Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 19th May 2019
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:35
The letters of the word “glory” provide a useful acrostic to help us think about the Gospel reading: “G” for “God;” “L” for “little children;” “O” for “one another;” “R” from the middle of the word “are;” and “Y” for “you.”
“G” for “God.” There is sometimes a tendency to read it as only a human story, to read accounts of incidents as though they were just part of history. There is a tendency sometimes to forget that the Gospel is about God being always present, a tendency to neglect the belief that God is always active. The Gospel says that in Jesus, God’s glory has been made known and Jesus emphasises this in Saint John Chapter 13 Verses 31-32. Judas, the betrayer, has left the room, it would seem a low point, a moment when God might seem very far away, yet Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” If the disciples needed a reminder who it was that was sat at the table with them, then here it is.
What might the fact that Jesus speaks such words at such a point in the story have to say? What do they say about seeing God’s glory?
“L” is for “little children. In Verse 33, Jesus says to the disciples, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.'” How did the disciples react to being called little children? Perhaps they were not happy about it. Perhaps they were troubled at Jesus’ words that his time left with them was short, that he was going where they could not go. When the crisis came, the disciples ran and hid as little children might have done when they were frightened; when Jesus rises from the dead, he finds the disciples in a room with the doors locked, as frightened as children would have been.
When Jesus speaks, wouldn’t still talk to Christians as “little children”? Isn’t there still a nervousness? Isn’t there still an avoidance of danger?
“O” is for “one another.” In Verse 34, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The disciples were not always a happy group, there were tensions among them, conflicts. In Saint Matthew Chapter 20 Verse 21, the mother of James and John comes to Jesus and asks if her sons can sit either side of him in his Kingdom. Reading on, Saint Matthew Chapter 20 Verse 24 says, “When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers.” Jesus was aware of the tensions. It would have been easy for the group to split after he left them. Jesus makes it a condition of discipleship not only that they love God, but that they love one another.
Christians cannot be recognized as followers of Jesus unless they love one another. How many churches are there where all the church members live up to the commandment of Jesus that they should all love one another? What would churches be like if they did fulfil that commandment?
“R” is the middle letter of the word “are,” (the textspeak version of the word!). In Saint John Chapter 13 Verse 35, Jesus tells his friends, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” Jesus is reinforcing his message, he is making it quite clear, Jesus is saying to them that if they do not love one another, then not only will they have failed the challenge, but they will not be known as disciples. Jesus is saying that it is not enough that they recognize that there are divisions between them, they must act to heal whatever it is that divides them, they must be held together by love.
Most Christians would probably readily acknowledge that even in the smallest congregations there can be very deep divisions. Christians might confess those divisions, they might confess that they have failed to live up to Jesus’ commandment, and they might think that they have done all they can, they might think that they are disciples. Jesus is saying that this is not enough, that Christians will really only be recognized as disciples if they really love one another.
“Y” is for “you.” “If you have love for one another,” says Jesus in Verse 35. Jesus is speaking to the disciples directly, speaking to them individually. He does not use a parable to make his point, he does not speak of others, he speaks to the hearts of those who were gathered there in that upper room. Jesus does not say “if people have love for one another,” he says, “if you have love for one another.” Perhaps there were some of the disciples who turned and looked around the room and thought to themselves how difficult this was going to be.
Jesus would look at churches and would say what he said to those disciples, other people will see you as my disciples “if you have love for one another.” It is a verse that asks for a personal response, it is a verse that leaves no doubt to whom he is talking
God, little children, one another, are, and you: GLORY.
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