June 18, 2023

How Do You Know You Are Loved?

A Sermon Preached by Reverend Joe Moore on his final Sunday as Assistant Priest.

John 15:12-17

Whilst I was at theological college, we had a week of going into schools – it was creatively called ‘Schools Week.’

On that placement, we asked a group of primary school children that same question: How do you know that you are loved?

First, we checked that the children each had someone who loved them and received eager confirmation. Then we asked: how do you know? Every hand went up, and examples poured out, each more touching than the last. But the one that stuck in my mind was a little girl whose answer was this: that when she wanted a cup of water and was too short to reach the tap, her auntie got it for her.

Love in a cup of water.

Or in a little piece of bread, or a smear of oil or the touch of a hand. The answers the children gave were very like the answer the church gives. Small actions, often repeated, taking place in the context of a relationship. Actions that both create that relationship and strengthen it- these are how we know that we are loved. Through Jesus Christ, God has made a new family, cobbled together by joining all kinds of people to Christ’s body and decreeing that they are one body and one family.

This family, the Church, is created and strengthened by habitual gestures, which are given the name sacraments, meaning an oath or pledge to God. Sacraments are defined as an outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace. Sacraments are above all, simple pledges of love.

The greatest pledge of love ever known is the person of Jesus Christ. Like other pledges of love, Jesus emerges in the context of a relationship, the relationship between God and humankind. God made everything, including us. All that we need to grow in health and joy has been given to us without price. The whole of creation is a tangible pledge that God is real and loves us.

How do you know that you are loved?

It is so wonderful that this morning three children are being brought for the sacrament of baptism, to be welcomed into the household of God, his church. They are being brought for baptism because they have parents and family and friends that love them, that want to commit to see them begin this wonderful exciting journey with God, in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Loving one another as Jesus loves us is not an easy option. The sort of love Jesus shows is tough, passionate, persistent. His love takes risks in calling and trusting people to follow and obey him. His love makes him so very vulnerable to rejection, hurt, betrayal and cruelty from those unable or unprepared to receive such a powerful force in their lives.

The sort of love Jesus shows is uncompromising and yet eternally patient and tender. The sort of love Jesus gives so generously and freely costs him everything. In the end it even costs him his life.

When Jesus chooses and appoints his friends to continue his work he commands them to show the same sort of love that he does – nothing less will do if it is to further the cause of the Kingdom.

St Barnabas, whom we remember today is one of the most important figures in the history of the early Church and, I think, among the least appreciated. Early in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke tells us that his real name was Joseph, but the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” Why did they give him that name? It could have been because he had sold a field he owned and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet, an obvious sign of his total commitment to Christ and total trust in the apostles. Such a gesture, common among the first disciples, would have certainly inspired the other members of the burgeoning Church courageously to do the same. But the nickname was an excellent summary of his entire personality, because he was someone who gave others courage, who believed in them, who filled them to respond to God with enthusiasm. “He rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart.”

Barnabas seeks to obey this command with courage and humility. When he sees Gentiles in Antioch believing the Gospel he sees them and their situation as Jesus would see them: not “strangers” presenting a problem to the Jews but children of God in whom heaven rejoices as they are born into new life. When he encounters Paul he sees him as Jesus would: not with fear and suspicion but as an appointed apostle with his own unique gifts which will surely bear fruit.

Barnabas shows us what it might be like to live out this command of Jesus; to risk loving without limits and to encourage and support others with practical help, standing alongside them in times of need. Loving as Jesus loves is not having an emotional feeling which results in good deeds. Loving as Jesus loves is a way of being, a way of viewing life and people around us with God at the centre. He is the reference point to which we turn for guidance and strength. Faced with the problem of how to be loving at any given time, if we can learn to think first “how has Jesus shown love in a similar situation and to a similar person?” we will find an example to follow and a source of grace and strength to be that loving. That is the great promise of friendship which Jesus offers us – a friendship which guides us and encourages us to do what love commands.

I arrived at St Mary’s nearly two years ago pretty bruised, and with little confidence left in my vocation. Previous experiences of parish had left me in a bad way. I arrived discouraged and downhearted. But St Mary’s Church Battersea, you in your wonderful, gentle, kind, generous, patient, holy way, have loved me.

You simply loved me, you have encouraged me, you rekindled in me a vocation that was nearly extinguished and through your love, encouragement and generosity of heart I have now got to this strange unlikely point of being sent from here for a new chapter in ministry.

In this place I have been refreshed, filled with Christ, I have looked out at all of you, and seen the image and likeness of Jesus. Most of the time. It has been the quiet words in the churchyard, the coffees in Suzette’s, the walks in Battersea Park, over a pint in the Woodman, meals shared, where you have trusted me with your stories, your lives, your pains, your joys. Thank you for the opportunity to pray with you, and for you, and for your prayers for me too.

It was said by a priest colleague the first time I celebrated the eucharist: ‘as you bind and heal, you will find yourself healed and bound in turn, as you teach, you will learn; and as others show you their hands and their sides and bear witness to the crucifixions which they have endured, so your wounds will be shown to them.’ And my goodness I have been healed, and bound and learned so much from you.

I have found great encouragement in this place, from all of you, but not least from the vicar. Simon’s patience, kindness, faith in me has been unwavering. On the whole.

How do you know that you are loved?

You know you are loved, when you know how precious you are before God. When you know that you have a purpose and a place at the table. When there are not borders, only belonging, You know you are loved, when the kindness and generosity of God is made known in human relationships. When you are given permission to be yourself.

How do you know you are loved? Because ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’

How do I know I am loved? I have experienced the grace, fellowship, generosity, and goodness of the Holy Spirit through this community of faith. I have known the love of God in this place.

Because, really, all you need is love.

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