The Rev. Paul J Cain
“Abide in My Love”
Sixth Sunday of Easter, 17 May 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Which came first, the chicken, or the egg? The chicken, of course. Genesis 1 tells us that God created every winged bird on the fifth day of creation. Which comes first, the cart, or the horse? The horse, of course! It would be silly for a horse to push a wagon. In a very similar way to these examples we have known from childhood, it is important for us to keep the Scriptural truth firmly established in our minds: We love because God first loved us. Our Lord shares this truth about love in the Holy Gospel appointed for this Sixth Sunday of Easter.
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.
God loved His Son, Jesus. And Jesus showed that love for you, that love of John 3:16, when He died upon the cross. He kept the Father’s commandments in your place. Now, we are given to abide in His love.
We abide in His love when we hear and do His Word. While we have no command from the Lord to either sit or stand while hearing His Gospel, all things should be done decently and in order. Those who are unable to stand or remain standing for a period of time may remain seated, of course. After a couple of questions on this topic, I want to clarify my intended practice. Remaining seated for all the readings at Matins last week was intentional. On a Communion Sunday two weeks ago, I simply neglected to ask the congregation to rise in my rush to return to the chancel after singing with the choir in the loft.
I had been taught by example at the seminary to remain seated for all readings during a non-communion prayer service like Matins, Vespers, or the Service of Prayer and Preaching. This practice was also directed by the new LSB Altar Book, which says, “The congregation remains seated for all readings.” We are given to sit attentively at that time, much like the students at Martin Luther Grammar School when they are in “listening position.”
On Communion Sundays, we stand in respect to the Gospel, rising to sing Alleluia, Praise the Lord. The Holy Gospel is the mountaintop of the Service of the Word, as are Jesus’ Words of Institution during the Service of the Sacrament. We stand at both times out of respect for Christ.
Whether we sit or stand, the most important thing is that we pay attention to the Word so that we may bring our lives into conformity with it and abide in Christ.
We also abide in His love when we heed His command to believe in Him by the power of Spirit by the Gospel. We abide in His love when we forsake any notion of working or trusting in our own righteousness, holiness, or “living a good life.” We abide in His love when we have our hands passively open to receive the Lord’s gifts. We abide in His love when we are gathered by Him around His Word even during the summer. There are few things more saddening to our Lord or to our Pastor than when a vacation, either his or yours, becomes an excuse to reject the Lord’s gifts that day.
A family once went to visit their mother in the hospital. When the doctor gave his report that she probably wouldn’t make it, the children didn’t come back. She survived and went home. So much for abiding in a mother’s love! Twelve years later, she and her brother were taken in by loving neighbors and joined a congregation I served. When the time came for the Lord to call her home, we contacted her children. “No, that can’t be our mother. She died years ago.” Not one of them would believe even a pastor! After the funeral, I called her son one more time: “I have your birth certificate and your father’s military medals. Would you like them.” “There was silence on the other end of the line. Then he said, “You mean that really was our mom?” Reality can be stranger than fiction, or even so-called reality TV.
Are you paying attention, abiding in Jesus’ love? What about your loved ones, your neighbors, your acquaintances, the congregation members you notice because of their absence? Have you been living apart from God? Have you been living apart from God’s love because you can’t imagine that God loves you the way you are? Be assured that God loves you always—completely—and is waiting to welcome you home right now. You too are called to remain and abide in His love!
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
Jesus’ commandment to love is just that, a commandment, a command, a law. When Lutherans preach & teach, they are to follow the dominical and apostolic directions given to all Christians. Jesus and the apostles urge Christians to use the law on sinners who deny or refuse to repent sin. The Gospel is used to comfort troubled, repentant sinners.
When we hear about “love” in our text, we immediately think, “Hey, that’s Gospel.” When God shows His love for you in Christ, it is Gospel. But, in this part of the first paragraph of the sermon text, the command is a law laid upon you. Jesus command is to love.
Jesus’ command to love is a restatement of the summary of the second table of the law—love your neighbor as yourself. That’s hard to do. Sometimes, it’s even harder to love those closest to you.
A (Newspaper columnist and) minister (George Crane) tells of a wife who came into his office full of hatred toward her husband. “I do not only want to get rid of him; I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has me.”
The pastor suggested an ingenious plan. “Go home and act as if you really loved your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him. After you’ve convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that you’re getting a divorce. That will really hurt him.”
With revenge in her eyes, she smiled and exclaimed, “Beautiful, beautiful. Will he ever be surprised!” And she did it with enthusiasm. Acting “as if.” For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving, reinforcing, sharing.
When she didn’t return, the pastor called. “Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?”
“Divorce!” she exclaimed. “Never! I discovered I really do love him.” Her actions had changed her feelings. Motion resulted in emotion. The ability to love is established not so much by fervent promise as often repeated deeds, another instance of abiding or remaining in Christ’s love. You can fall in love again!
Commitment love is shown in action. Otherwise, it’s just talk and emotionalism. Love flows from us once it flows into us from God. God did more than talk. His words brought action. His words promised His Son. And His Son, the Word made flesh, died so that you may live and bear the fruit of the Spirit.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Again, we can’t get the cart in front of the horse. We can’t choose to follow Christ. One of the most dangerous anti-Biblical teachings out there is sometimes referred to as “decision theology.” This teaching is expressed by many American Christians. “Are you saved, brother?” “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” or the popular “I have decided to follow Jesus.” Our concern is that this error directly contradicts Jesus’ clear words: You did not choose me, but I chose you….
Not only does this “decision theology” contradict or deny the explicit teaching of Scripture, a dangerous false theology is substituted. It falsely claims that the human will and human reason can reach out to God. In contrast, Christians are to hold fast to the Biblical doctrines of original sin as taught by Genesis 1-3 and Psalm 51 and the bondage of the will when it comes to spiritual matters. Nothing trumps Jesus’ clear words: You did not choose me, but I chose you. Jesus chooses you in love.
Loving each other is hard in a time and place where “tolerance” has been demanded of us. (Apologist, author, and speaker Josh McDowell writes: )
Tolerance says, “You must approve of what I do.” Love responds, “I must do something harder: I will love you, even when your behavior offends me.
Tolerance says, “You must agree with me.” Love responds, “I must do something harder: I will tell you the truth, because ‘the truth will set you free.’”
Tolerance says, “You must allow me to have my way.” Love responds, “I must do something harder: I will plead with you to follow the right way, because you are worth the risk.”
Tolerance seeks to be inoffensive; love takes risks. Tolerance glorifies division; love seeks unity. Tolerance costs nothing; love costs everything.
Often, people refuse to speak about two controversial topics: politics and religion. If politics is understood about the means for protecting and caring for our common man and religion has to do with the goal of the bliss of heaven for Christ’s sake alone, then it really is not loving to refuse to talk about the most important topics dealing with one another in this world and the next. Would you rather that your loved ones were consigned eternally to hell, or only momentarily offended?
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.” Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.