Saturday, 6 September 2014

Love one another

Romans 13: 8-14; Matthew 18: 15-20

I have a question for you? What does it mean to love one another?
I’m not asking this question because I think you have a problem with loving one another – I’m not on a secret mission to sort out some deep problems of non-loving behaviour. As is usual for me as the synod moderator, I’m here for the first time to lead worship, helping you celebrate this special occasion, and faced with the lectionary readings. 
And they, quite clearly, tell us to love one another.

It’s not subtle – the passage we have from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome starts “owe no-one anything, except to love one another”.

That might sound easy (if you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by lovable people) it might sound tricky (if you happen to know a lot of curmudgeonly types), but it doesn’t sound very… profound, does it. We’ve all heard it before, it’s hardly a stunning new message to carry this church into another year of service and worship.

But of course it’s never quite that simple, this loving one another.
Paul points to the complexity of love – the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments are summed up in this word ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.

Now that’s a double whammy.
First love yourself. Forgive yourself your foibles, resolve to live well, accept that whatever the marketing people tell you, you are exactly as God made you – however thin your hair, or thick your skin, or unexciting your hair colour.
God looks at you and sees a lovely, unique and beautiful created person – and he loves you. So, says Paul – love yourself.
And if that wasn’t hard enough, the second blow from Paul is ‘now love your neighbor that much too’. Care for their needs as much as you would your own.
This is what it means to love one another.

Suddenly love one another isn’t sounding so simple, is it?

So at first glance the gospel reading seems simpler – as it seems to show us Jesus offering a step by step guide for handling other people in the church.

If your brother or sister sins against you:
First go and talk to them alone
If that fails, take one or two other along with you
If that fails, take it to the church
And if that fails, treat them as you would a tax-collector or sinner.

It might seem at first that Jesus is offering a limit to our love of another. Try to sort things out with them, but if you can’t, then treat them like a tax-collector or sinner.

But before we get too excited about a possible “three strikes and you’re out” rule, remember who is saying this: Jesus.
And how did Jesus treat tax-collectors and sinners? Ask Zacchaeus, ask the woman caught in adultery, ask Simon Peter…He didn’t shun them as many would, he engaged with them, went to their houses, listened to their stories, forgave them their sins.
If the simple steps to sorting out a relationship with another fail, then Jesus says - don’t give up, but try harder to understand, and never give up loving.

It’s clear that Peter understands what Jesus is saying, because if we had read on in Matthew’s gospel, the very next question from Peter is “Lord, how many times must I forgive someone – as many as seven?” to which Jesus responds – ‘not seven but seventy times seven’.
Love one another – and keep forgiving until you’ve lost count.
This is what it means to love one another.

And Jesus makes it clear that this call to love and forgive one another is a special responsibility for his disciples. “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”. Jesus repeats the phrase he said to Peter at Caesarea Philippi, when Peter declared Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus declared that Peter was the rock on which he would build his church.

If we declare that Jesus is the one sent from God to show us God’s face and God’s kingdom, then we are called to be built up into his church. And being the church of Jesus means being those who live out the Gospel message of love – properly loving ourselves, seeking to love our neighbours as ourselves, and never tiring of building right relationships based on limitless forgiveness.
This is what it means to love one another.

So what at first sounded too simple, perhaps now sounds too hard !
Love one another – and never stop? Forgive more times than you can number? Be so like Jesus Christ that people will be able to say you have “put on Christ” . as Paul describes it?
How on earth are we meant to do all that!

We can only do it on earth by remembering that we are actually citizens of heaven.
It is only through asking for God’s grace to pour through us that we will be able to love that this – only when filled with his gracious love for us that we will we able to offer endless love to others.

 So it is just as well that we meet for communion around the Lord’s table. Here we can remember how deep God’s love for us shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here we can eat and drink and receive his gifts of grace. Here we can be remade as the people of love God always meant us to be.

Here we learn what it is to love, as he hear the gracious words of our saviour “Love one another as I have loved you”.
So be it.

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