Sermon for Easter 6B, preached on Sunday, May 6, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
[Jesus said] “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (Jn 15:11).
We find joy in love: love for our family and friends; love for our favorite things. Our joy is full when we’re with our loved ones around the holidays. Our joy is full when we do our favorite hobby. It’s good to have joy in these things we love, but this joy doesn’t last. Inevitably, someone will disappoint us. The joy of our hobby gives way to the stress of work. Joy in these loves doesn’t last. But the fullness of joy that Jesus speaks of is always there because it comes for the love of Christ...His love for us.
Jesus spoke the words of our Gospel reading to the disciples in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday. Soon He would be betrayed, arrested, and crucified; and Jesus used this last meal with His disciples to warn them about the trials they’d soon endure. He warned them about the hatred of the world, and He warned them about the sorrow they’d feel at His death. And yet, He still spoke of joy, joy in the promises and love of God.
Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15:9-11). There’s a connection between joy and abiding in love and keeping God’s commandments. But it’s probably not the connection you’re thinking of.
We hear these words and we think we have to earn God’s love by obeying His commandments. If we just follow His laws, our Lord will love us. However, there’s a problem with this thinking. If it were true, then God would love no one, because no one keeps God’s commands perfectly. None of us can earn His love. None of us fully obey the law. Sure, there are times when do keep some of His commands. Sometimes we honor our fathers and mothers and those in authority. Sometimes we speak well of our neighbors and help them when they’re in need. Sometimes we rightly call upon God’s name in worship and prayer. But these sometimes of obedience don’t make up for the times of disobedience. We can’t erase our sin and hope to win back God’s love. You see, the truth is, God never takes His love away from you, even though that’s what you and I deserve as sinners.
When our first parents sinned, God didn’t take His love away. His sending them out of the Garden wasn’t because He stop loving them; it was because He loved them. If Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Life in the Garden they would’ve lived forever, but they would’ve lived forever in sin, and God’s love wouldn’t allow that. It was because of His love that He sent them out. It was because of His love He promised to send our Savior.
Christ Jesus, the Son of God, is that Savior. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). This love of God isn’t the warm fuzzy feeling we often think of. This love isn’t the love of today that says we should let every do as they please. No, this love of God for drove Him to action. He sent His Son to be the sacrifice that paid for your sin, so that you’d be forgiven, so that you’d know His love for you, and so that your joy may be full.
Christ showed this love as He laid down His life on the cross. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:4). You are friends of Christ. He perfectly and completely kept God’s commands, not to earn His love, but to be the perfect sacrifice that you needed. Christ kept God’s commands because of His love for you, so that you might have everlasting life. And in this obedience and sacrifice is Christ’s joy. Even though it was hard, even though it was sorrowful, even though it was more painful than we could ever imagine, Christ willingly went to the cross with joy because this was the will of the Father so that you might live. And in this life giving sacrifice, our joy is full.
The joy Christ speaks of and that we have in His love is there all the time, even in the midst of sorrow. Too often we hear these words and expect joy to be the highest of highs. We think we should always be singing “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy,” but we can’t, because we still live in a world plagued with sin. Because of this there is still pain and suffering. We still experience sorrow, sickness, and death. But even in the midst of all of this, we have a full joy knowing we have the promise of everlasting life. And having this joy, knowing this love, we can’t help but share it with others through acts of love that keep God’s.
In the Upper Room, Christ gave His disciples a command: “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 16:12). We’ve received the self-giving love of Christ; and with joy we extend that same self-giving love to one another.
We keep God’s commandments, not to earn His love, but because we have His love; and because we love Him. Children who love their father do what he says. Having received His love, we can’t help but follow our Father’s commands with joy. We do this not for our benefit, but for the benefit of those around us.
God doesn’t need our good works, but the people around us do. God lovingly brought us into His Church and He’s placed us in various vocations. In these we have endless opportunities to show God’s love: whether it’s to coworkers, children, parents, classmates, even those sitting in the pew next to us. Serving one another according to God’s command is a joy for us because we get to share His love. And this isn’t something that’s burdensome. God’s commands only become a burden when we have to do them for salvation. But your salvation is freely given to you in Christ, so it’s with joy in this salvation that were able to love one another, just as Christ has loved us.
The joy of love is an emotion we want to feel all the time. We go searching for it in people and in things; but only the joy of Christ’s love is everlasting. It’s always there, even if we don’t feel it, because it comes from our Lord and His promises of forgiveness and life. Because of His love for us, because Christ laid down His life for you, your joy is full, knowing you have salvation in Him. This joy and love we can’t keep to ourselves. We can’t help but share it with others so that they too may have this fullness of joy. In Jesus’ name...Amen.