May 9, 2021

THE POWER OF LOVE

Passage: John 15: 9-15

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friends in Christ, as we come to hear the Word of God on this mother’s day, we hear remarkable words of Jesus from John 15. Speaking about the remarkable relationship between the Vine and the branches, Jesus said:

9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love…12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants…but I have called you friends…’

Truly remarkable words on relationships, aren’t they? Jesus calls us his friends, and invites us to remain in his love, by keeping his commandments. What commandment in particular? ‘Love one another.’ Such love is modelled after the Gospel of Jesus. Our relationships certainly will take new meaning if we imitate this model of love Christ sets for us. The model of love found in the gospel of Christ is different to ‘the way of this world’, with ‘natural self’ demanding ‘an eye for an eye’ or/and ‘tooth for a tooth.’ Let us pray before we hear more about this love:

Gracious Heavenly Father, your love made what was impossible possible – our salvation. By the power of your Word you call us forth from sin, in the waters of baptism you give us new life, and put on robes of righteousness over us. Like a mother attends patiently and carefully to every need of a child, forgiving the hurt caused to her body and soul through the birth of her child, you forgive and attend to us each day. Be with us Lord, open our hearts, minds, and lives to receive your love and sanctify us by the truth, for your word is truth. Amen.

Friends in Christ, if someone were to ask you to explain away ‘mateship’ exclusively as we understand it in Australia context, how would you describe it? What words, or images would you use to explain away this unique Aussie concept?

Every day we use words like ‘mate’, we refer to our friends as ‘mates.’ In a basic sense ‘a mate’ is ‘a friend’ isn’t it? However, sometimes, we even call strangers that, for example, I call my barber ‘mate’ (mainly because I keep forgetting his name). Generally speaking, we use the word ‘mate’ a lot in our regular vernacular, we even greet friends and strangers saying ‘G’day mate.’ So how do we explain the concept of ‘mateship’ exclusively found in our context? We often hear this word, ‘mateship’, as part of media coverage during ANZAC day celebrations. Sometimes, politicians in their speeches refer to ‘Aussie mateship’, particularly, in times of crisis to bring the nation together, by appealing to the spirit of ‘mateship.’ But, what exactly is ‘mateship’? What images and words would you use to describe it?

According to ABC news report, academic and historian Dr Nick Dyrenfurth once released a book Mateship: A Very Australian History, in that, Dr. Dyrenfurth, looked at the historical usage of this term ‘mateship.’ According to him, the concept ‘mateship’ had various connotations as to how it was used in Australian story. For example, in early settler days, convicts used to call their jailors ‘mate’ to describe ‘you’re no better than us.’ I would like to think, ‘tall poppy syndrome’ perhaps came from there. You all know what I mean by ‘tall poppy syndrome, so I will not go there.’

Anyways, Dr. Dyrenfurth also suggested, during gold rush in 19th Century Victoria, ‘mateship’ has come to take egalitarian overtones, making mates out of business partners. Later on, various activists, radicals argued ‘mateship’ as same as unionism or socialism to promote their various political agendas. Of course our understanding of ‘mateship’ these days refers to ‘the sacrifice of Australian soldiers in wartime, in particular the Anzacs at Gallipoli and on the Western Front during World War I … it’s about devoting yourself to the national effort.” (Report from ABC Margaret Burin, ‘Aussie Mateship: tracing the history of a defining cultural term’ from https://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2015/01/23/4167572.htm).

The ANZAC spirit, particularly, images of soldiers in their trenches, best explain the concept of ‘mateship.’ The bonds of loyal fraternity, friendship and the unconditional support young men offered each other in the toughest of conditions have come to define the concept of ‘mateship’ for us. Mateship as a concept these days refers to the ability of people to rely on each other, share an experience together, and support one another in the face of an adversity. In a nutshell, equals coming together in love and friendship to offer unconditional support in the face of adversity.

In Jesus, we get to hear a version of mateship coming to life, although it is tad bit different to our own understanding of the concept. You see friends, Jesus identifies himself as our friend. He calls us friends. Of the many metaphors Bible presents, Jesus as ‘our good shepherd’, Jesus as our ‘Light’, or Jesus as ‘the door’, or Jesus as ‘the Vine’, in my opinion, of all these metaphors Jesus as ‘our mate’ is a powerful one! Hence, we need to understand its significance. We must pause and ask, what it might mean, since Jesus calls us his mates.

Jesus says ‘you are my friends.’ How could this be? For we are not equal to God, nor can we band together with God in the face of adversity. We are incapable of offering God unconditional support to defeat a common enemy, even if we become his mates. If anything scriptures says ‘we’ are ‘the enemies of God’ (Romans 5: 7-10, Colossians 1: 21). So how come Jesus calls us his friends? We does not necessarily share same organic compounds or same DNA sequence with God. Yes, it is true God made us in his image, but our sin marred that image. According to scripture, since sin corrupted us, we have started to show many faults which is so unlike God. To give you an example, sickness and death are part and parcel of our lives, but not with God! God is perfect and lives forever! So how come a Holy God calls us his ‘mates’? For we neither belong to the same fraternity (so we are not equal to God), nor do we manage to somehow ascend to the status by leading perfect, holy, and blameless lives. In all honesty, selfishness, sin, stain our relationships, therefore, it is only right and fair scripture calls us ‘enemies of God.’ So how come Jesus calls us mates today? Simple answer: because Jesus had plenty of love towards us. Love makes impossible possible! When I say ‘love’, I specifically mean, the agape love Christ shows towards us. In the Greek language, such love is captured using the word ‘agape’, which means self-sacrificing love for the sake of others.

You see friends in English language, the word ‘love’ is loosely defined. I could say I ‘love’ coffee, ‘I love’ cricket, and ‘I love’ my wife. If I say that, do you think, I mean ‘I love’ coffee, cricket, and my wife in the same way? If I do, I will be in heaps of trouble with my Mrs, won’t I? Yet, in English we use the same word for ‘love.’ Thankfully, Greek Language, there at least four different words used to show variations of meaning for the word ‘love.’

These words are: Phileo (relational love between brothers, sort of mateship love), Storge (familial love – natural, instinctive love, that is seen between parents towards their offspring), Eros (sensual or passionate love couples tend to share), in all these ‘love’ experienced tends to be defined as ‘a warm fuzzy feeling’ or at least ‘a fleeting idea’ of infatuation or a notion of romance that has a pinch of selfishness attached to it. Such forms of love seek its own way, and counts its own benefits and lacks sight of needs of others. However, the Greek word agape, love is different to these versions of love. Agape love genuinely seeks to save the undeserved. Such form of love is visible in action, in fact it is so rare and selfless that you can call it divine! In pursuit of well-being of others, agape love pours itself generously, no matter the cost. The closest possible earthly version of such pure love maybe found in a mother.

As someone said: ‘God cannot be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.’ On this mother’s day, I can say this, for there are truly remarkable women who have blessed our lives with their sincere faith, love, and of course spoiled us way beyond what we deserve. Because of that, allow us to love and thank you for everything you do. In saying that, modest mothers would admit, at times, they have lost their way and can be less than perfect. To truly show agape love at all times is a challenge task for us all.

Once, a little boy was talking to the girl next door. ‘I wonder what my mother would like for Mother’s Day.’ The girl wanting to help him said: ‘well, you could promise to keep your room clean and orderly. You could go to bed as soon as she calls you. You could brush your teeth after eating. You could quit fighting with your siblings, especially at the dinner table.’ The boy looked at her and said: ‘no, I mean something practical!’ Yes, sometimes, we are like this little boy, we need help in figuring out what true agape love look. For it is not selfish, but patient and remarkably selfless and perfect in every way.

In Jesus, God gives us demonstration of this love. John 3:16 said: ‘for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ The agape love of God, took on human form, came in flesh and blood, endured sufferings of the cross, was beaten, bruised, scorned, humiliated, and put on a cross as young as thirty three and half years old outside the walls of Jerusalem, over two thousand years ago. Jesus, perfected in the love of God died in our spot. No reason, other than love put him there. 1 John 3: 18 says: ‘this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.’

Because Jesus loved us and loved his Father, he remained obedient to the commandments of God even to the point of death. In the power of such tremendous love, Christ sets us free from powers of sin, death and separation. This is God’s work, not ours! Hence Apostle Paul said be assured in this work of God. Be of good cheer knowing you are found in this love of God (Romans 8: 38-39). For Scripture boldly proclaims: ‘if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed (John 8: 36). You are no longer slaves, for it pleases your redeemer to call you his friends. Because of such great love, Jesus calls us to receive salvation and become members of God’s family. Waters of baptism poured over your heads signified this work of God. As mates of Jesus, you are well known in heaven, connected to source of life, and loved eternally by your maker and redeemer. In faith rejoice dear baptised saint. May this good news empower you to overcome the world and its temptations (1 John 5:4). .

Remain confident as you listen to these words of your Saviour today: 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. As we leave this place today, think about the impact of these words upon your life.

‘Mateship’ maybe a concept of what it means to be an Aussie, but, to love one another means to go all the way, and this is what it means to be a child of God. Christians must love one another and not regard each other as enemies. This commandment is not an obligation to become friends with Christ, rather, since we are already friends of Jesus, we cherish our relationship with Jesus by being obedient to his every command. Just as a child who loves his mother follows her instruction and is eager to please her, likewise, we place such importance to the commands of our saviour, setting aside our own personal preferences.

In places where it is our natural tendency to seek revenge for those who wronged us, agape love compels us to forgive. Agape love encourages us to go beyond natural instincts. These instincts give priority to ‘self’, so we see people put up and tolerate others until it suits them, when things go south then they tend to complain, criticise, and condemn others. Agape love, on the other hand, frees us to puts others above ‘self.’ Agape love would like us to show respect to the point of laying our life for the sake of others. Those who follow Christ with their hearts, minds and lives, have been given such tremendous love, and I would to finish with the following experience of Shane Claiborne who witnessed Mother Teresa in action.

Shane Claiborne who spent a summer with Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta once wrote: ‘people often ask me what Mother Teresa was like. Did she glow in the dark or have a halo?’ she was short, wrinkled, and precious, maybe even a little ornery – like a beautiful, wise old granny. But there is one thing I will never forget – her feet were deformed. Each morning during Mass, I would stare at those feet. I wondered if Mother had leprosy, but I wasn’t going to ask of course. One day a sister asked us, ‘have you noticed Mother’s feet?’ We nodded, curious. She said, ‘her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds those. Years of wearing bad shoes have deformed her feet.’ Now that is the kind of agape love that places others needs above our own (Shane Claiborne, The Irrestible Revolution, Zondervan 2006).

To such blessed life, may the Spirit of God lead you+

The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.