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Sermon for Easter 6

Sermon for Easter 6  John 15:9-17

Augustana 2012

Click here for mp 3 audio 34 Sermon for Easter 6

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon today is from the Gospel for the sixth Sunday of Easter.

With the Easter season being quite literally a week of Sundays, it’s not hard to notice the shift from the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus toward the teaching of Jesus about who He is and what He’s done by dying and rising again.  The Gospel reading today is a profound explanation of the relationship between the Father and the Son within the Trinity and if that were all it was, that would be enough.  But as well as being a glimpse into the inner workings of the Holy Trinity, Jesus tells us, significantly, that we now abide in, dwell in, inhabit the love of God.

Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved, you.”  When we speak about the love of God, the love of the Father, we need to be clear what we’re talking about.  God doesn’t feel this emotional love toward us as we might do toward another.  For God love is not a feeling so much as it is His very state of being.  John tells us in his first letter, God is love.  And this is how the Father loves the Son and for that matter how the Father so loved the world, and how He indeed loves you.  God is not feeling warm and loving toward you.  He loves you.  There’s a profound difference, here between the human and the divine.  If God is love and the Father loves the Son, and then so loved the world that He sent His Son into human flesh not to condemn the world but to buy it out of slavery to sin, death and hell, well then, we have a clearer picture of God’s love because God’s love is the kind of love that goes all the way to the cross on Golgotha.  On the cross it does not look like love between the Father and Son but it is in fact God’s great love coming through the cross of Jesus for us that gives these words about God’s love their true and proper meaning.  When Jesus speaks the words “As I have loved you,” He is not writing us a love letter, but telling us something of the self-giving character of God that would let Himself be destroyed in human flesh.

Jesus, in fact, commands us to love.  “Abide in my love.”  But this command is given by one who has himself done everything that love can do.  It is not too different from a mother’s love.  When a mother loves a child, she creates the context in which the child is free to love her in return.  What child would not love his mother, if that mother has been loving toward him?  The only time a mother’s love is not returned is if the children are particularly wicked or if there was never any love from the mother to begin with.  Mothers teach us to love because they have acted out of themselves to bring us into the world.  Up that to the nth degree and then we can begin to see that Jesus’ command for us to love come from Him who acted out of Himself to bring about the greatest thing that love can do.  We abide in the love with which we were first loved.

Abiding in the love of God the Father shown to us in the sacrifice of Jesus is something of a distinctive mark of Christianity.  This is what makes Christianity very different as a religion, or perhaps I should say this is what should make being a Christian very different for Christians.  It is not as if we grow up and then get to a point of development, say thirteen or so, and we begin to look at all the religions of the world and say, “I think this one makes the most sense, or that one has the clearest rules, so I’ll go with it.”  That is about as absurd as being born into the world, being reared and tended by a loving mother and then at some point saying, no, I think I like this other mother is better so I’ll go with her.  I think Tom Wright might have said it very well here, “[Being a Christian] is a personal relationship of love and loyalty to the one who has loved us more than we can begin to imagine.”  Let me just say that again.  “[Being a Christian] is a personal relationship of love and loyalty to the one who has loved us more than we can begin to imagine.”  Dear brothers and sisters, if this is not how you understand being a Christian, at the very core of your being, something is terribly wrong.  We have teaching and doctrine and tradition but all of it supports this central idea: being a Christian means abiding in the love of Jesus Christ, first and foremost.

But this is not the end of what Jesus says here.  He continues by saying, “If you abide in my love you will keep my commandments.”  “How can this be?” we might wonder.  “If it’s all about God loving us, why is there an emphasis on God’s commandments?  That doesn’t sound very loving.  The love of God is not found in the Law but rather in the Gospel, right?”  And yet, students of the Bible know that the Ten Commands don’t begin, “Number One: Thou shalt have no other Gods.”  No.  They begin very differently.  The Lord says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  You shall have no other Gods.”  The Ten Commandments begin with a reminder from the Lord about just what kind of God He is for us before all the bit about what we do as a result of His saving acts.  Seen in this way the Ten Commandments become a very different thing than merely God’s ten rules.  If the Lord God is the one who rescued you out of slavery, why in the world would you want to follow after any other god?  What other god could do for you what the Lord God has done for you?  Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain.  Well of course not.  That’s insulting the name of the God who rescued you out of slavery.  Honor the Sabbath day.  Of course we’ll do that.  That is not only the chance to rest from the work we could never rest from when we were slaves but it’s also the chance to hear the voice of Him who rescued us and spend some time with God our Rescuer.  This is abiding in the love of God in terms of the first table of the law, our relationship with God himself.

But there is a second test, we’ll call it a test because I think Jesus just might be speaking this way.  The test of whether we truly are abiding in the love of the Father is the simple, profound, dangerous and difficult command: “love one another.”  This is the second table of the Law, our relationship with our neighbor.  Those kitschy Ten Commandments plaques that divide up the Ten Commandments into five on one tablet and five on another miss an important distinction.  It’s not five and five, but rather three and seven.  The first three commandments are, as we just heard, about our relationship to God after having been rescued by Him from slavery.  The other seven are about our relationship with other people, all other people, as a result of God rescuing us all from slavery.  Honor your father and mother, they are your rescuer God’s agents and deserve honor.  Don’t murder a fellow rescued one.  Don’t steal another rescued person’s wife or husband or future wife or husband or for that matter don’t play around with the created order of your rescuer God.  Don’t steal from your fellow rescued and don’t lie about them either.  And certainly don’t sinfully desire things that your fellow rescued have that your great rescuer God hasn’t given you as if He’s stingy.  The second table of the law, commandments four through ten, are instructions to a people who have been rescued from slavery in Egypt.  This is how the newly rescued should relate and even love one another.

Hearing the Ten Commandments in this way and even hearing the command of our Savior, is dependent on one thing, a healthy sense of having been rescued and this is where our biggest challenge to faith is.  If we want to track the failure of the Church today around the world, then that failure can be found in the failure to see ourselves as those rescued by God through the cross of Jesus.  We don’t love others because, quite simply, we don’t see ourselves as God sees us.  It’s that simple.  If we don’t look to the cross of Jesus on Good Friday and say to ourselves, thank God for Jesus or that would be me there, then we have failed to understand why Jesus came in the first place.  Our love for God and for others must first stem from understanding His great love for us in the cross of Christ.  Jesus says it very plainly.  “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you…”  We were rescued by Jesus and His cross: this is why we love Him.

Surely we’ve all met someone or at least seen a movie about someone who narrowly escaped death and for them it meant a second chance to truly do good in the world.  The same is true for each and every Christian.  Today is  Mothers’ Day.  We can begin to understand something of the love of God for us if we contemplate on the love of a mother for her child.  This may very well be the clearest expression of divine love we experience and we know that even a mother’s love is not perfect or that human mothers can fail to love properly even on a basic level.  But on its best day, a mother’s love is true and pure and self-sacrificing all for the sake her child.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 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 the Christian faith.  This is the Easter faith.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia.

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