Devotion and Love for Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, December 27, 2015
Feast of St. John the Evangelist
Preached at St. John’s, Newtonville

john20flyerThis month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Frank Sinatra. (He was born on December 12, 1915).   Frank Sinatra is important to us today on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, the patronal feast of St. John’s, Newtonville, because it is well known that late in life St. John developed a fondness for Sinatra.  Oh, yes…  In a cave on the island of Patmos, to which John was exiled in his old age, in a trove of ceramic urns dating from the first century, archeologists have found John’s collection of LP’s.  From his collection, we know that John had a soft spot for Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney, too; but it was “old blue eyes” that John liked best.  Scholars surmise that John loved Sinatra because, as the Beloved Disciple who had a deep, intimate relationship with Jesus, Sinatra sang so much about love.  Scholars surmise, too, that John loved Sinatra because, as the only disciple to live into old age (to 94, according to tradition), Sinatra’s nostalgic tones had a way of taking St. John back to his youth, when he walked with Jesus and the twelve in Galilee.

Given how meticulous and detail-oriented John was in writing his gospel, it is no surprise that John’s LP collection was meticulously catalogued – his albums were found labeled and in order.  And because we can tell from the wear on the LP’s which songs John listened to the most, the “Patmos Island LP’s” are, in a way, the story of John’s life, each favorite tracking the growth of the intimate, loving relationship that John and Jesus developed over time.  We can imagine John, ear cocked to the bell of his gramophone, dropping the needle again and again on the very first record in the first urn, a record labeled, “When I met Jesus.”  There, the most listened-to song is “You’re the One:”

You’re the one, now I know that you’re the one, and I know the golden years I’ve waited for have just begun.

On the second LP, labeled simply (in Koine Greek), “Falling in love,” the most listened to track is  “It could happen to you:”

Hide your heart from sight, lock your dreams at night,
it could happen to you…
It happened to me… it could happen to you.

As John went around with Jesus – to Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, to the pool of Beth-zatha where Jesus healed the paralytic, to Bethany where Jesus raised Lazarus – we can tell from the songs most listened-to on subsequent albums how John’s love and devotion for Jesus matured and deepened:

  • “Night and day, you are the one; only you beneath the moon and under the sun…”
  • “I’m gonna love you like nobody’s loved you, come rain or come shine…”
  • “I don’t know why I love you like I do; I don’t know why, I just do…”

12_young-johnScholars believe that John listened to these songs again and again not only to relive his youth with Jesus, but also – and this is the latest from a team of Biblical sociologists and psychologists – John listened to these songs because they helped give voice to what was going on inside of John even now, decades later, as John continued to receive more and more fully Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit.   As much as John loved Jesus in his youth, the more he remembered and relived his experiences with Jesus and felt all over again the love that Jesus had for him, all the more was the Spirit poured into his life so that now – in old age – John’s love for Jesus was in full bloom.   It was no doubt with Sinatra playing in the background that John wrote these famous words about love:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate…  And those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.

Throughout his life, John’s relationship with Jesus continued to deepen and grow as the Spirit worked in him and John more and more “let go and let God.”  On some of the last albums in John’s collection – albums from late in John’s long life, when John had surrendered all and offered all to Jesus – John listened again and again to songs of complete oblation, songs such as:

  • “All or nothing at all… “
  • “All of me. Why not take all of me?…”

John and the “Patmos Island LP’s” are important to us who are parishioners of St. John’s, Newtonville – and to us who are neighbors to St. John’s, Newtonville – because John’s life is our life.  Are we not all growing older?  Do we not all have a desire to love and to be loved?  Are we not maturing in our capacity to receive and give love as the Holy Spirit acts within us?   Because of the Father’s love for us, because of what Jesus has done for us, because of the gift of the Spirit to us, John’s life is our life.  As we grow in our capacity to accept and receive how much Jesus loves us,

Jesus will ask the Father, and He will give us another Advocate… And we who love Him will be loved by the Father, and the Son will love us and reveal Himself to us.

ICON-187F2_1024x1024It comes as no surprise that the last album in John’s collection is a song about Eucharist.  John’s Gospel is so thoroughly sacramental; for John, it is through the Church and the Sacraments that the world is to be healed.

This last favorite, on the last album in the last urn, is about taking Jesus deep within, under our skin, that we might always know His presence with us, that we might always remember and feel Jesus’ love for us, and so that we might in our very persons bear Jesus’ love into a world starved for his love.  Ear cocked to the bell of his gramophone, savoring Jesus’ immense love for him, and relishing the Spirit still deepening that love, John listened to again and again:

I’ve got you under my skin
I’ve got you deep in the heart of me
So deep in my heart that you’re really part of me
I’ve got you under my skin…
I want you under my skin.

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