A couple of years ago I was talking with someone. It was in the Emmaus Room, I know. And I was talking about love. I can’t remember why, but I was. And the other person was a bit tired of what I was saying and they said something like, “O phooey! You priests are always talking about love.”
Now that was three years ago, and I can still remember what was said. So, today, when we have readings from the bible which are all about love, especially the Gospel, I am a little worried about what I should say.
Our little gospel today follows on from last week, when we heard about the vine and the branches. I talked about Earn and Bell and Nok as if they were branches, joined and grafted on to Jesus, so that the life that flows through Jesus can flow through them. Jesus describes this by saying, “Abide in my love.” I think I also said that “Abide in my love.” means “Make your home in my love.” And this is what our gospel today is about – being at home in Jesus.
I hope that everyone here has a good friend, a friend with whom you can be yourself. You know the prayer at the beginning of the service which starts, “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden…” This is the sort of friend I am talking about, someone who takes seriously what you take seriously. Someone who knows what is important to you, someone who knows what you really want, someone to whom you don’t have to pretend. Someone who you know will never misunderstand or betray you. This is serious friendship, abiding friendship, friendship where you are completely at home.
This, of course, is the friendship that Jesus is talking about; the Greek word is agapé, which is translated as love, but what it really means is a close and intimate personal friendship.
Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” Love starts with God. God’s heart is open to us, God’s desire if for our wellbeing, and God is completely sincere in this. God does not want see us in pain, or hungry or thirsty or lacking food and drink, God does not want to see us trapped and helpless. It is comforting to know that our Father in heaven wants to forgive our sins and give us our daily bread. And it is good to know that God will not change his mind about this. St John says, God is love, and he means, God is forgiveness of sins and the giver of daily bread. All good things come from God.
The problem is that there is so much bad that gets in the way. All the horrors of the world stop us from seeing that God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all. (That’s St John again.)
The only way for God to reach us with the message of his concern and love was to send Jesus. And Jesus is not just a messenger, Jesus is the Word of God, the message of God, born as a human being, just like us.
This has changed the world for ever. We don’t have to look up to the sky and say, “I wonder if God cares whether I live or die?” Jesus is here in the middle of us to show us God’s care. He says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” God’s love is not up in heaven where we can’t see it, it is right here on earth where we can touch and feel and see and smell. By sending Jesus to abide with us, to make his home with us, God is saying, “I am much more than your Father in Heaven, I am your lover and friend, your constant companion in joy and sorrow.” Or if we use the words of the prayer again, God is saying, “My heart is open to you, my desire is abide with you and all the secrets of your joy and pain I know and suffer.”
These are the most important things to God, so important that Jesus died on the cross.
And in the last line of today’s gospel Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” I will say that another way. Jesus says, “This is what is important to me, I want you to be true friends to each other, honest, kindly, generous, patient, perceptive, forgiving and faithful. I have given you an example, I have been a true friend to you. But more, I have been true to those who tell lies, I have been kind to the cruel and generous with the miserly. I have forgiven the unforgiving, I have kept the faith with those who have deserted me, and I have given my life for those who do not value it.”
Well, that is a hard act to follow. None of us can do what Christ did. But we are gathered here, as we gather every Sunday to remind ourselves that as Christians, as followers of Christ, then we know how we should be behaving. We are here to encourage each other in the task, we are to honour Christ’s death on the cross, to commit ourselves to his friendship and love, and to hope for the resurrection to eternal life.