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.
And we remain in Christ and in his love by obeying his commands: verse 10.
If you obey my commands you remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my father’s commands and remain his love.
Obeying the law of Christ demonstrates that we know the love of Christ. Knowing we are loved means we want to please the one who loves us and we please him and remain in fellowship with him by obeying.
We mustn’t get this the wrong way round. Christ does not love us because we obey him, because we are ‘good’. None of us is good, and none of us therefore deserves Christ’s love. Rather Christ loves us because he loves us – and a sign of that we know that love is that we want to love him back by pleasing him, by obeying his commands.
As he says in verse 16. ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’. That choice is his free choice which he exercises according to his own will and purpose. We are simply the recipients of his choice and the beneficiaries of his love. But if we want to continue to abide or remain in the love, we must obey his commands.
Imagine a situation where an orphaned child is offered the opportunity of being adopted into a family. The family are loving parents to that child and the child is given every opportunity to flourish in the family. However, there are conditions for being a member of the family. Certain rules have to be kept that are necessary for the child and the family to flourish. And over a period of time the former orphans flouts more and more of those rules, so that eventually he is threatening the wellbeing of the whole family. Reluctantly, the parents require the child to leave, not because they have stopped loving the child but because the child has stopped abiding in their love.