Summary: A charge to a church awaiting the arrival of a new minister.
Love One another
Jesus said: ‘This is my command: love each other’ (15.17)
Well, the day has finally arrived. At some time around 6pm this evening, God willing, Steve Kelly will accept the responsibility for the ‘cure of souls’ (to use the archaic language of the induction service) for this parish and so become our new vicar.
It is now 10 months since our previous vicar, David Bird, left us for pastures new in London, ten months in which we have enjoyed the ministry of Marcus Gibbs, our curate and acting vicar, ten months in which others in seen and unseen ways have stepped up to take on added responsibilities.
But now the waiting is over. Today the interregnum draws to a close and a new chapter in the life of St Giles church opens.
But the question is: what kind of church is Steve coming to lead? Is it a church characterised by the kind of love that Jesus spoke about in our reading? A love which is modelled on the love of Christ himself? Or is it a church characterised by selfishness and self-seeking? A selfishness that is the very opposite of Christ’s life and Christ’s commands.
This reading is one of several that are set in the lectionary for the institution of a new vicar. And I believe it is well chosen, because it forces the spotlight away from the new vicar and what he is like and onto the congregation, onto ourselves, and requires us to ask these challenging questions about ourselves. A church characterised by the kind of love that Jesus requires will be a joy to lead and, in the words of our reading, will bear much fruit that will last.
I want to pick out three consequences from this passage of what it means to love one another in the way that Christ describes:
1. Loving One Another Means Remaining in Christ (9-10)
This passage sits within the wider context of what is known as Jesus’ farewell discourse. These are his final words to his disciples on the night before he was betrayed and crucified. At the beginning of this chapter Jesus uses the metaphor of a vine to describe his relationship with his disciples. He tells them in verse 4 that just as the branches of a vine must remain connected to the stem if they are to bear fruit, so the disciples must remain connected to Christ if they are to live fruitful lives.
And in verse 9 Jesus picks up the idea of remaining, but this time he speaks about remaining in his love. ‘As the Father has loved me so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.’
His point is this: we cannot love another in the way that he wants us to unless we are connected to him, unless we remain in his love.
Love is a universal human characteristic. Parents love children. Husbands love wives. Brothers love sisters. Sisters love brothers. And so on.
But there is a particular quality to Christian love which can only be expressed by abiding in Christ. It is as his love flows into us that we are able to love others in this way. To add a refinement which Paul adds, love is part of the fruit of the Spirit which we receive when we are connected to Christ.