May 19, 2019

If you love one another

Passage: John 13:31-35 and Revelations 21 1-6

Last week the focus was on the concept of family. As we explored the concept, we discovered that our understanding of family is very much shaped by our personal experience. A positive experience leads us to have a strong desire to support family and remain an active part of the lives of those whom we consider to be family. A negative experience leads us to have a weak desire to support family and not be as active in our participation in family events. Of course, the reality is that most of us experience both positive and negative aspects of family and so our desire to be supportive of other family members and our participation in family events can be mixed. Having said that, most people probably would find it difficult to break ties with family and most people would probably want to foster a more positive experience of family.

When we look at our own experience of family, we realize that we are always dealing with our idealized expectations of family and the reality of our individual family dynamics. How to reconcile our expectations with our reality and be able to still maintain relationships with all those who form part of our immediate and extended family is a challenge that will probably always test our patience, our empathy, and our love. We may not share the same views when it comes to politics, religion, the raising of children and many other areas of our lives and that will present challenges to us as we seek to find a common ground that can encourage us to still be supportive and respectful of one another and not drive wedges between one another that can cause our family relationships to crumble and die.

Even if we have found ourselves adopted into a new family, we will still encounter challenges. We may not understand the history of our adoptive family as well as others who have been born into it, but we will come to understand the dynamics at work and will seek to find ways to bea legitimate member of the family. It is clear, though, that regardless of whether we remain with our biological family or are adopted into a new family, we will all need to learn how to love one another.

On several occasions, I have spoken to you about the focus of the apostle John that guides his telling of the events in the life of Jesus. John saw in Jesus the very word of God that breathed life into the world as we know it today. He saw in Jesus the very Spirit that moved over the chaos and brought about the dry land, the seas, the sun, the moon, the stars and even our existence as a part of the creation of the world. He saw in Jesus the very heart and mind and soul of the God who not only created humanity but in love created a place of perfect peace and harmony for them to dwell but also granted to them the freedom to accept or reject that perfection. He saw in Jesus one sent by God to proclaim to humanity not only the ultimate freedom of mind, body and spirit which had eluded them since the fall from the garden but also one whose sole purpose was to reinforce the love that God had for humanity and his desire to not be seen as a vengeful spirit seeking revenge for wrongs but rather a forgiving and redeeming spirit seeking to grant life beyond this life to any who would listen and welcome God into their lives.

John then follows this by declaring that all who accept Jesus and the message he has brought from God will be adopted into the family of God. This sets the stage for every remembrance that John has of Jesus’ life and ministry among the people. For every remembrance that he has illustrates the ways in which God through Jesus seeks to connect with people. No healing, no teaching, nothing is done or said that is not intimately connected to creating, developing and nurturing relationships. Even at the end of Jesus’ life and in the period after the resurrection and before the ascension, every remembrance of John is of Jesus re-creating, re-developing and re-nurturing relationships. And the big take away from all of this is that what Jesus shared with those first disciples and with all others with whom he was intimately involved in that time, that same relationship is available to all who would come in the generations that followed until the end of time.

I want us to note that close to half of John’s Gospel record is about what happens in the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. Starting in chapter 12, John focuses on the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. He then begins to string together a series of discourses in which Jesus seeks to instruct the disciples about what the outcome of his life will be and what role they will come to play in the ministry that he will give them to take on. They will be asked to teach people what they have been taught in the hopes of encouraging people to realize God’s true intention is for them to be reconciled to God and receive God’s gift of adoption and love into a family that will transcend all earthly families.

That indeed is the goal of Jesus. That indeed was the point of his life, his ministry. His sacrifice on the cross, his body broken, and his blood spilled became a mark of God’s commitment to not just have death pass over his people for a moment but to let people know that there need no longer be any separation between God and the people. People could find assurance through the sacrifice of Jesus that the gap between this life and the next was bridged. As the physical blood of the lamb protected the people from death in Moses’ day, so the physical blood of this lamb – the Son of the living God – would deliver people from that ultimate point of separation from God and ensure that they would ever know the love and forgiveness of God.

Perhaps it is my age but more and more I am questioning whether we have adequately grasped the reason for why our communities of faith exist and why we dedicate ourselves to the maintenance of the buildings we use. Now I am not denying that the buildings are not important, and I am not denying that our communities of faith should exist, but I am questioning what we might be saying to the world and the people who are not part of our community or any community of faith. In the passage we heard today from John’s Gospel, Jesus gives those first disciples a new commandment. He does not take away from the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love neighbour as yourself; but he wants to go one step further and that is to encourage, even command the disciples to love each other. For Jesus – and for John – that command to love and the evidence of that love is what will truly mark us as disciples of Jesus. To put it bluntly, Jesus was saying to the disciples: if you cannot love one another, how can anyone take you seriously when you try to teach them what I have taught you.

Over the last number of years, our ideas around the rules that are to guide us as a community of faith have changed. We still look for evidence of faith and commitment from those who seek to have their children received into the family of God; we still look for evidence of faith and commitment when people make their profession of faith for the first time or recommit by publicly declaring their desire to be recognized as a member of the community. But in all of this we are now seeking to understand how we can truly love one another and recognize our common calling to be the people of God. More and more we are challenged to be inclusive – but not simply for the sake of inclusion – seeking to discern the movement of God’s spirit in our midst guiding our decisions and encouraging us to be truly respectful and supportive of one another.

We will always be in a place where we have one foot in this world and one foot in heaven. We will always be in a place where our minds have one sphere in this world and one sphere in heaven. The prayer is that we will more and more give evidence that we are the people of the living God called to be his disciples and that we will reveal that to the world by the way we love one another.