26/3/00 10.45 a.m. John 15:9-17 ( 1 John 4:7-21 )
In most languages there is a familiar way of talking to people and a more formal way. For example, in French you would call a close friend or relative, 'tu'. Whereas you would address someone you didn't know very well, 'vous'.
English used to be like this. The familiar address was 'thou' and the formal one 'you'. God was always called 'Thou' yet today this is thought of in a more formal way. If we still had 'thou' for close friends, and 'you' for people we knew less, I wonder which word each of us would use to address Jesus ?
You might call the sermon today is ' The Friendship of Jesus'. We could summarise Jesus' teaching in today's gospel by saying, 'Jesus loves his followers and he wants them to share his love with one another.'
Jesus is talking to his disciples the night before he was crucified. He had just washed their dirty feet so they could eat a meal together. He now teaches them in preparation for his crucifixion the next day. These are the last words he will say to them before his death so they are very important.
How many people here who are, or have been married, can remember the first time they told their spouse that they loved them ?
Jesus starts off by telling the disciples that he loves them. This is a good start for any relationship. The Christian faith is about a relationship, not a religion. A religion is a system of living. But Jesus offers everyone a relationship with God the Father through him.
As Jesus' disciples today we know that he loves us. But how can we know this ?
We know this through his humility. Jesus put others before himself. He did this when he left the power, splendour and glory of heaven for the squalor of a filthy stable to become a defenceless baby. Jesus was humble when he washed the disciples feet earlier that first Maundy Thursday evening. They would have come in to recline and eat, only to find that there was no slave to wash their feet. This job was carried out by the most junior slave so it would have been humiliating for anyone to volunteer to do this. It was tantamount to admitting that you were inferior to everyone else. But Jesus stepped up and washed the disciples feet. He said that he was setting an example of serving others that the disciples would have to imitate.
We also know Jesus loves us because he told the disciples. He told them that he had chosen them, verse 16. Jesus loves his disciples today. He chooses people to follow him today. This is very reassuring. It means that we do not have to earn our relationship with Jesus. We do not have to be good in order earn our way into Jesus' good books. He loved us first.
Good friends know each other so well that they often know the way the other person is thinking. They know their values, their goals, their sense of humour and their motives. We know that Jesus loves us because he reveals himself to his disciples.
Verse 15, 'I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.'
Jesus is saying "I am showing you how God the Father and I think. I have revealed to you how I will restore people to a right relationship with God. I have revealed how I want people to live in response to my love and friendship. This will include praying to God the Father. Those prayers will be answered because you know the way that God thinks so you will be asking what he wants." This is why he says, in verse 16, 'Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.'
For some people words are cheap. They may declare that they love someone, yet their actions show that they do not . They are selfish, they hurt the person whom they claim to love. Jesus said that he loves everyone, but he also showed the extent of his love for the world by dying on the cross.
'13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.'
Imagine that someone had discovered something from your past that was so embarrassing that you would not want it made public. They offer to give you the evidence of this if you will pay them a ransom of £500,000. You do not have £500,000, but a good friend of yours offers to pay the ransom and to destroy the evidence as soon as he hands over the payment.
God knows all about our past. He knows about the many times in our lives when we have disregarded him and the times when we have put our own interests before others. These things are like a barrier between us and God. They spoil our relationship with him. Jesus, however, always followed God's ways and always put others interests before his own. Ultimately we see this on the cross. There he received the punishment that we deserve for everything that we have ever done wrong, and every time that we have failed to do what is right. He was the only one who could pay the price for our sin. On the cross God the Son was separated from God the Father because of our sin. He paid the price so that our slate could be wiped clean. So we could be free to have a right relationship with God.
Now have a pop quiz. Like you to finish these lyrics by telling me the final lines.
I thought that I was over you,
But it's true, oh so true
I love you even more than I did before
But darling what can I do ?
For you don't love me and I'll always be
( Crying over you x 2 )
Anyone know who wrote and sang it ? Roy Orbison.
This pop song, like many others, was about a love that was spurned, not returned.
A relationship is a two way thing. There is love to be given and to be received by both parties.
What have you got if love is only given and not received ? The theme of many pop songs !
Love has to be given, received, and acted upon. Without action there is little proof that the love has been received. Love is practical. For example, an adult child can show love for his/her parents by caring for them when they become ill or infirm. An older child can show their love for a younger sister by, say, making sure that she is safe at the school they attend and helping her with her homework.
Jesus said that the proof that we have received his love is to love other believers. We know this from 13: 34 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
The true mark of being a Christian is not a belief in God, in coming to church, in being baptised or confirmed, in reading a Bible, or saying prayers every day, although all of these things are helpful. Jesus says that the true mark of being a disciple is to love other disciples sacrificially.
Just as a brother and sister are united through their relationship with their parents, so Christians are joined through their relationship with God the Father through God the Son.
True love is sacrificial. It cares more about the one who is loved than the lover. This is the type of love that Jesus calls his disciples to exhibit. 12 'My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.' A sacrificial, self-giving, humble love. If we have received it, Jesus commands us to show we have received it. This must be vitally important because he has already mentioned it in 13:34 and, in our passage today repeats this command in verses 12 & 17.
This love was the thing that distinguished the early church. People joined the church because they found it to be loving and accepting. This is what God wants his church to be like today.
I was in Tesco's recently. They had some mould growing on some mandarines and also had some Cox's apples that were rotting from the inside. I bought some other items of fruit and told an assistant.
Jesus said that we are chosen for something, verse 16. We are chosen to bear fruit - fruit that will last. No fruit will last for ever except the fruit of love that can grow in us. The fruit that Jesus wants us to exhibit has no sell-by date ! It will last into eternity.
Fruit takes some time to be cultivated and grow. So we need to be aware that it may take a time for us to be as loving as God would like us to be.
A plant produces fruit because it is in it's very nature that it should produce fruit. Every Christian has God the Holy Spirit living within them. God is love. Therefore, every Christian has in their nature a source of divine love.
We need to be open to God's love in our lives as individuals and as a Church family. It is also something that we need to be conscious of and to work at. We only need to look at the way Jesus voluntarily went to the cross to realise that love involves deliberate action and commitment
What will happen if we grow and show the love of Jesus ?
10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love,
When we follow the ways of Jesus, especially his commands to love, we will continue in our friendship with him. Yet if we do not obey his commands and fail to love other Christians this is a denial of our claim to love God, as we saw in the first reading. It will also spoil our friendship with Jesus. We looked at this last week when we read of Jesus comparing himself to a vine.
11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. When we follow the way of Jesus and love other Christians we will know his joy in our hearts. We live in a world that is centred on the perceived 'needs' of people which, in truth, are selfish wants. But those who follow their desires and even achieve fame and fortune are often no better or happier because of what they have achieved. Many rich and famous people have died lonely and disappointed. People who have won the lottery or the pools have been equally miserable after their wins.
We can know a joy that surpasses any pleasure that fame and fortune can bring. We can know the joy of knowing Jesus as our friend. The joy of being part of a world wide family joined by the love of Jesus. The joy of seeing Jesus alive in other Christians. The joy of looking forward to an eternity surrounded by God's love. The joy of loving others, and of being loved ourselves.
Not only that but our fellow Christians will feel loved and accepted, and people will want to come to church because of the way they are welcomed, loved, and accepted.
Today, we have a choice.
Do we want to accept the love of Jesus, and with it the command to love others ?
This is the challenge for us whether we have been Christians for years, or if we have not yet decided to accept Jesus as our friend.
I'm going to lead us in a prayer in which we will ask Jesus to help us to show that we have accepted his love by making us more loving to other Christians.
Dear Lord Jesus,
Thank you that you love me so much that you died on the cross for me.
I am sorry for the times that I have failed to love others in a sacrificial way.
Please forgive me.
Help me to show your love to other people in the power of your Holy Spirit.
Please help our church ( of St. Martin's ) to be loving, welcoming and accepting.
We ask this for the glory of your name.