Love one another: summary of Hector’s sermon this morning

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‘How many commandments are there?’  Hector asked the congregation at the start of his sermon.

‘Ten!’ a few voices replied in a ragged chorus.

The Ten Commandments

And Hector spoke about the Ten Commandments given by God to the Jewish people after their liberation from slavery in Egypt.  He ran through them quickly. ‘Thou shalt not……Though shalt not….’  80% of them, he pointed out, eight out of the ten, are negative. Only two of them, the instructions to remember the sabbath and to honour parents, are put in positive terms.

Why the negatives? Hector suggested it could be that the newly-liberated people, journeying from Egypt and to Canaan, the Promised land needing reminding that God wanted them to live differently from both the Egyptians they knew so well, and the Canaanites they still had to encounter. God was saying ‘I want you to live in this, distinctive way.’

Keeping the commandments: an expression of love

But it clear that keeping the commandments was an expression of love. Both a vertical love to God, and a horizontal  love to out neighbours.  For example, in Deuteronomy 6:5-6 keeping the commandments is linked to loving God:  ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.’

And in Leviticus 19, keeping the commandments is inseparably linked with loving others – for example verses 33-34 –  ‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not ill-treat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’

And Jesus picked up this theme, linking law and love, showing that love is an embodied expression of the law:

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’  (Matthew 22:36-40)

All of the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament are summed up by Jesus in just two. Love the Lord. Love your neighbour as yourselves.

The Command to Love

And then in John 13:34-35 Jesus gives a ‘new commandment’:

A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

‘Love one another’: this phrase is repeated three times. In the culture of the time, a three-fold repetition was an indication of the importance of what was being said. This command to love, Jesus was implying, is the sum total of what God commands of us, expects of us.

The ‘Beloved apostle’, John makes a powerful point along this line in 1 John 4:20:

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

We manifest our love for God in loving one another, Hector said.  And Jesus is an exemplar of this, as we see in John 13, and especially in the final verse of John 14, where Jesus says; ‘I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.’  (John 20:31)

Why a ‘New Commandment’?

Why did Jesus call this a ‘new commandment,’ Hector mused?  After all, as we’ve seen, the association of love with the commandments is inherent in the Old Testament.

Hector suggested that Jesus means the work ‘new’ in at least two ways:

One:  Whereas the original commandments were given by God at a time when God was establishing a ‘Covenant’ with the Jewish people (what we call the ‘Old Covenant’), the ‘New Commandment’ was given by Jesus in the light of the ‘New Covenant’ he was about to make possible through his death and resurrection.  But there’s a clear link with the Old Testament.  It’s the same, liberating God, but a new covenant at Calvary.

Two: The commandment is new in the sense that we now, in Jesus, have a human being who shows us how to love God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength.  Jesus is the only person who has ever loved God with the totality of his being. And we shouldn’t be surprised that love is the hallmark of the New Covenant, for the King who forms that Covenant is love.

Jesus highlights that love for one another is the litmus test which shows whether or not someone us in God’s family. It’s not a question of arguing over tiny differences in belief – love is the thing.

The measure of love

Jesus shows us the life of heaven; he reveals the love of the kingdom, the immensity of love.  And then he says ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ (John 13:34)  It’s a call to express the love of God as he has expressed the love of God – in humble service.

In John 13:4 we’re told that Jesus disrobed himself – he took off his clothes, and wrapped a towel around him. This is King Jesus, taking off his royal robes in order to serve,  to become a servant.  Jesus does what no adult Jew would do, showing an extraordinary love. This is Jesus, the Servant King. It’s the same movement of humility which St Paul describes in Philippians 2:6-8

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very natureof a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

The authority of love

And see the context (John 13:3-4):

 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist.

In other word, this extraordinary love is the way Jesus exercises his authority.  Compare this radical love with the exercise of authority we see throughout history. The kingdom is and upside-down kingdom: or rather, the world is an upside-down world.  The kingdom of God is different from any other kingdom.

And we are called to this.  Wherever we exercise authority – at home, at work, at church, in the community  – we are called to exercise it in the way Jesus did, to be  an embodiment of the kingdom of love.

Jesus washed his disciples feet (John 13:5)  This was symbolic of what Jesus would do at the cross. John 13:1 tells us that in this action Jesus loved [his disciples] ‘to the end.’  Or, as it’s sometimes translated ‘Showed them the full extent of his love.’

The original Greek for that phrase ‘to the end’  means  ‘to the end point.’  This is capable of two interpretations, and Hector thinks it’s likely that John, in composing the Gospel, had both interpretations in mind.

It could (and does) mean that Jesus would love his people until the end of his own life. Until he draws his last breath, his love for people would not wane, or diminish. Hence, even at the climax of his personal anguish, on the cross, he was concerned about his mother, about the thief hanging by his side, about the people gathered around the cross. Till his last breath, his love endured.

But it could (and does) mean that Jesus will love us to the uttermost, to the furthest point that love can ever reach. We can never see greater human love that the love of Jesus, strong, intense, passionate.  Astronomers have not yet penetrated to the edge of creation. But Jesus on the cross showed us the end of love, he showed us how far love can go.

Those phrases from John 13:1 ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’ serve as a title for the rest of John’s Gospel – an illustration through death and resurrection of the extent of God’s love.

The cleansing of the foot-washing points to a great cleansing on the cross, where Jesus divested himself of his inheritance, and his very sonship. He cried, not ‘My Father!’ but ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me.’  And in that moment of radical self-emptying he secured our cleansing, the removal of our sins.

‘Do you believe he was there for you?’ Hector asked us.

‘Do you believe he loved you that much?’

‘I hope you can,’ said Hector. ‘That’s the gospel. You will never be loved greater than that.’

The impact of love

John 13:35: ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’   This is how it shows when we embrace the teaching of Jesus. Not by preaching, or repeating the Shorter Catechism from memory, but by loving one another.

This is the sign of our orthodoxy, the sign that we have heard Christ:  we will be willing to serve all  who profess to follow Jesus, even those who might end up to be  Judas – someone who has the potential to betray Jesus.  We simply ‘wash the feet’ of one another.

We might ask ‘To what extent am I,  are we, is this church, is the national church truly following Jesus?’ And the answer is simply ‘To the extent that we love one another.’

What brothers and sisters do we need to serve humbly today, Hector asked. Whose feet do we need to wash? People whom we’ve been avoiding for days, weeks, months, years? Decades even?  Or to put it another way, ‘Are there any brothers and sisters whose feet you would not be ready to wash today.’

Hector invited us to come back to the cross, to let go of our pain, and hurt and bitterness, and begin to live a life of love.

We know the church needs a treasurer, a data protection officer. Are we willing to serve one another in love that way, Hector asked.

‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

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