Love, grace & forgiveness
Judg. 7. 2-22
John 15: 9-17
‘The manual for Salvation’
May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
St John’s Gospel is without doubt my favourite gospel of the New Testament. I love it’s rich and poetic language and it is cram packed with information and I like to think of it as my ‘Manual for Salvation’. I suppose I like it so much because I feel it was written for me personally, that’s probably because at the time it was written the composition of the church was mainly gentile and it is clearly written for a gentile audience. John does not assume the reader is ‘up to speed’ with the Jewish laws and Old Testament prophecies. Where the need arises he explains to his gentile audience, for that is who we are, the significance of what Jesus has said and done in relationship to its Jewish context. We must never loose sight of the fact that Jesus was not a Christian, he was a devout Jew, whose whole ministry took place within the context of that faith.
Today’s reading is particularly rich and important. At the start of the reading Jesus commands us; “that we love one another”, that sounds simple enough doesn’t it – till you try it! It is probably the hardest commandment that we are asked to perform. But it gets worse, Jesus qualifies his commandment “that we love one another” by adding the words “as I have loved you”. Now this takes the commandment to another plane altogether. How on earth are we to love one another as Jesus loved us – that is simply not possible, surely!
But just for a minute imagine what the world would be like if we could only manage to keep this one commandment: No more wars, how could you make war on someone you loved; no more starvation, how could you let someone you loved starve to death; No more poverty, how could we let people we love suffer poverty that we loved; No more crime, how could you steal from or murder someone you loved. God’s love as witnessed in Christ Jesus is the most powerful force on earth; it’s the only thing that can truly change lives for the good.
I think the most beautiful description of love that I have ever read was written by St. Paul in his letter to the Christians in Corinth. You’ll notice that the love St Paul describes is utterly unselfish and it’s often used during a wedding service:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
You can find this passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 verses 4-7 Look it up when you get the chance. A good exercise is to substitute your name for that of love, and reflect honestly on the result.
Jesus continues by telling us the price of this love by adding; ‘greater love hath no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. This last statement is of course prophetic, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his imminent crucifixion. But in this statement and what follows is some remarkable good news for us. Jesus says something astonishing to his disciples; he says to them; ‘you are my friends’. Up until this moment the disciples had looked upon Jesus in awe and wonder. As a great teacher, a holy man, a spiritual superior, an intellectual giant, perhaps? He was their Master. And then Jesus said to his disciples you are my friends! In effect my mates, my chums, my pals. I want you to regard me as your equal. That is astonishing! Now of course we here, you and I, are Jesus’s disciples today and this Gospel wasn’t written just for the people who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, they apply to all who read the Gospel, everyone who calls themselves a Christian. This evening Jesus was speaking to you and to me, personally, eyeball to eyeball, and he said; ‘you …. are …. my …. Friend. What makes this even more awesome is that Jesus is speaking on behalf of God. Jesus said. ‘I and my father are one’. So if Jesus wants you as his friend, then God wants you as his friend. Awesome! With friends like these how can we possibly fail! All to easily I am afraid is the honest answer except for the amazing Grace of the one who wishes to be our friend!
Grace is one of the key words in the Bible. It means mercy or forgiveness; although we don’t deserve it, God in his mercy graciously forgives us for all the sins we have ever committed’ the moment we genuinely repent. The ‘Amazing grace’ which the hymn sings about, is the generosity of God’s forgiveness, offered to every one of us, even the most wretched of sinners. Grace comes at no cost to ourselves; forgiveness can never be earned, we can never do anything to deserve God’s forgiveness, it is simply the fruit of God’s love. The theme of St Paul’s letters, written to churches made up of Jews and Gentiles, is that all of us are equally undeserving. Paul proclaims that we are justified by grace, through faith, not by doing the works and commanded by the law. All Christians pay lip service to this doctrine; but have you ever really taken to heart what it means when it’s applied to you as an individual child of God?
So the meaning of the word ‘grace’ is extended, to include the spiritual strength which comes to us because of God’s gracious love. You can compare a Christian to a light bulb, which can’t shine on its own. The electrical power it needs is in the mains, but it can only make the bulb shine if it’s plugged in and the switch is on. Similarly God’s power is always available: God is only waiting for us to ask, and he’ll gladly give us the strength of will and the spiritual determination to do good deeds for God’s sake. But we must make the connection; we must plug ourselves in through prayer, praying regularly and passionately, and then God will give us spiritual strength, or grace, so that we can do absolutely anything God calls us to do.
St John wrote: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Surely it is not asking too much of us, that we should at least try to love one another as he has commanded us to do!