Monday, 29 April 2013

Easter 5 "As I have loved you": A sermon by Kevin Bright

What have you done this week that is motivated by love? Answer - loads of things.
I read of a London marathon runner who last Sunday knelt before his fiancée after 23 miles and asked her to marry him in front of the crowd. Luckily she said yes or it could have been a long last 3 miles.

Of course love goes way beyond romantic gestures. Love of your dog motivates you to take it out for a walk even when it’s raining, cold and dark. Love of your children results in you sacrificing your own luxuries so they can do activities and go on trips. Love of elderly parent’s means you find yourself helping in ways you could never have imagined when you were younger.

There is no doubt that real love can cause us to behave in all these ways yet the love that Jesus talks of in our gospel reading today is a great deal broader than this.

We find ourselves at the last supper, Jesus has already washed the feet of his disciples and our reading joins us with events at the point where Judas has gone out ready to betray him. Jesus says words familiar to us ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’

This is when being a Christian (or at least trying) really challenges our selfish instincts. The type of love Jesus talks of isn’t restricted to those who might love us back, the hint is in the fact that he’s just washed Judas’ feet along with the other disciples, this is the sort of love that is difficult to define.

To love others as Jesus loved us. Does this mean we have to care about the poor, the unjustly discriminated against, the outcasts and all sorts of other unsavoury characters that Jesus befriended and showed love to?

If we are to obey the commandment the obvious answer is ‘yes’ and whilst for some this might mean walking the streets looking for people who need help, for the majority of us it means using our brains and responding to the opportunities that arise naturally in our day to day lives.

When we start to think about it love for others can be shown in so many ways. We can give time and money to charities which help those most in need, make donations to the food bank, we can shop ethically supporting the best trading and manufacturing processes, we can speak out against the everyday injustices and prejudices we come across and if we really try hard we might even be able to show kindness to those we find it very difficult to like.

As a church we are called to be a body which reflects God’s love yet whilst in small local ways a great deal is done which shows this, high profile failures including the women bishops debacle and arguments about sexuality do not always leave the church shining as a light in the darkness for those unsure of which way to turn.

Jesus’ command to love one another is entangled with events that demonstrate how love must persist and overcome despite all the disappointments and failures which threaten to make us give up. The timing of the commandment cannot be coincidental between Judas leaving to betray and the forthcoming denial of Peter. Just before today’s part of John’s gospel Peter has said that he would lay down his life for Jesus, yet Jesus knows that it has to be the other way round.

The cross is inescapable for Jesus now that Judas has set off to betray him and at the same time the imminent revelation of God’s love through Christ also becomes unstoppable making sense of Jesus talk of glorification.

In this season of Easter the good news that Jesus has conquered death is celebrated. Yet I suspect that for all facing hardship, pain, fear and sadness it can sometimes be a light that burns dimly, a hope to be clung to rather than something we feel we can always boldly embrace.

Daily experiences can build cynicism and cause us to put up barriers, sometimes making us blind to so many good things happening in our midst.

Yet it is among betrayal and disappointment that Jesus proclaims ‘now the son of man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

When you think of glory what comes to mind? Quite likely we first think of success which leads to public recognition or even adoration be it sporting, academic, musical or in any other pursuit. Yet the cost of the achievement is rarely evident or mentioned and the all-conquering heroes can appear super human.

We have to guard against this when we consider the glory that Jesus refers to, Rowan Williams refers to him as ‘the one who-visibly-has suffered death. He is recognised by his wounds….wounds that show how much He loved us and wounds without which there is no glory.
We know that God wants his church to include all people overcoming barriers so that all can share his love. We heard how Peter broke the ancient Jewish purity laws when he ate with gentiles. His strange dream where he is told to eat and kill all sorts of animals actually had little to do with food and everything to do with making God’s love known to the Gentiles.

There’s a lesson to all of us that form the church today that we mustn’t let our traditions and patterns of worship be limited to our time in church buildings but that we have to take our church out with us every day into our work places, homes, and every aspect of our daily lives in a way that shows we care about people different to us showing people who don’t worship with us that they matter to us and to God.

If Peter can be forgiven and become the man chosen to bring good news to Cornelius and his household then there is probably still hope for each one of us!

As I often struggle to offer some insight into our bible readings by the time the deadline of Sunday arrives I try to start reading and thinking about them as early as possible, in this case on the Monday, and then carry the words around with me, taking them to work, home and out on the streets with the hope that they will come to life and I might have something worth sharing.
In an absolutely manic working week with colleagues on leave I received a telephone request for information that would take some time to prepare from what I would describe as an’ inner city kid’ who didn’t have much clue as to what he needed. Being terribly busy and obviously having many urgent and important tasks to complete I said ‘sorry I can’t help you.’

In this church and among many other Christian communities there are people who are incredibly kind, gentle and only seem to look for opportunities to help and serve others, truly wonderful people. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of them.

Anyway a couple of days after the ‘phone call I received an email from the ’inner city kid’ explaining how he needed our help in order to put together his application for funding from the Princes Trust and it made me recall the days when I had more time, when I was a nicer person and did some work for them. The words from the bible I was carrying around with me were starting to feel heavy, what the point of carrying them around all week if they don’t come to life. What’s the point in reading the bible at all if it doesn’t make any difference?

Sparing you unnecessary detail… providing this information required me to ask for help from already over worked colleagues who didn’t hesitate to remind me how I bang on about thinking commercially and making time productive. Needless to say we did what was asked for and it felt as if the words I was carrying around took on some life.

The love that Jesus talks of includes but also extends way beyond love that may be reciprocated. It’s inconvenient love, it’s sacrificial love, at times it will be painful love. ‘As I have loved you’, we know the cost, we have heard of the holes in his hands and the wound in his side which make this type of love real.

Accepting that we are loved and trusted by God equips us to understand what Jesus was talking about and to share this in a way that makes a real difference to a world that needs it as much as it ever did.

I started by saying what have we done last week that was motivated by love and will end by saying what will we do in the forthcoming week which reflects the ‘as I have loved you’ love of Jesus. Let’s carry the words around with us and see if we can bring them to life.


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