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Mā te Atua koe e tiaki God be with you.
This is an incredibly special week in the life of the church. A festival week. This Thursday is Ascension Day, which we celebrate with an outdoor Eucharist (7.30am – come and share communion OUTSIDE) we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. It's a stunningly beautiful service – even if it's rainy and cold filled with thoughts of those who, at dawn on the mountaintop, saw Jesus return to the side of God the Father.... We will look out over the city we love, and we might pause to ask how our church, in the second half of this year, can truly go out and bear the fruit of Christlike love; following in the footsteps of our Risen,
Ascended Jesus especially in light of the Gospel we've just heard. A Gospel reading all about the love of Jesus.
On the subject of luuurvve.... This last week, one million viewers tuned in to discover the outcome of the Bachelor. I have to say.... I find the concept pretty bizarre. Anachronistic incredibly backward looking in the 21 st Century when are boldly accepting that, actually, the best scenarios might include the empowerment of women, not the absolute opposite. The entire premise of the show, which started in the U.S. in 2002, is, of course, that of an "eligible" single bachelor whittling down a pool of potential romantic interests over several
weeks, until he is left with the one he's picked out as best.
Pretty much all reality TV is a doubleedged sword; it's easy to judge and easy to enjoy; as easy to find things right with it, as it is to find things wrong with it... But it does have some questionable messages... like, “This is a televising of what falling in love with someone looks like”.
Speaking of which : At the end of their first date, a young man takes his new girlfriend
home. Emboldened by their evening, he decides to try for that important first kiss. With an
air of confidence, he leans with his hand against the wall and, smiling, he says to her,
"Darling, how 'bout a goodnight kiss?"
Horrified, she replies, "Are you mad? My parents will see us!"
"Oh come on! Who's gonna see us at this hour?"
"No, please. Can you imagine if we get caught?"
"Oh come on, there's nobody around, they're all in bed!"
"No way. It's just too risky!"
"Oh please, please, I really like you"
"No! I like you too, but I just can't!"
Out of the blue, the porch light goes on, and the girl's sister shows up in her pyjamas, hair dishevelled. In a sleepy voice the sister says: "Dad says to go ahead and give him a kiss. Or I can do it. Or if need be, he'll come down himself and do it. But for crying out loud tell him to take his hand off the intercom button!"
Anyway my point here is that today's Gospel is also a banner about love. On quite a different theme from The Bachelor. Our English translations of the New Testament render three different Greek words as one English word : “love”, as you probably know only too well. They all equate to something like what we mean by “love” but they have very distinctive meanings.
The Greek word in this passage for love is that gorgeous one “agape”. Topical; agape is like the very best kind of Mothering love; suitable subject for this Mother's Day.
Agape it's the name of our Youth Group here at St Mary's because that group is all about extending Agape love to oneanother and to the community.
Other Greek words for love?
EROS: Sexual love. This word doesn't appear in the New Testament.
STORGE: Family love. Uncles, Aunties; parents; siblings (on a good day). Appears from time to time in the NT.
PHILEO: Affection; deep friendship; fondness.
Now, agape is a sacrificial selfgiving... It's a selflessness in action. Giving which probably won't ever be paid back. “Agape love” is like grace, a free gift for others which is undeserved or unearned or unmerited. It is a free gift for those in need. At our Agape Youth Group, we have expressed that through our Angels initiative and our Top Secret Missions which are all about doing small simple stuff to make other people's lives a little better, without the giver glorifying in their giving... As simple as leaving an affirming message for someone, or befriending someone who is tough to like; or improving a person's situation without them ever perhaps even being able to trace it back to the giver. Agape : it is all about refusing to give space to the question, “What's in it for me” which is a question we so often find reflected back at us from the well of our own acts of giving. Agapeistic love is not a normalhumannature thing. It comes from from God, not something we can conjure up ourselves. God's very existence IS that kind of love. The phrase we have translated “God is love” is actually, “God IS Agape” ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν, "God IS Agape"
Agape is what God is made of! And, of himself, He gives us the ability to act in a Agape way of loving. Pray that God will give you more and more of that Agape love. And it was Jesus who mirrored the Father's love, so that we could all see, in the flesh, what Agape looks like and what Agape's actions are like : “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” said Jesus. Look to the love of Jesus; to the cross and you will see what Agape looks like.
Jesus gave us many parables perhaps most especially the Good Samaritan as examples of sacrifice for the sake of others, even for those who may care nothing at all for us, or even hate us, as the Jews did the Samaritans. Agapeistic love is not based on a feeling. It's not about warm fuzzies, but a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own. This is the love which “has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us” when we became His children (Romans 5:5).
Because God gives us nuggets of this Agape, as we ask, as we hang out with him; over time we become more and more equipped to do as Jesus asks us in our Gospel : “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I have loved you, you should also love one another” (John 13:34). On the face of it, this commandment of his sounds pretty manageable... Love one another... how hard can that be. But the tricky part is, “love as I have loved you”. Ie agapeistically, sacrificially, even to the point of death. If taken seriously (and that's clearly how it was meant) the ramifications are huge for the Christian community.
One of this week's disturbing stories was about a Northland schoolgirl, who stepped off a bus and was savagely attacked, punched and kicked in the head while on the ground while people gathered around, filmed the incident on their smartphones. The unprovoked attack proceeded in front of a crowd of bystanders before anyone took the risk of getting involved to protect the girl and end the fight. Deficit of Agape.
Jesus' call on us to live Agapeistically changes everything... like how we use our resources : This simple commandments means that Christians should do all they can to alleviate the suffering caused by global poverty and hunger. Since I started speaking this morning, over 150 children have died in extreme poverty. Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. . . . God has been continuing to challenge me on that one, personally.
I look at our great wealth of possessions and it just doesn't marry up with agapeistic love. Part of our vision for developing Taranaki Retreat is to provide an environment where it's possible to live in a Christian community where agape is everything and where possessions are unimportant. There's still a lot of pruning we need to do before we arrive there, later this year. This is a terrifying call on us, because of the nature of the Taranaki Retreat community is to be come and see. Come and stay for a few weeks and cohabit to the extent that all the airs and graces have gone. Warts and all. There's got to be some pretty significant distinctive elements to that environment if we are to be true to this command of Jesus for loving as God loves. Possessions get in the way of that. How much 'stuff' did Jesus carry about with him?
But, as it is for Taranaki Retreat, so it is for any Christian Community; they are all come and see places for demonstrating Agape in action, and sending out places for spreading the agape subversively into our community. Sunday by Sunday, our korero should be how can our church, Taranaki Cathedral, better express Agape love?
You and I are not agape. We can love, but we can't do agape perfectly. We see others' faults and stubbornness. When we remember the slights they have done to us, a small part of us can't forgive. We refuse to make ourselves as vulnerable as Jesus did because we know we'll get hurt again. We love and at the same time we hold back.
Yet Jesus tells us to love as he did.. And he graciously tells us how... Abide in me he says and I will abide in you. Hang out with me. Get to know me better and better. Make this relationship between us a beautiful friendship.
Task for the week; hatch a plan for an act of Agapeistic love. Giving of yourself without capacity for repayment. Then.... having hatched it.... DO IT!
He who began a good work in you will complete it (Philippians 1:6). Amine.