Sermon on John 15:9-17 & Acts 10:44-48

As we prepare to become a mission community, we’re spending time trying to re-imagine mission: what does it mean for us, her and now? And today we have our most profound answer. It’s all about love. Jesus couldn’t be more clear about that.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” A commandment, note, not a suggestion, not just something that ‘would be ideal, but come off it let’s be real!’ A commandment.
Why love? Well quite simply because God is love. The God who made us is a God made up of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who love each other with such perfect love that their relationship defines what love is. It’s a love so powerful that it is what gives us life and life only has meaning when abide in that love: when we know how deeply we are loved by the powerful loving force that created us and when our poor, damaged hearts learn to love like that ourselves.
It’s all about love. It’s why the Christian faith is in essence a relationship with God. It’s a faith comprised of those who have heard God’s love calling to them and they have chosen to love him back. So we’re not talking about Hippie love, love that’s cheap and easy. It’s a deep, committed love that affects every part of our souls. It’s about abiding in love; love becoming a way of life for us, because you can’t switch love on and off. It’s either on or off. To be a Christian is to learn to love as God loves; and love, as Peter observed in our first reading, shows no partiality. You can’t be a loving person and only love certain people. We either have loving hearts or we have broken, damaged hearts. And broken damaged hearts mean broken, damaged lives. And that’s not what God wants for us.
You see, God is perfectly loving, so his words are life-giving. They build you up, they make you realise that you’re valued in a way no human love ever could. Because in his heart there is no bitterness or condemnation. You see, so long as we have any hint of bitterness in our hearts, we can’t be truly loving. That’s why worship is so important. Because it causes us to turn back to the source of love, to know we are loved and to express that love in return, even if it’s the last thing we feel like doing. There is nothing more damaging to us than trying to resist worship, by hardening our hearts to God. And by the same token there is nothing more releasing than giving our hearts to God in worship. It drains the bitterness out of our lives and is the process by which our hearts becoming loving through and through.
And God’s love is free from any kind of selfishness or greed, because the Father gets everything he could want by sharing love with his Son and the Holy Spirit. He is perfectly selfless in love. And love requires us to turn our hearts inside out, to focus not on ourselves, but on others. Jesus did it perfectly: he gave his whole life for us. But we seem to struggle with this. I don’t know about you, but I waste so much of my life brooding on what’s not right. The problems of my work, the irritations of other people, the weather even! And it all turns me in on myself into a dark place.
And yet, all the while, I am loved. I am loved with a perfect love by the one who made me, the one who holds my life in his hands – past, present and future. Every time I despair, he’s saying “why are you worrying? I’ve sorted everything.” Every time other people have a go at me, or (far more likely) every time I have a go at myself, he’s there saying “but don’t you know, I died to forgive all that? Turn away from all that. Get up and live.” And every time I get cross with other people, he’s there saying “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
So you see that’s why Church matters so much, because it’s all about love. The idea of being a Christian, but not coming together to love and support each other is nonsense. And the idea of doing church without putting each other first is also nonsense.
You know, one of the reasons why I love Crosby church so much is that I see this happening in your lives. In other churches, I see people fighting to get what they want. That is such a travesty of the Gospel. Here, I see you putting each other first, sacrificing your own preferences for each other. That is a sign that God is at work in you. In other churches I see stiff formality stifling the life out of them and people terrified even to get up and read the Scriptures in Church because the formality is so intimidating. And I think “there are only 4 people here, what’s the problem?” But here, we’re just reading God’s word together to grow deeper into love. When someone makes a mistake, we all giggle, because it doesn’t matter does it? What matters is that we’re growing together in God’s love. Keep going. Go deeper. Abide in love.
Lastly, God’s love is the opposite of indifference. Real love cannot sit back and shrug its shoulders. Real love cannot pass by on the other side of the road. Love cannot be loving to some people and bear a grudge against others. If we’re bearing a grudge against anyone, it’s a sign that our heart is still lost and we need to do something about it, because it may seem small and manageable now, but it will consume you and destroy you if you don’t let God root it out of our lives and turn us into a fully-loving person.
We see how God’s love changes things in our first reading today: it’s such a short extract from the story that it’s hard to see what’s going on, but up to this point, the story of God has been the story of the Jewish people, God’s chosen people. But now a Roman soldier and his family have come to faith, they’ve received the Holy Spirit and they too have been joined to God by his love. A Roman soldier! Their worst enemy. They are completely astonished. Love has done a surprising thing. It seems that you cannot restrict or confine love. You either love or you don’t. And if you do, you can’t help loving. Love shows no partiality. Even if they don’t love you back, you have to give them everything. Love is sacrificial. I know at times in Church it feels like we’re offering a love no-one wants and it can be exhausting at times. But it’s worth it, partly because when someone does respond it’s a life saved and partly because it’s the only way for us to live: to love everyone, whether they respond or not.
Jesus loved us like that. He couldn’t do otherwise because there is no other way to love, so he has to love us with the same love he shares with his Father: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you”. So much did he love us that he gave up every hope and dream he had. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That’s what Jesus did. That’s what love is. So our love cannot be half-hearted. We have to love God with everything: all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength; and our neighbours as ourselves.
The early Church got this: they gave up everything to welcome others into this relationship with God. They overturned their way of worshipping, their wealth and land, their friendship groups, their family life, everything to welcome others into the love of God.
Now that, I think is still a challenge for us. What would we be prepared to give for love of our neighbour? Can we go that next step deeper and devote everything we do as a Church to sharing God’s love with others?
It’s all about love. I long to see us so deeply rooted in God’s love that people will think, ‘I need to live like that. I want my bitterness and anxiety to be taken away too. I want to be able to lay down the burden of those grudges I’ve carried around all these years. I want to be able to leave behind the condemning words that I’ve heard going round my brain all my life, that have crippled me. I want to know what it is to be loved like that and I want to be able to love like that myself.’
That’s what we’re about. That’s our mission to the world. And that’s the life we’re called to live. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Amen.
Crosby Ravensworth 6 May 2018