I have been pondering todays Gospel reading, and the focus on the call to love one another, here at the table with the eleven disciples, Judas has already left, with wine soaked bread given to him by Jesus still tasting warm in his mouth, and with freshly washed feet, he goes to seal the deal with the religious elite, for thirty pieces of silver. I don’t want to focus on Judas particularly, but will mention his deep regret that led to suicide when he realised far too late that he could not force Jesus hand, that a violent uprising was not in Jesus plan. Surely he’d have realised that after the three years of following, but no, I guess we all need to check our assumptions and blind spots, we all need to be aware of our potential misunderstandings!
So there they are, at the table, full stomachs, washed feet, probably reclining expecting to relax a bit before going to bed. Jesus though knows otherwise, he knows Peter will betray him, and that most of the others will scatter in fear for their lives, he knows that their expectations will be dashed, and he is filled with love for them. I wonder what he sees as he surveys them, perhaps a clue is given in the way he calls them “little children”:
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come… John 13:33
Little children, how did they feel about being called children, these grown men, were they disturbed, puzzled, or was it somehow comforting? Or were they more fixed on the second part of this declaration- where I am going you cannot come, though I doubt any of them ( even Peter, despite his protestations) would want to go with him to the cross and the tomb, and anyway, how on earth would that glorify God? I know my mind would have been racing now, what on earth is he talking like this for? The thinking again, this seems to have been on his mind for a while, the Son of Man will be lifted up he’d said, taking time to explain his death, but surely he can’t mean now, here in Jerusalem, not after they have celebrated together?
He did mean it of course, and went on to give them an instruction;
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34-35
Love one another, show the world that you are mine by loving one another, you who have argued on the road with one another, replace it with love, you who speak up quickly, always wanting to have the right answer, love one another, you who seek power, love one another. Love of course is the way of Jesus, the way we are called into, in choosing love we can perhaps lay our differences aside and choose a different path. Jesus could not be clearer: It is not by our theological correctness, not by our moral purity, not by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know that we are his disciples. It is quite simply by our loving acts — acts of service and sacrifice, acts that point to the love of God for the world made known in Jesus Christ.
As I write this I am aware that Franklin Graham is soon to visit Sheffield to speak in Sheffield Arena, the adverts on buses and trams state there will be live music and a message of hope! I would like to change that to live music and a message of hate. Franklin Graham, son of the well known evangelist Billy Graham, has a message, he reads the same Bible that I do, but comes from a completely different angle, it confuses me that he can read of how Jesus included the excluded and preaches a message inviting people into a relationship with God that I do not recognise, a God that I do not recognise. He is Homophobic, Islamophobic, and racist, he preaches a morality that demands conformity to a strict moral code that leaves little room for love.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that discipleship should be laisser faire, that we can live how we like regardless, because the command to love means that I need to strive to include the excluded, that I try to see the world through the lens of love that celebrates diversity and seeks to bring love to the loveless. So I will speak out against this so called message of hope, and I will seek to pray for him, which means seeking to love him, and I am not going to say love the sinner hate the sin, because that has damaged too many people too many times over the years, it has been used against people as a demand that those people should change, and not from an immoral life style, but change the core of who they are, it has certainly been used against the LGBTQI+ community on many occasions. I love you, but I don’t love what you practice, can be translated, I love you but not who you are, which makes no sense at all!
The thing is if I look on the surface of his message there is much that I can agree with, I can’t condemn the help given by Samaritan’s purse to refugees in the Ukraine, but I can’t condone the fact that LGBTQI+ people were refused treatment in the Covid hospital in New York just because of who they were. According to Graham I belong in hell, I read scripture very differently to him, and he feels he needs to warn people against preachers like me:
There’s certainly nothing very forward thinking about progressive Christianity. It actually regresses into unbiblical thinking and living, and it will put a person’s very soul in eternal jeopardy.
Evangelicals need to guard the truth of genuine Scriptural preaching and living, remaining true and bold about exactly what the Bible clearly teaches. There is no other way to be saved and secured for all eternity.
So where does love come in? And how do I seek to love, is going to protest with a placard enough? I am going to say no, I wish there could be a place of deep dialogue, and am grateful that, there are those who seek to make space for that. I am proud to be part of the Methodist Church UK, who have worked together to allow Same Sex marriages in our churches, not every church or minister will agree with this, but the choice to put the love of God first. There are members and colleagues who disagree with me, but choosing the path of love and respect, of deep prayer and conferring we have reached a place where we agree to disagree in love, where we choose as it were to wash one another’s feet. Love does not mean agreement, and even a swift read through the book of Acts will show you that there have always been disagreements in the church. The way of Christ is love, and in the way of love, I would like to say that we are all little children, learners, which is what disciples are.
Finally I offer you some links to videos from the Methodist Church:
There are many more of course! So, to Franklin Graham, I think I would like to say, I will seek to love you, but I cannot agree with you and not only regarding who I am, but on the way we receive and read Scripture. I suspect we won’t ever have a discussion, but if we do, then I hope love wins!
I finish with this:
“I want us all to believe in inclusive church – a church which celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate, and will continue to challenge the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality. I want us all to believe in a Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”