This sermon was given by our ALM Carol on Sunday 20 May 2019. You can take a closer look here:
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now, I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I don’t know about you, but I can almost visualise Jesus saying these words, much as a parent talks to a child, with love, compassion and concern for those they love and care about. In the reading from Revelation we hear ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. The same love, compassion and concern – something that rests on each one of us to varying degrees, because each one of us is called to a life of love, and care and compassion: to support, encourage and help those who are feeling frail and vulnerable and to stand with others in their pain.
The Gospel this morning goes to the very heart of what it means for us to follow Jesus. Here, Jesus sums up Christian teaching in a couple of short, simple sentences: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” It’s all about love – in the final analysis, love is all that is important.
The same goes for our Church – it must be a place of love: where people encounter the love of God for them, where people feel loved and accepted for who they are, it must be without judgement, where people are free to express love for others and back to God. It’s all about love.
When Jesus gave this commandment to love, it wasn’t at a random time in his ministry: the timing of this statement by Jesus was so important. Because Jesus gave this teaching to his disciples the night before he was crucified; it was his final teaching to them before he died, so he wasn’t going to waste time telling them stuff that isn’t important. Instead, he goes to the heart of the Christian faith and is saying to them, “Before I die, this is what you really need to know: love one another…” It’s almost as if the three years of his ministry had been building up to this moment and he was saying to them, “In conclusion, this is what you need to remember…” It’s all about love.
But there’s something a bit puzzling about this commandment because Jesus starts off by saying: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another…” Why did he say that? There’s nothing new about love. Love has been around since the beginning of time. And love wasn’t even new as a commandment. So why did Jesus call this a new commandment? Has Jesus got this wrong, or is there something else to notice? I think the answer is in the rest of the sentence: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I have loved you…” That’s the new angle on love – that we are to love as Jesus has loved us…
We must be careful how we use this word ‘love’. It has such a wide range of meanings, doesn’t it? Love is a changeable word – it’s meaning alters according to the context in which we use it. So, the definition of love that is given here is really important: “love one another, as I have loved you”. OK, so what does that love look like? What does it mean for us to love one another as Jesus has loved us? How are we to live out the Christian faith as a lifestyle of love? I think there are three main characteristics:
- Love is sacrificial
At the very heart of the Christian faith is the fact that Jesus died on the cross; not some empty, meaningless, failing type of death, but a death that won a significant victory over the power of sin and death so that we could live in a beautiful relationship with God.
That death was immensely sacrificial. Jesus had to give up everything so that we could live; to give up his birth right, his power, his majesty, his glory, his own life. The ultimate act of self-emptying so that he could show sacrificial love towards us. There was no limit to Jesus’ sacrifice – because there was no limit to his love for us. In truth, Jesus didn’t just make sacrifices for us. He became a sacrifice for us…
In I John 4:19, we read that, “We love, because he first loved us”. Christ has shown sacrificial love to us and, as a response, we model sacrificial love to others. I wonder what that means in your life and mine? How can we show truly sacrificial love towards others? What can we give of ourselves – who we are and what we have – in order to love better? Christ is the model for us to follow and we have a lifetime to work out what that means for ourselves.
- Love is unconditional
Jesus didn’t die for us because we deserved it. The fact that you and I may constantly make a mess of our lives is not any reason for God to withdraw his love from us. Jesus didn’t set conditions on his love. He never said that we need to do something first for him to love us. He never waited until we had proved ourselves worthy of love. Jesus’ love was unconditional. And that’s just as well – because we can never do anything worthy to earn his love. Even when you or I mess up and get it wrong, the good news is that God’s love is unconditional and he accepts us back, yes, you and me time and time again. Because Jesus loves us unconditionally, despite our weaknesses and failings, so we are called to love others unconditionally too. I think, today, one of the most beautiful and precious gifts we have to offer is gentleness. We need gentle people. We need gentle Christians. This is becoming such a harsh and judgemental society; where people immediately think the worst of everyone, so quick to judge. But we are called to a different way of living. We are called to gentleness and non-judgmentalism and a showing of unconditional love to all those we know, even the weak and vulnerable; and those who make a mess of their own lives. After all, that is what God has done for us: he is gentle with us, isn’t he? God doesn’t bear a grudge or give us a hard time for messing up so regularly, and we should follow in his footsteps by treating others with the same gentleness and patience and kindness that God shows to us…
- Love is practical
Love is intensely practical. The hospice nurse caring for the dying patient. The mother comforting her sick child in the middle of the night. The Foodbank staff listening to a client and providing for their needs. The parents who sacrifice their own dreams for the sake of their children. These are examples of love – love that is intensely practical…
And Jesus’ death on the cross was intensely practical. It wasn’t a glorious chapter in his life; he was alone, he was in pain, he had to grit his teeth and just get on with it. That is practical love in action. And we too are called to practical love: We are called to meet needs wherever and whenever we can.
So, Jesus has a new commandment for us: not a new commandment to love but a new commandment to love one another as he has loved us. Sacrificially, unconditionally and practically. That is the life we are called to. It is not easy – but love must be the hallmark of our church and our own lives. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, if we don’t have love, we are nothing. I say if we don’t have love for one another our worship is empty, our hymn singing is empty, and all the activities of this church are empty and meaningless.
It’s all about love. Sacrificial love. Unconditional love. Practical love. Worked out in kindness and gentleness and patience and hospitality. We pray for ourselves that, as time goes by, we may increasingly model ourselves after the example of Jesus and fulfil the commandment to love as he has loved us.
I leave you with this thought from a Poem – Dave Hopwood
- He did not say:
- have lots of meetings, by this shall the world know you are my disciples.
- Neither did he say:
- keep records of each other’s wrongs or; focus on the differences you have.
- Instead he said:
- Love one another. Be patient with each other. Do your best to listen and understand.
- Be merciful and work for peace. By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples,
- if you have love for one another.
We now take a few minutes, in silence, to reflect on this love in the Gospel today as Tom plays again A new Commandment.