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28th April – Easter 5 – Jack Noonan

 
 

Sermon (Click Link to Listen)

Bible Readings: Acts 11. 1-18; Revelation 21. 1-6 & John 13. 31-35

Sermon Text:

Today’s short Gospel reading is preceded by 2 significant events. Firstly there is the low-key and telling lesson Jesus gives us in genuine humility and service when He washes the feet of those who called Him Master. The second incident is where we find Jesus being specific in relation to His betrayal. Previously, He had made general statements about being betrayed but on this evening, ‘troubled in His spirit’, He says with emphasis : ’ Truly ,truly, I say to you ,one of you will betray me’. Jesus privately identifies Judas as the betrayer to John and gives Judas the dipped morsel of food thus honouring him. This act, within that culture was a gesture of love and kindness. Judas was identified before the apostles as an honoured guest.

This last act of recognition had no apparent effect on Judas, who may now have suspected that his scheme was known to Jesus.

Then after taking the morsel Satan entered him’.

and Judas goes out into the exterior darkness, leaving the fellowship of Christ.

2.It frightened me to reflect on Judas. How despite spending 3 years in close fellowship with Jesus, his heart for some reason became hardened towards Christ.So near and yet so far.

But could we become like this? Hearts desensitised by life style, rationalisations, pride, arrogance, disappointment, disillusionment, over familiarity with matters religious and eventually developing a dismissive glibness in relation to the things of God.

This can happen, especially if we become side-tracked, in our spiritual growth in the Christ; side-tracked into subconsciously undervaluing the faithful simple, daily, intimate relationship with God; unwittingly substituting for it a barren legalism of religious observances, habits, rituals and self-effort. Might you and I then become capable of taking the consecrated dipped bread of Holy Communion with a callous heart? As Augustine said in a different context ; ‘there go I but for the grace of God’

When he had gone out’; the atmosphere tangibly change. There is a sense of urgent realisation and excitement in Christ. Jesus, aware that betrayal and death were imminent and that His time, with those He 3.deeply loved, was very short; embarks on one of the most reassuringly beautiful, caring, poetic, tender, loving sequences in all our Scriptures.

It opens with this morning’s brief reading from chapter 13and continues right through to the end of chapter 17. (Read it on returning home today.)

The progress of thought in these chapters is less logically linear than it is radiating, spiralling and poetic. Wave on wave of recurring words of assurance and comfort are spoken. Fortifying the apostles and us with: ‘Let not our heart be troubled’…..despite how circumstances may appear in the world of natural sight as distinct from seeing with eyes of faith.

In these chapters Jesus breathes out the blossoming, magnificent, intimate relationship of the eternal passion and love which we have, through Him, with the Father and Holy Spirit.

With the aura and negative energy of Judas having left the meal, Jesus is now with His own, knowing in his heart the full significance of what is about to unfold. He speaks to them of the glory, the radiance that is about to unfold.( In just 2 short verses the term ‘glory’ is used twice and ‘glorified’ three times.) God is 4.glorified in Him and He is glorified in God. Nothing will ever be the same.

That which was planned from eternity is soon to be made manifest. Satan’s demise and ultimate defeat together with our eternal redemption will be secured.

The apostles must have looked at each other in some perplexity at the urgent passion with which Jesus spoke. They were rarely noted for spiritual astuteness; this side of Pentecost.

Jesus affectionately addresses them as His ‘little children’. In the knowledge that being forewarned is to be forearmed; the Lord tells them of His imminent departure and that soon He would no longer be with them in the way in which He had been for the last 3 years. And where He will be they cannot yet be. Though they will seek Him, they will no longer be able to relate with Him in the way they once did.

He will explain later their need to wait for the Holy Spirit who will incorporate them (as He does us) into the Father’s life and love, so that like Jesus, we all shall co-labour with God in his work.

At this point, with time so short, Jesus encapsulates the vital kernel of His survival strategy for the disciples into 5.a renewed, expanded unequivocal commandment in relation to our core obligation to each other.

A new commandment I give to you, that you (to) love one another///: just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

a new commandment I give you’.

This is not a recommendation, neither is it a suggestion.

The new commandment allows us precious little wriggle room for prevarication and is quiet uncompromising in both directness of language and logic.

The extent of the terrain covered by: ‘love one another’is without qualification and is unambiguously plain.

 

Jesus goes significantly beyond earlier scriptures in relation to our obligations to ‘love one another’: ‘ just as I have loved you,,,,,, you also are to(keep on loving) love one another’.

And what was this love like? The love we are to breathe on each other.

6.Throughout His public ministry He concerned Himself for them in terms of instruction, welfare, counsel, comfort, safety, correction and prayer. He took their part when they were accused ,criticised , publicly acknowledged them , compassionately bore with their failings, made the best of them, excused them, forgave them, considered them dearer to Him than His mother, sisters and brothers. In short He genuinely loved them, including Judas, and was now about to lay His life down for them.

This radical love would be the hallmark and trademark of early Christian witness. To those observing the early Christians this amazing love which they bore for each other was seen, commented upon, admired and sought after by the world’s non-believers.

Tertullian, around 200AD records; But it is mainly the deeds of love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. ‘See’, they say; ‘how they love one another… see how they are ready even to die for one another.’

At this point, it would do us no harm both as individuals and as a congregation to examine ourselves in relation to this commandment. Like many a Christian and congregation we have a very uneven performance.

7. This being the case it is best we confess our failures, both as individuals and as a congregation in order to receive the loving forgiveness of our Father and the urgently needed energy of the Holy Spirit in our lives, hearts and consciences. This new commandment cannot be ignored by us. It is not an optional extra.

It is however reassuring to know that Christ does not command the impossible. Paradoxically a radical love underpins the new commandment and only love can sustain our keeping of it. Christ’s love is not only the model but also the motive and cause of our Christian concept of love.

What is our way forward?

Absolutely no sense in trying to obey it with the ‘I must Try Harder – Sheer Will Power and Effort Approach. Striving hard to do all the ‘oughts’ exhausts, disheartens, hardens hearts, spiritually depresses. Self effort is short lived and depleting. To quote WB Yeats it ‘adding prayer to shivering prayer until you’ve dried the marrow from the bone….’

The way forward is profoundly simple. Pray and Trust. Pray and Wait .Pray and Rest. Pray for a reenergising transformation in your relationship with Jesus. It must become as real as any relationship we experienced. Study and accept who God says you are in Christ. Take time to become conversant with your true real identity and inheritance in Christ. We are more than we can see.

It is only the enabling work of the Holy Spirit that effectively transforms and aligns our hearts with the glorified heart of Jesus so that we rejoice and wallow in the enjoyment of this new commandment of Jesus.

It is only the Holy Spirit can renew our minds.

It is only the Holy Spirit who can penetrate the dullness of our rigid thought patterns, our emotional blind spots and petrified egos with the incredible realities that are ours in Jesus’ Good News:

That all that is sinful and contrary to God in us has been crucified with Christ.

That we are completely forgiven and completely reconciled to God.

That we are completely made new and given Christ’s eternal resurrected life.

That we are indwelt with the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God Almighty.

That we are hidden in Christ and united with Christ in the heavenly places and as such we are participants in the eternal love that flows between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Seeing who we really are and what we really are in God’s eyes it is time for us to search the Scriptures, live freer lives. Have an adventure with God.

Rejoice, be glad, be so incredible happy that because of the abundant overflowing love of God we can love all, suffer all and forgive all through His indwelling Presence alive and well within us. Amen.