SERMON FOR EVENSONG 12 NOVEMBER 2017

Given by Jeff at Gordon Chapel (John 15. 9-17 and Romans 8.31-39)

The limits of our language may mean the limits of our world!  So, words are important, especially in the church where we deal not only with daily life, but with eternal life.

Dying words are special.  If you could say just a few last words what would they be?   Perhaps they would include “I love you,” or “take care of mum” or  “don’t make the same mistakes as me – try to live a full life” – and we Christians may add ‘follow Jesus’.

 John’s gospel gives us Jesus’ last words to his disciples as he prepares them for a major transition.  Jesus will die and something new will follow –  the ministry of the disciples and the church – a ministry and a church of which we are a part!

 So, what is it that matters above all else for humanity?  What’s the most compelling, powerful, enduring force in all creation. What, as we prepare both for living and dying, takes priority and consumes us? It’s love.

 Our reading tells us that Jesus was specifically commending to his followers, the unconditional and self-sacrificing love that he himself exemplifies.  He says, “As the Father has loved me, so I love you, and so you should love one another.”

 Last words are precious, they matter.  Of all that Jesus might have said, he chose love and relationship, even as he chooses us in love and sends us into the world to be love.

 God knows us, he knew us even before we were born – and no matter how far we may stray from him,  if we listen for that still small voice, it’s our own name,  we will hear. “Listen to me, my child – my Mary, my John…..” – put your own name in there. He’s saying “Your mine, and I love you”  – now I want you to go out and  share that love.”

 We didn’t pick Christ – he sought us out!  Christ says that he has chosen us, and asks that we be on his side. All we are, and all we do, as people of faith, as children of God, is in response to our Creator’s love for us.  We are called, chosen, and cherished by the One who created us – He has put all the people of the world into his team, but amazingly, has given them free will – the option to walk away from Him.

 In our reading Jesus speaks at some length.   Jesus, who’s just washed the disciples feet, shared the Passover Supper, and knowing he will soon leave them says – “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” 

 But as wonderful as that is,  perhaps we might wish that  Jesus had added something else, like: “As the Father has loved me…well, I’ll spare you all of that;  I’ll protect you and let you live an easy life.  But no, it seems that if we abide in his love, we may have a rough and troubled life as we work in his name.

But Jesus doesn’t just offer love – he gives us another gift – the gift of friendship.   Jesus’ said, I have called you friends.  He doesn’t say, I have checked you out, tested you.  He says “You have proven yourselves worthy to be my friends.”  What more generous, startling, wonderful offer could there be than to have the love and friendship of our Lord?

Only two people in the OT are called friends of God: Abraham and Moses – what an amazing claim – to say that you are a friend of God – but even they didn’t have an easy time.  So, that friendship can be hard. 

Aristotle said, “The opposite of a friend is a flatterer.” We know in our hearts that Jesus would not flatter us, inflate our egos or deceive us.  But he does offer friendship.  No, that’s not right!!  He very simply declares you are his friend, like it or not, and irrespective of whether you’ve been a good friend in return or not. 

So how does one measure such love, such friendship? I think that today, of all days – Remembrance Sunday – gives us an answer.   For Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this – to lay down his life for his friends.”  

The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  described the church as “Christ taking form in a body of believers.” We are the Body of Christ, we are the friends of God, and we are called to take that friendship out into the world.  It can take courage,  foresight and inspiration.

Dr. Peter Storey, a spiritual leader in South Africa, worked with Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in dismantling apartheid.  He says that when we invite Christ into our lives, Jesus insists that we let him bring his friends with him.  Jesus made it unmistakable that we cannot truly love him, and not also love those he loves, and those for whom he died. We must love even those we do not like, for Christ’s sake, and  that’s difficult isn’t it – so what exactly did Jesus mean by love?

In English there’s just one word for love – but John writes in Greek and has several words he can us:  There’s eros (that’s sexual love, but John never mentions that).  There’s also Phileos (that’s natural affection), and Philadelphia (that’s brotherly love). There’s another word – ‘Agape’ .It’s by far the most frequent word used, generally assumed to mean moral goodwill that proceeds from esteem, principle, or duty. It isn’t to do with feelings. Agape’s very similar in meaning to the Hebrew word ‘hesed’ – translated in most of the psalms as ‘steadfast love’. It often means to love the undeserving, despite disappointment and rejection.

You know the feeling – you may say ‘how can I love him – I don’t even like him!’  This often arises because we tend to muddle up Agape with the bad use of the English word ‘love’:   I would like to change love to ‘care for’ – that is, I might not love you – but I will care for you!   Language can seem strange at times.

The Eskimos have 30 words for snow, probably because it’s a life and death matter to them to have exact information about what they live with.  Is love any less important?

Jesus not only speaks of love and friendship – he goes further.  He says that God will give us whatever we ask for in his name – not anything we want, not anything that we might try to do, but what God wants and wills to do through us – and love is at the core of that, isn’t it.  

 What we are called to do in love and friendship may be hard, often beyond our ken, and something we may feel that we cannot do on our own.  But we go because we know that the one who loves us has been there before us,  experienced it for himself and understands what we are going through.

We talk a lot about love don’t we – it’s in books, tv, films and of course we sing about it.   I bet you can think of many songs about love.  You’ll remember the Beatles singing ‘All you need is love’. Perhaps they read what Jesus saidJ  That’s what life is all about – It’s about giving and receiving love,  and caring, really caring.

From the moment we are born until we die;  God is giving us the time to learn how to love as He loves. 

Love can grow in different ways – it isn’t the same for us at 5, 25, or 75 – because God’s love in us is forever expanding and changing our lives.   The love I have for my children is different from that which I have for my wife – and the love I have for Lynne has grown over the years into something the same and yet different.  

What is love?  Well, listen to a summary of what the Apostle Paul wrote  – and ask yourself  – am I any or all of what he describes!  He says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have the faith to move mountains but am not a loving person, I am nothing”.   He goes on:-   “A loving person is patient and kind; not jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude. A loving person does not insist on one’s own way. A loving person does not rejoice in those things that are wrong, but a loving person rejoices in those things that are right. A loving person bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. … So, faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest gift that God has given to us is love”.

Therefore, my Evensong friends – make love your goal, your reason, and your purpose for living.”  And remember – do allow yourself to be loved.

Perhaps I’d better not ask  Lynne if I am any of those things that Paul describesJ

When God commands us to love as He loves, He is simply asking us to be the kind of people that we were created to be in the first place.  And that’s what it’s all about. 
All you need – is love!

Amen.    

PRAYERS ON LIGHTING THE CANDLES AFTER THE SERMON

Jesus said:  I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me, may not remain in darkness.

 We light the 1st Candle.   Lighting a candle is like a prayer.  When we have gone it will in some form stay alight, kindling in the hearts and minds of others, the prayers that we offer for them.

 We light the 2nd Candle.     Lighting a candle is like a parable.  Burning itself out, it gives light to others, it can only give light by giving of itself.  Christ gave himself for others and calls us to do likewise.

We light the 3rd Candle.     Lighting a candle is a symbol.  It is a symbol of love, hope, light and warmth – our world needs them all.  Christ shows us how to live, so that we shine as lights in the world.

We light the 4th Candle.     A single candle is sufficient unto itself but each one we light adds light to the other –  just as we are called to be light and warmth to and for each other, and our community.

We light the 5th Candle.     Today, this candle represents Remembrance and all that it means to us.   Christ has made us his friends and calls on us to love – giving our lives for our friends – we remember and give thanks for those who have answered and continue to answer that call.

 Amen.