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There is an apocryphal story from the life of St. John, that when he was getting on a little and still ministering to the new church in Ephesus, his sermons had started to get a little repetitive. Each Sunday John would get up and preach about love, and his sermon would always start and finish with the phrase, “Children, love one another.” Often his sermons were very short, which pleased the congregation, but on those days he would often just repeat his message, “Little children, love one another.” Eventually some of the senior members of the new church came to John and said, rather tentatively, “John, we love your preaching, you know that we do, but do you think the congregation is finally ready to receive a more sophisticated interpretation of the Gospel?” This meeting with St. John was held in total secret, so naturally, by the next Sunday the whole congregation had heard about it. Everyone was present. As St. John stood up to deliver his homily, there was silence throughout the building. He drew breath. You could cut the air with a knife. “Little children,” he began, “please, love one another.”

The message of the gospel, in its simplest form, really is very straightforward: if we love one another as Christ has loved us, everything else will fall into place. It’s in loving one another as Christ loves us that others will know that we truly are his disciples. The message of love, which Jesus preached and lived, is controversial at times. It’s controversial because if you love one another you’re prepared to over-look others’ imperfections. You’re prepared to overlook the fact that they’re not perfect or that they don’t fit in perfectly. Jesus demonstrated this most powerfully in the way he dealt with those who were outside the law: the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the lepers, everyone, in other words, who was not acceptable according to the holiness codes of the day. By eating with tax collectors, for example, Jesus was violating the holiness codes which held up the whole system of holiness under God. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that the scribes and the Pharisees and many of the priests and other key religious leaders were deeply upset with him. His love was not some kind of air-fairy, early hippy concept – no, it was deeply controversial because it had practical consequences.

Our love for one another ought to have practical consequences. The self-sacrifice of many soldiers at Gallipoli and on the battlefields of France teaches us this.

A few years ago I was asked to teach Reformation History to a class of adults, as a part of a university degree in Western Australia. Part of the reward of that involved looking at the Roman Catholic Church’s missionary activities in South America and Asia, because that was all happening even as the Reformation occurred back home in Europe. There are two conflicting themes running through the missionary activities in South America in particular. These two themes are captured brilliantly in that remarkable film, The Mission, which was based on the settlements the missionaries set up in many parts of South America, to help educate the native Indians in the faith and also protect them from the slave traders. The two themes are of course on the one hand the desire to love and to teach the native Indians the faith, and, on the other, the desire to conquer them, exploit them and steal their gold. Throughout human history these two themes have warred against each other. Mixed up in all of that, and causing many problems, has been the sin of greed, which is always opposed to the virtue of love.

The battle between these two opposing forces continues without any sign of abating. Of course, there are always shades of grey in any particular issue, but underneath it are the two opposing forces of good and evil, which are expressed very often in the two conflicting human emotions: love and greed. These days we Christians tend to shy away from using such language as there being a “spiritual battle.” But perhaps that is how we need to think occasionally, because certainly in our world today there is a battle raging between love and hatred. The only problem with using such language is that it tends to imply that any solution will be found by fighting fire with fire.  Nothing could be further from the Christian way of life.

It seems so simple! And yet our whole life, it seems, is filled with the struggle, the “spiritual battle,” between doing exactly what Jesus commanded us to do, to love one another, and reacting against one another out of greed, or fear, or whatever it is that drives us to be selfish.

This is our challenge, to live every day as if we were in the kingdom of heaven, because heaven starts now. Heaven starts in this life: sure, our experience of heaven here is incomplete, somewhat broken and imperfect, just like human beings, but it is a beginning, an expression of love, an attempt to follow Jesus’ command, “Love one another.”

The Reverend Dr Theo McCall
School Chaplain