Acts 11:1-18, John 13:31-35
In the name of the Living God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer Amen
When I was young there were lots of cartoons, featuring a girl and a boy called “love is”. They showed pictures that matched their slogans like
Love is not asking how much her new dress cost
Love is having his picture on your desk and having his love in your heart
Love is letting her take over the bathroom
Social attitudes have changed a bit since the seventies and eighties! What characterises love for us? And if we had to sum it up – how would we? Saying what love actually is – is quite difficult because its lots of things. It makes the world go around. Love is our reason for being! Maybe even love is giving someone your last rolo!! – Not that I am influenced by advertising at all.
In a way Jesus is setting the bar very high this morning in our gospel reading in understanding what love is. We heard he asked us to love each other as he has loved us. We know that Jesus love for us is very deep and remarkable, but it was also very costly. That means our love of other people needs to be deep and can on occasions be very costly too. Ultimately Jesus was willing to die for us as we remembered on Good Friday and we cannot go any further than that! But we can love if we stand in God’s love for us.
We have a number of amazing examples of people who have followed Jesus and paid this price too, Technically, we call these people – martyrs, but I think it might be better to call them heroes, as these are people we really need to look up too! One of these was a chap called Maximillian Kolbe. He was a Polish friar and was sent to Auschwitz in the second world war for helping Jewish refugees. He helped around 2000 of them before he was imprisoned. When in prison in July 1941 one of the prisoners in Kolbe’s block escaped, and as a result, it was the policy if the prisoner was not recaptured to kill ten of the prisoners. Ten men were chosen, among them a young Polish sergeant began to beg for the sake of his wife and children. Maximilian stepped forward. He offered to go in the place of the young Polish soldier and he did.
Also, in the second world war we might remember the story of Corrie Ten Boom, who was also imprisoned and devoted long hours to caring for sick and dying fellow inmates. In her autobiography – which is a difficult but worthwhile read – Corrie says it was only her confidence in God’s love that kept her going.
Most of us are not called out to live out Jesus words to love one another to this extreme, but our lives provide many opportunities to love as Jesus did. I want us to think for a moment about some of the people that love us now. People alive today or people that have passed into the heart of our loving God. Loving people who love us is super and the people we travel with are a very great gift for us! And we know that all the more when they are with us no longer
However in what Jesus says is also clear that loving only those who love us is not an option to Christians. In our reading from Acts – Peter was also dealing with this over the thorny question of Jesus’ kingdom being for everyone. Peter is explaining to people who were criticising him – why he thought this. And we can see from the end of the story – those people at the end praising God for what Peter had said which is quite a turnaround. Peter had had to have a complete turnaround in his attitude to reach this point. Sometimes we need to do the same. Looking back on things and reflecting – can help us learn for the future. We cannot change what we may have done but we can learn from it and who in this life has never changed their mind about something and then wondered later on why we held the first view we had!
As I said loving those who love us is relatively easy. We all also have people in our lives we need to work harder at loving. I think it is possible to love someone despite of themselves and their actions and the things they may have done to hurt us. In my role, I sadly to often encounter unresolved relationships and family breakdown and often all the more sadly when the opportunity for seeking forgiveness and being forgiven is passed. Forgiveness is fundamental to loving as Jesus loved. He forgave people that did terrible things to him and let him down. We also need to be gracious, humble and forgiving sometimes, and much more than we want to be. Being forgiving is good for us – both seeking to be forgiven and being quick and open-hearted to forgive others. Humble service, gracefulness and generosity are essential ingredients of Jesus loving way as is being forgiving and seeking forgiveness.
I think there are a few circumstances especially in relation to ‘abuse’ where there are some caveats to this and what is realistic to achieve (especially if the abuser involved doesn’t recognise it). But mostly the graceful, humble and generous way is the way to go. When we think about those we need to forgive or work harder at loving we may sometimes think that to love as Jesus loves is impossible for us and in our own strength alone it probably is. But we stand in God’s love for us and if we let it have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us helping us change.
The commandment contains the assurance of Jesus’ love for us. So like the disciples in our doubts, denials and betrayals and failures to understand – we tread a well-worn path – safe in God’s love because we are already loved in all our weaknesses. We can attempt to love those we are given to love day by day through the strength the Holy Spirit gives us. Though we may not always get everything absolutely right all the time (no-one ever does) that does not mean we should not try to live this way. Be open to loving as Jesus did (and not being hollow or shallow!) Let’s get beyond it – and live lovingly every day
I have to say in guiding our actions, sometimes what is the loving thing to do is a good barometer question for selecting what we do. Alongside what will speak of the love and hope of God in our lives?
I read a story about a headteacher in a school where many children have known very little of love. Some are refugees and have witnessed things that we would shudder at. Every day the headteacher chose special helpers to prepare the hall for assembly, collect the registers and help clear up the lunch things. He didn’t choose the obviously good to undertake these tasks. He watched for the child who looked unhappy, the one who kept getting into fights and arguments or the one the teachers say never gave in his homework. The basis of his choice is that these are children who need to be loved and have had very little experience of it. What he said was that in his experience as the children feel the love for themselves we see them slowly change and open up for the good.
Love works. By being loved, the children become loveable and capable of loving themselves. We need to remember that as God’s children, God loves us unconditionally and through that love we too become capable of love and can attempt to fulfil what seems humanly impossible to love as Jesus loved. We can only do this – by standing in God’s love for us – that love divine all love’s excelling
Going to end with a prayer
Lord God, we thank you for those who care for us day by day, and who show us love’s tenderness.
We thank you for those you have given us to love, in our families and among our friends, and who show us love’s gratitude.
We thank you for those who help us when we are unable to help ourselves, and who show us love’s kindness.
We thank you for those who know all our faults, and who show us love’s patience.
We thank you for those we have grieved and hurt, who repeatedly forgive us, and who show us love’s generosity.
We thank you for your love which sustains us, and which shows us that love has no end. Amen.
References: © ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com). Reproduced with permission. The Hiding Place – Corrie Ten Boom, https://www.loveiscartoon.com/, The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995