God's Love in Stereo – John 15:9-17
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
I have previously mentioned several of issues that make the car I drive unique. One of the quirks I haven’t mentioned is that only one of the four speakers works; which means when I listen to the radio or the one CD that’s been stuck in there for seven years, I only hear what comes out of the right channel.
For anyone who isn’t sure what that means: an audio recording typically has two separate channels of sound: the right and left; when you listen to both channels it’s called “stereo.” Often these channels contain the same information, so you can listen to the right or left by itself and hear the entire song. But some songs have distinct right and left channels (which you’ve probably noticed if you’ve listened to headphones and heard a sound that was entering from one ear but not the other).
Any sound that comes out of my lonely car speaker carries only the right channel information. It makes for an interesting experience because even songs I know well sound completely different in my car...particularly anything by the Beatles, who loved to record different channels. Here’s an example:
The first time I heard this song in my car I thought I had accidentally stumbled a previously-unreleased acoustic version of the Beatles performing “Hey Bulldog.” It sounded incomplete; and it wasn’t until the song progressed that I actually realized what song it was. When the right and left channels are played together, it sounds like this:
You may not be a fan of the Beatles, but I think we can agree that it is much more interesting to hear this song in stereo. That distinctive guitar track certainly adds a necessary element to the song.
I see many similarities between the state of my car stereo system and the state of our world. Too often we go through life engaging only with one side of the story, one half of the picture, one ear full of sound.
Just ten years ago it was thought that we were entering an age of the flattening of the world, which had the power for free us from our isolated existences, break down cultural and economic walls of separation, and expose all people to diversity that would positively influence our behavior. But then came along social media platforms and political-leaning 24-hour “news” channels that allowed us to narrow and customize the news and opinions with which we actually wanted to engage.
In a recent study that examined how news passes through social media, “[Researchers] confirmed that as a bit of ‘news’… was passed from person to person, [the message became shorter and] the facts became distorted in large part due to biases of the people passing along the information"
Anyone who has ever played the telephone game as a child already recognizes the truth of that statement.
And now that we find ourselves saturated with news sources on radio, 24-hour cable news, and social media feeds tailored to our biases, our understanding of the facts is as distorted as ever.
We create micro-cultures around ourselves; insulating our particular understanding of the world by choosing to only pay attention to the voices that reinforce our understanding of the world. Our opinions and biases go unchecked and we pass along filtered news and opinion that bears little actual resemblance to the complex issues of our world.
For example, if you get all your news from Fox News you heard the 2013 government shutdown described casually as a necessary “government slim-down;” whereas MSNBC was using language such as “needless and destructive” to describe the same event. Similarly, depending on how you’ve customized your news consumption, the recent events in Baltimore have either been reported to you as “riots” or a “revolution”
The task before us is to admit our own biases and prejudice and listen to the voices we would otherwise ignore; which will allow for a more nuanced, more complete, and more beautiful understanding of our world.
The point of my message today is not to get Fox News fans to tune into MSNBC for an hour a day (or vice-versa). For many of us, the most important voice that is missing from our newsfeed isn’t the voice of the political right or political left; rather, what’s missing from our newsfeed is the truth of God’s love for us and for all of God’s good creation.
Prior to his betrayal and execution, Jesus gathered his disciples together one last time and gave them commands that they were to follow to ensure that they would love one another. These commands, as listed in the 15th chapter of John include:
- have joy
- love as Christ loved
- lay down one’s life for one’s friends
- see the “other” as an “equal”
- go and bear fruit
Each of these commands is impossible to live out without the understanding that we are first and foremost loved by God with a love that makes all these commands possible. Jesus prefaces all these commands with the primary plea to “abide in my love.” Recognizing that God loves us is the truth that makes it possible for us to have joy, love as Christ loved, lay down our lives for our friends, see the “other” as an “equal” and to go and bear fruit.
So many people simply can’t hear this truth coming out of the speakers in their lives. Maybe they’ve had damaging experiences in church, or maybe they feel as though God has abandoned them in a time of personal need, or maybe they’ve been erroneously taught that faith cannot co-exist with science.
Others have deliberately eliminated any trace of the truth of God’s love from their newsfeed, perhaps by blindly following the talking points of political parties, unfriending those who challenge their prejudices, or filling their lives with commercial pursuits designed to make consumers feel like they are inadequate and unloveable unless they buy the next best thing.
The most powerful force on earth or in heaven is for you to believe that God loves you just as you are and to let that love propel you into a world full of people who either can’t hear or choose not to listen to this truth.
My prayer for you is that you listen to the voices in the world that challenge you; that you take time to immerse yourself in scripture and prayer and acts of selfless generosity, where God’s truth is revealed; and that you fall in love with the God who loves you more than life itself. That’s a song the world needs to hear from the right and the left.