Sunday, 6 May 2012

Little children, love one another!

Address given at Templederry and St Mary's, Nenagh on 6th May 2012, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, year B.

Little children, love one another!

If you find these words strangely familiar, you’re probably right! I am repeating the sermon I gave in this very church on the 5th Sunday of Easter three years ago. I make no apologies. It’s not just laziness. This message is crucially important for us today, I believe, when angry voices are raised in the Church of Ireland and the wider Anglican Communion, and even in our own Nenagh Union of Parishes.

The author of St John’s Gospel, John the Evangelist, was from early times believed to have also written the 1st Letter of John, from which today’s 2nd reading was taken. There is a lovely story told about him by St Jerome, that great Doctor of the Church who translated the Bible into Latin. He was writing around 400AD, some three hundred years later. The story goes like this:

The Evangelist continued preaching even when he was in his 90s. He was so enfeebled with old age that he had to be carried into the Church in Ephesus on a stretcher. And when he was no longer able to deliver a long sermon, his custom was to lean up on one elbow and say simply: “Little children, love one another.” This continued on, even when John was on his death-bed. When he finished, John would lie back down and his friends would carry him out. Every week, the same thing happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, exactly the same message: “Little children, love one another.” One day, the story goes, someone plucked up the courage to ask him about it: “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children, love one another’?” And John replied: “Because it is enough.”

If you want to know the basics of living as a Christian, there it is in a nutshell. All you need to know is, “Little children, love one another.” If you want to know the rules, there they are. And there’s only one. “Little children, love one another.” For John, once you put your trust in Jesus, there is only one other thing you need to know. So week after week, he would remind them, over and over and over again.

Little children, love one another!

This is precisely the message that John gives us in today’s 2nd reading (1John 4:7-21). And he keeps on repeating it throughout his 1st Letter. 1John is quite short, only 5 pages in my Bible – you might like to take down yours when you get home and read the whole thing.

John tells us that the reason we must love is that God first loved us. God loved us so much that he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into the world to be ‘the atoning sacrifice for our sins’.

What does this talk of an atoning sacrifice mean? We all know our own sins, don’t we? Our inveterate wilfulness – doing what we know we shouldn’t, and not doing what we know we should. That, and our own guilty consciences, cut us off from the love of God. It would be quite wrong to imagine the atoning sacrifice as a vengeful God taking out our sins on Jesus. Rather Jesus has shown us how to reconnect to the love of God despite our sins, through his example of self-sacrificing love, and by his teaching that if we repent God loves us enough to forgive our sins. This is Jesus’s atoning sacrifice, sealed by his victory on the cross. Jesus turned the apparent defeat of the cross into victory by his obedience to his Father’s will even unto death. No doubt this is the good news about Jesus that Philip proclaimed to the Ethiopian eunuch in today’s 1st reading (Acts -40).

John tells us that if we don’t love each other, people we can see and touch, then we surely can’t love God, who we cannot see and touch.

Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel (John ), ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’  Jesus’s love is not an easy, sentimental kind of love. It’s easy enough to love those who are lovable, but Jesus also tells us (Matthew: ), Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. That is the sort of edgy love that John reminds us Jesus asks of us. The kind of edgy love that is so very difficult.

We should make love our priority. Forget about ego, forget about career. Forget about political divisions and bankers’ greedy mistakes. Forget about the silly divisions that we constantly let creep into the Church. Forget about likeability too – we don’t have to like those we love, but we must love even those we don't like.

Love one another. God loves us. We ought to – no, we must – love one another. That’s what it’s all about.

“Little children, love one another … because it truly is enough.”

No comments: