Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Text: John 13:34
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 one another

Parents needing to go away for a weekend on an emergency, leave their four children ranging from 15 to 8 at home.
Dad says as they are about to leave, “We’ll be away for just a short while and be back tomorrow.  Look after one another.” 
Mum turns to the oldest child, “Take care of the younger ones and keep everyone safe. And please no fighting.” 
And then turning to the others, Dad says, “Your mother and I are giving you all a big responsibility and so take it seriously – while we’re away take care of one another.  No-one is more special to the both of us than all of you.  We love you so much and it’s just unfortunate that you can’t go where we are going. 
And your brothers and sisters are the most important people in your lives – you are our family and special to one another so help one another.  Remember, work together, no arguing, listen to the older ones who can do some things that you, younger ones, can’t, and you’ll have a great time together.  We look forward to seeing your smiling faces tomorrow.” 

When mum and dad got back the neighbours were full of praise about the way the 4 kids had managed to get along so well. Yes, they had a falling out but they soon got over it and had a great weekend.  The neighbours praised the parents for the way they were raising their family.

You would have to be blind Freddy to see that all I have done here with this story is retell the Gospel reading today.  It’s the night before Jesus is crucified and he tells the disciples he is going away and that he won’t be with them much longer.  Now he tells the group who have become his closest friends and family, “Love one another”.  He is giving them instructions what they are to do while he is away, in the same way that those parents gave instructions to their children before they left on their trip.  Jesus is not talking to the world at large at this point.  He is talking to the disciples, to the church, to you and me.  “While I am away,” Jesus is saying, “Love one another in the same way that I have loved you”.

Love like Jesus.  That is an awfully big challenge but it’s one that needs to be defined and confronted.  Thousands of books and millions of words have been used to try to describe love, especially the love that Jesus is talking about, but the best way to describe love is with actions and examples.  Dictionary definitions aren’t all that helpful and long theological books might be helpful for some, but it’s where the rubber hits the road – that’s where it counts when it comes to talking about love. The life of a loving person is the best definition. 

I want to use just 4 words to define the loving person who follows the example of Christ.  Of course, I could use a lot more but I will make do with four.

The first is compassion.
The loving person is compassionate toward his/her fellow believer.  We know that Jesus was a compassionate person.  He didn’t care who they were – leper, the insane, the criminal, the enemy – he saw their need and reached out to help.  He wasn’t restricted by any barriers.  His kindness and care wasn’t limited by what other people thought of him or what they had done.  He was always ready to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.

One of the biggest problems we have with our fellow believers is that we limit our compassion.  If there is something about a person we don’t like, or we doubt the person’s genuineness, our compassion dries up – we aren’t able to see and feel what it’s like to be in our fellow believer’s shoes. In short, we become hard-hearted. I think too often we find it easier to show compassion to a starving refugee than to our fellow believer right in front of us.

Jesus says to us today, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Respect is the second word I want to use.
The loving person respects the differences among fellow believers – their idiosyncrasies, their different gifts, the different positions and roles and authority in the church.
The respect of a loving person recognises the God-given unique and precious nature of the other person.

Jesus didn’t dismiss Matthew, or Zaccheus or Mary Magdalene because they were different.  He respected and loved them.

The loving person respects each person in a congregation and recognises that everyone is joined together with Christ and all share in his death and resurrection and all share in his body and blood in the sacrament.  There is no room for looking down on another, or putting down another believer with whom they share in Christ.  Respect is an important element of the love that believers share.

Jesus says to us today, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Forgiveness is the third word I want to use to describe a loving person.
It is inevitable that from time to time there is a falling out between believers – that is part of the sinfulness that is within us.  Everyone, even in a Christian congregation, even the pastor, will make mistakes and cause offense.
The loving person is pro-active in restoring relationships.  There is no waiting for apologies.  There is no blaming or self-justification or “I’m right and the other person is wrong”.
The loving person takes the initiative and reaches out to those who have given offense. 

Jesus didn’t brood over the failure of his disciples to follow through on their promises of loyalty when he was arrested and killed.  He didn’t nurse resentments or wait for apologies.  He loved them and restored them.

Jesus says to us today, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

The fourth word is sacrifice. We know that Jesus’ love was sacrificial.  He never put his own safety or welfare before the needs of others.  His ultimate sacrificial act of course was the giving up of his own life for those who were the least worthy of such a sacrifice.  He sacrificed everything for his enemies, for sinners, for you and me.

We live in a “me-first” society.  This is rooted in selfishness and so we become over committed to fulfil our desires to get and do what gives us the most pleasure.  The simple things of family life and involvement in the church don’t fit into our busy self-seeking week anymore. 

This “me-first” attitude infects the members of a church as well.  Love always considers the other person first, especially the fellow believer.  Paul says, “Love is not self-seeking” (1 Cor 13:4).  When selfishness takes over, kindness, compassion, helpfulness, generosity, and sympathy take a beating.

Jesus loved others sacrificially.  His own safety and comfort always came last.  This is no less the case for us in the church today when Jesus says, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.

Let’s remember Jesus is talking to his closest friends and followers who have seen his love in action and know what it means to love with compassion, respect, forgiveness and to love sacrificially. They also know that the kind of love Jesus is talking about is not optional – something you can do if it suits. 

This is the way of discipleship.  This is the way of church.  This is what people do who claim to be “in Christ” and are joined to Christ through his Word and the Sacraments in the church.  “I give you a new commandment: love one another,” he says.

When others see this kind of love they will stop and take notice.  Like the neighbours in my opening story.  They commented on how well those kids got on together and worked well together while their parents were away.  As Jesus said, If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

An elderly woman and her little grandson, whose face was sprinkled with bright freckles, spent the day at the zoo. Lots of children were waiting in line to get their faces painted.
“You've got so many freckles, there’s no place to paint!” a girl in the line said to the little fella.  Embarrassed, the little boy dropped his head. 

His grandmother knelt down next to him and said, “I love your freckles”.  As she traced her finger across his cheeks, she said, “I love you just the way you are and so does God, after all he made you.  Both of us think that freckles are beautiful!”

The boy looked up, “Really?”
“Of course,” said the grandmother. “Why just name me one thing that's more beautiful than freckles.” The little boy thought for a moment, peered intensely into his grandma’s face, and softly whispered, “Wrinkles.”

I won’t do it now, but take a moment and think about how many aspects of love are shown in this short scenario – compassion, respect, kindness, understanding, forgiveness and so on.

Let’s face it, we have those moments of brilliance when we love one another as Christ has loved us, but there are those times when we hang our heads in shame because our love toward our fellow believers has been anything but Christ-like.  Our love has not been compassionate, respectful, forgiving and sacrificial.  We have let selfishness take over and sin has ruled the day and we had a part in fragmenting relationships and unity in the church. 

However, we can’t use our sinful nature as an excuse for failing to love as Christ has loved us.  Jesus has given us a commission, a command, a ministry to love and let others see his love through us. 

He has given us his guiding Spirit to keep on calling us to be who we are – God’s chosen and saved people, people loved by God to such a degree that he sent Jesus into the world to love us to the point of death.  Jesus’ love freed us from our selfishness and self-centredness and gave us new lives – lives filled with the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

As we hear Jesus speak to us today we can’t help ask ourselves, “In what ways am I preventing others seeing the unconditional love of God through me?” 
“Is the grudge I am holding,
the way I ignore certain people,
the impatience or hostility I show a brother or sister in Christ,
preventing the love of Christ shining into the lives of others?”

Amongst Jesus’ last words to the church are these, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. 
Love is a gift given to you by the Jesus himself;
it is a gift to be given away by you to your fellow believers;
it is a gift given to bless the world around you.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
24th April 2016
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
All material written by Vince Gerhardy is copyright, but permission is freely given for limited use. Written permission is required for commercial reproduction either printed or on the internet.