‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
In our Gospel reading today the word love or loved appears 10 times. You might be inclined to say, Ok, we have got it already, no need to keep repeating it. But have we got it. Certainly some people have got it. Each time I watch or hear nurses and doctors in the various parts of the world working with Covid patients, I know they have got it. The love that they have shown is truly amazing. Many of them have worked long shifts day after day for weeks. They are not only physically but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. And of course, when you are exhausted you are more likely to make mistakes with your own personal protective equipment. They are risking their own lives each day with the potential of taking it home to their families.
Here in John’s Gospel we hear Jesus say, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. They are laying down their own lives for people they have never met before some could even be their enemies. In both Matthew’s Gospel and in Luke Jesus exhorts us to love our enemies. So, if any group should end up with an photo on the front of time magazine or win a Nobel prize it is the nurses, doctors and hospital staff working with Covid patients. They exemplify what it means to love one another.
Sadly we don’t have to look to far beyond the hospitals to realise that most of humanity doesn’t understand the meaning of love one another. May be the repetition is necessary, love one another.
A friend sent me a Brochure about the Land Forces Expo coming up at the beginning of June here at the Brisbane Convention Centre. The expo is proudly showcasing a whole range of ways that we can support the military.
· Armoured, transport and utility vehicles
· Weapon systems and ordnance
· Unmanned Systems etc
The Land Force Expo raises huge questions about how Christians should live in the 21st century. Where does love fit into national opinion.
The brochure I received was from a group of Christians and other like-minded people wanting to disrupt the expo. The brochure quotes Miles Franklin saying, The human race has reached such a crisis in politics and science that to survive we must abandon the idea of war. Franklin had worked in hospitals during the 1st world war. In the 1950’s she wrote “war never can be won. To contemplate war is to be defeated”.
It would be great to have neat black and white answers to the human dilemmas. As Christians how are we to keep love for one another at the core of our thinking not just at a personal level but also when we reflect on national issues. Can we learn from the nurses and doctors in the war against Covid19 that it love can be our primary way of being?
There is an old saying charity (ie. Love) begins at home. That doesn’t mean we should always make sure our family is looked after before we start thinking about loving others. It means that if we haven’t learnt to express love at home to those around us then it will be almost impossible to show love to people, we don’t know especially if those people look different, sound different and act differently.
So, parents, grandparents, godparents, and members of the “village” have a great responsibility. That’s right, it still takes a village to raise a child. The village includes the school, the church, the sports field. Our elite sports men and women are constantly being reminded of the important role they have in the “village” raising our children. So in this next little section when ever I mention children feel free to translate that grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, or to neighbours children, or young people form the Church. Like it or not we are part of a village.
How do we show love at home? Perhaps the main way to show genuine is love is to listen to people and be sensitive to their feelings. Sometimes we think we are listening but our own biases and needs get in the way. Jesus said, the greatest love is when one lays down one’s life for a friend. Well when we are really listening with love to our children we may have to lay down our own needs for a while and even set aside our biases to be able to hear the needs of our children and others in the family. This not only meets the particular needs at the time but bit by bit it teaches them to express love through sensitive listening.
Sensitivity to their feelings is important. It is not only two-year-olds that struggle to articulate their feelings and their needs. Most of us struggle to express our feelings. Our society tends to tell us feelings and emotions are too dramatic, too hard for us to deal with. Don’t cry, don’t make a scene. But our feelings are in touch with our deeper needs. When we are really open to someone else’s pain, their fears, their grief it tends to bring those feelings to the surface in us. That’s why we tend to stop others from expressing deep feelings. But if we can lay aside our pain for a while we can help them get in touch with their needs. We may be able to minister to their needs.
Let’s remember also to pay attention to our children and grandchildren’s love languages. We are not all the same. Just as some mothers may not be overjoyed to receive a gift, they may prefer you to spend time with them, our children are not the same. Other mothers need a hug, while others receive joy from words of encouragement. For others it is simple acts of service. Each of our children have a different love language. As I said before, translate, neighbours kids, kids church or school etc. It can happen that neither mum nor dad have the same love language as one of their kids. If they pay attention they can learn the language for that child. But this is why a village approach can be powerful. A good sporting coach, or teacher, or uncle from church might better express love than either parent for that child. A good sporting coach might notice a child looking around for mum or dad at the sports oval. They might also notice the new footy shoes. They can both comment on how well the child played or how hurt they got in a tackle, while commenting also on the new shoes the parents gave them.
Another important aspect of love is setting boundaries for our children. Without boundaries we get hurt either physically or emotionally. Getting the right discipline to match the boundary is also an expressing of love.
Now if charity begins at home, it then progresses to the school ground the work place and other place in the community. Love become more challenging in the work place and school etc. There are often so many people with all sorts of deep needs. It is impossible to listen sensitively to all of them while still seeing that our needs are met. Hopefully by the time we get to work, the lessons learnt from our parents, our coach, our teacher etc will hold us in good stead dealing with the greater complexities of the work place. Loving one’s boss, one’s colleagues, and ones employees requires the same sensitive listening and showing love in a variety of ways. And the boundaries need to be set in these situations too. No boss has the right to expect 80 hours of work a week. It may be reasonable to work over and above what is normal at times, but it needs to be respected as a gift and not become an expectation. Bosses need to be ready to find was to show appreciation for the gift of extra hours. I would hope that Governments in countries where doctors and nurses etc have worked tirelessly that they might be give a double portion of annual leave or something similar in recognition of their generous gift of love to the nation.
So while we learn to love one another at home through seeing the people who love us lay down their needs for us, we also take that experience into the wider world that we encounter. There we too lay down our lives to show deep love through sensitive listening and paying attention to the needs and feelings of others. Whole nations can express love at home when there is a bush fire or a flood. We can also show love to other nations during a pandemic. Perhaps sending vaccinated medical teams to support exhausted local staff.
Jesus gave us a new commandment, to love one another.