Sermon 6th May 2018 Andy Braunston

In the 1960s – I am told – the Beetles sang their anthem “All you need is love.”  It summed up the spirit of the age where flower power, a new resistance to war – Vietnam and the Cold War with the Soviet Union in particular were large parts of the youth culture.  The “make love not war” generation heralded a whole liberalisation of society and the Beetles’ song was seen, by many, as the answer to the problems of the world.  Of course this wasn’t seen as the answer by all; many felt that love was a vague, dreamy concept and that some hard-nosed realism was needed.  Focusing on something as vague as love would simply distract people from the real problems.  It might be possible to read Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading as being a source for the Beetles’ song but I think the love that Jesus speaks of is deeper, grittier and rather more nuanced than the pop song of the 60s would have us believe.  Indeed, much of contemporary culture swings between “all you need is love,” “can’t we all just get along” and a suspicions of the motives of potential adversaries.

Jesus, in today’s reading, extols love as the virtue but I think he means something more than the dreamy vague feeling that we often mean by love. Jesus tells us that the Father loves Him, and He loves us; he calls us to abide in that love. But love is about obeying his commandments.  He calls us to emulate him by loving others and that love is about laying down one’s life “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  This isn’t about flower power, hippies, or swooning with a new partner.

We said earlier that the English love is ambiguous when it is used as a translation of the various Greek words used in the New Testament.  For Christians, however, the supreme example of love is God – revealed in Jesus.  Love is part of God’s own character – a love that is primarily interested in the good of others.  This is the love we are called to emulate – it might be difficult, at times other emotions may come into focus, but at the heart of our Christian understanding of God and life is love – the love God shows us and the love we then must show others.  If we ask how, we simply turn to this passage where Jesus tells us to love others as he has loved us. Sacrificially, wanting nothing in return.

This isn’t the hazy, feel good love of the 1960s counter culture, but a love that demands we lay down our lives; a love that demands sacrifice.  We can only do this, however, by being grounded in the love of God.  Centuries ago Augustine tried to describe the Trinity as the Lover, the Beloved and the Love that flows between them.  As we unite ourselves to Christ the Holy Spirit the love that flows, gives us energy, dynamism and purpose.

Today is a new start as we {admit new members} / [ordain deacons].  We’ve come on a long journey as a church – a journey dating back over 200 years.  Love is what has sustained us on that journey and it is sacrificial love that will continue to guide and empower us as we journey on.  The future will be different to the past but we are called to the same task as our forebears – to show the love of God to our community.  A love that is impressive, compelling and sacrificial.

Will you pray with me?

O God,

you have prepared for those who love you

such good things as surpass our understanding:

Pour into our hearts such love towards you,

that we, loving you in all things

and above all things,

may obtain your promises,

which exceed all that we can desire;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.