Acts 11.1-18 John 13:31-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus says love you enemies and pray for those that persecute you … he also said – love your neighbour as you love yourself and in the passage we read this morning – he goes on to another level - love one another just as I have loved you… because it is by this everyone will know that you are my disciples.
“Love as I have loved you”… no pressure there then. Just how did Jesus love the disciples…
He was present with them over time – so they did lots of things together – they ate together – got into and out of trouble together – they disagreed and got over it…
Jesus met and was involved in the families of the disciples -
He got to know them really well
He took them out of their usual everyday situations, transformed them from individuals into a collaborative group of effective disciples and led them to see their own lives and communities in a different way.
He challenged them, as Jesus challenges us, to love in the same way as God loves us…
I have been reading a book John O’Donoghue, Anam Cara. O’Donoghue writes…
So we are to love in the way that Jesus loves us –
The passage Pam read to us today begins – After he had gone out… who had gone out? This passage is written at the time of the last supper – Jesus had just washed the feet of the disciples; it was Judas that had just gone out. It is at this point – at the very point of betrayal that Jesus says – now is the Son of God Glorified – now is the Father glorified.
We are still in the season of Easter the message of the cross – the triumph of love, love and life over the powers of sin and death is strong with us.
So how is this love played out in our lives – we have a really good example of how it is played out in the lives of the disciples in the reading from Acts.
The disciples are still learning and are still unsure how to live out what Jesus has taught them – still unsure what it is that he has taught them…
Last time I preached here I asked us to consider how we recognise Jesus words and work in our lives and in our community – do you remember – Tinho’s point to ponder in his research on the Emmaus window?
Do we recognise Jesus words and work in our community?
I am going to go back to the passage from Acts that we heard earlier and that is on your service sheet, but I want to share something that happened to me.
This week I have been promoting Christian Aid and their work in Sierra Leone – as promoted this Christian Aid Week. Last night in Squash on Winsor Street I met a woman who was collecting money for Yemen, we got chatting about my friend Taher whose family were bombed out of their home some months ago, she told me of the current situation in Yemen the positive news of last week with Houthi rebels withdrawing, and handing areas over to the coastguards who could distribute aid and medical help, now history as there has been further bombing. I told her of the work of Christian Aid in Sierra Leone, and she told me she was just back from working there. There are many issues in Sierra Leone . Christian Aid are working with women to improve maternal health. My new friend from last evening was working on this initiative too – she said they were just getting to the point where they were making a difference and then the Ebola virus struck, the worst outbreak so far of this terrifying virus. Sierra Leonne has a £400 million Debt crisis and more women die in childbirth than in any other country – about one woman for every 50 that give birth (1360 in every 100,000 women). This is due to lack of ante natal care, medic’s, few local clinic’s and an inadequate ambulance service. Financial loans come to Sierra Leone through the International Monetary Fund, when it is given there are always conditions attached. You may remember drop the debt campaigns which were successful – but Sierra Leone is one of the poorest nations in the world and civil war in the 1990’s further decimated what little health care was available. Women in Sierra Leone save some of their income each month and this is stored in a padlocked box, when health care is needed women can take money from the box and pay it back slowly with a small amount of interest. So, we should support the work of Christian Aid, and others who aim to make a difference.
Often people say – I would love to support another country but look at the mess here, surely we need to look after our own first. Well I would agree that we need to look after our own as well but … consider our reading this morning from Acts:
Peter was criticised for going to share with others. There are always those who will criticise and we are good at jumping to conclusions without the full picture. However Peter had a clear message from God which he shared with those who were complaining
We learned that Peter explained his reasons step by step – he had a dream and had been able to interpret this and act on it…
and I love the last sentence…
If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
The world is a small place these days, every day we can read news from across the planet… we cannot do everything and help everyone but we can live as if the love of God is guiding our actions and love our neighbours on the planet – not just as we love ourselves, but as Jesus loves us.
I read a story yesterday about Julian Richer who has just handed control of his business over to his staff. Julian founded the firm Richer sounds when he was 19 years old. Over 40 years he has provided well paid jobs because he believes a happy workforce is the key to business success. In addition to handing over control he handed more than 500 employees £1,000 for every year of service. What is his motivation – well the guardian tells that a socialist housemaster at his school was an early influence, but his business ideals have been reinforced by his decision to embrace Christianity in later life. He was baptised at 47 – he says he calls his faith practical Christianity and says, “I just want to make the world a better place”.
Richard Coles of the Communards lately the Rev. Richard Coles says of his encounter with Jesus – “the person of Jesus I have never been able to shake off, it haunts me still… as someone who has just left the room, but whose vanished presence still alters the temperature and the currents of circulating air and leaves a fading music…” Richard writes that in Jesus he discovered forgiveness for his sins, silliness and hard heartedness – “forgiveness more than my sins in the fathomless riches of his grace. Richard of course is now a vicar”. I am not sure if that is a good thing or not but right for some.
Each of us will need to learn what loving as Jesus loves, means for us and just like the disciples we may struggle to understand everything that we are learning for our own lives, but we are not alone.
The Love that transforms is the presence of Jesus within and without us. I recently saw a clip on social media from a year ago. Archbishop Justin Welby asked the Pope for a message for his prayer initiative, ‘Thy kingdom come’, (you can look up the full message) one of the things the Pope said was that we should ask the Holy Spirit to come enlarge and open our hearts, there is a tendency as we go through life for our hearts to become small and squeezed, we can become narrow and inward looking, he said we cannot change this ourselves, this is the work of God, only the Holy Spirit can do this.
I am going to finish with those inspiring words from John O’Donoghue.
When love awakens in your life, in the night of your heart, it is like the dawn breaking within you. …When Love awakens in your life it is like a new birth, a new beginning.
In that new beginning we are able to open and enlarge our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we listen to God and act on what we learn…
…For who are we that we could hinder God.
O’Donoghue, John. Anam Cara, Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World. Pub.Bantam books 1997
Coles, Richard. Fathomless Riches, or How I went from Pop to Pulpit. Pub 2015
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