|Easter 6, series A
Rev. Alan Taylor
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s good to be here, isn’t it? The Church, God’s people are called precisely to be here, in God’s house, receiving His gifts, His Word and His Sacraments. We are called to be here to be served by God and to be supported and upheld by our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s good to be here and it’s good to see all of you again.
This morning’s message is based on the Gospel reading from John 14. As we begin, I’d like to set up the passage from John 14 briefly. The Gospel of John is unique among the Gospels in that it doesn’t tend to parallel with the others, that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke. What I mean by that is that you can’t necessarily match up chapters and verses from John’s Gospel with parallel chapters and verses from the other three Gospels. Where John departs from the other three Gospels, perhaps most glaringly, is in the final days of Jesus life,’ around the time of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. While the other three Gospel’s record Jesus’ institution of the Last Supper during that time, John offers a narrative of Jesus’ teaching during those days.
Chapters 13 through 17 of John’s Gospel are often referred to as Jesus’ farewell discourse with His disciples. In chapter 13, He began to talk with them about his death and early in chapter 14, He began to speak of His ascension to the right hand of God the Father, all in an effort to prepare them for what was coming in the days ahead. Of course, being that our reading for today is in chapter 14, we’re right in the middle of that farewell discourse as Jesus speaks to His disciples, both then and now, about our love for Him and His commands, as well as, His promise to send the Holy Spirit to help us and to comfort us.
“If you love me (He says), you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
Again, Jesus is about to depart from His disciples, first in death and then in the Ascension, but before He does, He drops what may sound like a bit of a bombshell on them. “If you love me (He says), you will keep My commandments.” What He says here seems to be nearly the opposite of everything He told His disciples thus far. They are His children, chosen in Him by grace. They are born anew by water and the Spirit. He so loved the world, that He entered it in the flesh of a little child that He might redeem it, that He might open the Kingdom of heaven to all who would believe in Him. None of the disciples chose Him, but He chose them to be heirs of the Kingdom of God, solely by His grace and mercy.
All those promises Jesus made to them and to us are comforting… they fill us with hope and they give purpose and meaning to our lives. They’re the heart of the gospel of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. But, as He prepares to be crucified and to ascend into heaven, Jesus adds this, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.”
We have before us this morning a contrast of loves… God’s love for the world, for us, for you, is always certain. In fact, St. Paul, in one of his letters assures us that “nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Not death, nor life, nor anything else in all creation. God’s love for the world, for us, for you, is certain. It never wavers, or, falters. Like Jesus, who is the very embodiment of God’s love, it is the “same yesterday, today and forever.” God’s love for the world, for you, isn’t in question here, rather its your love for Him, my love for Him, that should be examined from time to time.
Years ago, there was a Pastor playing in a Pastor’s golf tournament in Austin, TX. This was an annual event organized for pastors in that district to enjoy a little fun and fellowship the day before their Spring conference begins. As they registered to play, they were each given a sleeve of three golf balls, which had stamped on them, courtesy of Thrivent, “real men love Jesus.” Looking at those golf balls could make someone question their manhood. “Real men, after all, love Jesus.”
I’d like to think I do… but sometimes my actions don’t always suggest as much. The pastors were given the golf balls to use on the course, and if, by chance, they were to hit one off in the rough or out of bounds, they were supposed to leave it there so some other golfer, perhaps a non-Christian, might find it and, I suppose, be converted to the Christian faith by reading that message.
I have to say my guess is that those errant shots that day weren’t motivated by a desire to reach the lost… In fact, I can imagine that whoever lost those balls would be grumbling after each one of those bad shots were launched off into the abyss.
God’s love for us, for you and me, is always certain, because it falls in the realm of the Gospel. His love for you is objective, which means it doesn’t depend on you. It depends solely on Him. Your love for Him, on the other hand, is much less certain, which, by itself, puts it in the realm of the Law.
Still, as He prepares to depart, Jesus seems to direct His disciples, not to the Gospel, His love for them, but to the Law, which highlights their love for Him. “If you love me (He says), you will keep my commandments.” The world would be a much better place, wouldn’t it, if we all loved God as He loves us? But, that’s exactly the problem. Indeed, as we confess week after week, “we have not loved you with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”
Our only escape from the condemnation of God’s Law is His precious Gospel, His love for us, His Word, which, as the psalmist says, “is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” When the Law captures our conscience, our only salvation is in those precious assurances of God that Christ has won for us forgiveness and that He did so solely out of His love for the world.
What Jesus says to His disciples, and to us, this morning, is not so much a command to keep the Law as it is a calling to honor, to cherish and to defend His Word, because His word is ultimately the source of our hope and salvation. He makes that point abundantly clear when He says just after the reading for today, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him.” It is true, our love for Jesus is most clearly evidenced in us and demonstrated to the world by our love for what He says.
Of course, even as you are called to love God’s word, you aren’t, if left to yourself, able to muster up that sort of love in your heart. In fact, when God’s word first came to you it was mere foolishness. You weren’t able to appreciate it, much less believe it and confess it. But, by the word, and through your baptism, you were given the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Comforter. It’s He who changes the heart of the unwilling into the willing. It’s He who raises the dead and transfers those who walk in the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light, the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.
The Holy Spirit was given to you in your baptism and He continues to come to you, to help you, to comfort you, through the hearing of God’s word and the reception of the Sacraments. You keep, you honor, you even defend God’s word precisely because the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart and life. And so, it is good to be here. It’s good to gather around God’s word and to receive, once again, His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
Indeed, as you confessed often in the Order of Matins over the last several weeks, “Lord, I love the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.