Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff
Sunday 24th April
EASTER IS THE TIME when we both remember and celebrate the new life which has come to us through our Risen Lord - but what do we mean by this “new life”? Scripture speaks of ‘new life’ as “conversion”, a turning round,
It means a radical change of vision, of our priorities in life.
It means new attitudes, new values, new standards of relating with God and with people and indeed with our whole living environment of which we are an interdependent part.
But a new life in Christ will not be a once-for-all experience but something that comes at different stages in our life, each time bringing us to a deeper level of understanding, insight and commitment.
In today’s chapter from John’s gospel we again come across the word ‘new’ – a new commandment. These are Jesus parting words to his disciples before he goes to his passion and death. What is his message? Is it to be faithful in keeping the Ten Commandments and leading a moral life? Does he warn us to be sure to be in church every Sunday? Does he tell us to use all our energies in loving God? Surprisingly, perhaps, no! It is that we love one another – but not simply that, but ‘as I have loved you, you should love one another.’
So, just as God loves me, I have to love others.
To incorporate that level of love in my life will surely call for a new way of thinking, of seeing, of behaving and of interacting with other people. And it will be the test, the only valid test, of whether I truly love God as well.
Is this really the way, the frame of mind in which I live from day to day? And is this the way we – who dare to call ourselves Christians – live our daily lives?
Paul in his letter to the Colossians explains it this way ‘your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life ...... is with Christ in God. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a set of ill-fitting clothes ....... now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete ..... lies, bad-temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk .... words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
A disciple of Christ is not first and foremost defined by how they behave as an individual, by their personal moral lives, but by how they inter-act with other people, by the way he or she loves other people.
Love – not the emotion, not love in the mutual or romantic sense, but the reality - Agape love the love that has redeemed the world. The love that was revealed on the cross.
And, contrary to what the L’Oreal tag line would have us believe, the only thing that actually makes us worth anything is that love. We are loved by God. Through His love, because of His love, we become worthy to be called his sons and daughters.
Jesus commandment – not request – commandment is that we love one another in the same way.
It is worth remembering that God gave Moses the commandment ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’. We need, therefore, to be very sure that it is the self that is precious and worthy in God’s sight that exhibits that love to our neighbours.
If our love for ourselves depends upon our living up to the world’s standards, that is having everything under control, looking good, and achieving perfection, then surely if we are to love others, if they are to be worthy of our love, we are simply going to expect the same standards of them.
We are worthy because we are loved by God, not loved by Him because we are worthy and we need to live out of that certainty and to love others in the same way.
OK – if at this point you are thinking ‘yes, great, that’s wonderful, can’t argue with it’ but to say it sounds unattainable is a bit of an understatement - take heart!
Jesus is well aware of his disciples’ shortcomings - both then and now. He’s under no illusions about them, He had just washed their feet to demonstrate how wrong they were in arguing about who will be the greatest in His kingdom. They have been with Him, alongside Him, listening and witnessing everything He has taught but they really haven’t grasped what Jesus has been attempting to teach them.
Our reading from Acts demonstrates that although Peter has been able to heal the sick and even raise Tabitha from the dead, there are times when he still struggled to realise the enormity of God’s grace, forgiveness and love.
The prophet Isaiah, whose writings were so familiar to Peter, speaks repeatedly of the Israelites being a light to the gentiles, that God’s salvation may reach the ends of the earth but Peter still needed a vision to convince him that he should visit the home of a gentile and share the good news.
We are all full of shortcomings, we fall way short of being able to exhibit perfect love, we are not worthy of praise as L’Oreal would have us believe – but we are not worthless because God loves us, we are in fact precious and the more we realise that, the deeper that knowledge becomes, the more fully alive we become, the less preoccupied we will be with ourselves because we will be secure in that knowledge and in our relationship with the Lord and therefore able to turn our gaze away from the ‘me’ and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal how God sees other people.
To have a sense of his compassion, of his anguish at the brokenness that comes from and results in violence and cruelty. Of his sadness at the inability to believe and to trust to understand that the power of the Caesars of this world is futile. It is only love – agape love – that will .... and has ..... redeemed the world.
Like Thomas, who needed proof, we can often allow our circumstances to make us feel that it isn’t true. that we are loved by God. How often do we hear ‘if God loves me why did he let this happen?’
It will probably only be when we are living in Gods’ Kingdom, the new heaven and the new earth – there’s that ‘new’ again - described in Revelation, ‘where He will dwell with us, where we will be his people and God himself will be with us’, that we will fully be able to grasp the extent of His love, see clearly rather than through a glass darkly and be able to simply reflect that love to one another in relationships made in the image of the Trinity.
Meanwhile, may we continue to live in His presence, open to His Spirit and full of praise and thanksgiving, so that if we are confronted, as Peter was, with a situation that goes completely against the grain, we will witness to God’s love and be able to say, as Peter did ‘who was I that I could hinder God?’