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John 13:31-35

December 19th, 2004

Amalgamation Service

© John M. Connan

The Uniting Church wants you to think about money. After all, money receives more attention in the New Testament than any other single issue!

There’s a wills kit. That would seem to be about money. It is: but it isn’t. You see, there’s something unusual in the kit: a suggestion that you include in your will more than property and assets. “Will-making,” it suggests, “offers you a tremendous opportunity to look back over your life and leave a final testament to friends and family about the views and values you have lived by.”

That’s biblical; though the kit doesn’t say so. In Genesis 48 and 49 you’ll find Jacob’s will; in Deuteronomy 33 you’ll find Moses’; in 2 Samuel 23 you’ll find David’s. There are twelve books from Old Testament times that didn’t find their way into the Bible: The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. Supposedly these are the wills of Jacob’s twelve sons.

This is the suggested personal preamble in the wills kit:

“FIRST, I commit myself into God’s care, secure in Christ’s love for me and trusting in the grace and peace I know through Christ’s suffering and death. I leave those who survive me the comfort of knowing that I have died in this faith.

SECOND, I commend loved ones to the protective arm of God, knowing that God will continue to provide for them despite my absence; and I encourage them to place their faith and trust in God alone.

THIRD, I urge my heirs not to set their hopes on current and uncertain riches but to take hold of the life that never ends through faith in Jesus Christ.”[1]

Why talk about last wills and testaments? Because the short passage read this morning - part of what’s been called Jesus’ farewell discourse – John intended us to understand as part of Jesus’ last will and testament. No mention of money: it’s much more like the “final testament” of the Uniting Church will kit.

“Let me give you a new command: love one another. In just the same way I‘ve loved you, you’re to love one another. That’s how everyone will recognise that you’re my disciples – when they see how you love each other.”[2]

Afternoon siestas were part of life at the United Theological College in India. Breakfast at 7; lectures from 8 till 1; I often worked through after dinner till midnight or 1 am.

Visiting lecturers were put on after lunch – siesta time. They were unwelcome interruptions. As students we tried to share attendance so numbers didn’t tail off too obviously across the week. When Nels Ferrè came, attendance increased daily. He was a charismatic speaker.

This statement of his I’ve never forgotten: “You cannot command love.”

Yet Jesus has just done that: “I’m giving you a new command: love one another.”

Judas had left.[3] Jesus had something he wanted his followers to hear and take with unrelenting seriousness. This was to be a characteristic to mark their lives. It was to be the character trait that made them different. In future they would be aliens in the midst of people who lived by entirely different values.

One of the marks of the Christian has been that different quality of life: holiness. Some holiness groups have shunned others, becoming separate and exclusive. Holiness always ought to be a Christian distinctive. We are called to be saints.

But the Christian distinctive must always be the mark commanded by Jesus: “Love one another.”

That sounds more reasonable than becoming saints. But loving is not and never has been easy. There always has been and always will be a high cost to loving.

It was to Jesus’ closest followers, our ancestors in the faith that his last testament was given. They had their differences, including unseemly squabbles. Sometimes it’s easier to love enemies whom you don’t have to deal with every day, than it is to love those close to you with whom you deal on a daily basis! Ask any parent clashing with teenage daughter or son! Loving those close to you can be a trial. Loving those whom you don’t like can seem like a life sentence without remission. The disciples knew that – but a command from Jesus was a command from their Lord.

The command to love one another has an exclusive ring to it. Jesus seems to have assumed that if they could learn to love one another, loving their “neighbours” would follow!

The command wasn’t for them alone: Jesus’ last testament was for all his heirs.

The early church thinkers and writers kept on emphasising love.

It’s the theme of John’s gospel – and of the three letters attributed to John.

Paul told the Corinthians the most important gift of the Spirit is love.

Jesus’ first last-word to us and the word of his earliest followers: Love your sisters and brothers in the faith – even when you don’t like them.

Love them even – or maybe – because you’ve had your differences.

Love them - no matter how irritating they are. Exclude none of them. Make them all your friends.

Love them.

If that’s how it has to be – because it’s Jesus’ last testament - you’ve got to begin by thinking lovingly, speaking lovingly, and acting lovingly. If love sometimes seems hard, practise love. You’ll have to think about what you’re doing. You’ll feel awkward – almost hypocritical - doing what you’ve consciously decided to do. But the time will come when loving will come easily, naturally and gracefully. You’ll even find yourself wondering why loving ever seemed hard.

Until we love unselfconsciously like that, is it any wonder that G. K. Chesterton once said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting: it hasn’t been found difficult and left untried[4]”; or that Mahatma Gandhi, though greatly attracted to Jesus, did not find his followers nearly so attractive? Those outside the church say, “You talk about love, but you don’t follow up your words with deeds.” Only on Tuesday I was reading these words by an American pastor, “What is needed is a revolution of Christians who are showing the love of Christ by moving into the world and living their neighbours… unless disciples are following the Great Commandment, it is fruitless to engage tin the Great Commission… if people aren’t being deployed into the world in reconciling and healing neighbo[u]r-love, evangelism isn’t happening. All that’s happening is the Great Commotion…. The only messengers who should be trusted are those who exemplify the message.[5]”

Every time followers of Jesus show such lack of love – and even outright hatred - our Christian witness is diminished. Loving isn’t easy.  But it is Jesus’ last testament.

Have you realised that I’ve left something out in telling you to practise love? It’s this: practise loving Jesus first. Once you’ve learned to love Jesus with heart and soul and mind and strength, then practise loving your brothers and sisters in the faith. And once you’ve learned to love your brothers and sisters in the faith, practise loving everyone else in the world - one person at a time. Love them – even when you don’t like them. Love them – even when they’re not your friends. Love them – even when you find it hard to speak to them. Love them – even though it takes deliberate effort. Do it intentionally, until you mean it. Do it, until you discover you wouldn’t want to do anything else. Love till you discover the love you’ve inherited from Jesus knows no limits; no boundaries; no restrictions of any kind.

Love till it hurts. And you may just discover - as so many have before you - that, when you love like that, you reached true holiness: you’ve become holy – a saint – without even realising the miracle love has worked within you.

And they’ll know you are Christian by your love. That will be the greatest gift you can leave to your heirs in the faith – and your heirs in your family.


[1] Fact Sheet # 4.

[2] John 13: 34-35, paraphrased.

[3] John 13: 30.

[4] What’s Wrong with the World (1910) pt 1 “The Unfinished Temple.”

[5] Brian McLaren, A Radical Rethinking of Our Evangelistic Strategy. Theology News and Notes. Fuller Theological Seminary. Fall 2004.

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