This is a sermon for the third Sunday of Easter, given in the “church next door.” The Scripture it references is 1 Peter 1:1-12. Keen followers of the lectionary might notice that that was, in fact, the reading for last week; in fact, having had last week off, I only became aware of that at some point during the second reading this morning. I can only blame human error when I began preparing!
“Although you have not seen him, you love him.” What a poignant phrase! Peter is writing to people who didn’t know Christ personally in his time on earth, but who, when they received the gospel, were moved to love Jesus.
It’s so much more than believing that the stories are true. It’s a loyalty, a willingness to hold on to Jesus even though – as the mention of suffering “various trials” hints at – it brings persecution with it.
Loving Jesus can be risky. At Bible study on Thursday night – I don’t remember how we got on to this, so it was obviously a good discussion – we were talking about Desmond Tutu, and as it happens I misremembered part of the story I told about him. But I looked it up since, and it was this:
Desmond Tutu was taking a funeral of a young girl. The custom among her people was for the mourners to accompany the coffin from the church to the cemetery, and there were about 1,500 mourners there that day. The crowd was big enough to make police nervous, and police armed with automatic rifles blocked the route to the cemetery and ordered the mourners to disperse. Desmond knelt on the pavement and prayed, and then approached the armed police, asking that the police respect the humanity and dignity of the mourners, and allow them to pass, which they eventually did.
It was a risk. He could have been arrested. He could have been shot. Police brutality was common and justice was in exile. But Desmond’s love for and loyalty to Jesus, and the people who called him Lord, meant that he not only stared down the threat of violence, but appealed to the men behind the threat as fellow human beings.
We are fortunate that we do not have to stare down such obvious threat as we go about our worshipping lives. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t look at an example like that, or like the people Peter wrote to, and their love of Jesus, as an example and an inspiration to us.
When I was in college, we used to go every year on retreat to a place out in Millgrove, Pallotti College, on retreat. Once it was a Roman Catholic seminary training missionaries for the Pallottine order; but now that their numbers have dwindled, it’s run as a retreat centre for the benefit of all sorts of outside groups. But the motto of the order is still above the door: “Caritas Christi urget nos” – the love of Christ compels us.
Every year when we visited I would look at that motto and think of the men who came to live there, who took on the monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and trained to go and care for people in places overseas they could hardly have imagined. It wasn’t an easy life, and yet the love of Christ compelled those men, with warm hearts and generosity of self, to give themselves to it totally.
What would the love of Christ compel us to, if we gave ourselves to it, similarly wholeheartedly? What would the love of Christ for Black Rock, urge us to do, more or differently than we do now?
I was very pleased this week to have a coffee with the community leader of L’Arche in Melbourne, who happens to live around the corner from us. (L’Arche – for those of you who haven’t heard of it – is a Christian organisation which provides for people with and without intellectual disabilities to live together in shared houses, creating inclusive and real community rather than an institutional approach to caring for the people with disabilities). Out of that conversation, next month I’ll be offering a quiet morning here for some of the people in the local L’Arche community; and I hope that that might be the beginnings of an ongoing connection between this parish and L’Arche. I don’t know yet what we have to offer one another, but in Cameron’s passion for genuine relationship and community I saw the love of Christ; and it seems to me that we ought to share that love, and the journey of loving the people in our community, together with local like-minded folk as much as we can.
The love of Christ compels us together, and to common purpose.
But there’s more to it than that, too. Peter goes on in his epistle, to point out that this love of Christ results in us rejoicing “with an indescribable and glorious joy.”
Being compelled by the love of Christ isn’t a grim thing. It’s an outburst of laughter and singing in which the whole church, all over the world and all through time, is caught up together. I sometimes think we miss this aspect when we talk about the church as the bride and Christ as the bridegroom; it’s not just meant to convey the closeness and exclusivity of relationship that we’re supposed to share; it’s also meant to make us remember the joy and love of weddings, and tell us that this relationship should have that level of emotional intensity for us. For those of you who’ve been brides, do you remember walking down the aisle? And for those of you who’ve been grooms, do you remember watching your almost-but-not-yet wife walk towards you on that day? Do you remember the emotions of it? Or those of you who’ve watched close loved ones on their big days?
That’s the depth of love and joy that God invites us to.
And then Peter goes on to say that this joy is because “you are receiving the outcome of your faith,” that is, there is salvation and healing and human flourishing as a result of this relationship with Jesus. It’s the police, touched by someone else’s love, who lower their guns. It’s the people who’ve never heard the gospel, who hear the message from missionaries and turn to Christ. It’s the people with disability, enabled to live in meaningful community. It’s all of these things, and so much more; each of you has your own story of the personal outcome of your faith.
And really it’s all tied together. The love of Christ strengthens our commitment, which strengthens our joy, which strengthens our faith, which strengthens our love… and around we go. And all of this Peter describes as more precious than gold.
Easter was two weeks ago now, but I see in Peter’s letter this morning an encouragement to hold on to the love and joy and faith of Easter, and to see where it will take us in the weeks and months to come.