cherishes us without condition, each morning when we rise into a new day, we draw in a breath that is filled with the whisper of the Spirit, the Advocate, the Companion, God is leaning in close, holding us dear, treasuring us: I love you.
It’s probably the only way to understand Jesus call to “obey his commandments.” We hear the conditional IF and it sounds like a test, and often we flip it around in our minds, “IF you obey my commandments, I will love you.” That’s the way we tend to treat each other. The conditional isn’t whether God loves us, it’s whether or not we trust it. When we can know that we are in God, and Christ in God is in us, we begin to embody that relationship. Jesus recognizes how hard this usually is for us. He says, “Don’t worry, I’m going to send an Advocate to help you do this.” I’m not going to just leave you alone with a call to obey, I’m going to give you everything you need to have all that I have.
Every Spring, Gloria Dei dedicates one Sunday as a Recovery and Resilience Sunday to raise awareness about addiction and recovery. We have a really wonderful, dedicated committee that helps us to be a safe space, a healing community, dedicated to wiping away stigma and shame, which often stands as the huge roadblock to recovery, both of the addict and family and friends.
In many ways, the wisdom of the twelve steps in the AA movement is the same as the wisdom of Jesus in this passage from John. The only way to recover is to be deeply grounded in our higher power. We cannot do this on our own. We have to surrender. We have to trust that the power of life is stronger than the power of addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous even says that they’ll provide an Advocate, a Companion, a Helper, a Sponsor to walk along side, reminding you of who you are and who you want to be.
Maybe that’s the image of the Spirit we get for today: our sponsor. The one who is there for us when huge forces within and around us attempt to call us back to a kind of living that’s really dying. The Holy Sponsor is the one who will call us to obey the force of Love, which abides within us. To obey is really to be resilient: to rise again from difficult circumstances, to recover, to spring back to form, to bounce back.
Maybe we need prayers that begin, “O Holy Resilience, breathe new life into these dry, creaking bones that get so afraid.”
It’s certainly an image that seems helpful for these days in which we live. We’re all desperately trying to bounce back, to learn new things, to find the opportunities, the positives, the opening doors, Life in the midst of dying.
But we cannot do that without help. Help that is promised by Jesus. Don’t be afraid, the help is not far; it’s already within you. I am in you, and you are in me, and We are in God.
I found a little more of Thelma’s poem. No one seems to know who wrote it. Before we go, maybe lean in a bit to the screen, so I can speak right into your ear, into your heart:
I love you little I love you big
I love you like a little pig
I love you short I love you tall
I love you more than a bouncy ball
I love you skinny I love you fat
I love you more than my pet cat
I love you quiet I love you loud
I love you like a fluffy cloud
I love you wide I love you narrow
I love you like a little sparrow
I love you light I love you dark
I love you like a walk in the park
I love you happy I love you sad
I love you even when you are bad
I love you in I love you out
I love you so much I want to shout
I love you more than the world is wide
All I want is you by my side.
Amen, Come Holy Resilience.
Mark Ralls, Christian Century, Living By the Word, May 14, 2014. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-04/sunday-may-25-2014?code=QPThLD6Tf2KNcx0IfSqy&utm_campaign=05e5fab5f0-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_09_11_08_32_COPY_08&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Christian+Century+Newsletter&utm_term=0_b00cd618da-05e5fab5f0-82381019.
 It’s not clear to me who authored this poem: http://littlestorytime.blogspot.com/2008/02/i-love-you.html