Change the world with love, one heart at a time

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

Jean Vanier, the man who started the Christian communities for people with and without learning disabilities called L’Arche and whose funeral took place this week, said this: ‘Change the world, with love, one heart at a time.’ 

Change the world, not by revolution, not with a new finance initiative or political campaign, but with love, and do it one heart at a time.

Jean Vanier learnt that from Jesus, with whom he spent many hours in prayer.

And in the gospel today, Jesus gives us a command. And when Jesus gives a command, we must listen and obey.

And the command is to love one another. Something he repeats, which means it must be really important ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’

And the command has a purpose - we’re not just to love one another because it’s a good thing to do, we’re to do so because it is ‘by this that everyone will know that you are my disciples’ How will they know? Just in case we hadn’t got it, once again, ‘if you have love for one another’.

Jesus is giving us a commandment - and he lays it down repeatedly and clearly. We are to love one another.

And I want to pause to let that sink in. Jesus, who is with God and who is God, is telling us to love each other, as he loved us. Not in an abstract way, not theoretically, not in a ‘do your best’ way. We, us, this community, you and me and the people sitting next to you, are commanded by Jesus to love one another as he loves us.

In a second we’ll look specifically at how Jesus loved, so we can understand how we’re to love, but take a moment now to ask yourself ‘what does it mean for you to love the people that surround you now, and those of us who aren’t here today, as Jesus has loved you?’ What does that look like? 

‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

So how did Jesus love? If this isn’t a theoretical command, but a real one, for real people, in a real community, what did Jesus actually say and do that we can learn from? How did Jesus love?

To paraphrase the end of John’s gospel, a full answer to that question would require so many things to be said and read that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. But, fortunately for us, someone else has already done the hard work of summarising how Jesus loves us.

Here’s St Paul’s famous description of love in chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians. 

I don’t think Paul just made that list up. He didn’t just sit down and do a mind map of ‘love’ - he thought about everything he knew of Jesus and everything he had heard people say about him, and he described him. Instead of a beautiful wedding reading, look at that list as a summary, a description, of Jesus’ character. 

Think how patient Jesus was with the disciples when they repeatedly misunderstood him, or with Thomas when he questioned his resurrection; think of his kindness towards the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, or to the woman caught in adultery. Was Jesus ever envious of anyone? Was he envious of Pilate’s power, the fishermen’s quiet life, the Pharisees authority? Did he ever boast about what he had done? Ever? Do we ever have the slightest hint of the tiniest moment of pride in Jesus?

Think of the way he deals with his disciples at their most irritating - when James and John ask if Jesus wants them to call down fire on the Samaritan village that didn’t offer them hospitality, he doesn’t shame or dishonour them. He corrects them and puts them right, but he doesn’t put them down. 

He is the precise opposite of self-seeking. In fact he is entirely self-giving, even to death on the cross; in the face of terrible provocation he is not angered - other than by the injustice of those making money from the temple, he certainly doesn’t keep a record of wrongs - in fact he goes to the cross with every wrong thing we have ever done and will ever do, and he forgives it all. Rather than delighting in evil, he defeats it. He doesn’t just tell the truth, he is The Truth. He protects his disciples from the evil one, he trusts his Father in all things, he is the world’s hope and he never gives up. 

How does Jesus love? He loves like this. And we are commanded to do the same. Not in an abstract way but for one another, and we’re not just to love our mates, we’re to love one another - all the ‘one anothers’ that make up this community. The ones we easily love, and the ones we struggle even to like.

That gives us a bold and beautiful vision for a community of Jesus followers:

We will be patient and kind. We will not envy, we will not boast, we will not be proud. We will not dishonour each other, we will not be self-seeking or easily angered. We will keep no record of wrongs. We will not delight in evil but we will rejoice with the truth. We will always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.

We will love one another

Now we might respond by thinking - that’s all very well for Jesus, after all, he was God, it probably wasn’t so hard for him, but I’m definitely not God, and I am constantly envious, boastful and self-seeking. On a good day I might manage a couple of the things on that list, but I can’t possibly love like that all the time.

Well yes, of course we’re a work in progress, but the point is to love like Jesus loves, and he loves because he knows himself to be loved first. Jesus’ total love for all people in every moment wasn’t some kind of magic power that he had from birth - he was able to love like that because he was constantly and entirely open to the love of his Father for him. He loved, because he was loved. He loved completely, because he knew he was loved completely. 

We can only learn to love like Jesus if we know we are loved like Jesus. 

We are not meant to love one another by gritting our teeth, and summoning up super human love powers - love that is patient and kind can only emerge as a response to being loved patiently and kindly.

On the evening that Jesus gave this command, John was there with him; the one described in the gospel as ‘the beloved disciple’ - or ‘the disciple that Jesus loved’.  And many years later that same disciple wrote a letter, which we know as 1 John, and it is a sustained reflection on what it means ‘to love one another as I have loved you.’ You might like to read it some time this week. And it includes this -  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

We are loved, and that abundant love is to overflow out of us to one another. 

Another moment for your own thoughts. If that’s how Jesus loves, and if that’s how we are loved, and if we’re to love each other in the same way, what kind of community should we be to help bring that to life? 

One final thing. Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us, and then he says something else - ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

This gift of love that we are given, and which we are to share with each other is God’s gift to the world. It’s how people will know that we are followers of Jesus. Loving each other is our mission to the world. This is God’s great work of love; he loves Jesus, Jesus loves us, we love one another, the world sees and wants to join in, they become part of the ‘one another’ and so the church grows and God’s kingdom expands and love takes another step forward in its world shaping revolution.

Who’d have thought, that by loving each other, here, in this community, one heart at a time, we might actually change the world.