Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff
Sunday 10th May
In last week’s readings, John’s letter ended with these words about Jesus ‘the commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also’.
This week the emphasis in both epistle and gospel leave us in no doubt that if we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, we are to keep Jesus’ commandment which is to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
Just as Jesus’ obedience to his Father’s command is his witness to the world about his love for his Father, so our obedience to Jesus’ command is our witness to the world about our love for Jesus.
Again, in this week’s readings we are given the commandment, told how to obey it and given an example of what it looks like in action.
‘His commandments are not burdensome’. That goes against the grain a bit doesn’t it? We live in a world where anybody telling anyone else what to do is felt as an imposition, a belittling or patronizing, an attempt to keep people down. We associate a command with forcing people to do something against their will.
But this is a commandment from Jesus who doesn’t force anybody, ever, to do anything against their will and it isn’t about obeying, as the world understands it, but about a desire to be obedient to the wishes of a loved one. Wanting to do what is asked. Such obedience isn’t a burden but a free and joyful response of love.
This commandment of Jesus’ lets us know what he wants us to do and ...... if he abides in us and we in him our response will be to want to do it ...... and then do it. As The Message puts it ‘The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome’.
It is also worth noting that the command to love one another is present tense – it is a command to ‘keep on loving one another’ or ‘continue to love one another.’ It’s a command about a continuous way of life rather than occasional events. To show by our lives what God is like.
Throughout his life Jesus kept the commandment to love God, be loved by God and to show God’s love and that is the commandment he now passes on to his disciples.
But we are not simply issued with instructions that we must follow without being able to understand them. Jesus said ‘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.’
Jesus has shown us the way and the Holy Spirit remains with us to lead and guide us ...... if we remain rooted in the vine ...... in Jesus, described in John’s gospel reading last week ...... and we are willing to allow God to prune any shoots that are preventing the branch bearing healthy fruit.
The fruit we bear has huge consequences. Bringing others to share in the life and love of God is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit but the part we play is crucial in terms of helping or hindering that work.
If we are firmly rooted in Jesus, the new vine, and alive and willing with open hearts and minds to his spirit at work, then our God who is, remember, love incarnate will be evident.
If, however, we continue to impose our own ideas – impose, if you like, a God we have made in our own image – then we may very well be getting in the way of the Holy Spirit ...... who may be trying to lead a person one way and we are all the while insisting upon something else.
It is very difficult to live with uncertainty – the desire for certainty goes very deep – but life with God isn’t about certainty or predictability, God isn’t constrained by anything ...... we have all heard the saying ‘let go and let God’ – and as I said in my Parish report, He works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. Mysterious to us that is ...... and often totally unexpected.
Take Peter and Cornelius. God ran a coach and horses through things that Peter had always, all his life, considered sacrosanct. It would have been unthinkable to Peter to eat anything that wasn’t strictly in accordance with Jewish dietary laws and to socialize with a gentile, let alone go into their home would have been very irregular and open to criticism.
Admittedly it did take a couple of visions to influence him, but even then, Peter could have convinced himself that it was all too outrageous and God couldn’t possibly intend him to go to the home of a gentile.
And, then when he arrived at the home of Cornelius and began to teach and explain the gospel, the Holy Spirit stole the show by pouring out power so abundantly that these gentiles began praising God before Peter had really got started. He could have said ‘hang on a minute, that’s not the way it’s done, you’ve got to learn to do it properly’.
But because Peter was so intimately connected to the true vine, abiding in the love of God, his reaction was to say ‘hey, where’s the water so that these people may also be baptised?’ God has no favourites, it makes no difference who you are or where you are from – if you want God and are ready to do as he says – the door is open.
Peter and the other believers could have got in the way .... could have stubbornly stuck with their deep seated understanding of how God works and who for ...... of what they had been taught all their lives. But their relationship with Jesus was too strong, their openness to the Holy Spirit too sensitive. What happened at Cornelius’ house was totally unexpected: ...... but sometimes that is what God does
And it’s worth remembering that even Peter ..... and Barnabas for that matter ...... later on came under the influence of those who were not prepared to allow God to have free rein, by insisting that gentile converts were subject to Jewish laws ....... Paul came and saved the day but who knows how many were prevented or delayed from beginning their walk with Jesus by those who couldn’t or wouldn’t let go and let God.
We always need to be ready and open for the God who can, and sometimes does, do radically unexpected things.
So we need to be confident in our God, that He is good – he is love incarnate – he has all things in his hands, we can trust him.
And we should never, ever forget how much we are loved by God, each and every one of us. I am always going on about being loved unconditionally ..... but I don’t think it can be said often enough.
Brennan Manning, the author of the Ragamuffin Gospel, was speaking at a seminar and he referred to John, the apostle, the author of both today’s epistle and gospel and identified in the Gospels as "the one Jesus loved."
Manning said, "If John were to be asked, ‘How would you describe yourself?' he wouldn’t reply, 'I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,' he would say, 'I am the one Jesus loves.'"
Sociologists, Manning says, have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (spouse, parent, boss, etc.) thinks you are.
How would our lives change if we truly believed the Bible's astounding words about God's love for us, if we looked in the mirror and saw what God sees? How differently would we view ourselves at the end of a day?
If we are to love our neighbour as ourselves ..... then surely this is a crucial question.
In his epistle John speaks of our faith conquering the world – in The Message it says ‘the world’s ways’ which, for me, makes it easier to understand.
The ways of the world are not good, the ways of the world sometimes seem overwhelming ...... the unkindness, the lack of compassion, the selfishness, greed, cruelty, brutality, hatred and violence .....
Jane Williams says The cross of Christ is not a past thing that has been superseded by the praise, joy and certainty of the Spirit.
The Spirit witnesses constantly to the truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus which, in its totality, is the way of God’s victory in the world.
The death and resurrection of Jesus is the pivotal moment in the history of the world ..... it is when God put the whole of creation back on track ..... the ways of the world are simply everything opposed to God fighting a losing and desperate battle.
Today’s readings tell us that the certainty we long for can be found through loving and praising God, loving one another and sharing our faith.
Again, in the words of Jane Williams, ‘each one of those activities makes the others more and more possible and natural ....... and brings us closer and closer to the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’