Reading(s): John 15: 9-17. This sermon was given by Victoria at St Mark’s Church, Ampfield.
Over the past year, like many of you I imagine, we have had time to do some spring cleaning and clearing out in the house, especially as during this time Emily moved out into her own place in Winchester. A good excuse to have a jolly good throw out!
We found many an interesting thing, and many a strange thing. I wonder if you too hold on to things because they themselves hold a particular memory. My parents died whilst the children were still young, they were greatly loved and are very much missed. It was very difficult when sorting through the plethora of soft toys to let many of them go because my mum, the children’s loved grandmother bought and gifted most of them! But we now have a large box of soft toys looking for new homes… so if you know anyone who could use them let me know! However, one or two were just too special to let go of…
At a deeper level, holding on to those soft toys revealed our desire to be connected, to remember, to have and to know our place in life. We all want that. Regardless of how old we are or the circumstances of our lives - we want to know: Who am I? What are the connections that will sustain my life? Where is my place in this world?
Those are the questions Jesus is addressing as he speaks to his disciples in today’s gospel. It is the evening of the last supper. Jesus is speaking final words, one last sermon, to his disciples. He is preparing them for life without his physical presence, foreshadowing what resurrected life, Easter life, is to be like. He offers some direct answers to those questions: You are my friends. Abiding love, laying down life kind of love, is the connection that will sustain you. I am your place in this world.
Most of us spend a lifetime searching for those answers and trying to make them our own. They must, however, become more than intellectual answers. They must become lived answers. We learn to trust and live those answers in relationship with one another. There is a well-known saying that deserves some time thinking about; Life is a school for learning to love. Death is a school for learning to live… the trick is to not realise this at the point of, or near to, death, but practice it always. Our searching for those answers is ultimately our searching for Christ. That searching is always there, but it becomes more acute in times of change: the death of a loved one, children growing up and moving out, a new job, retirement, a debilitating illness, a move to a new town, a marriage or a divorce, a pandemic. In those moments we want something to hold on to, something to comfort, encourage, and reassure us; a soft toy to hold on to that will guide us through life.
I’ve never been particularly sentimental, I can’t remember the last time I visited my parents grave, but like the soft toys there are one or two things I will always hold on to that belonged to my parents. Reflecting later on the toys the photographs the ‘things’ that belonged to my parents I realised that these things are not what carries the presence of my parents, I am. My sister and I, my children are, we keep the connection alive because of what we learnt from them, from the love received from them, and by continuing to tell the stories of them to each other.
The connection was and always has been within us not in any soft toy.
But we fragile humans can also do this with the bad memories, the difficult childhoods, the bad experiences of life. It can be equally difficult to let go of all the things that cause us strife, depression, inadequacy, low self-esteem…maybe not a soft toy - a thing given in love, but maybe more a circumstance that sends us right back there, a person who knows how to press those buttons, a picture or an object.
Sadness, fear, and desperation often cause us to grasp for soft toys in one form or another. We stuff them into our draws, cupboards or even pockets hoping for comfort and trying to create a connection that already exists, maintain a presence that is already eternal, and hang on to a love that is already immortal.
At some point we must throw away the soft toys we hold on to so that we can realise, hear, experience, and live the deeper truth. Our lives, our actions, our love carry and reveal the presence of divine love. Jesus does not give us something, he says we are something. We are the gift. We are the connection. Listen to what he tells the disciples:
- I love you with the same love that the Father loves me. You have what I have.
- I give to you the joy that my Father and I share. You are a part of us.
- You are my joy, my life, and my purpose.
- I want your joy to be full, complete, whole, and perfect.
- You are my friends, my peers, my equals.
- I have told you everything. Nothing is held back or kept secret.
- I chose you. I picked you. I wanted you.
- I appointed, ordained, commissioned, and sent you to bear fruit, to love another. I trust and believe you can do this.
It is time to let go of what was, it is time to look forward not back, it is time to embrace what the future holds knowing that we are the loved ones and it is up to us together to bring that love that hope that life to those around us, in this community , together as a Benefice, as a diocese as a body of Christ in the world.
Let’s keep this alive by remembering what Christ did for us, by telling the stories to each other, to our children to our children’s children. We don’t need objects, or liturgy or fine Victorian pews… we are the ones who carry on the legacy, the love.
It’s all about us, in the best sense of those words. We are the love of Christ. Our belief in Jesus' words changes how we see ourselves, one another, the world, and the circumstances of our lives. That belief is what allows us to keep his commandment to love one another. When we know these things about ourselves our only response is love. We can do nothing else. We are free to live and more fully become the love of Christ.
The challenge of our search is not to find the answers in soft toys, kept mementos or ancient buildings, but to believe and live them. Who are we? The love of Christ. What are the connections that will sustain our lives? The love of Christ. Where is my place in this world? The love of Christ. In, by, with, and through the love of Christ “all shall be well, all shall be well, every manner of thing shall be well.” (Julian of Norwich)