Easter 6

A Sermon preached by Clare Heard on the Sixth Sunday of Easter

In 1942, the British Council of Churches was established. Plans were made to offer practical assistance, to build peace after the Second World War. A Christian Reconstruction in Europe committee was formed to help establish a vision of a world without war. This was the beginnings of Christian Aid.

Over the years, Christian Aid has expanded its vision, beyond just Europe, beyond just refugees, to helping the poor and fighting oppression and persecution globally. It has moved from simple relief to tackling the causes of poverty and continues to fight for justice throughout the whole world.

It has come up with hard-hitting slogans and powerful messages, such as:

In 1971 “Ignore the Hungry, and they’ll go away”
And then in 1987 “Do you believe in Life before Death? We do.”

It has had the support of both politicians and celebrities but has also not been afraid to speak out against policies and actions, with campaigns such as Drop the debt, Fair trade, and Make poverty history.

Today, we are at the start of Christian Aid Week, an annual event that focuses our attention on the poor, the homeless, the persecuted and the weak. It is a time to remember all the fantastic work that Christian Aid does, and it is a time to support them.

In the readings today, we have been told to abide in God’s love, love one another, and keep God’s commandments. Which very conveniently, links in perfectly with the work of Christian Aid.

How better to love each other than to support the work of this amazing charity, to get involved, to give, to pray?
I would encourage you to do all of the above, but I’d also encourage you to stop and ask yourself the question - where does all that we have to give come from?

We are able to love, only because God loves us. It is God’s holy spirit that gives us life and love – the spirit breathes life into every human being, and points us towards God the source of all love.

In the gospel today Jesus commands us to abide in God’s love – only then are we able to go on and keep God’s commandments. This is not just about being able to keep God’s commands – if we are really abiding in God’s love, then we will want to – it will be a pleasure rather than a burden.

I think in today’s world, when we hear about commandments, we assume something negative. We place so much value on freedom of choice, and freedom of speech – that even the word command is fairly counter-cultural!

But if we look back to the Hebrew scriptures, the law was a gift – something to be cherished and to rejoice in – the happy path to relationship with God.

So too, today, God’s commands should not be burdensome – they should be a pleasure to fulfill.

If you think back to early days of being in love (if you’ve been so lucky, or perhaps unfortunate, as to experience that particular emotion) – it was a joy to do things that would make your beloved happy. We would happily sacrifice our own desires and needs for the sake of our beloved.

Now that state of affairs does not often last long, particularly once the intensity of the first flushes of love have died down – however, in loving relationships the behavior may still be there, we may still go out of our way on behalf of those we love – it’s just that sometimes it’s not quite such a pleasure to do so.  

I heard someone say that when a man opens a car door for his wife to get out, either the car is new, or the wife is!

It can be difficult to always behave in a loving and generous way, especially when we are tired, worried or cross – and that’s when our beloved is right in front of us.

How much harder can it feel to obey God, who can seem infinitely more distant? Our love for God is based on faith, historical knowledge, the Bible, and sometimes an experience.

The key to loving others, the key to loving God, is to receive God’s love – to abide in his love as the gospel tells us.

The scriptures are very clear on this – we are baptized children of God, we are friends of Jesus, we must abide with him. But do we? Do we give God the time and space that we give other important relationships in our lives? Do we stop for long enough to listen for his voice, or give him space to bless us?

Do we know how much God loves us?

I think I can safely answer that none of us can really fathom quite how much God loves us. The closest we may be able to get is to consider how much we might love our parents, our children, or our partner – but even the deepest love we could possibly feel, could not come close to God’s love – because God has a much greater capacity to love than we ever will.

In Philip Yancey’s book, What’s so Amazing about Grace, he says that there is nothing we can to do make God loves us any more, and nothing we can do to make God love us any less.

But what we should hold on to, is that the starting point for that love is already off the top of the scale. We are loved, we are adored by God, each of us, with all our failings, with all our darkness and sin, each of us is truly loved.

It’s too much to grasp. We cannot fathom it because God is so beyond us. But it is real, and it is this love that allows us to go out there and be the best we can be –we can do what is right, we can be forgiving, we can be generous, we can be kind and we can love.

But we can do all of this far more effectively if we allow ourselves to stop and receive the love God has for us.

And this is where we fall down – we are often too busy to receive the most important and life sustaining gift of all – it’s almost equivalent to saying we are too busy to breath air, too busy to drink water – some things in life are essential – and what is more essential than the love of God?

Now I can’t tell you how to receive God’s love – it will be different for each of us. For some it will be through mediation (and there is a group that meets here each Monday), for some it will be through prayer, for some through silence, for some through reading scripture. It could be through music, or art. Through sunsets and mountains. There are so many ways that we can stop and experience God’s love for us.

However, it does always require us to make space in our lives – to create some silence, to stop and listen and feel. And it might take practice.

If we can do this, if we can catch glimpses, experience even a little of God’s immense love for us, letting us know how cherished and special we are, we will find that we are able to love others, we will be able to give – because we have been filled to the brim with love that has to overflow, we can not contain such love – it will pour out of us to those in our communities and beyond. Our hearts will become softer, we will care more, we will feel more, and we will want to keep God’s commands because in receiving his love, we are able to love him better, and in doing so, will get pleasure from obeying him.

Through creating space in our lives, we can start to transfer the knowledge of God’s love from our head to our heart, we can internalize his words and commands so that they become part of who we are.

There is a complementarity between our actions and our hearts – the more we practice behaving in loving and generous ways, then the more our hearts grow.

Christian Aid is one way to connect with God’s love, one way to share with the world – but we must also make sure we receive, we must stop and listen to his voice telling us how much he loves us.

God truly loves you – and there is nothing you can do to make him love you less.