The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
1 John 3:16–24
Fourth Sunday of Easter, 03 May 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The Psalm quoted in the Introit is one we know well. The hymns and Holy Gospel speak of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. This is a picture of comfort, a favorite one to hear at the funeral of a Christian, a lamb of the Lord’s flock gathered into His arms of mercy. This is a picture that is comforting to us every day that we still dwell in the valley of the shadow of death.
A shepherd gives good gifts and protection from harm. St. John describes our Good Shepherd well in His first epistle, even though the word “shepherd” isn’t used in the sermon text today.
16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. John echoes the Gospel account that bears His name, reminding us not only of the common human author of the Gospel according to John, three epistles and the book of Revelation, but also of the common Divine author—the Holy Spirit—the author of all of our Holy Scriptures.
11[Jesus said:] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Love—real love—is sacrificial. It denies self to care for another. Other people come first. That means loving may be painful at times. Parents may not like to say, “No,” but it is said to keep kids safe from busy streets, hot stoves, and the dangers of substance abuse.
In Convention last Thursday through Saturday, the Wyoming District elected our new circuit visitor, the Reverend Lee Wisroth of Powell, the Reverend Kirk Peters, our regional Vice President, and re-elected the Rev. Richard Boche as our District President. You will hear more about Convention details soon. The congregations of the Wyoming District also said, “No,” to some recent innovations in doctrine and practice in our national church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. This message was not easy or pleasant to have to send, but it was done out of love for the Lord, His Word, and for the pastors and congregations with whom we have promised to walk together in word and deed.
Love that has Christ as its source and strength, is active beyond mere words. John reminds us: 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
It is easy to say one thing and do another. It is easier to see someone in need and close your eyes as you walk by. That’s what the priest and the Levite did. It took a Samaritan to help the man in Jesus’ parable who was beaten half to death. Why is it we don’t want to get involved in what we see as other people’s problems? It isn’t love. It isn’t even a true love of self. God’s love does not abide there. It’s just talk—if that.
Real love is sacrificial. Christ died in your place. He gave all for you. Living, breathing faith responds to that love. The Gospel works thoughts, words, and deeds in you that respond to your neighbor. Who is your neighbor? Anyone in need.
Your neighbor in need is your congregation. But before we can talk about a Christian response to the Lord’s gifts, we should talk about receiving the Lord’s gifts. Your Lord needs people to hear His word at Divine Service, Sunday School, Bible Class, VBS, and adult information or confirmation class. What opportunities can you take advantage of to grow in faith and true knowledge of Him and His Word? Who can you invite for the first time? Who can you continue to encourage to come home to the Lord? The Lord has good gifts for you in Word and Sacrament
In addition, we respond to the Lord’s gifts. The bills of the congregation still need to paid whether the sun is shining or there is a foot of snow on the ground. Your Lord loves a cheerful giver. The church should not use compulsion, but neither should givers be reluctant. Love is sacrificial. Love that has Christ as its source and strength, is active beyond mere words. When the heart is hardened to the Gospel’s work, God’s Law reminds us to do the right thing. 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
It is the work of God’s Law to condemn us, and rightly so. The Law is not the end of the story. It has as its purpose to prepare you for the Gospel.
19By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
The conscience is a gift of God. All human beings have one. There the law of God is written upon the heart of every human being. But the conscience can be dulled, ignored, drowned out. Human beings forget. They like to excuse their own sin. They react to the law by rebelling against what they see as impossible or end up in despair and terror. The law of God in the Ten Commandments recalibrates the conscience. Sin needs to be dealt with, not excused or ignored. But the law cannot save. It tells us what to do, but gives no power to do it. It demands perfection. It gives guilt. Failure means death.
The Gospel is revealed only the Scriptures. It tells what God does for us in Jesus. Jesus dealt with sin by taking it upon Himself. The Gospel delivers faith and eternal life because of Christ. There are no threats. And the Gospel gives what it demands: faith. Where the law produced rebellion and terror, the Gospel gives faith comfort, and salvation.
God is greater than our heart. He knows everything. He knows you are a sinner even when you won’t admit it. He knows your secrets. He knows things about everyone that should make us blush. And so we confess our sins. We “fess up” and say the same thing about them as our Lord already knows and has already said about us in His Word. Sinners secure in their sins need to hear the law to wake them up, get their attention, and bring them to repentance. Sinners alarmed by their sins are ready to hear the Gospel.
The Christian lives under the Gospel, not the law. The Gospel is the unique Christian message, so it should predominate. The law still has its role. It acts as a deterrent, a curb to sin. It is a mirror that shows us our sin so that we know what we need to confess. And for the Christian, it is a guide. The Christian, forgiven by the Gospel, wants to know what is holy and pleasing to God. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. Next week you will hear Jesus say, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” We want to abide in Him, for apart from Christ, we can literally do nothing.
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
The Holy Spirit dwells within every Christian. What does the Spirit do? On the basis of Holy Scripture, Dr. Luther confessed: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him; but He has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to men and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
Sacrificial Love. God so loved the world that He sacrificed His only Son. Jesus loved you enough to remain on the cross. He drank the cup prepared for Him in the presence of His enemies.
We are given to love one another, too, but for a different purpose. Jesus did it in order to accomplish your salvation. Our sacrificial love helps our neighbors in need. God has no checking account. He doesn’t need anything. Your neighbor does have needs. There are those around you who lack daily bread. Some worry as to how God will provide for all that has to do with this body and life. Many need the hope only Christ and the Gospel can give. God works through you to meet those needs. Loving one another begins with Christ. Sacrificial love comes from the heart. But love is more. Love flows forth and moves the hands, feet, and lips to acts of love. We love because Christ first loved us. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.