Sermon for Sixth Sunday of Easter
|Text: John 15:12
“My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you”.
What do you do when the final scene of a
movie fades on the screen and the credits begin to role?
Do you sit there and watch the long list of names and the roles they played in the production of the movie?
Do you get up and walk out if you are at the movie theatre or turn off the TV if you’re at home?
Or maybe it’s the music that is playing while the credits role that keeps you there and so you watch the names as they scroll across the screen?
For me sometimes it’s how the movie leaves me in its final scenes. If it’s been a moving climax, one that has been thought provoking, even shocking especially if it’s a true story then it just doesn’t seem right to get up straight away and walk away as if what you have just seen is of no consequence and so I sit there as the credits roll through, maybe taking them in and maybe not.
I wonder what people in the movie industry think when people get up immediately after a movie has finished and don’t bother to find out who are all the people involved in creating the film for our entertainment. I don’t know anyone in the movie industry so I can’t answer that one but the times that I have sat through the credits I have found out some amazing things about the people who did the stunts for the main characters, those who trained and cared for the animals and the location where the movie was shot and so on.
Recently I watched the movie War Horse and the credits revealed the amount of fine detail that went into the battle scenes and costumes, the people who did the research, stunts, and trained the horses to deal with battle scenes which in real life would have traumatised and terrified the horses. For instance, a terrified and panicky horse is a dangerous animal to be near but to get a horse to look terrified and panicky without being a danger to anyone requires special skill. It’s no wonder that the horse master had a huge team of people working with him. That’s not to mention the hundreds involved in the technical side of making the film. Watching the credits as long as they were gave me a fresh appreciation of not just the actors but the people who don’t appear on the screen.
A cast of people working to create a story, your story, my story – that’s a great theme for today’s sermon on this Mothers’ Day. When we think about it there is a whole cast of people, some who are with us on centre stage, some working behind the scenes creating our story.
No matter who we are and where we’ve come from, we all have a mother. We may have been orphaned, or our mother may have died, maybe you were adopted, but we all have a mother who gave birth to us. That is something in itself that we need to appreciate. Whatever our relationship with our mothers and fathers might have been since our birth we need to recognise that they are the beginning of our story. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be here today enjoying our life with our own children and grandchildren and extended family members and friends.
No parent is perfect but hopefully their role in our lives has been a positive one and provided us with the foundation of love and nurture on which to build the rest of our lives. Those of us who are older can reflect on scenes from life with our parents and recall with thanks to God the guidance, the joy and the faith we received from our parents. Those of you who are younger and are still creating those scenes can express your appreciation that, even though you may not always agree with your parents, their love for you is unquestionable as they always look out for your best interests.
And there are other people involved in the production of your life story. Maybe a grandmother or grandfather, teacher, pastor, coach, friend, spouse who had a significant part to play in guiding you, influencing the development of your character and personality, modelling love and patience, perhaps directing you down a career path.
In the credits of a movie it’s the assistant director or the co-producers who get the top billing at the head of credits. I’d like to think that the Holy Spirit gets that sort of credit in my life and maybe that’s the case for you too. He is the one who works behind the scenes directing the large cast as each scene of our life unfolds.
When it comes to being a mother or a
father, or even a son or a daughter, or any relationship, the Bible lifts the
bar pretty high when it comes to carrying out our role as a parent or a child or
a friend. In Ephesians we read,
“Imitate God. … Live a life filled with
love, following the example of Christ” (5:1-2).
And today Jesus says, “My
commandment is this: love one another, just as I have loved you”.
Whether we think of our role in our family, the church family or the
human family that is a pretty tall order – to love as Christ has loved us.
We know what it cost Jesus because of his love for us.
His love is sacrificial and self-giving and unconditional.
Because of love he had no thought for his own safety.
He was prepared to risk pain and suffering, even death because of his love for us. His love is genuine, honest, caring and compassionate. His love is not turned off and on by fleeting passions or emotional highs.
His love knows no limits.
We talk a lot about the love of Jesus and how we should imitate this kind of love in our relationships with one another and we agree that this is how it should be in our homes, in the church and in the world at large. But there is a part of us that says, “Sure, loving others is great and I agree with all this – up to a point....”
It’s like we acknowledge what the Bible
says but at the same time draw a line and say, “That’s how far I can go”.
“That’s how many times I can help someone”.
We draw a line and say, “I can love those people but not those”.
We are happy to love in this selective kind
of way. We are comfortable with the
kind of love that doesn’t make us feel uncomfortable.
We do it instinctively. It’s
the way our sinful nature has taken over the way God created us to be.
We do it often without even realising that we are doing it.
We might be happy with this kind of love but it is not what Jesus is talking about here when he says, “My commandment is this: love one another, just as I have loved you”.
The Bible states that our ability to love comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ. “We love because he first loved us”, says the Apostle John. We are able to love because he loves us. Understanding this is critical to our ability to live out the Christian life of love. The more the love of Jesus fills our lives, the more we will be able to love others with the same kind of love that he shows to us.
Let’s look at it this way. Let’s say you want to get fit so you take up jogging. You buy a pair of top quality running shoes and shorts and T-shirt and sprint down the street. Not far down the road your muscles begin to cramp, you get the stitch in your side; you can hardly get your breath. You slowly walk home gasping, “That’s it. I’ll never do that again”.
That’s called anaerobic running – running without oxygen.
It’s caused by the body using up more oxygen than it takes in.
Many people try to love that way.
They love with great fervour and self-sacrifice.
As a result of what you hear today you might resolve to love your family
more, but it only lasts a while, maybe an hour or a day.
You can’t keep it up. Like
the jogger we find ourselves down the road in pain, gasping and cramped, saying,
“That’s too hard. I can’t do it.”
Love, like running, must be aerobic. Our output must be matched by our intake. Running requires oxygen. An enduring love requires God’s word, his presence, his Holy Spirit, his love and forgiveness. As we love aerobically, we will love not in our own strength and ability but the strength and ability that we receive from Jesus. We will love because he has first loved us.
To love as Jesus commands us in our text today means that we need to immerse ourselves in his Word and Sacraments and to let the love of Christ enter our lives and empower us to love, serve and work together. We will come to realise more and more our place in God’s family and get rid of everything that is opposed to love – things like impatience, selfishness, greed, an uncaring attitude, an unforgiving spirit and be led by the Spirit and be more Christlike in everything we say and do.
This is so much like what I said last week about the branch getting its
nutrients and life from the vine when Jesus said,
“I am the vine and you are the branches”.
If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, or compassion, or peace, or patience, or forgiveness, then, with the help of God, that needs to be pruned away!
If you have hatred, revenge or envy in your heart, for God's sake, and for the other person's sake, and for your sake, get rid of it!
Let the gardener, God prune away everything from your life that doesn't look like tender heartedness.
To be imitators of God and to live a life of love is a tough call, an impossible task for people so caught up in sin. We rely on Jesus and his cross to make us whole and clean and perfect in the sight of God. We need Jesus to forgive our mistakes and renew us and with the help of the Holy Spirit to try again to love one another as he has loved us in our homes, in our churches and in the world.
In one way or another we are all part of the cast of a production – that production is the lives of the people around us. As parents we have leading roles in the lives of our children; as grandparents in the lives of our grandchildren; as members of this church in the lives of our fellow Christians or think of any relationship that you have with other people.
And let’s not forget the people who been a part of the cast of our production – some who have had leading roles and others who have worked behind the scenes showing their love and giving their encouragement as our lives have unfolded. There are most likely more people involved in our production than we realise. We thank God who created us and the Son who suffered and died for us and the Holy Spirit who has gathered together the whole production team who have made us who we are today.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
13th May 2012