Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Text: John 13:33-34
“And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples”.

“Love as I have loved you”

It was Sunday morning and the choir was in the sanctuary and had just completed singing an anthem.  The pastor was already in the pulpit.  As the last notes of the choir faded he opened his mouth to speak, a teenage girl stepped down from the front row of the choir, walked around the choir conductor, down the steps of the sanctuary and with her choir robes gently flowing behind her, continued down the aisle.  Everyone, including the pastor stared.  They thought she was leaving and were beginning to feel a little awkward that a choir member should walk out straight after the choir had done its bit in the service.

But she wasn’t leaving.  She walked half way down the church and slid into a pew and sat next to her friend and put her arm around her.  She had seen her friend, Bethany, come in late and was sitting by herself.  Twelve hours earlier Bethany’s mother had died after suffering an illness.  As the teenager sat next to Bethany and gently hugged her, those in the congregation smiled and shed small tears of joy, of love for the friend who showed Christ's love through a simple act of companionship.  She risked causing a distraction to serve a friend.

Then the pastor broke the silence saying, “I was going to preach on Jesus’ command to love one another as he has loved us, but that sermon has just been delivered in a much more powerful way” and he announced the next hymn.

Jesus says, I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples”.  I’m sure you’ve heard dozens of sermons and devotions and Bible studies on these words and yet what Jesus says here remains one of the most difficult things he asks his followers to do.

The English language has either trivialised the word ‘love’ when we say “I love chocolate” or sexualised it in literature and movies.

“Love as I have loved you”, Jesus says.  What did Jesus mean by love and how did Jesus love people?  It follows that if we can answer this and the better we understand Jesus’ love the more we will know what true love is all about. 

We need only look at how Jesus accepted and respected people regardless of their position in the community – whether the person was
a learned scholar and Pharisee like Nicodemus,
a foreign divorcee like the Samaritan woman at the well,
a cheat and a traitor like Zaccheus,
a grotesque and unsightly leper or
those possessed by demons and behaved wildly and dangerously.
It made no difference to Jesus what kind of background the person had, that person was still a person who needed not to be put down, not to be looked down on, not to be ignored but was a unique and precious child of God.  No matter what their condition or what their sin, each person was of immeasurable value to their Creator and loved and respected by Jesus. 

Jesus’ love for these people was not simply a warm fuzzy feeling but he put himself out there for them.  He stood alongside, embraced, and welcomed those who were considered morally corrupt, outsiders and outcasts, those condemned for their shameful lives or for their seeming guilt because of the diseases they carried in their bodies.  He stood with these people, healing them and forgiving them.

Jesus didn’t care what others thought because all he could see were people who needed to know that someone cared; that God cared; that they were precious and dearly loved. 

The teenager who walked from the choir down to where her friend sat didn’t care that she was holding up the service and that people would glare and disapprove of the disruption.  I’m sure it took a great deal of courage but she didn’t care because all she could see at that moment was a person who needed to experience Jesus’ love in her grief and she was going to do something about it.

That leads me to say that the kind of love that Jesus had was sacrificial.  Throughout his ministry his own safety and comfort were always last.  And then there was the cross – the ultimate symbol of loving sacrifice.  He gave all that he had and that included his own life because of his love for all humanity, because of his love for you and me. 

That night in the Garden of Gethsemane the thought of the cross did not arouse warm fuzzy feelings of love in Jesus.  His love was more than that. 
It was a love that valued people more than his own life. 
It was a love that was determined to let nothing stand in the way of God's love bringing salvation to all people. 
It was a love that was prepared to give up everything even though it seemed that the recipients of that love didn’t deserve it.  Pauls says, “God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.” (Rom 5:8 The Message).

“Love as I have loved you”, Jesus said.  We could talk about this a long time.  We haven’t even mentioned Jesus’ parables, like the Good Samaritan, that leave no doubt that love knows no boundaries.  What about Jesus’ love for his disciples when they tested his patience again and again.  His love changed this bunch of slow-minded losers into bold leaders of the church.

So what does it mean to love one another in the same way that Jesus has loved us? Let’s be clear who Jesus is talking to.  He is speaking to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another”.  He is saying this to us the people of the church, “Love one another as I have loved you”.

Paul emphasises this in his letter to the Philippian Christians saying, “Sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind … the attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had” (Phil 2:3,5). 

In the letters of the New Testament we find the words “one another” again and again.  Where we find the words “one another” we find a description of what it means to love as Christ has loved us; what it means to have the same attitude or the same mind as Christ.  We are told (these are on the screen):

·         let love make you serve one another (Gal 5:13) ;

·         accept one another as Christ has accepted you (Rom 15:7);

·         carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2);

·         be tolerant of one another (Eph 4:2);

·         be kind and tender-hearted toward one another (Eph 4:32);

·         forgive one another (Eph 4:32);

·         be subject to one another (Eph 5:21);

·         be humble towards one another, always considering others better than yourselves (Phil 2:3);

·         look out for one another’s interests (Phil 2:4);

·         encourage one another (1 Thess 4:18);

·         help one another every day (Heb 3:13);

·         share your belongings with one another (Acts 2:43);

·         do good to one another and to all people (1 Thess 5:15);

·         be at peace with one another (1Thess 5:13);

·         pray for one another (James 5:16);

·         open your homes to one another (1 Peter 4:9);

·         show respect for one another (Rom 12:10);

·         and the do nots – don’t criticise one another, don’t judge one another, don’t complain against one another and so on.

As you can see the Bible describes love as action.  Often it’s an action that is the result of an act of the will because if we relied on the feeling of love we wouldn’t do anything.

Jesus is talking about rolling up our sleeves and doing what is the more difficult.
He is talking about doing good to one another even though that other person is awfully irritating or we just don’t like that person.
It might mean forgiving and making peace even though we feel as though we are the ones who have been wronged and that it’s the other person who should be saying sorry first. 
It means going out of our way to give encouragement even though we don’t know the person very well or perhaps don’t particularly get on with them very well or we don’t have a clue what to say.
There may be people who don’t like us, hate us, and who disagree with us – some of them might be in the church and some might be in the community.  They may hold us and our faith in contempt, put us down, ignore us, make us feel bad.  There may be times when people in the congregation will upset us and our natural reaction would be to return as good as we are given and turn our backs on those we dislike and disagree.
There may be times when we will want to be selfish and self-centred and say, “I want it my way and to hell with everyone else”. And if we don’t get our own way then it’s easy to walk away.

How does that fit in with Jesus’ words, I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another” or Paul’s instruction to have the same attitude as Christ.  There is no way around it.  There is no other alternative.  The only response that a Christian can give is to love in the same sacrificial, forgiving, accepting, generous way as Jesus did.  There are no exceptions;
there is no room for an eye for an eye;
no argument whatsoever for turning your back on a fellow-Christian;
no room for intolerance, impatience and rudeness;
no reason for walking away because you have been offended.

Love always calls for reconciliation.  Love always makes the first move toward breaking down walls regardless of who is right or wrong.  The more we know Christ and his love, the more we will reflect that love in our lives, especially in the church.

The kind of love that Jesus is talking about here, especially toward our fellow Christians, is very demanding.  As we reflect on our own lives it’s easy to see that it’s hard to love as Christ has loved us. It’s clear that we need a fresh start and a clean page.  We go back to the love of Jesus that led him to the cross and seek forgiveness and renewal.  We ask the Holy Spirit to guide us as we walk together as Christ’s Church that we serve and encourage one another in love. 

“If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples”.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
28th April 2013
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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