Easter 6b - May 9th and 10th, 2015 - John 15:9-17
Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!) Amen
Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!) Amen
Dear friends in Christ, if we would understand what our Lord Jesus Christ is telling us today in our Gospel lesson, we first need to get one thing straight. We need to understand what “love” is in the Scriptures. You see, today in America, we don't use the term “love” the same way they did in Jesus' day. So often for us, love is an emotion, a feeling – we hear "love" and think butterflies in the stomach and maybe a romantic date. We hear “love” and think of all the sappy songs on the radio about how someone makes us feel. But that's not what Jesus is talking about today, not in the slightest. Love for Jesus is “agape” - that is, love is an act, an act of service simply for the benefit of another, simply for their sake. Do you want to know what sort of love Jesus is talking about today? It's fitting that it's Mother's Day weekend (gentlemen you did remember that it is Mother's day right – if not, quickly after church, run an errand... alright), it's fitting that it is Mother's Day because the sort of love that Jesus speaks of is the love of a parent for a child. It is the service given – and sometimes a rather disgusting service. There is nothing romantic about cleaning up a toddler's vomit at 3 in the morning – changing a diaper does not inspire the slow dance song at prom. And yet, out of love, that type of love that Jesus is talking about here, that's what a mom does. So with this idea of “love” in mind, let's dive into the text, shall we?
“As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you.” Jesus here sets the stage for everything going on. The first and greatest truth is this – You are loved by God. You are loved by Christ. And this is not a matter of what you have done – this isn't romantic love where you buy Jesus flowers and take Him out for a nice meal and hope for the best. Your relationship with God isn't playful flirtation – rather this. Just as the Father has loved Christ Jesus, His only begotten Son, from all eternity – so too you are loved by Christ Jesus. Even before creation, even before the Word of God called the universe into being, Christ Jesus, that very Word of God loved you. Before you even existed. In fact, that love was shown in the fact that He created you – as we confess in the catechism, I believe that God has made me. That's a sign of His love for you. So bear this in mind – we are going to hear in the next few verse about our actions – about what we are to do – but God's love for you is not conditional. Jesus is not saying, “if you do this, I will love you.” He is not saying, “You had better jump through hoops X, Y, and Z and then I will love you.” He is not saying, “If you didn't bring me flowers, a card, and some chocolate there will be literal hell to pay.” No, you are the beloved of Christ Jesus. He loves you, this is truth.
“Abide in My love.” Abide in My love – remain, live, stay in My love. When you go about your lives, remember first and foremost My love for you. Because the world is going to try to distract you. The world will tell you that you are unlovable and terrible and ugly and lousy. Not to Jesus. Abide, remain, stay and live in My love, which is from all time and for all eternity. And how do we remember this? “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.” Oh, dear friends, this is one of those verses that can be twisted into a harsh and nasty club – and it's not meant to be. Think about that word “keep”. If I just say flat out “if you keep My commandments” - what do we as modern Americans think? We think “do”. We think, “ut-oh – here's the catch, here's the string attached. Jesus will love us, but only if we do things.” But that's not what “keep” means. When they made that old King James Version, which still sets the tone for so many translations – folks knew what a keep was. How many of you have heard the phrase, “a man's home is his castle and his keep”? That points to what a keep is – the keep is the safest, most secure part of the house – it's where you put, where you keep the most important things. That's a keep. Or perhaps, moms, you have a precious keepsake? That's a "keep" - something you cherish. So what is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying, I love you – and when you keep, that is when you cling to, when you cherish my commandments, that's when you will remember my love. And why? Those commandments – you'll see them, and remember them, and think how you have failed in them – because if we hold the commandments close, if we pay attention to them, if we examine our love that we show, we will see flaws and errors and faults. So be it. Cherish the commandments, and then remember that Jesus says, “I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.” Where as you and I fail daily and often, where as you and I struggle with sin – Christ does not. And in His great love for you, He shows perfect love. Jesus speaks these words first to the disciples on the evening of Maundy Thursday – you know what disciples, what this love is going to look like, what the Father commands? “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down His life for His friends.” That's what you are going to see in less than 24 hours as I hang on the tree – remember and focus and keep and cherish the truth that I have done My Father's will for you, for I love you.
Oh, Pastor, I don't know, you seem to be white washing this a bit – surely it's all about what I have to do for Jesus, not this Jesus for me stuff! Listen to Jesus - “These things I have spoken to you” - why? - “that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” So – is all this stuff that Jesus is saying to supposed to be the giant club to whack you over the head, or it is sweet, good news of your salvation? Which one of those is joy, which one of those gives full joy? This is good news for you. But pastor, it does go on to say, “You are my friends *IF* you do what I command you”! Now we get to the mystery, the wonder of Christian living. It does say that (although that “if” in modern English would be better translated as “when” or “whenever” - we show ourselves to be friends of Christ whenever we show the love He has commanded, this is true) – but listen to that verse and the next few together - “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide.” The focus, even here, isn't on what *you* do. It's what Jesus is doing. No, Jesus isn't going to treat you like a servant, to just go and run at His beck and call. No, you know what He is doing – He is laying down His life for you upon the Cross, He is rising from the tomb to ensure that you too will rise from the dead, He is giving you life everlasting. Jesus is giving this to you. He chose you – you did not chose Him but Jesus, out of His great love for you, love which He had for you e'er the worlds began to be, love which He has for you perfectly and purely without any thought of repayment or what He's going to get back, that perfect, caring, giving love – Jesus has chosen you. He has called you His friend, He has taken you up in the waters of Holy Baptism and called you by name, brought you into His family the Church, said that you are His, that you belong to Him, that Satan has no more claim on you and that even if you should die yet you will rise and live eternally.
He has chosen you, and so, you will live, and you will bear fruit. Not about you – it's about Him. Last week – He is the vine, you are the branches – when you are in Him, you're going to bear fruit. Just going to happen because of Him. Jesus pours His love into you with His good news of forgiveness, with His own Body and Blood in the Supper – and it's just going to fill you, and even your old sinful flesh won't be able to stop all of that love from flowing out through you. His love overwhelms you, and He has chosen and appointed you. That's the reality! Now, in this sinful world, we only see this in part, we see it imperfectly, we see it through the veil of the our sinful flesh – where those three a.m. Vomit cleanings are done with a bit of grumbling rather than pure joy and love, where a mother's love has to compete with a mother's wrath and anger on occasion. As we are sinners now, we only see this obscured, but the truth is you are Christ's saint, you are His holy one, and thus you will do Holy things because Jesus is Holy and He has declared you to be Holy and forgiven, He has died and risen for you and so you are holy and forgiven – and the day will come, that joyous last day, when we will see this in full with nothing getting in our way. That's why we pray “deliver us from evil”, that's why we pray, “come Lord Jesus”, that's why we sing “lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace” because we want to see the new creation, we want to see our own resurrection.
But, alas, we are not there yet. So Jesus gives us one more reminder. “These things I have commanded you, so that you will love one another.” You are still in the world, you still have your old sinful flesh – not the risen and perfect body yet. So you will need reminders. You will need the Law to grab your attention, to curb your sinful flesh, to show you your sin, to guide and direct you. But what's the goal with this? So that you love one another. Not to make Jesus love you (He loves you already), but so that you love one another – so that you remember what you were created to be – someone who loves their neighbor. And that's rough for us in a fallen world with fallen neighbors. But what do we remember? That in Christ Jesus we have the victory, that we have overcome the world, not by our works, not by what we have done or do or need to do – but we have victory in Christ because He shed His blood for us upon the Cross, because He declared “it is finished” and we are redeemed, because blood and water flowed from His side to this font, to this altar, and you are forgiven. This is His great love for you, love that He gives to you, love that never fails you. God grant that we remain and abide in His Word receiving His forgiveness, that in Christ Jesus and His love our joy may always be full! Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!)