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Sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter

Sunday 5th May 2024 John 15 9-17

‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.’ One of the greatest enemies to a living faith is reductionism, another word I sometimes use is domestication. To reduce something, to domesticate it, is to take something extraordinary and dwindle it down, simplifying and sentimentalising as you go, until you have something flat and shiny and boring. Traditions of all colours and persuasions have domesticated God; they have domesticated Christ; and they have domesticated love. Take infinite riches and bottle them.


Love. Love has been made a frightful, rigid platitude. Sometimes with love certain people mutter something about treating each other with respect. Love can also be made into something authoritarian and dangerous, a force which kicks your door down and drags you kicking and screaming to Jesus. Sometimes when you hear the word love in church, rather like Jesus, part of you wants to swing on the chandelier (if you have one), just to wake us up from our deep slumber.

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ Here is one way to domesticate this teaching. First of all, reduce its scope. Some commentators say this is a love which is simply shared among the disciples or shared among a church. In other words, it is a limited love. Except that, as we know from the other Gospels, Christ’s command to love is a command to love God, neighbour and enemy. And if we reduce the scope of Christ’s love we are also, of course, reducing the scope of God’s love.


Here is where the real reductionism gets to work. Ingrained in many varieties of Christian tradition is the secret assumption that God’s love has its limits, it is a reasonable love which temperately weighs praise and punishment. But of course, this is not the love of God revealed in Christ at all. The love revealed in Christ is a terrible love. There is nothing more terrible than the full scope and reach of God’s unconditional love, a love which loves us in the depths of our sin, as much as on the heights of our virtue; a love that loves us in the depths of our private hells as much as in our intuitions and glimpses of heaven. Have a listen to Jesus in Luke if you don’t believe me. ‘But love your enemies, do good and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’


This abyss of love which Christ reveals and shares with us. The terrible, unconditional love and mercy of God, loving all that is, especially that which is least lovely. Indeed, a way to describe this scandal of God’s love is that God’s love is infinite patience with what is most unlovable.


‘I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.’ These words Christ uses, words which describe our participation in this scandalous love of God. Abide in my love. My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. Here is a good and difficult question to answer: How do we ourselves know and experience this unconditional love of God for us? Because at heart we fear ourselves to be profoundly unlovable. There are no easy answers to this. Here is one way.


Take a moment. Sit. You may be outside or inside. Allow the world to come to you, as it will, with its variety of sounds and impressions. You might be on a park bench, and you can hear the voices of people passing, the cacophony of traffic. Maybe you are in a house or flat and there are all the restless noises of the modern world. Bursts of music. A drill outside. Weather. Rain. Birdsong. Perhaps an argument is going on or a television is playing loudly.


And yet if you sit and listen to whatever is around you, at the same time you can sense this deeper presence, the deeper stillness. Sounds ebb and flow, come and go, rise and fall, but this abiding presence remains. And this presence somehow or other holds all the varieties of sound, the beautiful sounds, the ugly sounds, the good, the bad and the ugly. It holds the voice of a baby crying, a couple arguing, the traffic, the weather. The secret stillness of God.


Try it. Find a time to be still in public or private place and you may begin to detect this underlying stillness, this underlying presence, the love of God. You can’t describe it; you can’t domesticate it. It loves all that is and holds all that is and forgives all that is. There is nothing more terrible, more wonderful than this love of God.

 

The Reverend Ben Brown

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