Christchurch Cathedral, Grafton
19 May 2019
[ video ]
Love, actually (again)#
# “again”, because on 23 December 2018 I preached a sermon with the same title.
There is a famous story—probably apocryphal—of a new priest who surprised her parishioners when the sermon she delivered on her first Sunday in the parish was simply to say: “Love one another”. She then sat down and the service continued. People were surprised, but thought they could cut her some slack as it was her first week. The following week she went up into the pulpit and repeated the same brief statement: “Love one another”. There was some rumbling among the faithful over their coffees after the service, but things came to a head on the third Sunday morning when the new priest repeated the same brief message: “Love one another”. Next day the Churchwardens met with the priest to ask what was going on? She listened quietly to their concerns and then replied as follows: “Yes, I have other things to say. When I can see that people have understood my first point then I shall move on to my second point!”
The Gospel today was from John’s account of the last supper.
He tells the story rather differently from the other three Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. The main event in the story is not the meal, but Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. In the comments made by Jesus after that symbolic action, Jesus unpacks what it was all about (and what our faith as Christians is all about), in the words we just heard read:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
There are three big ideas in that short statement, so let’s just unpack them a little bit this morning as we prepare to baptise Cruz.
A new commandment: love one another.
Jesus did not give many commands. He was invitational rather than dictatorial.
But among the early Jesus people who created the Gospel of John he was especially remembered as giving is followers one simple instruction: Love one another.
I am often asked about the beliefs of various people and groups. My default response is that I do not care all that much what a religion believes, so long as they are not hurting other people.
So the first and most important thing about the faith into which we are baptising Cruz this morning is that it is all about love, about treating other people properly.
We are not required to believe this or that.
We are not required to pray in this way or some other way.
We are not required to attend worship, donate money, go on a pilgrimage, or observe any particular religious practices.
Yes, there are things we do and believe—and we want to get them right; but only one thing matters: LOVE.
Imagine how different the church would be and the world would be if we all lived by that new commandment.
The benchmark: Just as I have loved you
The second point to note is the benchmark that Jesus sets.
The measure for our loving actions is nothing less than the example of Jesus himself.
Well, that takes the pressure off, eh?
All we have to do is treat people the way Jesus treated them.
Kindness to those in need, and fierce opposition to those in power.
What could go wrong with a plan like that?
Are we surprised that such an attitude got Jesus into strife with the rich and powerful?
But that is the benchmark set by Jesus: copy me!
The outcome: everyone will know that you are my disciples
How we do prove our authentic Christian identity?
By acting with compassion.
By acting out of love, not fear.
By saying “No” to hatred and suspicion.
By assuming that our neighbours are decent people even when their food smells different or their skin is a different colour or their religion is not the same as ours.
How sad that such a simple statement even needs to be made, but as we have seen again this week even here in Grafton there are too many people—perhaps not many, but too many even if just a small percentage of the community—who are racist and driven by fear.
In the aftermath of a federal election we have a chance as a community to make a fresh start, irrespective of who forms government.
Today we launch Cruz into a life centred around the power of love to transform his life, our lives and the whole world.
Today we say YES to God, YES to love and NO to fear.