Love is all it takes

Easter 7 – 2010

John 17:20-26

Marian Free

May God who is love dwell within us, Jesus who demonstrated God’s love inspire us, and the Holy Spirit who inspires us to love, unite us. Amen.

Today’s gospel concludes Jesus’ final discourse – the long speech which is designed to prepare the disciples for life without him and to equip them to build a community of faith. A key component of these last words is love. Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment: “to love one another, as I have loved you”. Jesus demonstrates this love by washing their feet and he will prove it on the cross. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus’ example of loving is to provide the basis for the new community – Jesus’ love for God, God’s love for Jesus, Jesus’ love for the disciples, God’s love for the disciples, their love for one another.

Love is crucial to the gospel, but it is a love which is more than relational. The love which Jesus commands is also missional. The love which Jesus shares with God makes God known. The love which the disciples share will make God known: “By this will others know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another.”

Just as Jesus’ oneness with God is what makes God known to the disciples; the union between the disciples and Jesus is what will make Jesus known to the world – not only in the first generation, but to every generation yet to come. “that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world my know that you have sent me.” Jesus repeats this theme three times in these seven verses. Love unites God to Jesus, Jesus’ love unites God to the disciples, the disciples love for one another will unite the world to God. The oneness of the Father and Son is to be mirrored in the life of the disciples so that just as Jesus revealed God, so too will they.

This is it, the one command that Jesus gives, the command to love, will ensure the continuity of his revelation. If the disciples can emulate Jesus’ self-effacing, self-giving love, the gospel will be spread throughout the world without any obvious effort on their part. If the disciples, through their love, seek union with God, God will be made known through them.  It is all too easy – the gospel summed up in one word: “Love”.

This is the only thing that Jesus asked us to do – to love God and to love each other. He did not burden us with dogma. He did not impose on us hundreds of laws to be remembered and kept. He did not establish elaborate rituals for us to follow. He asked only that we love.

It is so simple and yet so hard. Throughout all the centuries since we have failed miserably to live by that one command. The community which formed in Jesus’ name has spent endless Councils and Synods arguing over minute details of belief and practice. Throughout the centuries the church has created codes of behaviour by which we are to live and established standards of morality and goodness against which we can be measured. At the same time has developed a variety of missionary strategies to attract people to the faith and has worried endlessly about whether or not future generations will believe.

From the very beginning, the community discovered how difficult it was to live by love alone. Because Jesus did not give specific instructions the early church found itself ill-equipped to deal with the question of Gentile believers – should they or should they not become Jews? If they did not become Jews what was the very minimum that should be required of them? Because Jesus did not leave behind an institution with codes of practice, we have struggled ever since to know who to include and who to exclude.

The very human need for clarity and certainty has meant that from the beginning, the command to love has been the command that has most easily and most often broken. In comparison the commandments which do not refer to love are much simpler to obey. Do not steal is clear. Do not bear false witness – we know what that means. Do not murder – few of us would even consider breaking that one.

Love is quite a different matter. For one thing it is too vague – it does not tell us what to do. For another it is too easy – surely God wants more from us than that? Love doesn’t give instructions in good or bad. Love doesn’t tell us who is in and who is out. Love doesn’t provide assurance that we are getting it right. Love can’t be measured or weighed up or used to provide comparisons. And so throughout the centuries we have looked for different ways to express and to live our Christian faith – rules and regulations to make us secure in our place before God. Worse we have argued with each other about which of these are the best ways, about who among us has best interpreted Jesus’ teaching. Then we wonderwhy people have not flocked to belong.

The bottom line is that we do not fully understand and therefore do not trust God’s love for us. We are so used to the economy of exchange that it is almost impossible to believe that God would and does give us something for nothing. Somehow we have missed the message that even though we had done nothing to deserve it, God sent Jesus to effect our salvation. We fail to grasp that God’s love exceeds anything that we can even imagine. God took the risk of entering our world as a tiny baby because God loves us. God risked rejection and misunderstanding because God loves us. God suffered the humiliation and agony of the cross because God loves us. All that God asks in return is that we love God and that that love is extended to each other.

Extraordinary as it is – love is all that it takes. More extraordinary still is that when we love we are drawn into the relationship shared by the Father and the Son. More extraordinary even than that through our love, God is made known to the world.

In the words of the cartoonist Leunig: “Love one another it is as simple and as difficult as that. There is no other way”

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2 Responses to “Love is all it takes”

  1. Stephen Says:

    Lovely sermon today Marian. Thankyou

  2. swallowsrest Says:

    Thanks

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