By Marilyn Healy
The sermon this morning continues as part of the ‘Living the Faith’ series that Peter has been preaching on for the last few weeks and indeed will continue next week as well. The topic for today is ‘a shared life – how do we live in a Christian community?’ Being a well-trained academic I always start with definitions. So, a shared life – what do we mean by that? Well that was an interesting exercise because if you Google it you find all sorts of government agencies who define shared living. But that was not what I was looking for – I was looking for a shared life not shared living. So giving it some thought I came up with some facts. We share worship and the celebration of the communion. We share fellowship hour and lunches and dinners. We also share in other ways at bible meetings, coffee nights etc – but are we really sharing or just participating? I’ll leave you to think about that point.
The next aspect to be defined was ‘a Christian community.’ Well there could be many ways that we can think about that. A Christian community is a group of people who pool their resources, financial or otherwise, to further the work of God; or what is a simple and more obvious definition is that a Christian community is a group of people who come together to worship God. That point seems to be pretty obvious but the key here is to worship God.
Then if we go to the Gospel reading for today from John 13 vs 34 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ So worshipping God is to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
The new commandment that Jesus gives is not one of the 10 commandments that each of us knows so well but In John in chapter 13 - God give us this new commandment – to love one another. It’s a new commandment also because in the Old Testament in Leviticus 19:14 God had commanded love. What makes Jesus’ commandment NEW is the new standard he set in the example ‘as I have loved you’ and Jesus was saying this in the context of someone who was about to lay down his life for others.
That brings me to another question – what do we mean by love. Now we bandy around the word ‘love’ as if we all know what we are talking about. So what is love? Again, being a well-trained academic I started looking at the meaning or definition of love. In the secular world, the online dictionary, dictionary.com defines love as different things –
It says, “Love is a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. Love is a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend. Love is sexual passion or desire”.
On YouTube, children were asked; what is love? Some of the children replied in the ‘boy meets girl’ sort of love – sparks, feeling goofy, and when someone takes you to Hawaii and you fall in love. Each of those statements by the children and the way that loves Is defined in the online dictionary are legitimate but is that the same love that Jesus was referring to in this passage? NO, although one child was closer to the concept of God’s love then they said that ‘love came from the beginning of the word when the world started.’
But coming back to the personal relationship type of love - each of those statements about sexual love are reflected throughout the bible in some way – for example, desire or sexual love such as the physical, sensual love between a husband and wife. The Greek term for this is EROS. Eros as a word does not appear in the Bible, but Eros, or erotic love, is portrayed in the Old Testament book, The Song of Solomon and the Apostle Paul noted that it is wise for people to marry to fulfill their godly desire for this type of love.
Part of the definition from dictionary.com referred to a feeling of deep affection. You could equate this phrase with the Greek word Philia. Philia - means close friendship or brotherly love in Greek: it’s a positive feeling of liking. Philia and other forms of this Greek noun are found throughout the New Testament. Christians are frequently exhorted to love their fellow Christians but in John, as I said previously, Jesus has set the standard ‘as I have loved you.’
In the NT reading of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the bible tells us that love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This is God’s description of love. God is love - this is what he is like. And although these are the common verses quoted at a wedding, Peter will quickly remind us that that these verses were not written with a wedding in mind.
Corinthians tells us that love is patient. Do we show patience if things are not done the way we would like them to be done? Sometiems we do if the service starts a little late because we ahve to wait for the bus to arrive. Soemtiems we do when communion is not done in the form that we prefer? And how about kindness? Is it showing kindness when think we are too busy to help another in need? We all have busy lives but often our own agendas take place over our need for kindness or love to others. And I could go through each of the nouns that St Paul used - envious or boastful, arrogant or rude, irritable or resentful etc. What Paul was demonstrating in his letter is that love has greater virtue than any other gifts; in this case it is because love is eternal where gifts are temporary
In John, Jesus gave us the new commandment to love one another just I have loved you. God made us in love. God‘s love and what Jesus was talking about is the highest form of love. Love which is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. It refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God. So God’s love is holy. God is love. Had we continued reading the gospel of John we would have heard the passage in verse 16 – God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them. Jesus ‘love was divine. God’s love is divine. Emil Brunner is his book ‘The Christian Doctrine of God” comments that ‘love is the self-giving God: love is the free and generous grace of the One who is the Holy Lord.
So ‘God is LOVE’. Implicit in this statement is that love is not just an attribute or quality as I have been outlining earlier. It does not mean that God is loving – rather is means that it is the very nature of God. It is the highest form of love. As I said God is love. God loves all. Not just the Christian people or the good people but all people, the sinners as well and that includes us. This kind of divine love we do not know as humans, but we are commanded by God to love our neighbour. So love is a commandment to us, not purely an example of divine love. The unity or oneness between Christ and Christians must be the same as the unity, the oneness between Jesus and God.
Thus far I have not directly addressed the last part of verse John 12: verse 35 – ‘by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’
My simple interpretation of that passage is that loving God is not only coming to church and praising the Lord as in our definition of a Christian community which I gave earlier. Rather, it is living out the love of God that we have been talking about, by example; by how we treat each other as a Christian community. In Mathew 25:31-45 there is the story of the sheep and the goats and the disciples ask Jesus when had they not come to the aid of the hungry or thirsty stranger or to the aid of the naked stranger in prison. Jesus said “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me. As Palmer comments ‘this is a wonderfully affirmative story about our potential to be channels of god’s love. We in this congregation are not strangers, but if we neglect any one of us we are neglecting Jesus.
So as Jesus commanded - love one another just as I have loved you. You will be my disciples if you love one another.
So is this how can we live in love in a Christian congregation? Such a concept may be hard to understand for us. We all affirm that we love God but we need to live out that love of God in our daily lives? It’s easiest and it’s natural to organise our lives around our own selfish desires: to be intolerant or judgemental of others. Love is forgiving people for their transgressions.
Jesus was an example of a life that lived and breathed love. He gave himself and calls us to do the same. True love is more than a feeling. It is a consistent attitude to give ourselves for others.
That God is love is the embodiment of the whole bible. When the spirit of Christ comes into our lives, he fills us with love, so that we in turn can express that love to those around us. “Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us that love is generous and outgoing. It is not hateful or divisive or has need for self-promotion. Love does not try to win power and form factions for self—importance. It does not disregard the people in need.... It does not pride itself in being superior. “
As one little girl on YouTube said” ‘sometimes you can’t choose who you love.’ And a verse I found said ‘every experience God gives us, every person He puts into our lives, is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.’
We can’t see the future implied here in this verse, the future of eternal life. But in our world, the future is now. So To Live in a Shared Life in a Christian Community means that we follow the covenant of Jesus - love one another just as I have loved you. You will be my disciples if you love one another.