You and I know that the old days of certainty are over. The things we relied upon are no longer reliable. The Global Financial Crisis has shaken our trust in Banks and insurance companies. Governments and politicians who make firm promises and then break them have lost our trust. The terrible revelations about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in
Is it any wonder, then, that people are confused. Some will try and find things that don’t change in a world that is changing. They scramble for something that is trustworthy and true, only to find that what they seek is changing too.
For most people, then, it’s a matter of keeping your options open, being ready to move when necessary to a more secure place. For many people it means looking after number one – making choices which will bring the greatest benefit to them. A person might drop their job, their marriage, their place in the community all for the sake of finding something which they think will be better for themselves.
There is a sense that any relationship is something you enter into is a kind of temporary contract and you only stick to it if it serves your own interests. The idea is that everyone is entitled to chase a certain kind of happiness and relationships are only the tools we use to find our self fulfilment and happiness. We become subject to ourselves alone, and not subject to the claims and bonds of others. Commitment ceases to exist. Ask any church leader, any leader of a service club, sporting club or other voluntary association. People will come to the big events, the celebrations, the parties, the things that give them easy happiness, but they disappear when there is work to be done.
In the gospel today we hear of the very opposite. Jesus tells his disciples that the only way to be true to Jesus, the only way to be a disciple of Jesus, is to be committed to other people. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus’ disciples are those who live to be in relationships. The relationships themselves are what fulfils a person. Self fulfilment and happiness are to be found by maintaining relationships through thick and thin. The claims and bonds of others become a vital part of our formation as people.
If we find that our relationships are faulty, we are commanded to work at them. We should try to establish relationships even with those who want to harm us. Love your enemies and do good to those who harm you. In today’s world we are taught to avoid our enemies and leave those who harm us. Jesus commanded his disciples to stay in relationships and transform them into something good. In today’s world we are taught to get out when things get tough.
There is real stress here. We live in what we call the real world, but we live in the
Some Christians would say you have to choose one or the other. If you want to be a true disciple, they say, you must abandon the false values of the world, withdraw from the rat race and live a true Christian life among other Christian people. There is nothing to trust in the world, so leave it and find a group of people who think the same way as you do. Alas, this is a recipe for disaster. This is where fundamentalism and cults develop, and where they collapse and fail.
Other Christians are more realistic. I hope that we fall in this category. We recognise that there is a tension between our Lord’s commands and the ideas of the world. There will always be a struggle between the demands of the gospel and what goes on in the real world.
We confess our sins and receive the forgiveness of God, we share the bread and wine which is the body and blood of Christ, so that we should be filled with grace and peace, freed from our sins and united with our saviour in faith. The truth is that the week will be hard, we’ll forget our promises and ignore our relationship with Christ.
But Christ’s death and resurrection is God’s promise of good and our hope for salvation even in the struggles we face. Even the most loving human relationship is not perfect. The reality is that sometimes relationships do break down. For us, death is the most complete breaking of a relationship. For us, the death of a relationship, whether it be a marriage, a friendship or a partnership is painful and agonising. For us, it is a betrayal of all our hopes and expectations and the breaking of Christ’s commandment to love one another.
I believe that Christ was betrayed and was crucified to show us that God understands these things. Christians live in a real world where pain and suffering are real, we betray others and others betray us. Relationships die and we are crucified.
God knows this and God shows us, in Christ, that after betrayal and death, there is a resurrection. God knows that sometimes the most loving thing to do is to accept the death of a relationship in the promise and hope of a resurrection.
This, for me, is what loving one another is about. Life and love, love and pain, pain and death, death and resurrection, resurrection and new life.
Today we renew our commitment to both Christ and the world, building community and building faith, learning to live with each other and inviting others to join us, sharing what we can with those who share the struggle. By this everyone will know that we are Christ’s disciples, that we have love for one another.