Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Text: John 13:34-35

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.

To love as Christ has loved us

It was Anna Jarvis who first suggested that there be an annual day to honour all mothers. She loved her own mother dearly and at the funeral service for her mother on May 8 1908, she gave all those who attended a white carnation. Within a few years the idea of honouring mothers gained popularity until the President of the United States proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mothersí Day. He established the day as a time for "public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country

And so this practice has continued and we find ourselves on this second Sunday in May once again celebrating the love and care of our mothers Ė some of us can express our appreciation to our mothers personally face to face, or by telephone, or cards, for others whose mothers have departed from this life it is a day when we can remember with thanks and praise what our mothers have meant to us.

It would be wrong for me to speak as if all mothers and fathers were angels - perfect in every way. They are human like every one else. They make mistakes. All of us can recall moments when our mother or father
didnít understand us,
werenít sympathetic,
didnít soothe our pain and sadness with a hug,
were impatient with us,
were stressed and spoke to us sharply.
Hopefully we can be forgiving toward our parentsí imperfections and remember with thanks to God for the blessings we received from our homes. For those of us who are parents here today, this a good day to reflect on the way we are showing love and devotion to our children.

Our gospel text today could easily be about being a good mother or father, but actually it is aimed at the whole Christian family, at the whole Church. 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."

There are three main points to which I would like to draw your attention.
Firstly, notice that love is not an option for the followers of Jesus. Jesus says, "I give you a new commandment ...". Not a suggestion, not a recommendation. A commandment! This is not just a command to love like our mother or father but to love in the same way that Jesus loves us. Jesus said, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Notice the little word "must". Just as there was no getting around our motherís command, "You must wash your hands before eating", likewise there is no way around this command of Jesus, "You must love one another."

Why does Jesus command us to love? He gives this command because there is a part of every one of us that rebels against the idea of pure, unconditional love. Despite the example that we have in Jesusí undeserved and unconditional love for us - there is a part of us that says such love is out of place in the world in which we live. There is a part of us that says Ė"sure, loving others is great - up to a point...."

Isnít that what we do all the time.
We draw a line as to how much we are prepared to love the next person.
We draw a line as to how far we are prepared to do a kind deed for someone else.
We draw a line as to what people we are prepared to love.
We are happy to love in this selective kind of way. We are comfortable with the kind of love that doesnít make us feel uncomfortable. We might be happy with this kind of love but it is not what Jesus was talking about here when he said, "
As I have loved you, so you must love one another".

What Jesus says is quite plain. We should love others in the same way that Jesus loves us. His love is sacrificial and self-giving. We see that on the cross. He loved us so much that he willingly gave his life for us. He had no thought for his own safety, but readily put his own life at risk. He was prepared to risk pain and suffering, even death because of his love for us. He loved unconditionally. He didnít draw a line and say that beyond that line it was too much to ask. His love knew no limits. Thatís how he commanded us to love Ė willingly and sacrificially. In fact, thatís why Jesus commands us to love, because he knew that we are happy with a love that is anything but unconditional and sacrificial.

I wouldnít have to twist your arm too hard to get you to admit that this is a far cry from the kind of love that we actually show toward others. Do you know why it is that we find it so difficult to love as Jesus commanded? Iíll give you the answer (and this my second point) Ė 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.

Love does not happen in a vacuum. Love is something that is passed from one person to another. This is one reason Christian parents are so important.
A child who does not receive love, psychologists tell us, will not be able to give love.
On the other hand, a child who has received the proper amount of nurturing as an infant and as a toddler will have a sense of security and trust that will last them all their lives. You see how the love that children show is dependent of the love they receive from their parents. In order to show Christlike love, we need to receive that love from Christ.

Letís look at it this way. Letís say you want to get fit so you take up jogging. You buy a pair of top quality running shoes and a track suit 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, "Iíll never do that again".

Thatís called anaerobic (without oxygen) running. Itís caused by the body using up more oxygen than it takes in. Many people try to run that way, and 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, but it only lasts a while, maybe an hour or a day. You canít keep it up. Like the joggers we find ourselves down the road in pain, gasping and cramped, saying, "Iíll never do that again."

Love, like running, must be aerobic. Our output must be matched by our intake. Running requires oxygen. An enduring love requires Godís 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 Godís family and cast off everything that is opposed to love Ė 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.

There is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew tired of this big, unattractive stone in the centre of his lawn, so he decided to turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking.

A neighbour asked, "How did you ever carve such a marvellous likeness of an elephant?"

The man answered, "I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!"

If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion or mercy or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, for God's sake, and the for the other person's sake, and for your sake, get rid of it! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn't look like tender heartedness.

It is interesting to note that love is the Christianís primary witness to the world. Jesus said, "If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples." Our husbands, our wives, our children, our friends and our neighbours will know we are Christís followers of we have love for them and for everyone we meet.

Love has well defined characteristics. St Paul describes love like this,
Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud;
love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable;
love does not keep a record of wrongs;
love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth.
Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail (1 Cor 13:4-7).

As I said love has some very definite qualities and it is these qualities that people notice. Love changes your family, your world, your life. Love produces love.

How often do people say to you, "Iím impressed with the way you love other people"? You must be a Christian." Do people see the love of Jesus shining through you? Is it obvious that there is something different about youthat make people wonder, "What is it that makes that person so lovable and so easy to get on with"?

A factory worker once reported, "One of the guys I worked with was one of the kindest people I had ever met. In a place where people were usually concerned only for themselves, Mikeís gentle humour and willingness to help others was appreciated by all of us. One day, Mike and I struck up a conversation, and I discovered that he was active in his church. I was impressed that his love for others was so obvious that it was the first thing I had noticed about him."

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

It doesnít take too much imagination to realise that this command of Jesus is one that we take too lightly. To love as Jesus loves us seems way out of our reach. To let love rule everything we say and do, seems almost impossible. We fail again and again. Thatís not to say that because we are such poor lovers that we should give up. But it does mean that we need the love of Christ more than ever before. We need his unconditional, never-failing love to forgive us for our lack of love. Thank God that Jesus doesnít love us like we love others. Jesusí love for us creates the potential for us to love unconditionally and sacrificially.

My hope for you and for me today is that we may love as Christ has loved us.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
13th May, 2001

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