15th May 2022

Acts 11:1-18 / John 13:31-35

Dear friends,

Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

In a way, this phrase sums up the Gospels – that’s it in a nutshell; “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. 

We’re told this is a new commandment from Jesus, but it’s not just a new one, replacing the ten that Moses brought down from the mountain. It’s all of them and so much more brought together in God made man – Jesus. And in the phrase, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”, the 2 words which make all the difference are, ‘just as’. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”.

It might seem a little odd that Jesus described this as a new commandment because love was already central to many parts of the Old Testament. In the Book of Leviticus, the Jews were commanded to love their neighbour as themselves (19:18). So how was this new? Well, Jesus brought a new depth and a new type of love. And he’d demonstrated that love in every word and action he showed to others. It was forgiving, unconditional and non-judgemental; so far removed from the way love was supposedly demonstrated by the pedantic Law keepers of the day.

So, Jesus says, love one another in the same way I’ve loved you.    

What’s strange is that Jesus commanded the disciples and us to love one another. But we can’t be commanded to love. In fact, ‘commanding’ is the very thing which is likely to kill love. On the contrary, only love can bring about love. But Jesus makes this new commandment possible because of the ultimate example of love he gave by dying on the cross for us all.

There’s not a lot of love lost in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this week; Peter is being chastised because he’s eaten with Gentiles – that’s folk like you and me. This strange-sounding little passage was really significant in the life of the early church, but why? Well, it’s good for us to remember that the very first Christians were all converted Jews and there were some who would have been very happy for this new movement to have remained a sect of Judaism, rather than a faith for all people. So, Peter explains what he’s been up to; he had seen a vision which sounds very peculiar – a sheet seemed to come down from heaven containing a whole host of animals and creatures. Peter then heard a voice telling him to kill and eat an animal of his choosing, but Peter refuses because in the Jewish faith there were strict laws surrounding the slaughter of meat – it had to be Kosher. However, the voice informs Peter that there’s a new way to be and the rules and regulations of the past don’t need to be adhered to any longer. This is the first indication that Peter gives that Jesus’ way is more interested in love, not rituals.

Then Peter goes on to explain that as well as a vision from God, the Holy Spirit also enabled him to see clearly what was needed to spread Jesus’ message of love to all people, which as we know, was our Lord’s mission all along. Peter is urged by the Holy Spirit to follow the Gentile visitors to their house, and we’re told he took six brothers with him; in the Bible seven is a sign of completeness, and in Egyptian Law, which the Jewish community would have known well, seven witnesses were required to prove a case. When Peter entered the Gentile’s home and began talking, he saw that they were all changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, just as the disciples were changed on the Day of Pentecost – all those present realised that Jesus’ love was for Jew and Gentile alike.

Peter’s vision and trip to Caesarea showed those in Jerusalem who were criticising him the facts of what had happened. He wasn’t arguing with them – he just presented the course of events. And that’s all any of us can do with faith – we can never argue anyone into believing in Jesus. The proof of Christianity is that lives are changed in Christ, but ultimately people have to see that for themselves. What we can do is, as St.Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, is to “…lead lives worthy of the Lord” (1:10). If our everyday lives, our words and actions reflect how we behave during worship here on a Sunday morning, then the light of Christ is going to radiate out of us by the power of the Holy Spirit, just as it did to those first converts. However, if as soon as we leave our worship, we are any of the things which St.Paul wrote that love is not; envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, spoilt and resentful (1 Corinthians 13), we not only damage our relationships with God, but potentially prevent others from reaching him too.

The fashion in which we live our lives reflects onto others – we are like a shop window for Christianity. Are we enticing, inviting others to find out more about Jesus? We don’t all have to be loud and bold; God has given us all different ways of revealing his nature to others. As Christians we don’t have to fret over the rules and regulations that the Jewish community did in Jesus’ day, we simply have to follow his example, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. As another week begins, let’s remember his command afresh, so that the love we show everyone really will reveal us as his disciples.

Every blessing, Heidi.