Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Love one another
May 3, 2010, 4:55 pm
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A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, May 2nd 2010

“I give you a new commandment.” In what sense is the commandment to love new? In summarising the Old Law, our Lord had said that it consists in loving God with all our heart and mind and soul (the first and greatest commandment), and in loving our neighbour as ourselves. The first of these comes in Deuteronomy 6.4; the second in Leviticus 19.18. So how is it a new commandment?

What is love? We use the word in many ways, often trivialising it and distorting it. But there are two main senses in which we speak of loving something or someone. In one way, we use it to express our attitude to someone or something, based on what they give us. We value them because they enhance our lives. I love my wife, and I would be lost without her. I love the music of Beethoven, it uplifts and inspires me. I love the English countryside, it is so beautiful and peaceful. Those are perfectly proper ways to speak. I love what is good, good for me.

But there is a second way of loving (and it may apply to the same objects) in which I love and value something or someone with no reference to myself at all, but for what they are in themselves. In fact, I may be prepared to sacrifice my own interest and advantage for the sake of the other. I am concerned for their welfare, even above my own. This applies especially to love for other persons, whose welfare is clearly understood. I cannot in quite the same way work for the welfare of Beethoven’s music, except perhaps by not murdering it on the piano! I can, perhaps, work for the welfare of the English countryside, for instance by opposing the building of a motorway or wind-farm. But such concerns still come back, usually, to questions of human welfare.

Our Lord said, Love one another, as I have loved you. When God came into the world as a human being, when he laboured and suffered and died, he did so not for his own advantage, but for ours. Indeed, when he created the universe, it was not for his benefit but for ours. The love of God, expressed eternally in his own divine nature, and expressed in time in the human love of Jesus, has no element of selfishness in it at all. He simply pours out his goodness, like a fountain that never runs dry.

When Jesus tells us to love one another as he himself loves us, he is setting us a huge challenge! How can we, weak and frail and imperfect as we are, ever rise to it? We cannot, by our own power. It is not in the nature of a created being to be that disinterested. By nature, we can only love in the first way I described, from our own perspective. To love as God loves, we need to have God, as it were, inside us. We need (in St Paul’s phrase) to “put on Christ”. We must be transformed into his likeness, filled with his Spirit.

The Spirit of Jesus- the Spirit of the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit- is nothing less than the Love of God, his never-ceasing outpouring of himself. It is his Gift, first the mutual gift of Father and Son to one another, then their gift to created beings capable of receiving it. We can only love as Christ loves, if we open ourselves without reserve to his Spirit. God rejects nobody (although, alas, many reject him). God wishes ill to nobody, he does not want the death or destruction of sinners, he wants them to turn back to him and live. To live, truly, is to love. To refuse to love is, in the end, to die.

In the first reading, from the Book of Revelation, John sees the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven. He is told, here God lives among his people. His name is God-with-them, that is “Emmanuel”, as we heard at Christmas. Despite what some may say, the New Jerusalem, the Ideal Society, is not built up from below by human beings. (Whoever is elected on Thursday, don’t get your hopes too high!) The Holy City comes down from above. It is the Gift of God. It is in fact where God lives among us, the God of Love. The Church and Christ are one. He is the head, we are his Body. We shall be known as his disciples when, and only when, we love one another as he does

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