Joining in God’s work of Love

Joining in God’s work of Love

26 May 2020 by Right Rev Dr Joanne Woolway Grenfell in Education, Covid-19 Response.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

John 14:15-21 (NRSV)

I really appreciate it when people in Stepney area send me news about what their churches are doing.

People are struggling with quarantine: with sickness, with grief, with isolation, and with many practical pressures. Church leaders have had to be creative and think imaginatively about how to worship, how to serve, and how to care.

And so it’s encouraging to hear accounts of Christians doing practical things for their neighbours and going the extra mile, of churches carving out a new place for themselves online so that more people can be drawn into worshipping God, and also of communities making space for those who grieve to be held and comforted.

In different ways, these actions are all about love.

When a young midwife from the Homerton hospital had her bicycle stolen while she was out on her community rounds, she was really stranded. Her unit had been heavily hit by the virus and one of her colleagues had died the week before. A church connect group had a whip-round and replaced her bike for her within a few hours. Their love helped her practically, but also meant that she knew she and her colleagues were loved.

One church has set up a Zoom café for anyone who is grieving, so that they can share and be supported by people who are just willing to listen. Their love is about being quietly alongside.

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A church in Brownswood Park has partnered with a community mutual aid group and together they’ve increased a weekly foodbank and soup kitchen to three times a week. They are giving out hundreds of food packages and hot meals each week from the church building. They are there to show unconditional love those who find themselves suddenly in need.

And a vicar has worked with other faith groups in his local community to create a public memorial wall, onto which the names of those who have died of Covid-19 can be placed. They started with pictures of a doctor, three nurses, a cab driver, a bus driver and the father-son team who ran a cobblers on Newington Green. The area where they live, Hackney, has third highest Covid mortality rate in England and Wales. Their love is shown by remembering publicly that everyone is known and loved by God.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus says. (John 14:15)

What are the commandments?

Jesus gives only one commandment in John’s gospel, just before this instruction to his disciples, and it is this: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13.34)

And then just after his instruction, we hear this summary: ”This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13)

So, it’s not only that if we love Jesus, we will keep his commandments. It’s also that if we love Jesus, we will know God’s love, and God will be revealed to us through love.

Jesus wants us to be known as Christians by our love. That privilege and responsibility starts now. We don’t put off loving until we know the perfection of heaven. We are judged by whether we are willing to lay down our life for our friends now.

When we go out into the world to love our neighbours…we aren’t imitating Jesus: we are belonging in him, with the Spirit, at the wholly loving heart of God.

John’s gospel tells us that Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will be with us, which he describes as “another Advocate”.

It’s a very specific word that is used: parakletos, translated as advocate here, but also sometimes as defender, consoler, intercessor. Parakletos means someone who is called to your side, perhaps in a law court, someone who helps or speaks on behalf of someone in need. The word describes more than a role, but hints at a trusting, caring, “alongside” relationship.

When we stand with those who have been wronged, when we console those who grieve, when we volunteer to feed those who are hungry, when we speak up about the needs of the vulnerable, when we pray for the dead, we are joining in with the work of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the one who is alongside.

The Holy Spirit, the one who is our advocate, is tender and loving, gently present with us, not judging or fixing us, but hearing our cries. God understands our vulnerability and loves us and calls us into love just as we are.

I wonder if you noticed as well that John says the Holy Spirit is not just an advocate, but another advocate. The word “another” here is more than just any old extra, it is another one of the same kind.

The Holy Spirit is an advocate like Jesus was an advocate and will be with us like Jesus was.

The Spirit will remind us of what Jesus’ presence was like, will teach us in the present, and will lead us into truth in the future. When we go out into the world to love our neighbours, when we are trying to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, we aren’t imitating Jesus: we are belonging in him, with the Spirit, at the wholly loving heart of God.

I’m sure there were some disciples who weren’t all that convinced upon hearing these words of Jesus.

I can see why.

I can imagine myself wanting to stay with the familiarity of that upper room, the meal that was being shared, the compelling presence of this most extraordinary person, Jesus. I wouldn’t have wanted much to do with this “another” one, who gently stands alongside, and who then both draws us out and draws us into the ongoing work of God in a wounded world.

However much we may be longing for the day when we can worship again in our churches, we know that Christ always goes out before us.

Into hospitals, onto the streets, into foodbanks, into Zoom rooms, onto YouTube, into the public square. To love people and be in solidarity with them in their everyday lives. And the Spirit goes with us, comforting, counselling, assisting, strengthening. The Holy Spirit is alongside every disciple, like Jesus, through change, through crisis, and even through death.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus’ words to the first disciples are also words for us now.

Today, like every day, our calling is to join in God’s work, loving one another as God has loved us.

Right Rev Dr Joanne Woolway Grenfell

Joanne Woolway Grenfell

Bishop Joanne Grenfell is Bishop of Stepney Area in the Diocese of London, and co-sponsor of Capital Mass. Prior to that, Joanne was Archdeacon of Portsdown in the Diocese of Portsmouth, and before that Director of Ordinands and Residentiary Canon in Sheffield. She has experience of outer housing estate and inner city parishes, chaplaincy, and cathedral ministry.

View all posts by Right Rev Dr Joanne Woolway Grenfell

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