Sermons

Archives - May 2018

It's the Same for Us

May 27, 2018
By Rev. David French

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It's the Same for Us
John 3:1-17

Not all Pharisees were jerks.  Actually, there were many honest Pharisees.  Nicodemus, for example, when he heard about this young rabbi from Galilee had genuine curiosity.  During the crowded festivals, Jesus and many other visitors usually slept out by the Mount of Olives.  It was on one of those nights that Nicodemus saw his chance to visit with Jesus.

Nicodemus came to Jesus with a great deal of respect.  He wasn’t quite ready to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but He was ready to admit that He was no ordinary prophet.  And even as an ordinary prophet, Jesus’s words would have been considered God’s words.  And so it is, because the Holy Spirit worked through the apostle John to record this conversation, all today have the opportunity to learn about the work that each person of the Trinity has in our salvation.  

The Father loves us so much that He sends His Son into our world.  The Son saves us by living and dying in our place so that the Father might now offer forgiveness, life, and salvation to you and to all.  The Holy Spirit creates and maintains the faith God put in you on the day of your baptism, and that gift alone receives and holds onto the gifts that the Son offers to us.  The Holy Spirit delivers these gifts through the Means of Grace that is the Word of God – as we hear it and read it – or as it comes to us in the water of Baptism – and in the very body and blood of Christ as we eat the bread and drink the wine of the Holy Supper.

As Jesus began answering Nicodemus’s questions, He actually worked His way from the end of the process of salvation back to the beginning.  He began with the Holy Spirit’s activity of establishing faith in us.  We call this conversion.  The Holy Spirit converts people from spiritual death to spiritual life.  Jesus said this process of conversion is a spiritual birth.  After Nicodemus introduced himself, Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Later, after Nicodemus asked for more explanation, Jesus started over and added more details saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  So the spiritual birth of conversion is like a physical birth.

Ask any mom or anyone who has assisted or witnessed the birth of a baby, “Who does all the work?”  The baby endures quite a bit as he or she travels through the birth canal, but the baby does not provide the work.  The work comes from mom.  The baby experiences the work, but provides none of it.  It is mom who does the work of giving birth.  The experiences of the birth are passive ones.

The same is true for our spiritual birth.  Although a great deal is happening to us during this life changing process, we do absolutely nothing to make it happen.  We do not decide to follow Jesus.  We do not give ourselves to God.  Just as Mom does all the work of physical birth, so God through Mother Church does all the work of spiritual birth.  We do nothing.  When Jesus answered, “… That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” He was telling Nicodemus it is the Holy Spirit who brings the Christian into the spiritual world with a spiritual birth.

That means your faith is a miracle of God, which is why we can and do infant baptisms.  In fact, if you think about it, the miracle might be greater in adults since the Holy Spirit must work to undo a lifetime of false belief before He can work the true faith in them.  A baby, on the other hand, is a blank slate.  But why does God go through all the effort to produce this faith in us?

Well, faith receives the work that God has done for us.  The first thing Jesus told Nicodemus about Himself was that He had descended from heaven.  The first benefit Jesus revealed to Nicodemus: the knowledge that Jesus is both God and man means that He is the kingdom of God.  The benefit of conversion becomes even clearer when Jesus moved on to tell of the work He would do as God and man: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  Here is the chief benefit of the faith - Whoever believes has eternal life.

And what is it we believe?  Well, we believe that Jesus was lifted up on the cross just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.  That by His suffering and death, Jesus earned eternal life for us.  And now Jesus offers that life as a gift to all and we receive by faith, the gift that the Holy Spirit worked in us in our spiritual birth.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that we are saved by faith in Him alone.  Nicodemus can try to keep the laws of Moses until the effort itself kills him.  It’s the same for us.  Because God’s standard is perfection, it only takes one sin to condemn us forever.  And still, we sin every day and cannot stop ourselves.  How blessed we are to know and believe that by faith in Christ alone do we receive all the benefits of Christ’s cross, that is forgiveness, life, and salvation.

And what is the Father’s roll in all this?  He is the one who loves, gives, and sends.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

God who is love sent His Son into our world to be our substitute - to be lifted up on the cross so that the world might be saved through him.  With these words Jesus is teaching that the kingdom of God does not come to Nicodemus because he is a descendant of Abraham, but comes because the Holy Spirit gives him the same faith as Abraham.

That faith was indeed created with Nicodemus’s heart, as we see by his actions.  We read in John 19: “Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission.  So he came and took away his body.  Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.  So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.  Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.  So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”

One can only imagine the joy of Nicodemus when he learned that the body he had laid in Joseph’s tomb was no longer there - that Jesus, his savior, had risen from the dead.  What joy he must have felt knowing through the Spirit’s gift of faith that he would live forever within God’s kingdom.  What a joy it is for us who also have been born of that same Spirit, that the day will come when we shall join Nicodemus around the throne of God in the eternal joy of everlasting life

In Jesus’s Name.  Amen

The Day of Pentecost

May 20, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

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Sermon for May 20, 2018 – The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21

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

The text for our meditation this Pentecost weekend is from the book of Acts, specifically where Luke writes, “And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? … we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends.

Where is the focus in this text? Where do your ears prick up? What point in this story catches your imagination? It’s a little unfair to ask this question because we are only, honestly, getting a snippet of the narrative. Our text is coming at the tail-end of a fifty-day period. During those 50 days, Jesus appeared to His disciples on several occasions; only thing is, He was dead. No question, He was dead, and yet He appeared to His disciples, on more than one occasion, very much alive. He did this for forty days, ten days prior to our second reading, and then He visibly, physically, ascended back to His rightful place at the right hand of the Father, but not before reminding His disciples of the promise He had given them, the promise for another Helper, the promise we read about in our Gospel text:

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” Jesus repeats this promise at His ascension, telling the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until it happens. And they do. They wait, for ten days, and now here we are. On the same day as the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot. This lesser-known feast (at least from a Gentiles perspective) celebrates several things at once. It marks 50 days from the Passover Sabbath, while also commemorating the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. Religious significance abounds in this festival, but also cultural: this is also a harvest celebration, specifically the early harvest celebration. With this, came the idea that if the early harvest is good, the later harvest will be even better! This is a HUGE celebration in Jerusalem, with Jews from all nations coming to the holy city to celebrate – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cappadocians, Pontics, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Cretans, Arabians, and Judeans. Virtually from every corner of the known world, where the fear of the God of Israel had come to the people, the people had come to celebrate. And it just so happened that it was on THIS day, THIS Shavuot, that we have our reading from Luke’s pen.

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This is incredible, make no mistake. It’s so incredible, that entire denominations have endeavored to recreate this day every day. It’s hard to blame them. But is that the focus? The sound like a mighty rushing wind, the tongues as of fire, the speaking in foreign languages? Is that what Luke is wanting to draw your attention to?

Well, let’s continue on, and we’ll likely reach the answer. These disciples, filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit, speaking in languages that they have never used and yet are talking with the ease of native speakers, they’re speaking in the languages of all of those gathered in Jerusalem, and as these disciples give testimony, “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Miraculous? Yes. Absolutely. Not since before the fall of the Tower of Babel had human beings understood one another with such ease! Each of the hearers hears, listens, to the proclamations of these men, singing the praises of God in the languages their mothers had taught them. Is that where you get caught up? Is that what is so astounding? Is that where you, with all these Jews from all the world over ask in amazement and perplexity, “What does this mean?”

The entire narrative is so overwhelming, it’s easy to get caught up in the details. It’s easy to get caught up in the what and the who, the mystery and the fantastical. It’s easy to see these things and long for those golden days. But is that the purpose of this text?

No. The focus of this is not upon the bizarre and wild yet true story that we read here. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is an amazing fulfillment of Christ’s promises to His disciples, but it’s the message the Holy Spirit gives them to speak that should be the focus – after all, the work of the Holy Spirit is NOT to draw attention to Himself, but to point toward Christ, the Son of the Living God.

It’s not the amazing wonder that the disciples are using foreign tongues they’d never used before to proclaim the glories of God; it’s the message those tongues are speaking, the praise of God, the proclamation of His Law and His Gospel, to cut sinners to the heart, to kill them with the conviction of the law, and to make them alive again in Christ, which is precisely what Peter proclaims to all those who are within earshot, including those who think the disciples have gotten into the new wine. The focus here should not be the messenger, nor even the vehicle of the message. The focus is on the message – namely, the story of sin and redemption through Jesus of Nazareth, Who is called the Christ. Jesus said as much about the Holy Spirit Who gives utterance when He said, “… when [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

It’s easy to get caught up. It’s easy to get tangled in the signs of the times, with the wonders in the heavens above, and signs on the earth below. It’s easy to dwell upon numbers, and figures, how that church is losing members, yet how that one over there seems to be growing. It’s easy to decry and bemoan the state of our culture, the division, but that’s not where our focus must be. Acknowledgment of where we’re at is a good thing, but as Pastor French told the children last week, if we take our focus off of Jesus, it’s very easy to get lost.

The focus of our mission now is the same as it was on the Day of Pentecost, at that miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to miraculously speak in tongues, but we are called to proclaim Christ and Him crucified to all people, to translate His message of Law and Gospel into ways the people can understand. We are not called to prophesy to dry bones to come alive, but we are called to speak the truth in love, to call sinners out of darkness into the marvelous light of salvation found only in Christ, to call them from the death they love to find life in Jesus, whom they likely hate. We are called to faithfulness … in all that we are, trusting that the Holy Spirit is still doing today through us what He did in Jerusalem ten days after Jesus ascended, and trusting that the message that He brings to us and through us is true! It’s the message we bear that is our focus, keeping our eyes on Jesus, even in the miraculous found on Pentecost. It worked for the disciples, and it certainly works today, because the Holy Spirit works through His people today as He did then.

It’s fitting, then, that the Holy Spirit was poured out at the early harvest festival. If that early harvest was good, the later harvest would be GREAT. Yes, my friends, the Spirit is still working, still sowing seeds in the field, and if the early harvest at the first Pentecost was as great as we see it being, how INCREDIBLE will the Last Harvest be! He still works, still brings sinners to Jesus, through the utterances that He gives us, proclaiming in the tongues that we are given … the mighty works of God!

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

Christ Prays for You!

May 13, 2018
By Rev. David French

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Christ Prays for You!
John 17:11b-19

Given how things are shaking out for Christians in this world nowadays, the thought of wanting to separate ourselves from all the craziness and perversion and corruption and hatred and hypocrisy and persecution makes perfect sense.  There are plenty of times that I have thought the Amish may be onto something when it comes to interacting with the rest of this fallen world.  And yet, it is against that very separation that our Lord prays.  “I do not ask you [heavenly Father] to take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  Let them be in the world, but not of the world.”

Now the immediate context tells us that Jesus prayed this “high priestly prayer” on Maundy Thursday just hours before He was betrayed to death.  Jesus was obviously praying for His apostles; the same men who, in just a few hours, would abandon and forsake Him as they attempted to create as much separation between Him and them as they could to save themselves.  But then, can you imagine how those disciples would’ve felt seeing their hope of life eternal being beaten and humiliated and finally nailed to a tree to be forsaken and cursed by God?  They’d obviously wanted nothing to do with that, which brings up a good question: Was the prayer of Jesus ineffective?

Now I ask this question because this is the point where most people experience their moments of doubt.  No doubt we all think we know what Jesus means when He prays this petition, but what does Jesus NOT mean?  This is where doubt and anger and unbelief, like yeast, make their way into our faith.  This is where the devil finds a chink in our armor and begins to exploit and infiltrate and wear down.  Why?  Because bad things happen to believers.

Evil people do seem to get ahead while good people seem to get the short end of the stick.  Life just isn’t fair.  That’s the conventional wisdom, and Scripture seems to reinforce that fact time and time again.  If you are faithful, if you are good and God-pleasing in the exercise of your faith, you can consider yourself a marked person.  The devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh will seek to destroy you.  They will never stop working to bring an end to your contentment and peace.  That is, as we hold to Christ, we will experience hardship and pain and sorrow in our lives.

Now, to be sure, much of the pain and sorrow we experience and complain about in our cushy, contemporary setting isn’t necessarily a result of our being “good Christians,” but simply a result of our being children of Adam.  And this is where satan does some of his best work, that is blurring of the lines between the reality our fallen nature and living a life of faith in a fallen world.

Christians aren’t the only ones who get cancer or lose their job, their savings, or those they love.  Christians aren’t the only ones who experience bankruptcy or hunger or sickness or pain or sorrow or hurt feelings.  And yet, when these crosses happen, we often cry out to God as if He’s not keeping up His end of the bargain; as though we deserve a free pass from things uncomfortable or unpleasant.  “I try to live as a faithful witness and repent when I fail.  I’ve prayed again and again, ‘Lord deliver me from this evil,” and nothing happens.  Why should I pray if you’re not going to do what I want?!”

See how easy it can be to confuse the symptoms of sin with the reality of life in a fallen world.  When we experience pain and sorrow in our daily life, we’re tempted to understand that as we did something wrong.  We’re tempted to find the assurance of our faith by how things are going for us in life instead of holding to the death and resurrection Christ.  And it’s not because of a weakness of faith, but the strength of our sinful human nature that when times of testing come into our lives, without thought, we sometimes begin to panic and start reaching out for anything that might give us the assurance that we need.  The truth is, that’s a perfect time for satan to try and get us to take our eyes off of the cross, and our feet off the path that leads to it.  And, make no mistake, satan is always looking for opportunities to draw us away or to separate us from the only assurance of our acceptance in God’s sight and our only source of lasting comfort and peace.  My friends, it is by God’s grace and the working of the Holy Spirit alone that we don’t give in and follow the path that leads away and would separates us from Christ and His cross forever.

That’s why Jesus prays, “Keep them in Your name.”  Remember, Jesus knows better than you do what it is that you need.  He knows how to give you the peace and assurance and hope and confidence that you so desperately crave. Dear children of God, it is my joy and privilege to tell you again that God’s Word gives these gifts to you and His Word is certain and true.  Think about your baptism into Christ.  That is your justification.  That is where spirit gave birth to spirit and God Himself made you His own.  It is where He is giving you His Son’s victory over sin, death, and the devil.  Look at the altar—the very table of your Savior.  It is there He feeds and nourishes you with His own life-giving body and blood as God works a miraculous divine communion.

Now just let that sink in a bit.  God comes to us to forgive and commune (or be as one) with us.  It was and is the sin of humanity that separates and creates enmity.  Adam and Eve turned away from God, and because of our sinfulness, we’re still trying to run and hide from the one and only source of forgiveness, life, and true peace.  Still, the words of Jesus, “… how often I have longed to gather your children together like a hen, but you were not willing” … ring true.  That’s why Jesus comes to us.  He comes to bring us into communion with Himself, to restore what sin destroyed.  He comes to give us His life and with it the promise that all this will one day come to an end, and all who believe will be together with Him who is pure love.

The world we live in is coming apart.  Things are bad and they will only get worse.  But take heart, for you belong to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Lamb who made you His own through the water and the word of your baptism, the Lamb who speaks words of forgiveness to you, the Lamb who is nourishing you with His life-giving Body and Blood, the Lamb who is the Prince of the peace that surpasses human understanding.

Your Lord prays for you in the midst of His trial and tribulation, but He doesn’t pray that you never experience pain and sorrow while living your faith in a Christ-hating world.  He doesn’t pray that you never bear crosses.  But, Christ does pray that we bear our crosses faithfully, using them to show a childlike trust in Him no matter what life throws at us.  He prays for you, so that when you do experience those pains and sorrows that come with your crosses, you will by grace through faith hold even tighter to Him and His promise of grace and mercy.  Yes, even now, Christ prays for you.  And if God is for you, who can be against you?

May the truth of God’s love for you be your deep-seeded peace as He guards and keeps your hearts and minds in Christ our Lord and merciful Savior. 

In His Name Amen.

Lessons of Ascension

May 10, 2018
By Rev. David French

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Lessons of Ascension
Acts 1:1-11

There’s a lot to be learned about the Ascension of our Lord from our reading in Acts as well as our Gospel reading this evening.  Luke, who wrote both, tells us Christ’s ascension took place near Bethany.  He also tells us that the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection.  He records what the eye witnesses saw at the Ascension, that Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.  Luke tells us a lot, but there are also things that Luke doesn’t tell us.

For example, many people just assume that once the cloud hid Jesus from sight that Jesus just kept going up and up until He reached heaven and so, is now far, far away.  They assume that Jesus is watching over us from wherever He is.  Some think that from that far-off “command center,” Jesus gets involved with the important things that happen in this world, but for the most part, He has bigger, more important things to watch over than you or me.

But when we read these inspired words of Luke carefully, we realize that Luke only tells what the disciples saw.  Jesus rose from the surface of the earth far enough for a cloud to literally “receive” Him.  After that, Luke says nothing.  Maybe the cloud hid a door in the sky that goes from time into eternity.  I mean, if all we knew about the Ascension was from Luke’s account, then the imagination is the limit once He’s “received by the cloud from their sight.”  But if we want to know what happened, then we need look elsewhere in the Scriptures.

In our Epistle reading Paul tells of the great works of God “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”  With words we learn a few more things about the Ascension of our Lord.

First of all, Paul wants us to understand that the Ascension is not just Christ moving in time and space, but it’s also a recognition of authority.  When we hear that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, what does that mean? If we think about it from an earthly perspective, for example, the Queen of England sits on the throne in London, but that doesn’t mean she sits there 24/7.  It means that she reigns as Queen over all the United Kingdom and has the right to sit on that throne by virtue of her office.  Likewise, Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father doesn’t mean He just sits there, it means that He reigns with His Father over all things.  It means that Jesus, whose flesh never saw decay, has taken humanity into the Holy Trinity.

Another thing that Paul teaches us is that Jesus is the One who fills all things.  That is, Jesus is everywhere, and not just as God, He is everywhere as God and man.  That’s a teaching that’s technically known as the “genus idiomaticum” or what the catechism calls the communication of attributes from Christ divine to His human nature.  That is because Christ is one person who is both God and man.  Everything He is and does, He is and does as both God and man.

So, when we think about Christ’s Ascension, we shouldn’t think, up, up, and away, but more up, up, and out!  Jesus’s Ascension does not mean He is gone.  It means He’s always with us as both God and man. The truth is, Jesus is closer to each of us now than He would be if we could see Him with our physical eyes.

We’ve already seen this at work during the forty days Jesus appeared to His disciples after He rose from the dead.  He left the tomb without moving the stone.  He spoke with two of His disciples and then simply disappeared after He broke bread with them.  Twice He suddenly showed up in a locked room in the middle of His disciples.  He came and went, or more accurately appeared and disappeared, at will.  That was how Jesus taught them and us that even though they couldn’t see Him, He was always with them.

Jesus also made promises to His Church that He would not be able to keep if it weren’t for the communication of attributes.  Today we heard that Jesus ascended into heaven, but elsewhere Jesus made the promise, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”  Then there’s the promise that Jesus makes in the sacrament itself when He said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new testament in my blood.”  How can Jesus make all of these promises to be with us if He is sitting on His throne in heaven?

If Jesus were just a man, these verses would make no sense.  But because Jesus is both God and man, He can fulfill these passages simply by being who He is.  The very body that carries the prints of the thorns, the marks of the nails, and the puncture wound of the spear is with us even though we can’t see Him.  In a way that we cannot understand, all of God’s forgiveness, all His love, all His comfort is always with each and every one of us in the crucified, risen, and ascended body of Jesus Christ.

I feel bad for those who reject the teaching of the exalted Christ’s communion of attributes between His divine and human natures. That one wrong turn, if you will, means they believe the bread and wine of the sacrament only represent the body and blood of Christ; that there is no forgiveness, only a symbol of forgiveness in His words.  It means they believe there’s no love from Christ in the sacrament, only a representation of His love.  It means they believe there’s no comfort in the cup, only a symbol of the comfort of Christ.  The truth is, when this teaching of Holy Scriptures is rejected, there is no real Gospel, there’s only a symbol of the Gospel.

But Christ has ascended to fill all things.  He is still, and will always be, Immanuel, God with us.  He’s with us through His love, His forgiveness, His comfort, His salvation, and the eternal life He offers to all.  The good news is that the day is coming when we shall see Him as He is.  As we read, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  And as the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write to the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Until that day, we rest in the assurance that we are never alone.  Christ our Lord, true God and true man, is always with us.  The world will do all it can to separate us from Him.  It will discourage us.  It will attack us.  It will persecute us.  Jesus Himself warned us, “In the world you will have trouble.”  But then He adds, “But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  And He did that for you.

In His Name, Amen

Circle

May 06, 2018
By Rev. 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.

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