A Sermon by The Rev’d Joan Claring-Bould
“Little Children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
(1 Jn. 3: 18)
I have to admit that I have never before preached on the first letter of John although I have often quoted from it, particularly at weddings, not least my brother’s some 35 years ago, because of its insightful messages about love.
Since the death of the Beloved disciple, a serious rift had emerged in the community based on their differing understandings of the humanity of Jesus. This Letter of John was intended to be read to all the congregations of the church under the leadership of the author.
The author of the Letter of John is adamant that his congregations understand the importance of the human experience of Jesus. This is in contrast to the break- away group who believed that the humanity of Jesus was of little account.
In this evening’s reading from the letter of John we read:
“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 Jn. 3:16). This reading refers to the death of Jesus on the Cross.
There are some notable differences between the Gospel and the Letters of John, not least the different emphases they put on the theme of love, central to both.
John’s Gospel tells us “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that who ever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”
In John’s Gospel the nature of God’s Love is seen lived out through the perfect relationship between the Father and the Son; that love binding them together being the Holy Spirit, who in turn is sent to the world, to draw the world home into that perfect communion of love.
The Letter of John has a different context. At the time of writing, the truth of the Johannine tradition is at stake. There is a significant division of theology amongst the believers, and the author of the letter is imploring his followers, as leaders do in times of challenge, to maintain the essence of Johannine teaching, calling upon them to love one another as Jesus has showed them love in his life.
“Little Children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (1 Jn.3:18).
Of course the tow are not exclusive, but in this point in their history it was love in action that the author felt the world needed to see, in order that people may come to believe.
And therein I believe, lies our challenge as well, in the church today.
As a church, we too, like the early church in Ephesus face our challenges. Our adversaries are not primarily other denominations or even significant divisions within our Anglican communion on a local or global level. Our principle adversary, I believe, is secularism, most notably in the developed world in which we live.
Across our denominations our congregations are mostly diminishing. People don’t seem to need God anymore, they don’t have time for God any more, they are not taught about God any more as children at school or in their homes to a great extent.
And yet men, women and children, young and old join long waiting lists seeking psychological help, and the number of people living with addictions from all walks of life increases, you have to wonder if deep down there is not a God-shaped chasm in people’s lives that yearns to be filled with the love of which John speaks; the love which alone can bring a peace which the world cannot give, nor can the world take it away.
As long as we have a few places, in the future, where our worship, preaching, teaching and music traditions are maintained, the church will continue to have life where ever faithful Christians, ordained and lay take on the primary role of sharing God’s love in truth and action.
In 2015 I made a 4 day trip to Denver Colorado for the ordination of my dear friend the Rev’d Becky Jones. Around 12 years earlier Becky had come to Adelaide as a theological student to do some chaplaincy work with me at Memorial Hospital. When she left I promised that I would go over for her priesting, expecting that this would be in the near future! But a change in diocesan bishop had meant that Becky had undergone a double length discernment period.
One of Becky’s gifts is that she is very hospitable. So I found myself sharing the house with a number of her friends, family members and a border as well as about an equal number of dogs. She found room and food for us all.
The ordination next day was a beautiful service in St. John’s Cathedral Denver.
Alongside the ordination itself, the experience which would have justified a four day trip halfway around the world, if I had indeed needed one, was the Eucharist the next morning at the St Francis Centre.
Like many big cities Denver has areas which were populated by people who are homeless, and suffering from all manner of addictions. The St Francis Centre was situated in one of them.
It is a refuge for men and women who are homeless in the metro Denver area, providing shelter along with services including social services. “ The SFC staff and volunteers refer to those they serve as “guests” because of a strong commitment to hospitality, welcoming everyone who comes, and treating each person with dignity and respect.” (SFC webpage)
When we arrived, we entered what I remember to be a large hall where people were sitting around tables or walking about, with a few lying around. The staff seemed to be gently in control. There was a bit of music and quite a lot of noise. A bit different from what I was then used to here at our Cathedral.
For her first eucharistic celebration as a new priest at the centre, Becky had bought breakfast burritos for all those who had come.
Whilst Becky was setting up the altar in the corner of the hall for the Eucharist, she gave to me and her friend Kate the job of giving out around 70 of these burritos to the guests. The people were delighted. It was such a humbling experience, to have these variously broken looking at me through often wizened eyes and a smile, and saying “Thank you”, when all I wanted to do was say, “Not me, this is from Becky!”
A little while later about a quarter of the guests gathered around the corner where the altar had been set up to celebrate the eucharist, undeterred by the background noise of the other guests interacting, under the watchful eye of a beautiful statue of St. Francis.
That was an example to me, now etched in my memory and heart, of my beloved friend and colleague loving, not just in word or speech, but in action with great humility.
The Rev’d Becky Jones continues her remarkable ministry in a very difficult situation of lockdown in Denver USA. If you would like to follow her ministry she is at Saint James Episcopal Church, Wheat Ridge, Colorado.