1 John 15.9–17
Love, and do what you will.—St Augustine, Homilies on 1 John VII:8
Before we go on today, I’d like you to close your eyes and be still. Just for a few moments… Ok, that’s fine.
I wonder what you were most aware of? Perhaps some of you just started to drift off. Others may have suddenly remembered they need to get milk on the way home. Yet others may have become more aware of their breathing.
Those last few may have also been more aware than usual of something we all take for granted. We are surrounded by air. It’s all around us.
I’m usually totally unaware of air unless I’m conscious of my breathing, or the winter westerlies are blowing, or there’s a cyclone.
But it’s there, all about me. And I am alive because of it.
If I were to fall in a deep pool of water, I’d be very aware that I’m no longer enveloped in air. I’d focus my energies on getting back into it.
I’ve heard that in a similar way, fish are unaware of water. I don’t know how anyone could possibly know that, but I know I’m often blissfully unaware of the air that is keeping me alive. I’m very glad that I don’t have to do anything for the air to be there. It’s a gift from the Creator.
I’m often unaware of something else too. I am also surrounded by the love of God. It’s not something I am aware of all the time, but that doesn’t stop it being true.
1 John 4.19 says
We love because [God] first loved us.
It’s the love of God, flowing all around us and through us, that makes us capable of love. We may not always be aware of it. Some people don’t even believe it. But like the air, it’s still there.
We don’t necessarily experience the love of God directly. It’s conveyed to us through the love of someone else. Most babies grow secure in the love of a mother. I was out having coffee the other day and there was a group of young mums having coffee together, each contributing one baby to the mix. It’s so normal (and yet so wonderful!) to see this happen, to see children being brought up in an atmosphere of love and care.
This is how the love of God comes to us, through the normal processes of life which the Spirit of God nurtures and cherishes.
Maybe this is why the John who wrote 1 John can say,
…the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.
God’s commandments are “not burdensome”. Do you ever wonder at that? Haven’t you ever felt that following Jesus is a burden sometimes? Yet when I looked at that group of mums, babies and small toddlers I could see that it was no burden for the child to love the mother. It was the most natural thing in the world.
The particular commandment that John means is the one in today’s reading from the Gospel According to John:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
It’s the “new commandment” that we have from Jesus. When the Church of Jesus Christ is obedient to that command, it is not burdensome to love one another. It’s easy—because we are surrounded, enveloped, enfolded by the love of the Christian community.
The Church can do this very well. Just by being kind and gentle with one another, we make the world a bit more loving for others. We don’t have to feel loving towards everyone, we don’t even have to like everyone. But we treat them as people of dignity, people who are images of Jesus Christ.
A word about the context of 1 John. Every book in the bible, every verse and every word in the bible has a context.
This was a church divided. Perhaps they even felt under siege. It seems there was a split in the Church that this letter was written for. ‘John’ calls his opponents ‘antichrists’ (!).
There were people who believed that the eternal Christ was not the same as the human Jesus. They believe ‘The Christ’ came down upon Jesus, probably at his baptism. ‘John’ believes this means that the God-who-is-love is not fully present in Jesus, so he emphasises Jesus’ new commandment to love one another.
Sometimes, a church needs to emphasise its unity in a hostile world. It seems that John’s church felt that. They needed to know who was with them and who was against them. In those situations, it makes sense to ‘love one another’, that is, love the people who are with you.
That still happens. In the 90s, I was in East Timor, Timor Leste, for a short visit.
While there we came to a small village in the hills above Dili. We were visiting the congregation there, and we were given an official welcome by the chair of the elders council. After his welcome speech, the secretary of their synod leaned over to me and said, “See that man? Informer.”
This congregation were supporting the local Falintil guerrillas with food supplies. But no one ever let the chair of the elders council in on the secret. He would have gone to the authorities with the news.
Thankfully, that’s not their situation now, and neither is it ours. We are not under siege, we are not being persecuted. We need to spread that love out beyond our congregation and families, so that others may know that they too are bathed in God’s love.
There’s an example of this in the reading from the Book of Acts. Peter has always known who was in and who was out, and Gentiles like Cornelius were definitely out.
But the Spirit taught him otherwise, and came upon these Gentiles while Peter was speaking to them in an incident that has been called the ‘Gentile Pentecost’. So then they are baptised, just as the Ethiopian eunuch had been. (And I can’t help but imagine Philip the deacon standing there with a broad grin on his face.)
And what happens next?
Then they invited him to stay for several days.
They invited him to stay. In a Gentile house. Eating Gentile food. From a Gentile table.
And he did, because he had new sisters and brothers in Christ.
Love one another? The Holy Spirit taught Peter that there was an ever-widening circle of ‘one-anothers’ to love. We need to draw our circle wide too, and then wider again.
Can the ‘one-anothers’ we love include people of dubious sexuality like the Ethiopian eunuch? Can it include asylum seekers? Can it include other Christians who seem to have things wrong?
Love one another. It’s the New Commandment. It’s the joyful work of a lifetime.