28 February, 2013 Hugo Charteris
Famously, the night before He died, Jesus said to His disciples, ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.’ John said, ‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God…. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.’ Paul also wrote, ‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.’
Now we’d all agree with that! Yet what might it mean for our churches? How about this:
- It means never leaving a guest standing alone. When visiting a new church, I deliberately plonk myself in the middle of an aisle, waiting to see how long it takes for someone to talk to me. So I’m a church minister. I can cope with rejection. Yet a visitor will not. And perhaps never come again. Loving people means welcoming them in, offering them coffee, introducing them to others, sitting with them, answering their questions, and making sure their every need is met.
- It means lots of eating and drinking. It’s the way it works. ‘Come round for a coffee; how about Sunday lunch; let’s go out for a drink’. Loving people means putting on the kettle, opening a bottle, cooking a meal, or going out on the town.
- It means eating and drinking with those who are not like you. Or else we have cliques. And cliques are horrid! Especially for those not in one. In a church that loves, those least likely to be invited by others are those most likely to be invited by us.
- It means mess. Sadly, so many churches in England are middle-class bubbles, designed both to keep others out and our children safe. One friend of mine stopped going to church because he was embarrassed by the quality of his car. Wow! Yet the alternative is messy, as different people from different backgrounds seek to muddle along together! And it takes effort to teach our children to embrace those who are not like themselves, whether poor or posh, delightful or awkward.
- It means walking with people. For people in need don’t want a visit; they want a friend. Indeed they want friends, in all shapes and sizes. Actually, we all do! Just chatting to someone on a Sunday is woefully inadequate. I need a call on a Monday, a text on a Tuesday, a coffee on a Wednesday, something to look forward to on a Friday. I need people I can unburden myself to, or turn to. I need friends.
- It means putting people before projects. It would be awful if our churches had a reputation for standing for the great moral issues of our age, whilst ignoring those amongst us who are lonely, isolated, or sad! Or if our concern was for the number of people who come along rather than the individuals who make up that number. So, the church I pastor does not consist of x number of people on a Sunday, but of Mark and Regi and Anne and Sahan and Simon and Tracy and Joe. Altogether they make up a number. Get it? People before the institution!
The risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ said to the church in Ephesus, ‘But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first’. Love for God, each other, the world? Probably all three! And so He says, ‘Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first’. Of course it’s the case that we’re not loving one another the way we might; for we’re all sinful, self-centred, and self-serving. Yet the gospel response must be to repent of our failings and press on in love!