St Francis of Assisi, Petts Wood

For it is in the giving that we receive.

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Sunday 19th May 2019

5th Sunday after Easter

(Weekday readings  - Year C)

1st Reading Acts 11:1-18

2nd Reading Revelation 21:1-16

Gospel John 13:31-35

This week’s Gospel continues the theme of Love. Jesus reinforces his message that the heart of  his sonship is loving, and that in loving us he is showing us the very nature of God himself. That is what we are to aspire to as Christian disciples, loving others in the way God loves us. So that’s nice and easy then!

If we were all to stand up here and now and each one of  described the ways we show our Christian love, I am sure we would get a fascinating list of answers. They would  range from the everyday and commonplace  to the unique and special, from the love that costs us very little to the love that costs are a lot and is maybe even heroic. This is exactly how it should be, because God calls each and everyone personally to love with that quiet gentle voice of his which I was describing last week. We are each and individually called to love as we are and where we are. The miracle of God’s promise is that that those billions of acts of love are not random and disconnected. They connect together, they build something bigger and more wondrous than themselves, and that something is The Kingdom of God.

So Christian love is inexhaustible in its range and depth.  There’s a large, big-hearted person inside each of us, wanting to warmly embrace the whole world, beyond our own beliefs, understanding and self interestedness. In other words, a self which tries to see the world as God sees it. But in reality of course we are all always torn between these two selves. Inside of each of us there’s also a small soul, heart, and mind that’s inward looking, that feels vulnerable, that’s anxious to protect its own self interests. This self is worried  that extending the horizons of its understanding and actions would be demanding, frightening, perhaps even just too much to contemplate.

 The world isn’t generally divided up between big-hearted and small-hearted  people. All our days are divided up between those moments when we are all big-hearted, generous, warm, hospitable, unafraid, and those moments when we are petty, selfish, over-aware of the unfairness of life, frightened, and seeking only to protect ourselves. We are always both things- both small and large  at the same time and either of these can manifest itself from minute to minute.

But, as we all know, we are most truly ourselves when what’s large in us takes over and gives back to the world what the small side of ourselves takes. I am a great believer in self examination, especially if there is some serious failing in our lives we need to address. But generally I do not think we  grow in love by confronting  our wounds and shortcomings head-on. That approach would so often overwhelm us and discourage us. Instead I suggest we grow in love by treasuring ourselves warts and all and then taking the best bits of ourselves and trying to grow them; that we  grow our best impulses,  our best interests our best talents, trusting that God in his mercy will use them. For us to to grow is to become  bigger people. And if we apply this approach to others, wanting  to nurture  the best parts of who they are even if those are contrary to our beliefs, our understanding, our ways of life. If we want to go on nurturing even if there is an apparent lack of results, if our goodness is less than reciprocated then we join in the type of  new love Jesus commanded.

The commandment to love your neighbour as yourself was not a new commandment. It was firmly rooted and expressed in the Old Testament. Indeed something like that exists in many other faiths. But to love others  as Jesus loves us, with that massive heart which goes beyond our narrow imaginations and lives is truly new and only something Jesus can grow in us step by faltering step. It is endlessly creative and makes the old and worn entirely new and hopeful. The promise and command is that our lives should be caught up in that love. No matter how small and narrow our loves sometimes becomes we must never give up on that hope and that expectation.           

    Father Stephen Sig Darker version

Amen