Sermon given at St. Andrew’s Ealing 6th May 2018 by Revd. Sue McCoan
1 John 5:1-6
We talk about supporting one another in faith. But Jesus goes further than that.
Jesus says, ‘Love one another’. And, further even than that, he goes on, ‘as I have loved you’.
‘Love one another’, says Jesus, ‘as I have loved you’.
Jesus is talking to his disciples here, to the chosen 12. It’s at the last supper, their last time that they will spend together before his death, and Jesus is using that time to prepare his friends for the shock and disarray of what is to come. This is one of the key messages: Love one another, as I have loved you.
The love Jesus had for his disciples, which up to now they have received individually from him, they will now have to receive from one another. So now, as well as receiving, they also have to give that love. And that same is true for us. We depend on one another; the commandment applies to us.
So let’s look at some of the ways Jesus loved his disciples, and how that might help us when we think about loving one another.
First, he called them. He saw them, he chose them, he called them to follow. ‘You did not choose me’, he says, ‘but I chose you’. In doing this, he recognises them as individuals. He honours them, he calls them by name, he gives them value, and dignity; they know that they are special.
I wonder how many people in this church you know by name? Are there people whose names you might once have known but can’t just bring to mind? Are there people whose names you never quite caught, and now don’t like to use in case you get it wrong? Are there people whose names you never knew, and now feel embarrassed to ask because you’ve known them for so long? Or is it just me that does these things?
I invite you, over coffee after the service, to find someone whose name you don’t know and ask them. We’ll declare an amnesty on forgetting, so we will undertake not to be offended if people don’t know. Let’s know who we are. I’m Sue, by the way.
Secondly, having called them, Jesus spent time with his disciples. If you remember at the beginning of John’s gospel, the first people to follow Jesus are two who have been followers of John the Baptist. Jesus says, ‘what do you want’, and, perhaps for want of anything better to say, they ask ‘where are you staying?’ and Jesus says, Come and see. He invites them round.
Some of you know each other outside of church, and some of you perhaps don’t know anybody else all that well. Some of you are brilliant at hospitality and certainly much better than I am, so this is a challenge to me too. But it can really help community, it can really help people to feel they belong, to meet up outside of church. When my husband was a student, he and his fellow students sussed out that a number of churches near the university were inviting new students to Sunday lunch after the morning service, to help them feel at home in a new place. It was a lovely idea. The churches hadn’t reckoned on how hungry, or how shameless, students could be; some of them did the rounds of the various congregations. Or perhaps the churches had reckoned on that, and thought, you know what, we are offering hospitality in the name of Jesus, and that’s a blessing in itself; what people do in response is up to them.
Thirdly, Jesus shared with his disciples his wisdom and insight – and later, when they got to know each other better, his struggles and fears. The insight Jesus had was his relationship with God the Father, his knowledge that he was the Beloved Son and had a message for the world. We may think, with all due humility, that this is not how it is for us. You may think you have very little wisdom or insight to offer. But you’d be surprised.
Let me tell you about Bob. I think you know I was brought up in the church, but lost my faith for many years. When I felt drawn back to God, and was trying to find my way into church, I started going to a home group. The link was that someone I know from a drama group also belonged to this home group and I felt it would be more honest to be somewhere I could ask questions, than to be in a church service where I would be required to say or sing things about God that I couldn’t yet do with any integrity. So I went to the home group with all my doubts and questions. Bob was a member of that home group. He’d had no theological training. In fact he’d worked for IBM, and I at the time worked for the rival computer company ICL, so I ought not to have got on. But Bob was kind, and thoughtful, and he had lived out his faith. Life had not always been straightforward for him, and things had come up which had challenged and shaken his faith. But always, he had prayed, and worked through it, and found ways to broaden his understanding so that, yes, this too came within the love of God. When I asked my questions, Bob listened. He didn’t have easy answers; he didn’t usually offer advice. But he understood my difficulties, and that was enough. It made it possible for me to be there, until I too could allow God to broaden my understanding and accept the love.
You have wisdom, you have life experience. You might have just the insight that someone else needs.
Fourthly, Jesus served his disciples. In John’s gospel, in the account of the last supper which today’s passage comes from, it doesn’t say much about the meal, or about the sharing of bread and wine. But it begins with Jesus pouring water into a basin, kneeling in front of his disciples, and washing their feet. The job of a domestic servant. It’s awkward for them – he’s their teacher, he shouldn’t be doing this. But it is a symbolic action, as well as a beautiful gesture; if he can serve them in this way, then they also need to be able to serve one another.
You may be relieved to know that I am not going to suggest you wash each other’s feet. There are other ways to serve. And you do it already – offering lifts, washing up after services, visiting people when they’re not well, and probably many ways I don’t even know about. I don’t see anyone here who is too proud to help out. What might sometimes be a difficulty is those of us, including me, who fail to spot that help is needed. Many people are very good at putting on a brave face when we come to church and often that’s fine – you don’t want to be vulnerable in front of everybody. But please, don’t ever be afraid to say, to me or to an elder or to someone you trust, I could do with a hand, or a lift, or a visit.
The fifth and last way that Jesus loved his disciples was to lay down his life for them – and of course, in the persecution that followed, some of them were called to lay down their lives in turn. We give thanks that we are not in this position, and pray that it may never happen.
The love of Jesus was remarkable. It’s hard to think we can do the same.
We might, for instance, be tempted to think, but he’s Jesus – and I’m only human.
That’s no excuse. Remember the beginning of the reading. In verse 9, we are reminded where the love of Jesus comes from. I love you, Jesus says, just as the father loves me. Jesus loves, because the Father first loved him. It is the love of God the Father that enables Jesus to live out the abundant, sacrificial love of his life. We love, because Jesus first loved us – not only enough as followers and disciples, but enough to call us his friends. We are part of this abundant love, and we are called to share it abundantly.
We might also think, but isn’t this a bit inward-looking? If we only love one another, what about the rest of the world? We don’t want to become some sort of holy huddle, complete within ourselves.
Remember then the end of the reading. In verse 16, Jesus says, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. The disciples had a huge task ahead of them; they needed that mutual support of their friends and colleagues. They couldn’t have done what they did without their fellow disciples encouraging them, helping them, praying for them. We carry the gospel out every day of the week, in our work, our shopping, our everyday tasks; we too need encouragement, help and prayer from one another. We look inward, to our fellowship, to Jesus, so that we move outward in confidence.
This, then, is what Jesus commands us: love one another. And thank you for the ways you are already doing this.