St Bride's: Sermons

"Love one another as I have loved you"

Taken from a Sermon on Sunday 9th May, 2004

At the end of a week in which we have seen disturbing images in the press of abuse and mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by American and British troops, we are faced with these words from today's Gospel reading (John 13: 31-35) - Jesus telling his followers "Love one another - just as I have loved you, so you must love one another." Our troops are engaged in a vital campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi population, and instead are seen to be a repressive and brutal occupying force. Whether or not the Daily Mirror photographs are authentic or fake it sadly seems certain that widespread mistreatment has taken place. And Jesus tells us to love one another. I don't know whether you have seen any of an excellent Channel 4 documentary Children of Abraham, directed and narrated by Mark Dowd, a member of this parish and congregation. In it he explores the three major faiths which own a common ancestor in Abraham and asks the question how can three faith communities which hold so much in common find it so difficult to co-exist and live together, to love one another. Against the background of our sharply divided and corrupted world Jesus' 'new' commandment stands in silent condemnation. "Love one another as I have loved you". Love is all about the other person; it's all about service and self giving. Look at my manner of life, says Jesus, and find in it a pattern and an example and a power for yourselves.

"This is to be the badge that the Christian community wears before the watching world. As we read verse 35 we are bound to cringe with shame at the way in which professing Christians have treated each other down the years. We have turned the gospel into a weapon of our own various cultures. We have hit each other over the head with it. We have defined the 'one another' so tightly that it means only 'love the people who reinforce your own sense of who you are'.
Tom Wright

But Jesus calls us to an open-handed and open hearted kind of loving and living that welcomes and embraces difference and diversity, the 'other person' whether he is like me or not.

The Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, interviewed by Mark Dowd in his film, says this in his book "The Dignity of Difference":-

"Religion can be a source of discord. It can also be a form of conflict resolution. The great faiths must now become an active force for peace... for a way of living with and acknowledging the integrity of those who are not of our faith. Can we make space for difference? Can we hear the voice of God in a language, a sensibility, a culture not our own? Can we see the presence of God in the face of a stranger"

And Jonathan Sacks ends his book with this challenge: -

"In our globalised interconnected world... we have come face to face with the stranger, and it makes all the difference whether we find this threatening or enlarging. Every scriptural canon has within it texts which, read literally, can be taken to endorse narrow particularism, suspicion of strangers, and intolerance toward those who believe differently than we do. Each also has within it sources that emphasize kinship with the stranger, empathy with the outsider, the courage that leads people to extend a hand across boundaries of estrangement or hostility. The choice is ours."

You and I at this particular moment can do little to extend the hand of friendship to the Iraqi people, but we can each put into practice Jesus' new commandment to love one another, to be inclusive in our thinking and acting in our everyday lives, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The choice is ours: we must pray for the strength and the courage both individually, nationally and internationally to make the right choices as we seek to follow our Lord?s way.

Amen.

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