The Revd Robin Sims-Williams
I really enjoy watching a good television interview. Where the questioner has got the subject on the ropes, where they are asking a line of questions that you can tell the subject doesn’t want to answer. Maybe the subject starts talking about something they hope the interviewer hasn’t prepped on. Or the subject starts asking the interviewer questions. Making the rounds on social media this week, an amusing Channel 4 interview of Richard Ayoade conducted by Krishnan Guru Murthy has got lots of people laughing.
Richard Ayoade, a comedian best known for his roles on the IT crowd, The Watch and The Double, becomes the anti-subject leading the interviewer away from himself at every turn. It’s brilliant viewing and reminds one of how challenging the art of the interviewer can be.
Something the Saducees and Pharisees knew all too well. Like Jeremy Paxman, they were desperate to catch their subject out. To demonstrate to the Jewish population his heresy. Jesus gives them an answer they haven’t thought about and then asks them a question which they can’t answer, but when they do he turns the tables and questions their orthodoxy… I can imagine they were probably walking away desperately trying to come up with a criticism for Jesus simple seeming answer, putting love at the centre.
Building a faith on the idea of Love being at the heart sounds very new age. It’s not always very easy to criticise - after all we could all do with a little more love. But what does it really mean? A bunch of people being nice to each other?
During my Engineering degree, when I was getting advice about my CV from the careers advisor, I was told volunteering I’d done with Christian organisations - running programmes, managing teams, should be left off because there wouldn’t ever be any difficulties in managing a group of Christians “It’s not like they’d have any disagreements.” he said.
One of the criticisms unfairly levied atChristianity is that it is a nice escape from reality. Where the possibility of a world where everybody is nice to each other and there are never any problems, and some imaginary friend sorts it out in the end anyways so we don’t need to worry about them anyways… Christian loving isn’t about some kind of escapism where we just pretend life is ok
Christianity demands we deal with the real issues, just that in doing so we don’t forget to love one another.
Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ attempt to trick him, He says the first law is to Love God. Jesus is quoting from the Shema Yisrael
the closest thing to a Jewish creed, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” It’s not about loving God to the point of forgetting about all else, it’s a reminder that we are a small part of the whole and it’s a reminder that, we are Loved first, before we even know how to love.
Loving God flows straight to Jesus second point - Love your neighbour as yourself. Quoting this morning’s reading from Leviticus.
Loving one another is the way we love God. If we are all made in God’s image, then showing love to each other is loving God. The previous time Jesus refers to Loving neighbours he’s asked who is our neighbour - Everybody. It’s not about loving our friends
or the people we get on with, it’s about loving everybody, including ourselves. It’s loving our in-laws, loving the person down the street we don’t get on with, loving criminals and those who repulse us. And in each case, we need to be honest about who we are loving, or else it’s superficial.
I was listening to the Moral Maze this week, About whether the footballer Ched Evans, who was convicted of rape and has served his sentence, should be allowed to play football for Sheffield United again. Question Time debated the Parole board’s decision to release Harry Roberts, a convicted murderer of three police officers. Neither debate is easy - they are both dilemmas. One of the difficulties raised in both debates, is the need to conduct justice in a way which is not partial or with deference to wealth or fame or poverty. But Justice isn't replaced by Love. And there is no love in denying the reality of our situation. It is easy to see how, in these cases, it can be easier to deny the worst things that one has done than to try to accept one’s own shortcomings.
But we all struggle to accept the things we feel we have done wrong. Woken up the morning after the night before and thought - what did I say? What did I do? But the possibility for hope and knowledge of Love leave space for the possibility for us to deal with those times when we feel the worst about ourselves. Loving in every context involves taking a risk, being open to another person sometimes when that person isn’t open to us, in hope that the situation will change.
Hidden in Jesus question to the Pharisees is his third point about love. Jesus asks who is father of the Messiah - the Saviour. The Pharisees aren’t wrong when they answer David. But Jesus’ point is that the Messiah must also be God’s Son… because God so loved us, God gave of God’s self to help us. Loving requires giving of ourselves. It’s true in every relationship, we need to openly share ourselves with one another in order to love one another. That means being honest with ourselves, and with each other.
It also means opening ourselves up to change. This is where I struggle - why should I want to change? I’m quite happy with knowing that I’m right why should I want to change that. Especially when the person I’m talking to isn’t also open to change.
Missionaries throughout history were often known for not being open to change, they exported British or European culture, part and parcel with their sharing of the Gospel of God’s love. But in some places the development of Christianity saw the development of uniquely local expressions of that faith. In India and in parts of Africa the union of local music has shaped worship. You could say that’s what the music team here try to do, developing St John’s music tradition, being shaped and influenced by what is happening in the music scene outside of this building. Sometimes the Church can be so scared of being changed, that it will loose what makes us distinct. But it fails to remember that it is love which is what we are called to do that is what should make us distinct. We must be open to the change that comes with love, as an organisation, internationally, and locally. But also personally. We are known to be a welcoming place, but do we seek out those we don’t know and open ourselves to be changed by knowing them. I have a friend, an academic, who I would say in that setting embodies this very well, whoever he meets he is keen to learn everything that they know. He is an expert in his field, but he knows that to truly learn one must be completely open to the other, and the possibility that they will teach him.
Jesus calls us to love God, to do so by loving one another through all the difficulties and challenges and we love by giving of ourselves. We love one another. In the knowledge that before we knew how to love, we were loved more than we can imagine by the God who created us.