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A Sermon from Sherborne
Love changes everything
A sermon for the Parish Eucharist at Sherborne Abbey, preached on Sunday 19 May 2019 by The Reverend Robert Green
It is more than 50 years ago when Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote the song “All you need is Love”, and it remains one of the songs of the Beatles that has stood the test of time. More recently in 1989 Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Aspects of Love” opened in London’s West End, and one song particularly stood out. It was “Love changes everything”, and it was this song which launched Michael Ball’s career as he led the original cast, and subsequently the first production on Broadway. Although he had already starred in productions of “Les Miserables” and “Phantom of the Opera”, it was this song in particular which took him into the charts at the time; even to performing in the Royal Albert Hall.
Looking closely at the words of this song there is a direct relevance to both the New Testament and the Gospel readings this morning [Acts 11.1-18; John 13.31-35]. The title itself is a reminder that God’s love for the world demonstrated in the life and death of Jesus can change everything in our lives.
It is important to put our Gospel passage into context, for Judas has just left Jesus and the Disciples during the Last Supper in order to betray him to the Jewish authorities. Jesus then addresses the remaining 11 disciples about being glorified. His subsequent arrest and shameful death- the punishment given to a criminal- was to be transformed into the glory of the Resurrection. But as the words of the song maintain “Love changes everything, brings you glory, brings you shame”. The difference being that God’s love can turn what is shameful into a new way of living.
The Gospel reading ends with Jesus giving his disciples “a new commandment” to love one another as he had loved them. For centuries there had been commandments to love God and our neighbours as ourselves, and Jesus had taught that these had priority over all others. The 10 Commandments were basically given to help people love God and one another. But over time these had been expanded into detailed rules on religious practice and everyday living; so much so that for many it was difficult to keep all the regulations, and people often felt guilty about breaking them. It was this situation that Peter found himself in our New Testament reading. He relates to the Jerusalem Church how he was having a lunchtime siesta, and in his dream, he was presented with a selection of animals for him to kill and eat. Unfortunately, they were deemed to be ‘unclean’ by the religious authorities, so Peter protests that he cannot do this as nothing ‘unclean’ has ever passed his lips. This happens three times, and each time there is the reply: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane”. Immediately after this, three men arrive from Caesarea, and the Holy Spirit guided Peter to go with them to Cornelius, a Gentile, who in a vision has been told to send for Peter. This whole experience showed Peter that the Gospel is not just for the Jews, but for the whole of humanity. The “Rule” regarding Jews relations with Gentiles just didn’t apply any more. This was a major breakthrough for the spread of the Gospel. Although the Jews were God’s Chosen People, it did not in anyway allow for a sense of superiority over other races. In God’s eyes every human being is equal, and equally loved.
The new commandment reminds us that however unworthy we might feel, and whatever rules we may have not kept, God loves us so much that Jesus, God’s Son was prepared to die for all of us. The question is, can we love ourselves that much? Jesus knew that Judas would betray him, and Peter would later deny him three times, yet it is this same Peter who is now instrumental in spreading God’s love far and wide.
In his own lifetime Jesus broke many of the “rules”. He healed people on the Sabbath, touched lepers, and helped people regardless of their race or religion, gender or background. Can we love others like that?
In my first parish I came across a young mother who was severely depressed, and having to see a psychologist on a regular basis. Gradually my wife and I learnt about her background. She had had a very unhappy home in south London, to the extent that as a little girl she would hide under the sideboard in case the dustman came to take her away. Her sense of her value was virtually nothing. As she grew up, in order to prove she was of no value, her behaviour was disruptive, she got into the drug scene, and dubious relations with men. By the time I first met her, she was married and had a son, but the temptations to meet other men, or take drugs was ever present. Her depression was sometimes so severe that my wife had to talk her through the day on the phone to complete basic household chores. As time passed, she gained more confidence, and although there were lapses, we began to see this cloud lift, and a real person emerge. With the help of Christian friends we were able to share God’s love with her, and eventually she became a radiant Christian, and there was a time, when after we had moved to another parish, and she had moved, she wrote asking me to tell the doctor, who was a personal friend of ours, that she was not having to take any more pills for her depression, and she had learnt to drive. However, her troubles were not quite over, because her son sadly developed muscular dystrophy, and would soon be in a wheelchair. Had she not discovered God’s love for her I don’t think she would have coped.
God loves us so much that Jesus was prepared to die for all of us, and however unworthy we might feel, and whatever rules we may have broken in the past, by coming before God as we are with all these faults, we can receive his unconditional love and forgiveness. As we heard last week along with God’s forgiveness goes God’s Forgetting, and the slate is wiped clean. Opening our hearts to that unchanging love changes everything, as the song tells us, it changes “How you live and how you die.”
All you need is God’s love, and His love changes everything for ever.