Sermon for High Mass Easter 5 Sunday 19 May 2019
Sermon preached by Fr Julian Browning
John 13.34 Jesus said: . “… as I have loved you … you also love one another.”
Jesus gives us a new way of living, a new way of dying, and His way of love. You will have heard countless sermons about Christian love. Today I speak to those who find Christian loving really difficult: Just can’t, just can’t love those we don’t like, those whose views we condemn, those who don’t like us, those to whom we are indifferent. Love one another, easier said than done. So what do we do? Pretend? Try harder?
Yet love is to be the mark of this new community of the new era, the Church. What have we missed? I think our stumbling block is that in our culture, and in our education, love is an emotion, a passion. It is an emotion, love is the primary emotion, we’re not just brains, love moves us, inspires us, and the need to love and be loved is one of the human mechanisms for survival. But in today’s society, that is all we are, our passions, there is our authentic self, a mixed bag of passions, that’s who you are, so go for it. Follow your passion, that’s the message from internet pundits. I’m not so sure. Do you not remember that it was your passions which got you into trouble in the first place? And if you don’t remember, then you really are in trouble. All of us are dealing with disordered loves, one way or another. Paul to Titus chapter 3: “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures”, even the good ones. It’s not that we’re bad or unloving, it’s just that passions, which are fundamentally good, have the power to deceive, so that in the end we can even deceive ourselves that we are loving one another in a Christian way, when we’re not really. You cannot love the world with an emotion. That’s what we’ve been trying to do. When passions dominate, we are unhappy. So I say to you, do not follow your passions, follow your purpose.
Our Christian purpose is to go with Jesus into his Kingdom. This is what Paul goes on about when he writes letters to congregations like us. You are joined to the Lord, you are citizens of a different kingdom, a kingdom defined by the love we show each other, but this love is miles beyond love as an emotion, it’s the life of God Himself, in which we are rooted and grounded. There’s nothing like a gardening metaphor to make things a bit clearer. Rooted and grounded in love. Not by us trying harder. No need to pretend to be a loving person when you’re not. Something way beyond us has happened, we have our purpose, and it has nothing to do with our emotion-ridden ego. It’s God’s gift of himself. We were washed, we were sanctified, we were justified, saved, set free, how often do we need to be told that to live life to the full we no longer need to be enslaved by emotions or passions or the lack of them, because a new principle of life is available to each of us, a future, a purpose, when it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Our passions, which are good support that new life, but they do not define our new values of Christian living.
Loving Christ is the deepening of our relationship to the Truth, year by year. Jesus Himself is the Kingdom of God in person.
Loving God is something you are doing already without thinking about it, because wherever Christians look, we see the love of God and respond to it. There are no exceptions. There are no places inside you or in the whole of Creation where God’s love does not exist, even in our own selfishness and addictions. Seek out God’s love and you will find it. The love we know is a desire for God.
Loving one another, as in Jesus’s command to us today, is clarified by St Paul. I know we have 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings, and it works well with romantic love, but it’s about so much more. “Faith, hope, love abide, but the greatest of these is love”. Christian love is not a human characteristic, emotion or feeling. Rather, God is Love. Make love your aim, Paul says. Make love your aim because that is God’s own character. God as Love is obedience, faithfulness and self-sacrifice.
We can only love one another through self-giving, not through the self-assertion which our passions display. The next time you fail to love one another, or anybody, and you know you’re useless at it, brush the guilt away. Emotions pass, passions die down. You are not alone, even when you turn away by yourself from others, because God never turns away from any of us. Let us have courage to discover our purpose in this Life and pursue it. That all follows from the triumph of Love which we celebrate in Eastertide, the same Love with which Jesus loves us: “as I have loved you”, He says. Our true purpose and our happiness is to show God’s love to the world: Love Divine, all loves excelling.