This month.....

Loving those we get on with and those who are more challenging

We seem to be living in an increasingly tense world at the moment. As I write this, there are ongoing difficulties with international relations between a number of countries including North Korea and Russia. The use of chemical weapons in Syria has led to rocket attacks on facilities in Syria by the USA, France and the UK and a denial that the chemical attach even happened from Russia. The international situation has even had a focus on Wiltshire following the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal with a Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury back at the start of March.

Although the world seems and increasingly dangerous place, we live with such easy access to news and many news programmes and sites that are delivering 24 hour news to us that events that even a few decades ago would have never heard about are now brought to our attention. Although things may currently be more tense than normal over all we live at a time of history when we are safer than we have ever been. I suspect where our anxieties come from is that we are aware that some of the potential consequences of things going wrong could be very great. Even a small nuclear conflict would have a long lasting, worldwide negative implication; chemical agents could poison not just a few individuals but whole cities.

During the Easter season the lectionary guides those of us who follow it through the story of the disciples in the days following the resurrection to the ascension and the story of the early Church as told in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’. The first century world was a far more dangerous world for the individual than the world we live in and in those days, the Church was a very radical organisation.

The Church was (is?) radical because it welcomed all people, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, slave and free, people from all culture and all backgrounds. This was unlike other faith communities in the Roman World. This was radical because when people from different backgrounds get together they share their experiences and their world views and often end up questioning the status quo.

On Maundy Thursday, we heard, at our evening service when we celebrate the last supper and the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus’ last commandment to his disciples. John 13:34 records Jesus saying “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. This is not a request but a commandment and this can challenge our perceptions of what love is about. We so often talk about love as if we have no control over it. People fall in love with each other and, unfortunately, sometime fall out of love with each other.

We talk as if we are just victims of love. We often forget about those relationships when we decide to love someone. Parents have a biological link to their children so we are not surprised that they love them, but foster and adoptive parents have no such genetic link, there is a decision to love and care for children in that situation. Perhaps the more we think about it the more we might find examples when people decide to love.

However, although Jesus commands us to love one another he doesn’t command us to like one another. Now that might sound even more radical but in any community of diverse people there will be some people who we naturally get on with and like, there will be other people who we react to in quite an opposite manner. The church attracted and attracts people from hugely different backgrounds and without an emphasis on the relationships between people then there arise difficulties and tensions; we can see this working out in the story of the early Church in Acts.

A group of diverse people who get along because of their common faith and commitment to live out Jesus’ last commandment were a challenge to the people of the first century but also to our world too. As part of the sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 6:27-31 Jesus challenges his followers to go even further to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

So how would modern international relations work out if we followed Jesus commandments to his followers to not only love each other but their enemies too? Well of course that’s an immensely complex question and although we might want to engage with it we don’t really have enough information to work out how following these principles would work out in our international relationships with Syria for example.

What we can do is try and build our relationships within our communities following these principles. Working at loving those that we naturally get on with and those who are more difficult. What would a community of people who acknowledged there differences but worked at getting on with each other on the basis of mutual respect and love look like? That’s what we see working out in Acts, it didn’t always go smoothly but that first century community turned the world of their day and ours upside down.

With love and best wishes,

Richard Curtis

 

PS: Many thanks to all those who sponsored me as I ran the Brighton Marathon on 15th April to raise funds for Parkinson’s UK. I’ll also be running the Milton Keynes Marathon on 7th May I’ll put some links up on my sponsorship page at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RichardCurtis there are some rather fun photographs out there!

Richard Curtis