Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, Sunday 9th May
Readings: Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17
Terms of endearment are different around the country: you might be addressed as ‘me duck’ in Derby, as ‘pet’ in the north-east, as ‘chuck’ in the north-west, or in Norfolk as ‘my beauty’; I particularly like going to a petrol station in the town where the Eastern European lady calls me ‘darlink’. Unfortunately these terms of endearment can fall foul of the politically correct police. A man has to be careful how he address a woman, and can get in trouble for calling a woman ‘love.’ This is sad because, for some, life can be made a little brighter by these terms of endearment.
Jesus says to the disciples ‘I call you friends’, but the word ‘friends’ does not really convey the original meaning, of ‘philos’ the Greek word used by John which is more like ‘beloved’, ‘those whom I love’. From that word ‘philos’ we derive the suffix ‘phile’ meaning ‘lover of’, as in ‘bibliophile’ (lover of books) or ‘anglophile’ (lover of the English). Our English word ‘friend’ is also derived from the Anglo-Saxon verb ‘to love,’ but it has lost its connotation of love, because in our culture love is usually reserved for romantic partners, spouses or family members.
When Jesus tells the disciples that he calls them ‘friends’ he is not calling them his mates or his buddies, this is something much more profound. He loves these men and the love that he shows to them is the manifestation of the nature of God. They will experience the presence of God the Father through the love of his son.
Jesus says he no longer calls them servants or slaves, those who have to obey orders without questioning them; there is more equality in their relationship. He shows them the love of God, he loves them with that same love and he orders them to carry on loving each other as he has loved them, that they may remain in that state of grace that constitutes remaining in his love.
St John extends the theme in his first letter, where he says that whoever loves, knows God. They become children of God. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God lives in them. But he also lays down a warning not to deceive ourselves , anyone who says he knows God but does not obey the command to love, is a liar.
St Jerome recorded how St John the Evangelist lived in Ephesus until extreme old age. His disciples could barely carry him to church and he could not muster the voice to speak many words. During individual gatherings he said little except , "Little children, love one another." Those in attendance, got rather annoyed because they always heard him say the same thing and so they asked, "Teacher, why do you always say this?" He replied: "Because it is the Lord's commandment and if that alone is kept, it is sufficient."
The command to love is a great challenge because as St Peter comes to realize in the Acts of the Apostles, God does not have favorites. He does not love anyone more than anyone else. He does not pick and choose, and neither should the Christian.
Not all friendships are the same, and with some people we feel naturally close, just like Jesus with Mary, Martha and Lazarus; people with whom we can be ourselves, with can freely share our feelings. It is said that a real friend is someone who knows the real you, but loves you just the same. A true friend is someone you know you can tell anything to, that you can ask for help and they will help you if they can. A true friend is someone who will tell you honestly what they think, though it may not be what you want to be told, it may be what you need to hear.
It has to be admitted that some people are more difficult to love than others, however the Christian is not required to like anybody, however we are required by the Lord to love everybody. We cannot help the way people make us feel but we can have some control over these feelings that they evoke in us and our reactions to them.
One of the messages that has come through this pandemic is ‘be kind’. In those terms of endearment we see a little joyful expression of the kindness born of a gracious heart; and if we are well-disposed towards those with whom we have dealings, with those known and unknown, with those we find easy and those we find difficult, if we are polite and friendly, patient and forebearing we show a hint of the all-encompassing love of God who has no favorites, and of the friendship that comes from knowing his son, Jesus Christ.