Summary: A "Dog eats dog" Kingdom or a Kingdom of Love
Jn 13:31-35: A new motivation
Story: The Liberal Prime Minister, William Gladstone, in announcing the death of Princess Alice on 14th December 1878 to the House of Commons, told this touching story.
The little daughter of the Princess was seriously ill with diphtheria.
And so the doctors told the princess not to kiss her because by kissing her she would endanger her own life by breathing in the child’s breath.
Once when the child was struggling to breathe, the mother, forgetting herself entirely, took the little one into her arms to keep her from choking to death.
Rasping and struggling for her life, the child said, "Momma, kiss me!"
Without thinking of herself, Princess Alice tenderly kissed her daughter.
And as a result she contracted diphtheria herself and died some days.
Real love forgets self. Real love knows no danger. Real love doesn’t count the cost.
The Bible says, "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it. (Song of Solomon 8:7)"
In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus gave his followers ONE very specific instruction on how to demonstrate their Christian faith.
On the night of his betrayal, Jesus took on the role of a servant and washed his followers’ feet - something that was countercultural.
It was countercultural because that was the job traditionally of the lowliest servant in the house. It was so countercultural that, at first Peter refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet.
Yet Jesus told him that unless he agreed to allow Jesus to wash his feet he can have no part of Christ’s kingdom.
You see the point Jesus was making is that His Kingdom is not like any other Kingdom. It is not a “dog eats dog” Kingdom.
It is a Kingdom of Love.
That is why Jesus said that he who wishes to be the greatest in the Kingdom of God must become the servant of all.
You might say God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom of Servanthood. We are called to serve one another –
And the Jesus went on to say these words – which are our Gospel reading this morning
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all people know that you are my followers, if you love one another” (John 13:34-36)
In other words – Jesus is interested in our motivation – love.
And he gave us the supreme example of this at Easter in AD29. As St. Paul so succinctly summed the matter up:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)
Of course “Loving your neighbour” was not a new command in itself.
We read in Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
What is new however is that love is the “Law” of the New Covenant.
The Jews of the Old Covenant kept the commandments of the Torah – our first five books of the Old Testament out of a sense of DUTY.
Jesus in contrast calls our motivation to be different. We are called to LOVE.
Francis Schaeffer founder of the L’Abri Fellowship said:
“Love is the final apologetic”
Tertullian in the second century reported the comments of pagans in his day:
“Behold, how these Christians love one another! How they are ready to die for each other!”
Their mutual love, Bruce Milne, the BST Bible Commentator wrote ”was the magnet which drew pagan multitudes to Christ. It has the potential to do so still.”
Archbishop William Temple once said that “the church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of its non-members”
But is that what the unchurched really think about us today?
Or is the famous parody of Onward Christians soldiers much closer to the mark?
Like a mighty tortoise
Moves the church of God.
Brothers we are treading,
Where we’ve often trod.
We are much divided,
Many bodies we,
Having different doctrines, but
Not much charity.
The challenge of the Gospel reading this morning is this
Jesus calls us to follow his Example and love one another.