Reading: John 15:9-11
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever read any famous last words; the things people say on their death beds? A couple of years ago someone bought me a book of famous last words. I enjoy the odd funny one like the general in the American Civil War whose last words were ‘they couldn’t hit an elephant from this distance’ or when Groucho Marx was told he was dying he replied ‘dying my dear. That’ll be the last thing I’ll do’. My personal favourite was when a 19th century Mexican Dictator was dying, he asked what the noise outside the place the presidential palace was and his attendant told him ‘The people have come to say goodbye’ and he replies ‘where are they going?’.
Forgive me the morbid humour this morning – but in reality, last words are often a chance some people get to speak to loved ones and tell them something really important, their last opportunity to share their love or wisdom. In the gospel reading today, we are right in the middle of Jesus’ farewell discourse in John where Jesus is talking to His disciples right before His crucifixion. Although these are not His last words as such, they are Jesus trying to impart one last time in person all the most central teaching He wants the disciples to take on, so when we come to read John chapter 14-17, we need to pay special attention as Jesus really is imparting His heart to the disciples.
Here in John 15 in these 3 verses we hear something very important as Jesus says 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
When I read them in preparation for this homily, to my mind the natural question is, what are the commandments of Jesus that we need to keep? The easy answer is that the very next verse after our reading is this ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ But didn’t Jesus give us more commandments than that? So, I, using my expensive and long theological training, turned to google – and depending on the article you read Jesus gave either, 6, 7, 8, 10 or if we look at the whole New Testament as inspired by Jesus over a 1050. So, if we are to abide in His love, which commandments do we follow? It can seem rather confusing, can’t it? So how does one keep Jesus’ commandments to abide in Jesus’ love if e cannot be sure exactly what constitutes a commandment and what doesn’t? and what about the idea of grace, how does that work around commandments?
Frankly, the rabbit hole I went down, which so many Christians go down is just completely wrong. You hear it again and again, how someone, trying to keep what they understand as what Jesus calls them to, or what they believe the Bible plainly says, whether it does or doesn’t, can cause real hurt to people made in God’s image, people for whom Jesus died, by being overzealous. The truth is, I think, to keep the next verse ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ As central to our faith. This is the very heart of our Christian discipleship. It is, after all what Jesus choses to teach us from His own deathbed.
Love one another is so simple and easy to fail at. Yet we are invited to do it, particularly with those who are difficult or dangerous or undeserving. Love one another is the foundation and we will keep Jesus’ commandments if we start to learn what that means.
Love one another and we abide in Jesus’ love, just as Jesus abides in His Fathers love. Do we really appreciate what that means? When we love one another, we abide in Jesus’ love who looks at us in the same way the as the Father looked at Jesus as we are now. You are loved, you are looked upon just as God the Father looked at Jesus with the love of the heavenly Father. You are loved not as a sinner, but as a child of God. You are completely loved when you keep Jesus’ commandments.
Perhaps the journey of discipleship is coming to understand more and more exactly how loved you are as you love one another.
So, love one another, go out and realise just how much, as you are today, not as some perfect you who is always out of reach, how much God loves you right now. Love one another, let go of any anger or hate, love one another, be set free into the love of God who looks at you through the death and ressurection of Jesus and sees His own child with whom He is pleased. Abide in Jesus’ love and keep His commandment to love one another.