The Gift of Love

Published: Monday, 07 May 2018

The Gift of Love

This sermon was presented by Geoff Pound at ABC on 6 May 2018 before the monthly communion meal. ‘The Gift of Love’ is the first of a new series on readings in the month of May that follow the lectionary. The sermon manuscript ends with ‘Questions for Personal Reflection and Group Study’.

Scripture Reading: John 15: 9 - 17 (NRSV)

One of the popular pilgrim trails culminates in Spain, at the city of Santiago de Compostela. St James is the great attraction, for he’s reputed to be buried in the cathedral. Pilgrims travel hundreds and even thousands of miles from countries like France, Switzerland and The Netherlands. It was a tradition in medieval times, that as they approached the city, pilgrims would focus their eyes on the horizon. They would strain to see the towers of the cathedral, which was the object of their long journey. The one who first spotted the cathedral would cry, ‘My joy! My joy!’ If they were correct they would promptly be named the ‘king’ of their pilgrim band. In fact, many people who are called “King,” “Leroy,” or “Rex” owe their names to the sharp eyes of some pilgrim ancestor.[1]

For three years Jesus and his disciples had walked together on their pilgrim road. In today’s passage they’re within a day of their destination. Jesus longs that his disciples will have a clear view of their calling. He hopes they’re casting their eyes toward the distant horizon. Who will be the first to see it? Who will be the one to cry, ‘My joy! My joy!’

 

Look at what he wants them to see when Jesus says in verse 9:

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 

John 15: 9

Jesus wants these pilgrims to look and see that it’s all about love. But he wants them to see the extent of this God-love. For instance, we can think of our love for our family. I love my Mum so I’ll get her a Mother’s Day present. I love my country. I love Australians because they are just like me. But this creator God has a love that goes out to all people who are not my family, who are not my culture and who are not like me. Have you got anybody in your circle that you just don’t like? That you find so hard to love? So, we’re getting to see the measure of this all-encompassing love that God has showered upon Jesus and this love in which we are called to abide.

Peter Arnett used to be a journalist with CNN. He told of how one day he was in the West Bank. A bomb goes off. Bodies are blown through the air. The Israeli troops seal off the whole area. A man comes running up to him with a bloodied little girl in his arms, and says, “You are the press, you can get us out of here. If I don't get her into a hospital immediately then she's going to die.”

Peter said, "I put them in the back seat. I threw a blanket over them. And I did get through the lines. As I hurtled towards Tel Aviv, I could hear him in the back seat, rocking this little girl in his arms whispering, ‘Go faster, oh God help him to go faster’.”

Then the man starts moaning, “I'm losing her! I'm losing her! Oh God I'm losing her!" Peter said by the time they got to the hospital he was an emotional wreck. They took the little girl into the operating theatre, and the two of them sat down on a bench, absolutely exhausted.

Peter said, “We must have sat there a half hour, silent, drained from all the emotion.” Then the doctor came out and said, "I'm sorry. She's dead." This man dissolved in tears.

Peter put his arm around him and said, “I'm not married. I don't have any children. I don't know what it's like to lose a daughter.”

The man snapped his head back and said, "My daughter? That little girl is not my child. I'm an Israeli settler. She's a Muslim girl. But maybe the time has come for us to recognize every child as our child."

What a faith that can help us find common ground? What a beautiful place where we come together, as we reach out to one another in love, leaving judgment in the hands of God. So often it’s in the hour of suffering that we experience such commonality. Such oneness. When we see such love and experience, such love we want to cry out, “My joy! My joy!”

To help his disciples to see their call with even greater clarity and certainty, Jesus says in v12:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15: 12

When it comes to religion and theology there’s often a tendency to complicate rather than simplify. The Jewish legal code (the Talmud) has 240 subject headings. The Pharisees developed a system of 613 laws—365 were ‘Thou shalt nots’ and 248 began with ‘Thou shalt’.[2] All these were an expansion of the ten commandments.

In contrast, see how Jesus keeps it so simple. He was once asked, ‘Which is the greatest commandment?’ and Jesus said:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22: 37-40

 

It’s so simple! Now Jesus boils it down even further. In order that there’s no mistake or misunderstanding, he puts their calling into this one statement:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15: 12

‘This is my commandment …’

Is this right? This feels like love is about fulfilling a law.

Don’t you find yourself craving for grace?

Is it really love if we’re just obeying a command?

This feels like having to do your duty.

But look for the clue in the last phrase:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15: 12

This isn’t being dictated by duty but loving as Christ has loved us. Christ’s love for us prompts us to love. Christ’s love for us enables us to love.

Remember, he’s just been likening our relationship to Jesus and God to a vine and the branches and then he says:

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

John 15: 9-11

Jesus says he gets his love from his God who loves him, so in the same way, you disciples abide in my love. You’ll keep my commandments. Your joy will be complete. You’ll be fruitful. We’re all intertwined. Just abide in me. Live in my love. Keep yourself in the place where you’re connected to my love. This is the everyday challenge—to put ourselves more closely in the direction of Christ’s love.

Some parents had a son, who was in his thirties. The son was confined to a nursing-home because of a brain injury. The father said, “It’s a hard thing to admit, but we’d stopped loving him.” He said, “It’s hard to love someone who never responds. We visited him often, but our feeling for him as a son had begun to die.”

“Until one day we happened to visit our son and discovered a visitor, in his room. He turned out to be a pastoral visitor of a nearby church whose practice it was to visit all the patients in the nursing home.”

“When we arrived, we found him talking to our son— as if our son could understand. Then he read Scripture to our son— as if our son could hear it. Finally, he had prayer with our son— as if our son could know that he was praying.”

Our first impulse was to say, ‘You fool, don’t you know about our son?’ But then it dawned on us that, of course, he knew. He knew all along. He loved our son. He cared for our son as if our son were whole, because he saw him through the eyes of faith. He saw him already healed.”

“That pastoral visitor renewed in us the capacity to love our son. To believe that even those afflicted with disease and disability in mind are never outside the realm of God’s love.”[3]

You can almost hear this father crying out: ‘My joy! My joy!’

Jesus goes on to say:

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15: 13

Greater love. So, he wants his disciples to see the degrees and the different levels of love. Around that supper table he draws them closer and he calls them ‘friends’. No longer are they ‘servants’. On that next day, that Good Friday, he’s going to lay down his life for his friends and thus show such great love.

An Archbishop was once preaching to a congregation in Paris. He told a story about three young men who wandered into the cathedral one day. They were up to mischief. As they looked over to the boxes where people make their confession, one of the boys said to another, “I bet you wouldn’t go into that confessional box and make up a fake confession.”

The young man accepted the challenge. When he entered the confessional, he made up a colourful story. He confessed one horrendous sin after the other.

The priest who was listening realised what was happening. So, when the young man had finished, the priest said: “To every confession there is a penance. You see that great crucifix of Christ up the front of the cathedral? Go up to it and then kneel down and repeat three times as you look up into the face of the crucified Christ: “All this you did for me and I don't give a damn!”

The young man walked slowly up the aisle to the altar. He knelt down before the great crucifix. He looked up into the face of Christ and into his searching eyes. Then he began: ‘All this you did for me and…’ He couldn't go on. Tears flooded his eyes. His heart was stabbed with the thought of all that Christ had done for him. There his old life ended and his new life began.

Finishing his story, the Archbishop said: “I was that young man.”

To be able to see the love of Christ as if for the very first time, you want to cry out with him, ‘My joy! My joy!’

So, we move now to the table with broken bread and poured out wine, to see again the greatness and the gift of Christ’s love for us.

Questions for Personal Reflection and Group Study

 

Scripture Reading: John 15:9-17 (NRSV)

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants  any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

 

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 

John 15: 9

1.Jesus is wanting his disciples to see the quality of the great love, shown by God, to which they are also called to love. How do you best understand the different levels or degrees of love?

2.‘Have you got anybody in your circle that you just don’t like? Someone that you are allergic to? Someone that actively opposes you?’ If loving such a person stretches the level of your love, how do you practically go about doing this?

3.Can you show God-love to a person without liking them?

4.How does the preceding image of the vine and the branches show us and give us the capacity to love?

5.The story in the sermon about Peter Arnett working as a journo on the West Bank concludes with the line: “But maybe the time has come for us to recognize every child as our child.” How do we help one another to get to this place? What divides would such a perspective bridge?

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15: 12

6.“When it comes to religion and theology there’s often a tendency to complicate rather than simplify.”

Why do we do this?

Jesus boils it all down to this statement. Is this enough? Is this all it is about?

7.Does this commandment have a touch of fulfilling a law and doing a duty?

Where is the element of grace for you?

8.The sermon contained a story about parents who had lost much of their love for their unresponsive son and how their love for him was revived. Do you have someone for whom you have lost the capacity to love? How might our love be reignited?

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15: 13

9.Jesus is soon to do what he says on Good Friday. Is his example enough for us to follow and exercise such love?

10.Any further insights that speak powerfully to you from this reading?

Prayer

Pray for one another, especially in showing love to those we find difficult to love and in situations where the extent of our love is being stretched.

 

[1] Thomas G. Long, The Witness of Preaching, Third Edition, Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition, 271-272.

[2] The full list can be found in 613 Commandments, Wikipedia.

[3] Long, The Witness of Preaching, 186-187.