“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you … love one another.”
I think it was Mark Twain that I first saw quoted, saying that it was not the things in the Bible that he didn’t understand that bothered him, but the things that he did understand. If it wasn’t Mark Twain, it should have been, and whether he said it or not, certainly a lot of us have felt exactly that, whether we have explicitly articulated it or not.
It’s not the things that we don’t grasp in the Bible that are the problem, though sometimes we would like to make out that they are the problem.
Sometimes we would like to pretend that the real issue is that we haven’t adequately grasped the full significance of Jesus’ words to us, and so it only makes sense to hold off doing anything too radical until the final word is in regarding the authorship of the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas!
But the truth is that such things don’t really matter. Where the problem lies is not in what we don’t understand but in what we do – most plainly the problem lies in this fundamental command – love one another!
It struck me recently that the church (at least the church in this country) might never have really grasped this command!
That’s funny, isn’t it, because Jesus said it so often. ‘Love one another. Even as I have loved you, so you must love one another’. ‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another’, etc., etc.
Maybe that’s why Jesus said it so often, because he knew we’d have trouble absorbing it – ‘love one another’?
It struck me with all this kafuffle that’s being made about The Da Vinci Code movie at the moment.
In case you missed it, our Diocese has poured an enormous amount of effort recently into putting together a website and a truckload of printed material designed to help stave off the misleading falsehoods propagated by this book and movie.
I’ve left a few of the promotional postcards for the website that they sent me scattered around the back of the church, but I was also sent a form through which I could order, not only more postcards, but great books and banners and a whole variety of material all designed to address the challenge that has been put to the church by this new movie. I didn’t put in an order.
‘Why not?’, you may ask. ‘Because I don’t believe that this is the problem’.
Now, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that implicit in this ‘stand up against the onslaught of the Da Vinci Code movie campaign’ is the belief that this movie is taking people away from the Christian faith, or at the very least, blocking people from coming to faith. I don’t think this is the problem.
Our Diocese has set a missionary goal of getting 10% of this city into church within the next few years, and the general assumption seems to be that what is blocking that from happening is that people are not convinced about the truth of the Christian message. It is seen as an intellectual problem.
Hence the problem we have with The Da Vinci Code. ‘Hey, if it hadn’t been for The Da Vinci Code, who knows how many extra people we might have had in church with us this morning?’ I don’t think that’s the problem.
A generation or so ago we thought it was science that was the problem. All these modern evolutionary theories and so-called scientific notions that seem to contradict the Scriptures – that’s why we can’t get people into church!
And so the church prayed that the people of this country would see through the limitations of science and start hungering for something of spiritual substance, and so (as an answer to prayer perhaps) ‘new age’ spirituality was born, and now a lot of those prayerful people wish they were back doing battle with the scientists!
Science was not the problem. The Da Vinci Code is not the problem. New Age spirituality is not the problem.
A number of us spent last Saturday evening at the Sly Fox Hotel, fraternising with people who are not members of this church. Indeed, despite that fact that, between them, those people shelled out the best part of $5000 for us, most of those persons were probably not members of any church.
Why do you think that is? Do you think it might be a scientific problem that they are struggling with? Could it be the crystals of new age that keep them away? Is it that The Da Vinci Code has shattered their fledgling faith?
No! The reason that most of these people would stay home on a Sunday morning – ordinary, beer-drinking, Australian people (OK, there were some wild and woolly ones in that crowd too, but for the most part ordinary Aussies) … the reason most of those people stay away from church is because they think the church does not love them. And they are right (aren’t they?)
I swear it is the most significant thing that I have ever learnt about Christian Mission in all my years as a Christian. Why is it that people stay away from the church? Because they don’t feel the church loves them or wants them.
Far from it! My many dialogues with the boys at the local would suggest that most people in most pubs in most cities in this country, if you ask them what they think of church people, will tell you that church people think that they are better than they are!
Such people don’t feel loved. They feel looked down upon.
That’s why it was so important that we spent that night at the Sly Fox, just sitting down and chatting and having the odd drink with the locals there. OK, after one night they still might not feel enormously loved by us, but at least they would not feel what so many people in that environment do feel in relation to the church – namely, rejected!
‘Love one another!’, says Jesus. ‘Love one another!’ ‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples – that you love one another’.
And just in case we were tempted to water down the full impact of the love Jesus exhorts us to give, He defines it for us: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” This isn’t ‘love’ in terms of having the warm fuzzies for someone. This is love defined in terms of self-sacrifice – costly love!
This is why we find it so hard to love, because it costs us so much. It’s just too much effort!
Thinking about the missionary battle of the church, I was reminded of that story about the guy who has dropped his wallet and is searching for it, looking all around his kitchen. When his wife asks, ‘are you sure you dropped it in the kitchen?’ he says, ‘No. I think I dropped it on the porch, but the light is so much better in here!’
Do you get the point? It’s so much easier to do my investigating in here where the light is good, even though I know it’s the wrong place to look!
Doesn’t that sound like so much Christian mission? We know that the real problems people have with Jesus are not intellectual, but we’d rather fight the battle at that level because it’s so much easier than having to go out and sacrifice ourselves in the real world!
‘Love one another!’, says Jesus. ‘Love one another!’
Father Ken spoke about love last week too if you remember. Indeed, you may remember that he told us that there were lots of different sorts of love spoken of within the Bible itself.
There’s the warm fuzzy sort of love, but that’s not the sort of love that Jesus exhorts us to.
There’s the erotic and romantic type of love, but that’s not it either.
Christian love is a very particular kind of love that is defined by Jesus in terms of self-sacrifice, and that’s why I wonder whether, in the Christian sense of the word, the opposite of love might not be hate, but perhaps fear?
What is it that stops us from truly loving one another as Jesus commanded? I think it’s probably just fear.
I remember when a certain Ecclesiastical leader, who will remain nameless, said to me that ‘We (ie. the church) can’t possibly say ‘sorry’ to the Aboriginal people of this country because we would open ourselves up to all sorts of law suits, and might indeed suffer the same fate as our sister church in Canada, which has almost been bankrupted through law suits since they apologised to their indigenous people!’
I remember at the time thinking, ‘yes, but what would Jesus do?’
If you gave the Lord Jesus the choice between trying to make amends to a people who had been damaged, on the one hand, or making sure that He kept all his financial assets safe, on the other hand, what choice do you think the Lord Jesus would make? Do you need time to think about that one? Not really!
Now you might want to debate over whether saying sorry is really the best way to love these people, and that’s an important issue to work through, but the fact remains that we would beafraid to love someone that way because we are afraid of losing our stuff!
On the other hand, if we could get over our fear of losing our stuff, we would be free to do just about anything – to say sorry, to make ourselves vulnerable, indeed, to go and sell our possessions and give our money to the poor!
Very few of us are able to do that, because we’re afraid of losing our stuff.
And if we fear losing our stuff, we fear losing our life even more. Yet Jesus tells us time and time again that this is exactly the sort of fear we need to get over if we are ever to be truly effective as disciples – ‘whoever does not take up his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple!’ (Luke 14:27)
Fear, I believe, is what holds us back from love. And it is our lack of love that prevents us from truly being able to transform this world for Christ.
What I’m saying here is not rocket science. It’s pretty straightforward.
My buddy Kon always says of boxing that it obviously can’t be too difficult to grasp because … hey, boxers do it! The same might be said of love, that it obviously can’t be too difficult to understand. Hey, the first disciples did it. And we can do it too. We just don’t like being called upon to love, because we don’t like having to pay the price.
We’d rather busy ourselves with some less costly spiritual alternative – enter into a theological debate perhaps over the merits of The Da Vinci Code! And so Jesus has to keep on reminding us:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. … These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
First preached by Father Dave Smith at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill.