May 13th, 2001
Wesley, Doncaster East
© John M. Connan
Have you written your will? We know we should. Considering the age of most of us in this room, every one of us should have set down in writing what’s to be done with what we leave behind.
On Thursday night at Presbytery every minister received a wills kit. Yes, the Uniting Church wants you to think about money. There’s nothing wrong with that: money receives more attention in the New Testament than any other single issue!
But there was one unusual thing in the kit: a suggestion that you include in your will more than property and assets. “Will-making,” it suggests, “offers you a tremendous opportunity to look back over your life and leave a final testament to friends and family about the views and values you have lived by.”
In fact, though the kit doesn’t say so, it’s biblical. Look in Genesis 48 and 49 and you’ll find Jacob’s will; in Deuteronomy 33 and you’ll find Moses’; in 2 Samuel 23 and you’ll find David’s. There are twelve books from Old Testament times that didn’t find their way into the Bible: The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. Supposedly these are the wills of Jacob’s twelve sons.
This is the suggested personal preamble in the wills kit:
“FIRST, I commit myself into God’s care, secure in Christ’s love for me and trusting in the grace and peace I know through Christ’s suffering and death. I leave those who survive me the comfort of knowing that I have died in this faith.
SECOND, I commend loved ones to the protective arm of God, knowing that God will continue to provide for them despite my absence; and I encourage them to place their faith and trust in God alone.
THIRD, I urge my heirs not to set their hopes on current and uncertain riches but to take hold of the life that never ends through faith in Jesus Christ.”
Why am I talking about last wills and testaments? Because the short passage read this morning - part of what’s been called Jesus’ farewell discourse – John intended us to understand as part of Jesus’ last will and testament. No mention of money, you’ll have noted: it’s much more like the “final testament” of the Uniting Church will kit.
“I’m giving you a new commandment: love one another. In just the same way that I‘ve loved you, you’re to love one another. That’s how everyone will recognise that you’re my disciples – when they see how you love each other.”
I think I’ve told this story before – but it’s a story hat has stuck with me.
Afternoon siestas were part of life at the United Theological College in India. Up for breakfast at 7. Lectures from 8 till 1. I often worked through till midnight or 1 am – often because I’d spent an hour trying to work out the three-letter root of a Hebrew word so I could find it in the lexicon and discover its meaning.
Visiting lecturers were put on during siesta time. They were unwelcomed interruptions. As students we tried to share attendance so that numbers didn’t tail off too obviously across the week. However, when Nels Ferrè came, attendance increased daily. He was a charismatic speaker.
Among ideas I’ve not forgotten was this: “You cannot command love.”
Yet this is what Jesus has just done: “I’m giving you a new commandment: love one another.”
Judas had just left. Jesus had something that he wanted his followers to hear and take with unrelenting seriousness. This was to be a characteristic to mark their lives. It was to be the character trait that made them different. In future they would be aliens in the midst of people who lived by entirely different values.
On Tuesday I went to have my nose dressed. I don’t know how it came up. “You know,” said the nurse, “Mr Crock is a Christian.” I didn’t and the conversation went on. Next morning I discovered he belongs to a medical group where all the doctors are Christians – all from the same congregation. This congregation, it seems, has a peculiar reputation for its separation from worldliness, members cutting themselves off from non-Christians and other Christians.
Holiness is a Christian mark. But the Christian mark will always be the mark commanded by Jesus: “Love one another.”
That sounds more reasonable than cutting ourselves off into a Christian enclave. But loving is never easy. There always has been and always will be a high cost to loving.
But, if you’ve looked at the setting of this last testament it’s to Jesus’ closest followers, our ancestors in the faith. They had their differences. There were unseemly squabbles among them. Sometimes it’s easier to love enemies whom you don’t have to deal with every day, than it is to love those close to you when you’ve got to deal with them on a daily basis! Ask any parent clashing with teenage daughter or son! Loving those close to you can be a trial. Loving those whom you don’t like can seem like a life sentence without remission. They knew that – but a command from Jesus was something to be taken with total seriousness.
And the command wasn’t for them alone. Jesus’ last testament was for all his heirs.
The word to us:
Love your sisters and brothers in the faith – even when you don’t like them.
Love them – even – or maybe – because you’ve had your differences.
Love them - no matter how irritating they may be. Never exclude any one of them. Make them your friends.
If that’s how it has to be – because it’s Jesus’ last testament - you’ve got to begin by thinking lovingly, speaking lovingly, and acting lovingly. If love sometimes seems hard, practise love. You’ll have to think about what you’re doing. You’ll feel awkward – almost hypocritical - doing what you’ve consciously decided to do. But the time will come when loving will come easily, naturally and gracefully. You’ll even find yourself wondering why loving ever seemed hard.
Until we love unselfconsciously like that, is it any wonder that those outside the church say, “You talk about love, but you don’t follow up your words with deeds.” Our Christian witness is diminished every time followers of Jesus demonstrate lack of love – and hatred. Loving isn’t easy. But it was Jesus’ last testament.
Have you realised that I’ve left something out in telling you to practise love. It’s this: practise loving Jesus first. Once you’ve learned to love Jesus with heart and soul and mind and strength, then practise loving your brothers and sisters in the faith. And once you’ve learned to love your brothers and sisters in the faith, practise loving everyone else in the world - one person at a time. Love them – even when you don’t like them. Love them – even when they’re not your friends. Love them – even when you find it hard to speak to them. Love them – even though it takes deliberate effort. Do it intentionally, until you mean it. Do it, until you discover you wouldn’t want to do anything else. Love till you discover the love you’ve inherited from Jesus knows no limits; no boundaries; no restrictions of any kind.
Love till it hurts. And you may just discover - as so many have before you - that, when you love like that, you reached true holiness: you’ve become a saint without realising the miracle love has worked within you.
And they’ll know you are Christian by your love. And that will be the greatest gift you can leave to your heirs.
 Fact Sheet # 4.
 John 13: 34-35, paraphrased.
 John 13: 30.