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Sunday Service, 29th March 2020

Opening prayer

Lord Jesus, your love is more than we can understand – but in that love we praise you.
Your love is more than we can ever know – but we rejoice that you know us and love us.
The costliness of your love takes our breath away – but in faltering love we give ourselves to you.
In love you have found us, by your cross you have saved us and through your Spirit you have changed us. We love you and adore you. 

Lord Jesus, we confess we have failed you as did your disciples. We ask for your mercy and help.
When we take our ease rather than watch with you: Lord forgive us.
When we bestow a kiss of peace yet nurse enmity in our hearts: Lord forgive us.
When we strike at those who hurt us rather than stretch out our hands to bless: Lord forgive us.
When we deny that we know you for fear of the world and its scorn: Lord forgive us.

Lord, we thank you for loving us so much that you endured the cross for our salvation. We thank you that amidst the pain and humiliation of Golgotha you forgave your persecutors and prayed for them.

Fill us with such wonder at your suffering love that we might long to be transformed by it, that we might become compassionate people, open to others in their need.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Adapted from Gathering for Worship, a Baptist Union of Great Britain publication.

Reading

John 19:25–27, New International Version (NIV)

Sermon

This morning we come to the final of our Lenten studies based on events and people central to the passion of our Lord, and we turn our attention to John, the beloved disciple. Our reading is from John 19:25–27.

One author describes him as – “this strange, anonymous, rather characterless figure, identified only as – the disciple whom Jesus loved”.

However, we find that John had the habit of “being there” at pivotal moments in Jesus’ ministry. He was there at the beginning, linked with Andrew as followers of John the Baptist. He was there to hear John’s testimony about Jesus being the Lamb of God. He reappears in the passion narrative, at the Last Supper, where he is referred to as “the disciple beloved” by Jesus and where he has a place of intimacy with Jesus at the table. He is there at the cross, with Jesus’ mother, and was delegated by him to care for Mary after his death. He is one of the seven disciples to whom Jesus appeared at the Sea of Tiberius. And finally his fate is discussed in that remarkable conversation between Peter and the risen Lord (John 21:15–25). At the end of the Gospel, the disciple whom Jesus loved is identified as none other than the author himself (John 21:24). Not exactly a strange, anonymous, rather characterless figure.

I would like to focus for a moment on John’s special and intimate relationship with Jesus. It is interesting that it is only at a later stage in John’s Gospel that he reveals his identity as the beloved disciple. It is almost as if he is saying that the focus should not be on him as an individual but on the relationship he enjoyed. It’s not about me, who I am or what my achievements are, it’s about what the Lord can bring to a person’s life.

In the world our status is dependent on how we compete against one another in the marketplace. John in his Gospel is saying something very different. He is saying that our value doesn’t depend on how well we compete in life but on the establishing and maintaining of a meaningful relationship with the Lord. A favourite phrase of his refers to us “abiding in Him”. I suggest that the cementing of this relationship revolves around three key issues – trust, perseverance and obedience.

First of all, trust – or perhaps a trustful exchange. A love relationship can’t develop and be sustained unless the one who shows love is received with love.

For example, at the Last Supper, Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples by washing their feet. A truly loving gesture. And their response to that act of love? Judas almost threw it back in Jesus’ face. John, however, responded positively. We find him eventually reclining next to his Lord at the table.

In our everyday relationships, it is important that we respond positively to acts of love shown to us. In that way trust is established and relationships are nurtured and deepened.

Our special and intimate relationship with Jesus can also be nurtured and deepened as we respond to his love, as we “recline” with him, as we open our hearts to him.

Can I suggest that this strong relationship with the Lord is one that will help see us through these difficult days, especially in the hours of anxiety, fear and uncertainty ahead and on those occasions when the pangs of loneliness threaten to overwhelm us. To quote the Psalmist – “the Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge”. May we all find comfort and encouragement in the truth contained within these words.

Then there is perseverance. Our relationship with Jesus is not some casual affair, a one-night stand. It requires loyalty. To me it would seem that John’s intimacy with Jesus is just as strong at the end, at the cross, as it was in the early days of our Lord’s ministry. In all likelihood John was the “other disciple” present with Peter in the courtyard of the high priest as Jesus was interrogated. He was certainly present at the cross, showing a loyalty lacking in the other male disciples. He was present after the crucifixion and his perseverance is rewarded at the empty tomb and later still at the Sea of Tiberius. The love relationship between Jesus and John lasts right to the end. And of course we know that John continued his walk with the Lord and his commitment to him, exercising a fruitful ministry through his leadership and writing and through a long-term commitment to Mary.

Perseverance, another important factor in the maintaining and deepening of our special relationship with Jesus. Are we there for the long haul? I have referred to John being there, sticking with it, in at times traumatic circumstances. Our circumstances are no less traumatic today. As we stick with it, as we persevere on our pilgrimage, the Lord who travelled alongside John through thick and thin will also be with us each step of the way and will see us through the darkness of today and will lead us back into the sunshine of tomorrow, or perhaps tomorrow’s tomorrow.

Thirdly, obedience. As Jesus put it at the Last Supper, after he had washed the disciples’ feet – “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Then if your Lord and Teacher has washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example. You are to do what I have done for you.”

While our relationship with Jesus is not one of equals, it doesn’t make it any less a relationship of love. The Master doesn’t ask us to do anything that he hasn’t already done. Jesus can legitimately ask for obedience in love because his love for us is entirely trustworthy and unstinting, a love that took him all the way to the cross. And surely that unstinting love will be just as real in our lives and experience, helping us to cope with and eventually overcome the dangers of the coronavirus.

Trust, perseverance and obedience. All key factors in John’s special and intimate relationship with the Lord. Factors that could well have been in the mind of Jesus when he committed the care of his mother into the safe hands of John. For us, our care may come to us in different ways and in different forms through different people.

One final thought, an aside. It is interesting to compare Peter’s role within the early church to John’s.

Peter, it could be said, represents the way of action. He is out there leading from the front – in your face. John to me, represents the way of reflection and meditation. He has a way with words. Something that comes across in his writings.

Peter could be described as the planner, the decision maker, a charismatic leader. The one who needs answers to everything. John’s was the way of intuition and imagination.

Peter represents the extrovert, heroic kind of spirituality, the stuff of martyrdom. John, I suggest, presents a more introvert, unobtrusive, long-suffering kind of spirituality. Less dramatic, but by no means less faithful.

Perhaps in our Lenten journey we will come to recognise that we have too much of one trait and not enough of the other. The period of Lent is a good time to come to terms with who we are and what priorities we should be setting ourselves.

May God bless you in this difficult time. Let me remind you of the words of Paul, “there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord”.

Rev. Robert Gemmell

 


 

Intercessory prayer

Lord, we recognise that all is not well with the world; and so we offer our prayers for church, world, and people.

For Your church: we pray that it may experience the new life which You offer through Your Holy Spirit; and that in these challenging times we are a beacon for God’s love in the world.

For the world: we pray for people who suddenly find themselves in unexpected places. We pray for places and people afflicted by coronavirus and the uncertainty and anxiety that it has brought them. We pray for all in these times of social distancing and self-isolation, that they are able to maintain human contact through modern communication methods like social networks and video conferencing, as well as the more traditional telephone, to stay in touch.

We remember those who wait: for medical results, for news about jobs or benefits; those who struggle in the long watches of the night, waiting until morning light dawns. We pray for those who are ill, at home or in hospital; those who care for them; family members, friends, care assistants, nurses and doctors; for those who are in mourning, remembering the loss of someone close, suddenly reminded by everyday incidents of someone no longer there. Be with them, Lord.

We pray that you breathe new life into Your people, living God, as we approach Easter. May we journey towards Jerusalem, knowing Your presence is leading us and guiding us.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Blessing