Friday, May 30, 2014

If ye love Me.... keep My commandments.

Sermon preached for Easter 6A, on Sunday, May 25, 2014.

    Little words may seem inconsequential but so often the whole meaning hangs upon them.  Jesus began the Gospel for today with such a small word: IF.  "IF you love Me..."  Notice that Jesus is not speaking to the unbeliever, to those who stand outside the cross and who do not know Him by faith prompted by the Holy Spirit.  He is speaking to those who know Him and who know grace.  In other words, He is speaking to us.
    Now outside grace, there is only fear.  Perfect love casts out all fear.  So Jesus is inviting us not only to trust in Him and to be loved by Him, but, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk in His way and to be people of love.  Love here is not emotion or feeling. Jesus is not saying we need to be more compassionate or nicer – though both of these may be true.  No, love here is defined by what Jesus did for us – He died for us, He forgave our sins, He rose to give us new life, and He set us apart as His.
    "If you love Me..."   Now these words are not a trap.  Jesus is not trying to condemn us like the people who say all the time if you loved me you would buy me this or do this for me or make me happy.  No, Jesus is not saying if you tried harder you would be a better person or a happier person.  It is so easy here to turn love into a law and to erase the Gospel from this completely.
    Just as these words are not a trap to ensnare us, neither are they simply an appeal to virtue.  What Jesus is doing is defining faith for us.  From fear to love – that is the direction of faith.  Without faith, we are left trapped in our fears.  With faith, we are set free from those fears to love God above all and to love neighbor as Christ has loved us.
    Nor is Jesus putting the burden on our shoulders as if He is saying, "Hey, I died for your sins so now it is up to you to go make something of yourself."  No, Jesus is offering us help – or to be specific here, the Helper, the Holy Spirit.  He will come to break down the walls of your heart so that you may believe and believing be free to love (the summary of the commandments).
    "If you love Me, keep My commandments..."  Note here that Jesus is owning the commandments as His.  They law of God is not some museum relic of the past for us to pause before we head off on our own.  No, Jesus claims the commandments as His own.  We are free from the sting of the law but we are not free to dismiss or ignore the law.  In fact, we are free to keep it.
    The law has not changed but our relationship to that law has changed.  We no longer approach it simply in fear of the consequences of failure but in love for Christ.  Christ has shown us this law is not only holy but good.  Not good as  precondition of obtaining the new life of the kingdom, but good as God is.
    We keep them not so that we might be made new or judged righteous.  We keep them because we have been made new and because we have been judged righteous in Christ – by baptism and faith.  We do not love in order to get God's love or approval but BECAUSE He loved us to save us and has declared us holy in Christ's righteousness.  Because He first loved us, we love Him and that love takes the shape of a life of loving His ways and walking in His commandments.
    As Christians we are quick to turn promises into law, gift into obligation, and grace into rules.  Jesus will have none of it. We think "If you do what Jesus asks, you will get what He promises..."  As if salvation were a simple business transaction. But instead, Jesus says, because I first loved you, you love... not some generic idea of love based upon fickle feelings but the love that desires what is good and right and true and walks this way.
    Jesus invites us to speak not the language of the law and of fear but the language of faith and trust in which the law becomes our delight and love is shaped like forgiveness and service, as Jesus did for us.  The commandments are now new but our relationship to them is made new when by the Word and the water of baptism, the Spirit calls us to faith and leads us to walk in the way of faith.  Faith gives love.  Love casts our fear.  Left with trust, we are led to the obedience of faith.
    This is the good word we hear on a weekend in which we remember with solemn thanks those paid the ultimate price to preserve our precious liberty.  Let not this freedom be squandered but used for high and noble purpose and in more than mere words but in the character of virtue in the high and holy calling of our daily lives.  And if we would do this in response to the many who secured our liberty as a nation with their blood, will we not walk in the freedom of Christ to love what is good, right, true, holy, and pure?  If you love Me, keep my commandments. Amen

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