Archive for April, 2013
Sermon John 13: 31-35 Love
Well it’s 28th April and Easter seems a long way ago. But the lectionary tells us we’re still celebrating (it’s the 6th Sunday of Easter) and the liturgy in our service sheet bids us praise ‘Alleluia He is risen indeed’. A theme which is at the root of this morning’s gospel.
Gospel readings occasionally include a statement which bids us ask a question right from the outset. This morning the words ‘When he was gone’ preceding Jesus’ own comments, lead us to wonder who ‘he’ was.
The answer is that Jesus has just concluded the last supper with his disciples and Judas is the one who left. His exit begins the series of events that will lead to Jesus’ death and Jesus starts explaining things to his disciples. Jesus begins with how he and God are glorified in each other (v31-32). Throughout his gospel John uses the phrase ‘to be glorified’ to refer to Jesus’ passion and his return through death to his Father. Jesus knows that his coming departure and death will be a great shock to his disciples but he stresses right at the start that he’s on his way to glory.
After this reminder of glory which we know is to be accomplished through Jesus’ suffering on the Cross, Jesus breaks the news gently to his ‘little children’. It’s common in the bible for people about to depart or die to give a kind of ‘farewell speech’: looking ahead to what will happen when they’re gone; with their hopes for the future, warnings about betrayals and prayers for their friends who will find themselves without their leader. So now Jesus announces the grave news: (v33)’I will be with you only a little longer’ and tries to explain that they cannot come where he is going. (v33).
So Jesus’ way to glory involves him going away and the disciples are going to need a new way of living without him being physically present. Jesus has already pointed toward this new way earlier in the supper which they share .
Such is his love for this motley crew of followers that he picks up a bowl and a towel and washes their feet. In those times walking in open sandals on unsurfaced roads that were dusty or in wet weather muddy, made everyone’s feet dirty. It was the practice for water to be provided for new arrivals at a house to wash their feet and if they were lucky a servant to do it. A menial task like this though could not be required of a Jewish male servant, only from women, children or non-Jews. But in Jesus the usual order is turned on its head.
Like someone nursing a dying spouse for whom even the most menial tasks are an act of love, so Jesus kneels at his disciples feet. He begins with this visual aid of his love and goes on to teach them to follow his example in their care for one another (13:16).
The command he gives them is that they need to love each other ‘as I have loved you’ (13:34).
He calls it ‘A new command’ but in one sense it’s not a new commandment at all. In the outline of the commandments in the Book of Leviticus (19:18), at the heart of the Jewish law is the instruction to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. What is new about it is that Jesus gives it a new motive and power; a sense of immediacy through his risen life. It’s not just a rule to be obeyed. It’s a personal response to Jesus. We love others in response to Jesus’ ‘as I have loved you’.
This ‘new command’ is so simple and straightforward. It’s central to what we should be about in our lives as individuals and churches. This is the heart of the gospel – so simple and yet so hard to do.
Jesus tells his disciples to love one another. If you do that ,he says, (v35) ‘ all men will know that you are my disciples’.
We’ve just sung a hymn which encapsulates the gospel message that the followers of Jesus need to nurture each other and that in so doing they will set a distinctive style of living that will lead others to the same way. Nurture and leading are the key concepts. How do we stand as a 21st Century parish church in these dimensions?
We’ll begin with a ‘for instance’ of our time. For instance if someone was looking for employment and currently on the basic Employment and Support Assistance of £71 a week and they now had to pay £13 to the council because they had 2 bedrooms and only needed 1, how do they find the extra whilst they’re looking for a 1 bedroom place to live? The answer is that with heating and lighting costs at a premium there’s no slack there and so it’s going to be the food budget which takes the hit. If someone were then to give that person a bag of groceries, is that an act of love? Are we the sort of church where that happens? Are we happy to be at the service of others?
Sunday by Sunday when we meet for worship: is that a process of nurture too? Do we find a welcome, a fellowship, a sense of trust – all of which stem from that simplest of instructions, ‘love one another’?
All of those qualities, too, are essential for establishing collegiality: A word you don’t hear much these days. The best way of describing it is that it’s opposite to adversarial: that it stresses the objective of working together as colleagues in a common cause. Without it, it ‘s difficult to be effective in any task.
Moving on to Jesus’ final remark in this morning’s gospel: are we, through the way we ‘love each other’ , ‘showing to all men’ that we are his disciples’?
A bit more complex to size up that one because it’s not just contingent on what we do within these 4 walls in the form of gathering for worship, important though that is in refreshing and inspiring our faith and spiritual lives. It depends on how we handle our relations with the outside as well, our families, friends, the community who may not be a close part of what we do here. What is the impression we leave with them by our actions, thoughts and behaviour not only as individuals but as a church: our coffee mornings and events; the Mother and Toddler group and so on.
When we turn to the broad brush picture of the outside world, the secular environment we now inhabit, we could be forgiven in feeling completely beleaguered. Because that is an environment where attention to oneself -self centredness and that only – seems to be the paramount attitude and motivator.
And the broader picture of the churches themselves: Jesus’ new command’ is at the heart of the gospel. Is it at the heart of what they’re doing? Looking at some of the current preoccupations with gender and sexuality one begins to wonder.
And when it comes to a sense of unity even within our own Anglican communion, let alone amongst the plethora of other churches, it’s easy for secular critics to scoff and say, well if they can’t put their own house in order, how can they have the affront to tell us we should be living according to the gospel.
It’s not the easiest of climates in which to be a professing Christian, conveying that simplest of messages ‘ love one another’.
But we should never sink into doom and gloom about it.
The 2 disciples, Clopas and his friend, were returning from what had been for them at the time, the devastating events of that first Easter in Jerusalem. Walking along the road to Emmaus they were joined by Jesus, alongside them.
The risen Lord Jesus, glorified at Easter, will be walking alongside us too, nurturing, sustaining, guiding, however hard the task of fulfilling his gospel command ‘love one another’ might sometimes appear to be. Amen