Mary’s sermon for Easter 6

Those of you who are on Facebook will know that one of the things it does is to offer you memories from years gone by, pictures that you posted on the anniversary of the posting. Only yesterday I had a lovely picture of Dorothea and Sarah looking out over Jerusalem….. a few weeks ago it offered me a whole run of cat pictures from 2009 – of two cats I no longer have: Esther, then a kitten, now a mostly quite dignified 9 year old recently adopted by Dorothea, to the great satisfaction of both of them and the relief of my two remaining cats – and Rachel, a much older rescue cat, who died nearly 2 years ago now.  And so, thanks to Fb,  I found myself revisiting their first few weeks with me and remembering what I learned from them….

Esther as a kitten was quite simply a bundle of joy.  Boundless energy matched by an enviable ability to relax completely. Intelligence and inquisitiveness, ability to make a toy out of anything –  bit of fluff, ball of paper, hRachel’s tail, or the ribbons in my prayer books and bibles.  Completely confident in herself and everyone around her…. Rachel at 7 was very different. Tragically, her previous owner committed suicide, think drug related, police had to break into flat.  Don’t think she was badly treated, but the trauma of the break in and being caught and taken away had left her v suspicious and jumpy.  it took some years to restore her confidence, although no-one who met her here in Haslemere would have known that.  She must have been born with that confidence, as Esther was. It was her birthright, but she had lost it because of what had happened to her.  Not her fault… Why am I telling you this?

Because I learnt from watching the two of them,  Esther so fully alive as she rushed round the house, over and round and through furniture, legs, bags….  Rachel watchful and suspicious, alert for anything that might be a threat, a blow, a grab….. I learnt something about what “having life more abundantly”, having life in all its fulness might mean for me, you, any of us.

 

Hla isn’t in this passage, but the idea just flows and gushes out of it…

In just 2 verses – love appears 7 times, and the next verse is about joy – complete joy..

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

 

And what are these commandments?  They are the principle that needs to underlie all we do and are… the one which will not only prevent us from hurting anyone, but which means that we will actively seek out their good….

“love one another as I have loved you”.  Wonder what that meant to the disciples?  After all…we know what Jesus was to do for them – for us…  the stark reality of the next verse…

“No-one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”

But they didn’t know…. Only looking back would they have seen that this wasn’t just an extreme example of what this kind of love might mean – it was an actual fact…. The next day, Jesus would lay down his life, and they would begin to understand that he had indeed done it for them – and for all those coming after them.

And its an act that Christians have repeated down the centuries… not one any of us expect to be called to, but a possible and utterly  logical consequence of the love we are commanded to show. love one another as I have loved you.

 

And it wasn’t – isn’t all in the past tense. Love one another as I HAVE loved you goes with the earlier promise:  if you keep my commandments you WILL abide in my love.  This stream of love and obedience and joy flows right through time, backwards and forwards and in and out….  It breaks through our human understanding and shows us new life… life in all its fullness.

Jesus goes on to say more about this new way of seeing, of being:

You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my father.

Jesus is offering us the chance to be his friends, to share in the knowledge that he has been given by God the Father – as he has been doing in these long discourses… his last chance to tell the disciples what they need to know before he goes to his arrest, trial and death.  No wonder the ideas are so packed in, flowing into each other as we’ve seen…

I have called you friends…. You did not choose me but I chose you.  There’s something very comforting about knowing that you have been chosen… whatever your own view of yourself, to know you are loved and valued by someone else, and to be loved and valued by God – to be his friend – is surely amazing….

 

We are created and called – as people, as Christians, as friends, as children of God, as our own individual selves – for a purpose, to be part of God’s plan… we are appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.

 

Being fruitful means to be the best we can, to use the gifts we have, to be as fully as possible the people he created us to be – as kitten Esther expressed her nature so completely, and joyfully (judging by her enormous purr).  Sometimes the things that have happened to us, the circumstances of our lives, make it hard, or even impossible for a time – as Rachel showed me. Only God knows the truth of our personal struggles and our gifts. And of course, work that’s drudgery can and often must be done – we can find satisfaction in doing mundane tasks as well as we can –  but as we do them we can remember the mingled promises and commandments in this passage; the mixture of love, joy, obedience and friendship that flows through it. If we want to know what this looks like in real life, we have only to look at Jesus.  We know that he was sometimes frustrated, exasperated, by the way people misunderstood his teaching, that he would understand the difficulties and complexities of our own lives – but  just consider the love that he showed to those he met, not only to those who followed him, to his friends, but to the outcasts, the people on the fringes – lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, foreigners…. And his love even for those who rejected him…remember how he wept over Jerusalem, and how he loved the young man who couldn’t bring himself to give up his possessions and follow him. Remember the joy he clearly had in friendship – with the disciples, with Mary Martha and Lazarus at Bethany, in eating and drinking with so many different people.  And remember that his whole life, embracing all this and more, was lived in obedience to his Father… how he seemed to be in constant contact through prayer, and how that obedience was tested at the last, as he faced the cross. In the three short years of his ministry Jesus shows us what it could be like to have life and have it more abundantly, how living in the light and love of the Father does indeed bring new life.

 

And so, finally, I want to challenge you – and challenge myself too. Jesus said “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”. This is the principle at the centre of our calling, the place where heaven touches earth.  What would it be like to apply it to every decision we make, every action, however small?  To make it our touchstone? Think about it… it needs thinking about, and it needs praying about.  See if this week you can keep it in the front of your consciousness – love one another as Jesus loved – loves –

and let it change what you do, change you in the process.  And if it’s hard – and I know it will be for me… remember his promises, thank God for them, and pray for the power of Holy Spirit to help you to follow his example.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

 

 

 

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