Love Each Other

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John 13:31-35 & Acts 11:1-18
5th Sunday of Easter (10.30am service)
(28-4-13)

How would people describe us? What one word would people use to characterise Christians?

I don't know the answer to these questions but I do know what Jesus would say it should be - and that is loving. In today's reading he says, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." So we could say that loving should be the distinguishing mark of the Christian. By this our neighbours will know that we follow Christ, by this our non-Christian family will know we follow Christ, by this our work colleagues will know we follow Christ, by this Willingham will know we follow Christ - if we love one another.

This seems hard enough but there is a little two letter word that makes an even greater claim on us and that word is 'as'. "Love each other as I have loved you". This was a new commandment. Earlier in his ministry Jesus quotes from the Torah in answering a lawyer's question about the greatest commandments: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." (Matthew 22:39). But, now at the last supper, Jesus makes this commandment more specific, 'Love one another as I have loved you.' This little word 'as' now roots the commandment in Jesus, in his love for us, in his self-offering and it is a model of what it might mean for us to love one another, an example to follow. His self-giving love is the source of our loving. Christ's love is poured into our hearts, enabling us to love.

So let us take a closer look at what it means to love as Jesus has loved us: in truth Jesus' love is too amazing, too vast for us to fully comprehend, but here are a few important ways that he showed his love as recorded in the gospels:

Jesus loves....

with humility
Jesus gives this new commandment just after He has washed the disciple's feet - this humility was almost too much for Peter to accept. This was love expressed in humble service.

with forgiveness
Jesus often talks of forgiveness - for example, on healing the paralysed man Jesus says, 'Son, your sins are forgiven' (Mark 2:5). When he gives his disciples this new commandment Jesus had just shared the Passover meal with Peter who will deny him three times; with Thomas, who will doubt him; and, with the other disciples who will sleep during his agony in Gethsemane and desert him on his arrest, but Jesus shows them forgiveness. And later, on the cross, Jesus cries out, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). This is love expressed in forgiveness.

with compassion
The many healing miracles, the feeding of the five thousand, the raising of Lazarus from the dead all show a love expressed through compassion.

with justice and mercy
To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus says," Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again" (John 8:11) and on the cross - He says, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.' (Luke 23:43). This is love expressed with justice and mercy.

without barriers
In talking to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) Jesus breaks down the barriers of prejudice and legalism. This is love expressed without barriers

with action
When Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding in Cana,(John 2); and when "he entered the temple in Jerusalem and drove out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves;" (Mark 11:15) he was showing that he was prepared to express his love in action

with His life
Jesus dies a criminal's death. This is love expressed in laying down his life.

I think there is little doubt that if Jesus was here today he would be doing some pretty radical things. It is not hard for me to imagine that Jesus might be out on the streets with the street pastors; or that He might be working to bring freedom and justice for the 27 million people living in slavery today - people forced into hard labour for no pay, and the selling of children for labour and prostitution; or that He might be working to put an end to the extreme poverty which leads to starvation, sickness and death. I chose these examples quite deliberately because all of our three church charities are working in these areas - Street Pastors, International Justice Mission (IJM UK), and Samaritans Purse.

So obeying this new commandment of loving each other as Jesus loves us can seem an immense task but let's look at the example of Peter in today's story from Acts.

Peter was a Jewish Christian (as opposed to a Gentile Christian) This meant that he still observed all the purity laws outlined in the Torah. So the idea of socialising with gentiles, who were regarded as unclean because they were uncircumcised, and ate non kosher food, would have been abhorrent to him. However we see in this story that all of Peter's preconceived ideas about holiness, worthiness and acceptability are smashed. As we have heard Peter is brought to this point dramatically. First he has his dream that all the foods, unclean in Jewish Law, are now to be accepted. Then he is asked to go with a group of men to visit Cornelius, a believing Gentile. Peter says, "The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us." (v.12). So with the help of a revelation and the Holy Spirit he is able to see things differently. Peter declares, 'Now I realise that any one of any nationality, who fears God and does what is right, is acceptable to him.' His obedience gives him the critical role of uniting the Jewish and Gentile Christians. Back in Jerusalem he tries to communicate this to the rest of the Church. 'If these Gentiles are believers, if they have received the Spirit as we have, how can we reject them?' Peter has recognised that all men and women are equally acceptable to God. He shows us in a concrete way that he is living Jesus' new commandment, the barriers had been smashed down.

Another example, is the life, or more accurately the death, of Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan friar. He was sent to Auschwitz for helping Jewish refugees, he sheltered over 2000. While in Auschwitz, Kolbe volunteered to die in place of another prisoner who had been condemned to death, he suffered a horrible death as a result. He laid down his life for another.

Most of us are not called to live out Jesus' commandment in such extreme circumstances. But our lives do provide opportunities to love as Jesus did. At the time of giving this new commandment Jesus is surrounded by failure and sin. Yet in all this, Jesus loves the disciples and gives himself to them. He entrusts them with his gospel knowing that, wherever there is this gift of his love, no matter how pathetically men and women fail, his promise of life remains.

Love is more than warm feelings, it is an attitude that reveals itself in action.

We love like Jesus.......

by helping when it's not convenient< br/> We all have people whose demands impinge on us, but Humble service and generosity are essential ingredients of his way of loving.

by forgiving
all have people we need to forgive, those whom we shut out of our lives because of something they once did to hurt us, but forgiveness is fundamental to loving as Jesus loved.

by giving when it hurts
other words sacrificial giving.

by devoting energy to others' welfare
rather than our own

by removing barriers
begin with the early church seemed incredulous that Gentiles could be people of faith. Perhaps there are groups of people today who might be seen as modern day 'Gentiles'. We can all too easily make judgements about people and put labels on them: asylum seekers, travellers, people of different racial origin, prisoners, people of different faith traditions, to give just a few examples. But are these people members of God's family too?

by absorbing hurts
is is about turning the other cheek - about not reacting angrily to hurts from others, about reacting without complaining or fighting back. St Francis de Sales describing how to respond to a hurtful remark says, "nothing breaks the force of a canon ball as well as wool".

When we think about those we need to forgive, those we care for day in, day out, those who need to share our hard-won income, we may think that to love as Jesus loved is impossible. This kind of loving is hard to do but as I said at the beginning it is precisely this type of loving that people notice. Loving that is selfless and sacrificial does stand out distinctively and is I believe what Jesus is meaning when he said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

But the commandment also contains the assurance of Jesus' love for us. So, like the disciples, even in our doubts, denials, betrayals, and failures to understand, because we are already loved in all our weakness, we can attempt to love those we are given to love day by day.

We do need to listen, to be prepared to obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit and to accept his help, just as Peter did in today's story. He showed us that when we come close to God and spend time with Him in prayer we can't help but get a glimpse of the way Jesus sees things. Jesus' love for us gives us a more compassionate heart and when we commit to following Him we are given a Helper, the Holy Spirit, just as the disciples were. Then we are equipped and moved to step out into trying to love each other as He loves us.

Written and presented by Janette Mullett