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Circle

May 06, 2018
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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Circle
John 15:9-17

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, where John writes, If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. … This is My commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

It seems a bit odd to consider this text today, as we bask in the victorious glow of the Eastertide. Odd, but nonetheless fitting, and by the end of this sermon, I think you’ll agree. It’s odd because of the context of our reading. We are not post-resurrection, celebrating Jesus’s incredible victory over sin, death, and the devil. Rather, we’re back. We’re back in the upper room, on the same night on which our Lord was betrayed into the hands of evil men. This is the night … before His death by crucifixion.

Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet … when suddenly, the mood in the room shifts. Jesus is more somber, more serious, reflecting His troubled spirit as He declares, I tell you the truth, one of you will betray Me. The shifting glances, the nervous and trembling voices as the disciples each ask, Is it I, Lord? causes thick tension in the air. Of course, as he receives the bread into his hand, Judas also receives the devil into his heart, and he rushes off to do what he was going to do. Once the traitor is gone, Jesus uses what little time remains to prepare His disciples for what’s coming. He tells Peter how he will thrice deny his Teacher. He reminds His disciples that no one comes to the Father except through the Son. He promises to send another Helper after He has gone away from them. Then, He gives them, as He said, a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. Just a few minutes remaining with His disciples, and He drops LAW on them.

What … was Jesus thinking? Doesn’t He know that telling the people what they should and should not do is verboten in Lutheran preaching? It violates the Law/Gospel balance! Wouldn’t it have been better if He had stopped, in the middle of the sermon of His life, to tell His friends about His incredible love for them – so great a love, that He would, in mere hours, die for them? Why does He go that extra step into the murky waters of exhortation to Christian living?

But that’s where He goes, and we mustn’t get so caught up in this word “commandment” that we end up missing the forest for the trees. Jesus isn’t just talking about His ministry in parts here; He’s talking about it as a whole, reminding His disciples of all that He has taught, said, and done, and focusing it down to a singularity of divine truth. The truth His Father had given Him to proclaim, the same truth that He was now giving His friends, the truth that He knew He was about to live out and embody.

As He was telling the disciples of the love that He wanted them to have for one another, He knew that Judas was probably already before the Sanhedrin, collecting his 30 pieces of silver, and that soon, he would set off with a mob to come out after his former Rabbi with clubs and chains. Time was short; there were mere moments left. What would you tell your loved ones … if you knew you only had a few minutes left, and that death was a-knocking? With all His faithful, close friends gathered around Him, Jesus decides to focus His final words upon love. His Father’s love for Him, His love for all His friends, and their love for Him and one another.

I won’t lie, it would have been much easier if Jesus had stopped there. It would have been much easier if Jesus had simply talked about the love shown in His salvific sacrifice. If Jesus had simply said, “I love you, I forgive you, it doesn’t make a difference – do what you want! I’ve forgiven all your sin! Hate one another, if you want; My blood covers it all!” that would have made things much simpler. At least then, His message would be consistent with my life, and I’d be willing to bet, with yours, as well.

I’d like to think that I’m a loving person, that I care for all people, but frequently, I find that the opposite is the case. I’m not all that loving. I act in frequently selfish, self-serving, incurvatus, ways. I can put on a good show, no doubt, but in my heart, and I’d guess with you as well, it’s about me. I’m a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner, and that’s what lousy, rotten no-good, stinkin’ sinners do: they focus upon themselves.

The cold, hard fact is that love is what we are commanded to give, what we’re commanded to do, but it is something that we, as sinners, are unable to give. So, the question is, how are we to love … as we have been loved? Our text provides the answer.

Here, as in other places in John’s writings, we discover that love is not only the command, but also the key to the fulfillment OF that command! As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide – remain – in My love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love. If you obey My commands, you abide in My love, and if you abide in My love, you will keep My commands. The circle is complete. It was started by God, and it is brought to completion in God. Within this circle of love is the overwhelming reality of God’s divine love for us – love that radiates from the Father, to the Son, love that permeates His disciples and manifests itself in fruit-producing obedience … the new obedience.

This is what you find with those who remain in Jesus’s love. It’s not your choice, as Jesus so clearly states. You did not choose me, He says, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. We didn’t choose to love God – as if we could, since prior to His intercession, we were spiritual blind, dead, and enemies of God; instead, He chose to love us. While we were yet sinners, in the greatest expression of love ever seen in this world, Christ died for us. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, killed that we may live. We are able to love because God loved us so much, that He brought us into that circle. We love Him … we love one another… because He first loved us.

Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. And that is EXACTLY what Jesus was about to do for His friends – those who were there, gathered in the upper room, and for His friends, His beloved, throughout time and space, including those gathered in this sanctuary, here today, He would lay down His life. Out of love. For them. For us.

Jesus has shown us the ultimate expression of love, and through His obedience, by His laying down His life, so that He can take it up again, as He did three days later. By His love, by His Holy Spirit, we likewise obey the command to love – to love God, and love one another. So, yes, this text is fitting, even in the blessed season of Easter, for in the end, it is all about love.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.