Isaiah 5: 8-30
Acts 13: 13-41
May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
During one of my recent visits to an NHS waiting room, I picked up a magazine and was intrigued to find an article on the origins of some of our everyday sayings, and the one that caught my eye was the phrase ‘Come hell or high water’. It was in common use in my grandparent’s house in Cornwall when I was a boy, and I had always assumed that it had had a nautical background. ‘Hell and high water’ always conjured visions in my mind of the gales at sea and the strong tidal currents that my grandfather had had to deal with all his working life as a fisherman. It came as quite a shock to read in the article that this could not be further from the truth! The origins of the phrase came from America, and it is a legacy from the days of the ‘Wild West’ when cowboys drove their longhorn cattle through the ‘hell of the barren prairies and across the deep fast flowing rivers that stood in their way! I thought you might enjoy learning that piece of useless information.
Here we are just a few days away from our great festival of love and good will to all men that is Christmas. I mentioned it to help you imagine what it means to do something, and go on doing it, no matter what the cost. Because that is what Christian love is all about. Jesus tells us to love one another in the same way he loves us. The love of Jesus isn’t a fleeting emotion; his love for us led him to the cross, so that he could show us what true love really means. Jesus said, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. This is love without limit, love without a price. Jesus lets nothing deter him, and loves us come hell or high water.
So that’s how Jesus wants us to love each other. Oh I know it’s easy to feel loving when the lights are low and you have a good meal inside you. But love is for life, not just for Christmas. Christian love’s an act of the will, a determination to love someone whether or not they love you in return, whether they seem grateful for your love, or even when they are hostile to you. Christian love’s a decision to love those you like, and also those tat you dislike, for ever and ever, come what may, through hell and high water. That includes our parents and our children, and the life partner whom you promised to care for ‘till death do us part’; but it also contains the obligation to love your enemy, the neighbour who has complained about your fence, the unknown brother or sister who is dying of starvation somewhere in the world, or the homeless schizophrenic living rough on our streets. It is hard to love people like that, but Jesus didn’t say it would be easy. ‘Love one another as I have loved you’, he said, but there must be times when even Jesus finds it difficult to loves us, with all our faults and with all the wicked things we do to one another. But he doesn’t let it stop him. Even as he was being crucified he prayed for the soldiers who nailed him to the cross.
This is the test of true love, and it’s the test of all those who would call themselves Christians. Would I be willing to sacrifice my life to save the life of another? I find this question deeply disturbing, because I don’t know the answer. I just don’t know if push came to shove, whether I could do it. I hope I would, but I pray to God I shall never have to find out. Fortunately, most of us will never be put to the test. But there are lots of lesser challenges, ‘lesser Calvaries’ we meet every day. Should I spend my time or money on the things that I want to do, or do some random act of kindness for someone else?
Fortunately, with the challenge, Jesus gives us the means of rising to it. He calls us to love other without limit, precisely because that’s how Jesus loves us. And knowing that Jesus loves you, you can tackle anything. Let Jesus enter into your heart and you don’t even have to make an effort to love other people, despite your personal feelings about them, you simply let Jesus love them through you! If Jesus can love me, sinner though I am, I am sure he loves my enemy in the same way, by using my hands to wash my enemy’s feet with. We simply have to surrender to Jesus the right to choose whom we shall love. Then when we realise that for Christ’s sake we can’t refuse our love to anyone, we have to follow where Jesus leads us and love them for ever, come hell or high water.