Sermon: Sunday, 09/05/2021
Also available as a video – Sermon20210509
Theme: As the Father loved us so let us love
Our Gospel lesson today continues our Lord’s conversation with His disciples that began last week with Jesus using that delightful image of the vine and the branches. Realizing that His time was short, Jesus encourages His followers to remain connected with God and with each other. In our scripture lesson today Jesus speaks about love and obedience, two words that are not always thought of as complementary concepts. For Jesus’ love requires some form of commitment or determination, or it is a mindless emotion.
A teacher was testing her class when she asked her students whether love was a noun or a verb. A self-confident young student responded “On Friday and Saturday nights love is a verb – the rest of the time it is a noun.
Love, as a noun, is a joyful reality. It is a benevolent concern for another, a term of endearment. But love as a verb is a much stronger expression; it anticipates action. As long as love is a noun we can discuss it, analyse it, and make abstract statements about it. But when love becomes a verb, we must do something. This is what our Lord had in mind when he said: Abide in my love – remain connected with me and with one another.
So we see in this reading this morning a real formula: The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the disciples, and the disciples are to love one another. The task of the disciples is actually framed as a commandment, a word that can be confusing to those who are steeped in a gospel of grace. How can Jesus lay down a law? “Love one another” can easily become an old fashioned law. We all have enough to do, our own projects and tasks. So when the preacher stands and says we must “love one another” it often sounds like another project on the to do list, and not an easy one at that. We have to be honest that the “other” we are asked to love like ourselves, is some mix of loveable and hard-to-love. The seemingly, simple act of loving one another is often very demanding. It asks for sacrifice, forbearance, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, thoughtfulness, wisdom; it asks for time and attention, the most precious and fleeting and scarce thing we have.
If, after our sermon this Sunday, our congregations set out to “try and love one another,” then we’ve misled them and they’ve set off in the wrong direction. If we have “try and do it,” then we’re just adding an impossible burden. Trying to love one another is a recipe for guilt-ridden religion, in which the commandment does indeed become a commandment, in every negative sense of the word. It’s not the gospel, not what Jesus meant, and we’re bound to burnout. The key to this “commandment” is in the last phrase, “as I have loved you.”
The love of the Son for his disciples is the source of the disciples’ love for one another. Often we interpret this phrase to mean that Jesus’ love is the example or model for our love; he calls us to the kind of radical love he shows. That’s true, but not nearly enough. Jesus’ love is also the fount of our love, the ever-flowing spring of the love that flows through the disciples. Loving one another is not meant to be a task, but a way of life. Loving one another is a natural outworking of being loved.
It might help us and our congregations this week to put our emphasis first on Jesus’ love for us. How has Jesus loved you? As the text says, he laid down his life for you. but what has that meant to you? What grace has Christ offered you? What mercy have you received? What help has God provided at a point of need? What renewal? We might even dare to change John’s verb. What if we read this line in the present tense, “Love one another as I am loving you.” When we are in touch with – when we abide – in the love of the living Christ for us and for all people, then love for one another flows as naturally as water from a fountain. It’s like a tree that bears fruit. The tree doesn’t try to bear fruit; it just does, because that is what a healthy tree does!
In the Gospel passage from John 15:9-17, Jesus gave us and his disciples some final instructions or words of advice. This passage is part of the final instructions that Jesus gave to the disciples the night before he was crucified. It follows the passage about the vine and the branches, but it goes even further. Instead of talking about abiding in each other or loving each other, it talks about serving each other, which goes hand in hand with loving each other.
When we love one another, we also allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and grow in us. How it grows will depend on our connection to each other, to God and to his church. The stronger our faith, the more we will do, and it is the things that we do for God and for others that bring glory to God and strengthen the Holy Spirit within us. Love for others means being willing to die for others. Jesus showed his love for us by dying on the cross for our sins.
If Jesus could lay down his own life for us, what part of our lives can we give up for others – prejudice, unwillingness to help, envy, material goods, hatred, unwillingness to forgive, or even something else? God wants us to have relationships that are more than mediocre. Relationship-building takes time and requires compassion, wisdom, empathy, kindness, courtesy and forgiveness. We can’t overlook what taking concrete action can mean. We can be active in love for one another. It is a lot of work, and that’s fine because God knows that we can do this work, and he knows that what we do will enrich both our lives and the lives of those whom we serve. When we love one another, we act as God’s hands and feet to those that he puts in our lives. It does take time, effort and money to be an active friend, but the blessings outweigh the costs.
Loving others as God loved us is the heart of Christian discipleship. Christian life can only exist through human relationships, especially when they are based on mutual respect and humane values – including love.
Seeing that it is Mothers’ day today the Gospel reading that this sermon is based on was very appropriate for that day. After all, a mother’s love for her children is a prime example of the love Jesus calls on us to have for one another. Mothers make sacrifices for their children, and in some extreme cases (such as domestic violence), they have literally sacrificed their own lives for their children.
When we love one another, we fulfil the second of Jesus’ two Great Commandments. When we love Jesus, he becomes our true best friend. Friends have our best interests in mind, just like Jesus does. Friends will be with us in good times and bad times just like Jesus is. They help us to expand our world, expose us to new and creative possibilities, and sustain us when we are in need.
God has chosen all of us for the purpose of bearing much eternal fruit in such personal characteristics as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These characteristics will grow within us and help us when we tell others about Jesus and lead them into a fruitful relationship with him.
We can say that Jesus is our friend, but can we say that we are his friends? Do we listen to him when he speaks to us, or do we only want him to listen to us? Do we want to know what’s on his heart and mind, or do we only want to tell him what’s on ours? Being a true friend of Jesus means listening to what he wants to tell us and then using that information to do his work in our world and in our lives.
So we see in verses 9-17 the word love in one form or another appears eight times. This tells us at the core, our relationship with God is about love. His love for us and the activity of His love for us, which come to pass in Christ’s love for us, then as informed by the Holy Spirit, our response of love towards God. Remember this love is not sentimental, ordinary worldly love. That is just like a warm feeling.
Obedience is always part of one’s relationship with God. Love is attractive! Everybody likes to talk about love; everyone wants to claim their interests in love and celebrate it.
Not as much emphasis is given to obedience, and the very real character development that results from obedience to the Lord. But with Jesus – love and obedience were always connected; there was never – in the teaching of Christ – any distance between the two.
Look at this in verse 10: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love …” This is too clear to debate or be denied. If I want to abide in the love of Christ, I need to be engaged with His teaching, through obedience (based on trust and love)!
The Bible teaches us that love for Jesus is not just something you talk about – it is something you do. It is digging into the New Testament and discovering what He said we should do and loving Him enough to do it. We cannot exactly duplicate the ultimate expression of Christ’s love – because the redemptive value of His death is singular, and cannot be repeated. But here’s the point – the attitude of love that took Him to the cross – should take us as far as we need to go, in our relationships with each other.
We know that Christianity is about brotherly love but forget that it begins by abiding in Jesus’ love for us. His love overrides everything. He chose us; we did not choose Him (vrs 16). We did not make the “decision for Jesus”. He made the decision for us. What we choose is to abide in His love. Let’s abide in His love.