Sunday, April 28, 2013

Christ's love & the salvation of souls

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the our Gospel reading today Jesus says to his disciples 'A new commandment I give to you that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.' I tend to think that the jaws of all those present must have dropped at that moment. Picture the scene: the disciples are in the room with Jesus, eating the Passover meal; Jesus has just washed his disciples feet, a fairly extraordinary thing for a Teacher to do for his followers; and then he predicts that one of his close followers is going to betray him, a fairly ominous statement given that Jesus had already previously spoken of his suffering and death, and the fact that they all knew that the religious authorities were looking for a way to arrest him. And then he gives them a new commandment. Think about who it was previously who had given commandments – God, and God alone. And Jesus doesn't say 'God has told me to give you a new commandment', he says 'I give you a new commandment.' He is speaking using his own authority … and he is using it to do something only God has the authority to do.

Now what does Jesus mean when he tells us to love one another as he has loved us … rather when he commands us to do so, with his divine authority? First let us think back to a couple of weeks ago when I pointed out that in Greek there are several words that we translate as love, with each referring to a different kind of loving relationship. The word Jesus uses hear is agape, which means an all encompassing, self-sacrificing, and completely voluntary kind of love; the love that God has for his children; and the love that God's children must have for him. It is this kind of love that Jesus commands us to have for one another. 

And next let us consider what it is that the love we have for each other must be like the love he has for us. This means we must look at what Christ's love for us was ordered toward. It was the kind of love that allowed us to die for us. It was also the kind of love that was never afraid to challenge us. Think of how Jesus behaved: he taught people and challenged them to change how they lived in compliance with that teaching. And he wasn't afraid to tell them that behaviour that wasn't in compliance with that teaching was sinful. 

And he wasn't afraid to tell people to turn away from those sins. Why? Because he wanted them to have eternal life. And those who didn't listen to him, who rejected him either in word or deed, would not inherit eternal life. The love that Christ command us to have for others was ordered towards the salvation of souls. It wasn't ordered towards making them feel good about their choices or not making them feel uncomfortable with how they were living or taking some sort of laid back approach along the lines of what's sinful for one person may not be sinful for another, so let's all hug, and I'm sure God will understand if you reject the teaching that the Word made flesh came to earth to bring you!

This is what Jesus was saying to his disciples just hours before he was arrested, tortured, and crucified; and he did so in order to save us from our sins. He was commanding us to love others in such a way that it helps make it a real possibility that they might one day go to heaven. Not being Christ we do not have the authority to change his teaching, to water it down in order to make it easier for those who find it difficult. That is not what Christ did when people grumbled to his face and said it was too hard. He let them walk away. Christ's love is tough love. It needs to be because he wants us to go to heaven. 

The implications for those of us who follow Christ are stark and stern: in order to obey Christ's commandment, which we must do, we must proclaim Christ's message to all; having no authority, either in word or example from Christ, to soften that message so that it will fit in better with the values of the world, we must proclaim his message in all it's fullness; this means not being afraid call sin what Christ and his gospel and his Church calls sin. To do otherwise is put in danger the souls of those we are told to love; to do otherwise is to put our own souls at risk for failing to obey the commandment of Christ to love others as he has loved. Something that I pray all here, and all God's Church, will never be tempted to do. Amen.

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