And so we are called to love one another. Not just when it’s easy. But when it’s hard.
In the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen, please sit.
What I command you is to love one another. I mean, it’s kind of where I should stop the sermon, isn’t it? I mean, what else is there to say? What I command you is to love one another. We have our APCM today, that’s the annual parochial church meeting, and because the Church of England is an established church and because it can make laws of the land, we have to make sure that we have oversight from the people that we care for in our parishes.
And so once a year, we have to have this this meeting where we present our accounts and we present what we’ve done in the year and we write reports and then it’s open for anybody in the parish to ask any questions or say, could you do this or could you do that? We do it every year.
And in in in many ways, that’s very irritating because we have to sit down and write quite detailed reports. We have to produce quite detailed accounts. And actually it would be an awful lot easier if I could just shut the doors of those church of this church, and we could all just come in and everybody else could just get on with their business and we could get on with our business and just get on like that. But if we were to do that and there are churches that do that, if we were to do that, we would miss we would miss this command to love one another.
Now, to love one another isn’t to be nice to one another, we can all be nice to one another, and I’m sure we’ve all had a smile on our face when we’ve spoken to somebody that we don’t like and through gritted teeth, be nice to them. I know I have. But to love somebody. Is hard. It’s really, really hard and to love somebody who isn’t in your club. Is even harder. What do I mean by that?
Well, to love somebody in your family, well, you can kind of go, OK, I get that. I understand that love is kind of hardwired into us, that love for our family is hardwired into us by years of evolution and protecting our family. And you can go a little bit further. You can say, well, I can love my friends because this is my group of people who support me and care for me. So that’s easy.
And bizarrely, it’s quite easy to love somebody that you don’t know at all. Because they have no impact on your lives.
But it’s hard to love those people who are at the edge of your community and at the edge of your family, and that’s why we as churches and that’s why we here at Saint Anselm continually go on about loving the people at the edge, because it’s the hardest thing for us to do. We have to fight our human nature to allow it to happen because the people who are at the edge.
Well, there’s lots of reasons not to like them, never mind, not love them.
Now, this is really interesting because as soon as I said that, I used the word them and I’ve already put the people on the edge into a separate category, then what do I mean by that? What I mean is that people who do not comply with our rules of how to live a life are not welcome. That is how the world is. It is how the world has been for thousands of years. It’s there in our first reading.
People believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God. Jesus has risen from the dead, and yet still the people of the time are saying, if you don’t follow this rule, you cannot be in this club. They’re gate keeping the love of Jesus. Saying here is the gate and you could only come through it if you jump through these hoops. And what they are doing is they’re getting it the wrong way round. There shouldn’t be a gate to come to know Jesus, there shouldn’t be hoops you have to jump through in order to come to Jesus.
And that’s not something that the church determines. That’s not something that we figure out in the APCM. And that’s something that each and every one of you figures out every single day when you talk to people about your faith. Because if you say, well, in order to come to church, you must do X, Y and Z. No. In order to come to church, you’ve got to walk through those doors, that’s it. That’s it!
And then Jesus will choose you. It’s not up to us to decide who gets to love Jesus and who Jesus loves. It’s up to him. And so we as a church must never do anything that stops people walking through those doors ever.
Our scripture this week, our readings this week in our daily mass have all been about this. Because this is what the earliest Christians, those early Christian communities were battling with, they were trying to figure out because they were moving from a world, the Jewish world, where there were lots of rules about deciding who could go in the synagogue, who could come to know God, who was worthy enough to know God. They had to figure out what that cataclysmic change was when Jesus came and went, no, no, none of that is important. I will choose you.
And so we as the church, we as the people of God are called to help people through those doors. And it’s at that point, the people will come to know the love of Jesus Christ because he will choose them and he will work in their hearts and the Holy Spirit, will work in their hearts. But we don’t have the confidence for that sometimes. So we try to we try to come up with ways to try and almost manipulate people into it.
But the truth is, we don’t need to because God’s love will work in them, and that’s what we need faith in. We need faith in the action of the Holy Spirit. Now, for some churches, that’s really hard because they don’t get to see the action of the Holy Spirit as much as we do. But here in Saint Anselm, I don’t know about you, but the last nine months have been rammed with the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in this place.
And so we take that joy that we have experienced here, we amplify it out into the world and say, come and see, that’s what my sermons are basically about, always come and see because then Jesus will work on you.
But I bet I bet because we are human, there will be people that we will think, well, actually no, probably better you don’t come to church. I do not want this person and I don’t want that person and I don’t want this group of people and I don’t want those sorts of people and I don’t want somebody who thinks in that way. And I don’t want.. Because, actually, I quite enjoyed my Sundays as they are, and I don’t want things messed about.
There are some churches where I would have to go on for some time about how unacceptable that is, but I haven’t seen a hint of that here ever.
So then am I saying that the rules that we are given by Jesus to follow are unimportant and we shouldn’t care about them because love. No. And that’s the mistake a lot of people make. They see the first part of these readings and they see that that first part of the commands to the early church to not put barriers in the way people coming to know Jesus, to not put those gate keeping things in, to invite everybody, regardless of who they are into church, is saying none of the commandments matter anything that gets in the way of relationship with Jesus Christ is bad. Therefore, none of it… Because love.
And they’ve jumped this enormous chasm, they’ve gone from understanding what Jesus was teaching about acceptance and coming to know Jesus and living as Jesus called us to. And that’s where you grow. So that’s that’s where you end up, and that is a journey that can take a lifetime. And it’s unfair to expect people who don’t know Jesus, who are just coming through the door to be at the end of that journey, which we often do.
Jesus tells us we must follow the commandments, the early church in Acts tells us we must follow the commandments. And the greatest amongst those commandments is to love God. And to love one another has he loves us. But importantly, it is the greatest amongst the commandments. Jesus didn’t throw the rest of the commandments out. He said, you view them all through these two. They are the lens. Do you see the difference in those two things? Do you see that if somebody is coming to know Jesus Christ, there should be no barrier on them coming in to know that and Jesus will work in them, and then it is our job to help them on their journey towards that place of following Jesus Commandments.
Because if we do follow his commandments, it’s not about ticking boxes, but if we follow his commandments, if we love one another. If we live our lives in the way that Jesus taught us to live our lives, then that love in us will be amplified and sent out into the world because Jesus taught us how to live good lives. Jesus taught us how to love one another. He gave us practical, practical models of how to love one another.
To feed the hungry, to cloth the naked, to give water to the thirsty and so on. This is not an esoteric thing. This is a real thing.Let’s work that through as an example. Somebody comes into this church and they say, I don’t believe that you should give food, they shouldn’t be running the food bank. All the food bank does is encourage people not to work. Now, we know that that is not how Jesus has taught us to live our lives.
So would we send that person packing and say, you are not welcome here because you’re not doing the thing that Jesus taught us to do?
Or would we say to that person, come in? Come into church, we love you, come and learn what it is that Jesus has to teach you. Can you see why no barriers at the door helps people to discover the love and live the life that Jesus taught us? Can you see that we have to work hard to live our lives, as Jesus has taught us, and to follow those commandments, to follow the examples in scripture? To pray on these things and try and get that really high bar that Jesus set us to live our lives really high.
You don’t have to be at that bar to come to church. I always make the joke about this, and I can make it because I’m a large man. If only fit, thin people went to gyms, what would be the point of gyms? If only perfect people came to church, what would be the point of church?
And so we are called to love one another. Not just when it’s easy. But when it’s hard. When you find yourself looking at somebody who you fundamentally disagree with.
We are called to love one another in those moments. And in that example of love to people around us. They will come to know the love of Jesus Christ.