Actually Love has a lot to do with it
Tina Turner's song "What's Love Got to do with it?" has a point when it comes to staying married through difficult times. But when it comes to the Christian life, actually love has a lot do with it.
Our text happens in the upper room, the night before Good Friday. The traditional name for this night, Maundy Thursday, reminds us that love is an important aspect of the Christian life. Maundy' is the English form of the Latin word for commandment. Tonight is called commandment' Thursday by the Church because Jesus said to the apostles, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another." In our text we have Jesus saying, "My command is this: Love each other."
Jesus speaks in the present tense, in the active voice. Loving each other is not just one Christian duty among others. It's the ongoing Christian duty. What's the fulfillment of the Law? Love God and love your neighbor. Loving one another is a debt we never pay off as Paul says in Romans 13, "Owe no man anything except love." Of all the important things Jesus could command His apostles on the night before He died, He commands what we consider to be obvious and doable: love each another.
What promises though Jesus attaches to loving each other! You remain in His love. When we love others, then Jesus smiles upon us, delights in us. "When a man's ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him" says Proverbs 16:7. Jesus says by loving, "You will remain in my love, just as I remain in His love." As the Father regarded the Son as beloved, that's how Jesus sees you when you love each other.
But not just beloved, friend. "You are My friends," says Jesus, "if you love as I command." Only 2 people does Scripture say were on a friendship basis with God. Abraham was called God's friend, and God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. I can claim Jesus as friend, one who will stick up for me, help me, share with me, and all I need do is love you, you and you. Piece of cake, right?
So how you doing? Immediately when I ask that question you go to that jerk of a boss, that loud next door neighbor, that irritating in-law, and you think that's where you sin lies. And you feel bad for it, don't you? You really want to do better, don't you? You can see how you could be more understanding, more kind, more loving here, here and there.
If that's where you are, you're not even close to the depths of your sin. No, you plum the dark recesses of your abysmal wretchedness only when you think of the friends, the family, the parents, the spouse you really do like, enjoy being around and actually have loved. Our deep, black sinfulness is seen in that we don't love the people it's easiest to love, the ones we have a vested interest in loving. We don't love them enough to confront them with their sins; we don't love them enough to apply the Gospel to them. We love them, at best, in the mushy, sentimental way of the world when we feel like it, not as Jesus loves us.
Our failure to love doesn't seem like that big of deal. Who loves as they should? Who can't improve on their love? There, my failure to love is dealt with. Let's get on to some serious sins. Well, loving others is the number 2 command according to Jesus, so if you're not doing so hot, be very, very afraid. You can't withstand the wrath of God when it's kindled against you even a little, and it's kindled a lot when we don't love each other. For if we don't love others that means we don't remain in Jesus' love and He is not a friend but an enemy. When we fail to love each other, God becomes our enemy and fights against us. Then what at all can go right in our lives?
Love has everything to do with the Christian life and the historic name for this night, Maundy Thursday, highlights this. But don't forget what else Jesus said on the night He was betrayed. He instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood for us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. Tonight is the night Jesus gave to His friends, for so He calls them, the Gift of gifts by which He would forgive their sins, give them life, and life everlasting.
For all the great things our love does, it's not a Sacrament; not a power; not a comfort, and it's not your hold on heaven. This is the secular view of our love for others. It makes the world go round and opens the doors of heaven. Abraham Lincoln, Martin, John, and Bobby are in heaven because they were loving toward oppressed people. Love is the world's Sacrament. You get strength, comfort, and peace with God from loving. That's true isn't it? Help at a food bank, work at a homeless shelter, give to charity, and you feel better. You feel closer to heaventill you peel back the motives and put the bright light of God's Law on your love. Then you see the love you felt was taking you higher is really taking you on a bobsled ride to hell.
Our love is always impure, always sinful, always fallen, always mixed. There is no comfort, power, or salvation in our imperfect loving, that's why traditional liturgical worship doesn't sing much about how we love or the depth of our love. It focuses on God's love for us in Jesus.
This text teaches we are not to worry whether God in Jesus loves us. Imagine being able to take that doubt, that fear, that suspicion right off the table. Most of you live under the law that says God only loves you to the extent you're loveable. God only loves you as much as you love others. No wonder you're miserable, doubtful, fearful. Think what you're saying! Think if that's how it was between you and your kids. They were only to be sure of your love to the extent they were loveable there go the teen years. Your love for them was no deeper than their love for others. there go the toddler years.
When parents raise children to be in doubt about their love, they raise insecure kids. Likewise, Christians who's God is not love but loving to them only do the degree they do right are insecure. Jesus teaches here that you're not to be insecure in His love for you. He says that His love for you is as strong and certain as that between Him and His Father. "As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love."
The problem is not the Son's love for us. The problem is we don't remain in that love. Either we drift off into our love for God with contemporary worship. "Oh how I love Jesus!" Or we wander into the liberal works righteousness of how loving we are to others. And that's when we get afraid because no matter how much we sing about our love for Jesus and no matter how much we do for our neighbor, we know our love is never perfect. First John says only perfect love casts out fear. Only Jesus' love for us is perfect, and in that love we are to remain.
The greatest love we know of is when a man gives his life for a friend. A soldier dies for his buddies. A mother sacrifices her life for her child's. A fireman gives his life for people he doesn't even know. This is the greatest love we can have, but God has a greater love still. Very few people have given their life for an enemy, and there's only one case where a Father gave the life of His only beloved Son for His enemies. Romans 5 says while we were still enemies Jesus died for us.
I can see a scenario where I might give my life for a friend, a family member, but there's no way I would give my child's life for an enemy who had wronged me and stood their laughing and scorning me. Yet, that's what God's love in Jesus did. That's how deeply we were loved by Him when we still hated Him, shook our tiny, impotent fist at Him, and wanted nothing to do with Him. Yet, still His love found us when we sought Him not. Having been found by such deep, lasting, tender love, Jesus wants us to bask in it, wallow in it.
It takes little skill to know Jesus loves you, but to remain in that love; that's another story. Jesus wants His love for you to be stronger, greater, than the suffering you feel, the loneliness you know, and the fears you see. Jesus wants His love for you to be surer than your love for others; surer than your sins; surer than your faith. Jesus wants His love for you to be more certain than anything in your life. Though you wake in the morning not sure what the doctor will say, what your boss will say, or even what your spouse will say, you are to be sure of this. Jesus loves me and wants me to remain in that love.
How does one remain in Jesus' love? Did you notice that while the text speaks twice of the single command to love each other, Jesus begins by saying, "If you obey My commands (plural), you will remain in My love." Aside from the new command to love one another, what other commands did Jesus leave His Church? On Maundy Thursday, He commanded the Lord's Supper be done often. On Easter evening, He gave the command to forgive people their sins. Before His Ascension, He gave the command to baptize all nations. That's the commands Luther sees Jesus referring to. He paraphrases Jesus saying, "I'm not imposing a heavy burden and load on you, many sacrifices and manifold services of God or anything that entails a great expense or labor. I have imposed the Gospel, Baptism and the Sacrament on you."
God's love for you in Jesus is to be your power, your pleasure, your comfort in pain. You remain in Jesus' love when you remain in His Waters of Baptism, in His Words of Absolution, and in His Body and Blood. The Waters of Baptism marked you with the sign of the cross signifying you now belong to Christ the crucified. The Words of Absolution declare His forgiveness is surer than your sins. Jesus Body and Blood in you incorporate you into the One whom heaven must always open to.
So love does have a lot to do with being a Christian, but it starts and finishes in God's certain love for you in Jesus. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday of Easter (20060521); John 15: 9-17