Sunday Sermon 15th May - Love
Reading John 13: 31-35
Welcome to our reflection for 15th May.
There is the feeling that Easter is done.
We have had the happy ending and we should all rejoice.
The only trouble with that is that in our own life we don’t feel like rejoicing.
We have wars and food banks and financial struggles.
We have churches threatened with closure.
We probably have personal struggles.
So how should we really feel?
We forget that the disciples also went through months of struggle and uncertainty after the resurrection. And it was reflecting back on the life of Jesus, and how he had interacted with them, that gradually gave them the faith to carry on.
One of those significant reflections would have been what happened the night before he died, and he gave them words to live by, words to help them see the way forward.
And we will look at that after Amanda leads us in our prayers and reading for today.
We forget that Jesus lived in a different world.
He lived in a world of honour and shame.
People gained honour by what they did, if they did things wrong and were caught doing such, then they were shamed and what they did, what they believed in didn’t matter in the eyes of the world.
Jesus was fighting against that. He was fighting against the idea that people didn’t matter.
Imagine your life was worthless.
You had leprosy, in their eyes given by God as punishment, therefore your life was a life of shame, it didn’t matter. People could stone you to death if you got too close to them, because your life didn’t matter.
Then someone cared enough to touch you, which meant someone cared, which meant you mattered to someone.
How would you respond?
You were a woman who had been treated badly by men. You had been married off to a man. But when you couldn’t bear children that brought shame to the family, to his family, so he divorced you.
That brought shame to your own family so they wouldn’t take you back.
And from then on you were passed from one man to the next to be used until they got bored with you and passed you on.
In the eyes of your family, in the eyes of the community your life was a life of shame. You couldn’t even get water at the same time as the other women as your very presence would bring them shame, would contaminate them with your shame. So you had to go alone, vulnerable, at the middle of the day to get water.
What would you do if at that time you met a man who claimed God still cared for you, that your life was meaningful?
Jesus had gone into the temple and claimed it was a den of thieves.
He had overturned the tables of the corrupt money changers who exchanged the corrupt legal coins of the empire into holy coins worthy for the temple.
Everyone knew the system was wrong.
But it was run by the temple officials who had great honour.
Jesus had called them out.
That brought him great honour in front of the people, but brought great shame to the Temple leaders, because they had seen this practice going on, and had done nothing about it; they may even have benefited from it.
The only way they could get their honour back was by showing that the source of their shame had less honour.
If Jesus was crucified on a cross, he was cursed by God, and if someone is cursed by God then they have no honour and what they say is meaningless. So the honour of the temple is safe again.
Jesus knew all this.
He knew the way the temple leaders would think.
Maybe he hoped that they would go against their nature, admit to the wrong they had done and seek to change.
But leaders are leaders and don’t like to be shown up.
Now a days we may not talk about honour, but we would talk about image and how others see us.
If someone in power now a days is threatened by actions they have done in the past, what do they do?
Do they admit they have done something wrong, apologize and take the consequences?
Or do they attack the messenger?
So because Jesus has brought great shame to the temple leaders he knows they will try to get their honour back by attacking him.
They won’t try to undermine his theology in word combat because they have tried that in the past and failed.
They will do something different, something deadly.
They will get rid of him once and for all.
In that light these are some of the last words that Jesus will be able to say to his disciples.
These are the words that Jesus hopes will become the lynchpin to the lives of the disciples that will be left.
He has just washed the disciple’s feet.
Something that is demeaning for a leader to do; because washing feet was a slave’s job.
And now he has said, ‘Love one another, as I have loved you. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.’
These two things, the action and the words are linked.
We are not to judge our life by shame or honour, by image or embarrassment.
We are to judge our life by love, and how that love is shown in action.
So talking to an unmarried woman at a well is not embarrassing, if it is an act of love.
So touching a leper isn’t an act of shame, if it is an act of love.
So washing feet isn’t demeaning, if it is an act of love.
I don’t think my dad ever changed one of his children’s nappies. He would never do that as it was something that women did. For him to change a nappy would be seen as demeaning. If he ever had to do it because mum wasn’t able to, he would never admit to it.
I know he changed his grandchildren’s nappies; because by that time it was something that a loving grandparent did. And he was proud to show how much he loved his grandchildren.
It is a whole different way of thinking.
One where our actions are NOT motivated by what others may think of us, one where our actions are motivated by love, and it doesn’t matter what others think, all that matters is that love is shown.
This is such an important message for our church at this time.
I have been receiving phone calls from so many old friends from the past in a state because their world is changing.
Ways of doing things are disintegrating.
New leaderships are doing things differently and it feels like a slap in the face to all the work they did in the past.
Work that they have done for decades is just flung to the side and they are told this is the way things have to be.
People feel vulnerable and feel they have lost control of the situation.
They feel their past is worthless and their input is meaningless and they are not sure what the way forward is.
In our own church we have seen well established organisations disappear and we are unsure what that means.
We have seen glimpses of possible changes in where we worship or how we worship or who leads worship and when they lead worship.
It is as if we are walking on shifting sand and we are unsure of our footing.
If we can’t trust the things of the past to be stable, what can we trust in, what can we have faith in?
I believe Jesus still seeks to give us the answer...’ Love one another, as I have loved you. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.’
In the present uncertainty I have seen lots of anger at meetings as people supposedly fight for control.
I am sure they would argue that it is to do with power and stability and making sure things are done right.
I would argue the reality is that we have faced uncertainty for over two years, we feel sadness at what has been lost, we are grieving for a past that seemed stable, we probably feel failure in our heart. But we struggle to express those feelings, so all those negative feelings leak out in anger.
The thing is our faith has never been about control, it has always been about relationship.
We need to see that what is important is not who is in control, but the relationship between those in control.
Do they love one another, are they listening to each other, are they caring for each other? Because if they are things will work out.
I have seen the potential negotiations between churches as they fight to see what the new church will look like.
And they are really fighting for really important things, like will their worship be at 10am or 10,30am?
Like will the minister work at their church on Tuesday morning or a Wednesday afternoon?
Which church will get the minister on times when you only get one bite of the cherry?
Like Christmas Eve services, or Remembrance Day services?
And all those negotiations are about power, and image, how do we show that we are not the weaker church; we are not just going to roll over and be vulnerable.
It is rare that the negotiations are about, how do we show love to one another, how do we show that your church community is just as valuable in our sight as our own church community?
If I had the skills of someone like the apostle Paul I finish with a reflection like this;
We may be able to keep our church building open though many negotiations, but if we don’t have love, then the worship there feels very hollow.
We may have organisations coming out of our ears, but if we have no love, the running of them and leadership just feels like a great duty that we carry.
We may be able to give to charities left, right and centre, but if we have no love, then it feels in our heart that scroungers are taking advantage of us and we have resentment in our hearts instead of gratitude.
Love is everywhere.
It is when we meet in our pews with friends from decades, or strangers that haven’t become friends yet..
It is when we bump into neighbours at the shops.
It is when we can join with other denominations and fellow churches and see common purpose and meaning.
It is when we can rejoice with those who are being supported and helped.
It is when we mourn with those who are struggling for a while.
It is the light we give to those who are in the darkness.
It is in the hand we give to those who have fallen. .
It is in the words we give to those who are discouraged, or the words we hear when we are unsure where to look for help.
It is in the laughter we share when we see hope and joy.
It is in the tears we share when we show we are alongside those that are hurting.
Love is of God, so love is life and meaning and everything.
A life without love is devoid of all those things.
No matter what else you feel, no matter what else you do, let your life be a life of love.
Let us pray
Your Son set up a new commandment.
And yet it is the example that you had shown from the beginning of time.
In love you set up a garden for Adam and Eve.
If love your freed the people from slavery in Egypt.
In love you sent the prophets to warn the people of paths of destruction they were on.
In love you were with the people in exile.
In love you sent your Son to be vulnerable, to show us the way of love and what it means in the way we live our life;
to show us forgiveness, to show us how we can move forward in faith, to show us how we can care for others.
May we follow the example you set.
May we rely on the strength that you give.
May we trust in the life that you offer.
This we ask in Jesus name.