Tuesday, May 19, 2020
If Ye Love Me. . .
The words of our Lord in today's Gospel are not so popular with us. That is in part because we have gotten over the idea that we need to change anything for anybody -- from spouse to employer, what you see is what you get. We presume that real love means accepting people as they are. So, here I am God. Warts and all. Sins and all. Sinful desires and all. Take me as I am or leave me.
Instead of worrying about what we ought to be thinking, saying, and doing, we worry more about God’s response. If we could rewrite the Gospel we would direct it very differently: “Jesus, will you love me when I don’t keep Your commandments.” You note there the “when” we don’t keep Your commandments because we really don’t expect to and therefore we don’t try very hard to keep them. But the Gospel for today is not directed to what Jesus will or will not do. It is instead directed to Christians like you and me, those who have been baptized into Christ and who confess faith. “If you love me, will you keep my commandments?”
Coming in the wake of how many weeks of a shut down economy and a church constrained by viral threat, it seems downright rude for a pastor to begin a sermon by challenging our sincerity or wondering about our will power in trying to keep the commands of God. But that is exactly what I have to do today. For this is some thing that should haunt all Christians. Not why it is so hard to keep God’s commandments but why we don’t want to keep them or try very hard to keep them?
I will admit that I am tired. In the past several months I have preached more than 100 sermons and been here from early morning until late afternoon with Pastor Ulrich trying to keep things going and the church doors open for God’s people. I am not complaining. BUT that is my job. I am not doing you or the Lord any favors by being here and doing my job. But that is also true of you also. Keeping God’s commandments is not doing God a favor or earning a reward. It is doing what God has set you free to do. It is doing what God has given You the Spirit for. It is the job of the Christian and this is the fruit of the faith that we confess and God’s work in us through His Word and Sacrament.
The sad reality is that we don’t think about this enough. We think a great deal about what God is or is not doing for us. We love to blame Him for what is wrong but we don’t think that much about what we ought to be as His children. I am not at all suggesting that we presume that being perfect or sinless is within our grasp but being better is not the enemy of being perfect. We have forgotten that the goal of hearing the Word and receiving the Lord’s body and blood is not simply that we believe in Jesus Christ but that we live in Him the new life that He has given. This means desiring what is good and right and true and struggling to depart form those things that are not.
We see this in Jesus. His love for His Father in heaven was not a matter of words but of desire and deeds. From His temptation before the devil to the final steps in His walk to the cross, Jesus is not about His will but the will of the Father to save us. He insists He is here not to do His own will or bidding but the will of Him who sent Him. The works He does are not His own but the Father's. Jesus shows His love for us not with hugs or little gifts or sweet words. He shows His love for us by keeping the commandments and then counting that righteousness for you and me. He shows His love for us by carrying our burden of sin to the cross and dying in our place the death that was ours to die. He shows His love for us by rising again so that we might be people of hope.
Our love for God ought to mirror the pattern of Jesus love for the Father. We value God’s commands and we live by what God defines as good and what God condemns as evil. Our love for God means the desire of our hearts has changed and our attitude toward God’s commandments is different. His Word is not something we fear or a burden we do not wish to bear but the delight of our hearts and the object of our lives. Jesus spoke at length about the shape our love is to take and the fruits of that love that glorify the Father. It would do well for us to pay attention.
Sometimes the sad truth is that we come to God’s House to get the forgiveness He has promised but we leave without the desire to become the new people His grace makes possible. Jesus says “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.” The faithful are forgiven. But the faithful should also desire to sin less and to do good more – NOT because these works will purchase our salvation or pay God back for His mercy but precisely because the Spirit is at work in us teaching us to love what is good and right and true and to hate what is evil.
Do you note the contrast here? The disciples – including us – are afraid that we will be left all alone. Jesus’ concern is not that we will be left alone but that we will forget His commandments and fail to walk in them. Now that ought to stir something inside of us. There is no chance Jesus will abandon us. Zero. But there is a great chance that we will give up knowing, loving, and desiring to be His or to walk in His ways. It is for this reason that Jesus promises us the Spirit, the Helper or Comforter. He will manifest Jesus to us and will manifest in us the will and desire to love His commandments and to walk in them.
Love and keeping the commandments are simply two facets of the same thing. Obedience is the shape of love. I do not know why it is so hard for us to think this and I struggle with it every bit as much as anyone. Yet it is not something we can escape faith, under the prompting of the Spirit, will manifest itself in love for God, for the ways of God, for the things of God, and for the commandments of God. And this faith and the obedience of faith will result in the end of fear – both fear of God and fear for ourselves. As John says in his first letter: “Perfect love casts out fear.”
Friends, we have spent weeks hiding out from a viral threat that is unseen. We have surrendered our fears and our wallets and our lives to rules and guidelines and orders about where we can go and what we can do. And now some of that burden is being lifted. We want to be safe. But there is sometimes and often a tension between our fears and our faith. Each of us wrestles in our own way with this. But the threat to us lies not in the possibility of God abandoning us. The threat before us lies in our abandoning God, surrendering our faith to fear, choosing to love God without listening to Him, and loving Him without walking in His ways.
O people, dearly loved by God, do not be afraid of God’s will. Do not be afraid of His commands. For our faith and love for God are demonstrated most profoundly when delight in His Word and walk in His ways, confident that God will never abandon us and living out every day the courage the Holy Spirit puts in us. God seeks not the death or destruction of any but that all come to the knowledge of His Son and live. Of this we can be sure. Now we will demonstrate to each other and to the world around us, that we believe these words and will walk in His ways, living not from fear but from faith and not for selfish interest but in love keeping His commands.
May the Lord make it so. May the Spirit focus the desire of our hearts on all that is good and right and true. May our wills submit to His will and our purpose to His purpose. May love not be a matter of words but of the inclination of our hearts in faith and the direction of our lives shaped by His commands. Amen.