Back to the Future for Love
"Back to the Future" is a film trilogy made from 1985 to 1990 dealing with the idea that what you want in the future can be found in the past. Jesus talks a lot about love in this text. Who doesn't want love in their future? To find it in your future seek it in your past.
Classic Rock-and-Roll got this one right. In its early years, Rock focused on romantic love. From "Love me Tender," to "Love Letters in the Sand," to "That's Amore" love was between a guy and a girl. In the 60's you still had those sorts of songs, but love grew bigger. From the first release of "Get Together" urging "C'mon people now,/ Smile on your brother/ Ev'rybody get together/ Try and love one another right now" to "What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love" answering it's own implicit question, to the same artist admonishing us to "Put a little love in your heart," love was for our fellow man, our neighbor, each other. And classic Rock-and-Roll assured us if we "Think of your fellow man/ Lend him a helping hand/ Put a little love in your heart. the world will be a better place/ For you and me."
Rock-and-Roll was right, so what went wrong? If it is really simply a matter of getting together and loving one another, why is "What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love" performed every year with the same pious plea that it might finally be a reality? Because for all Rock's right desire for people to love one another, it started in the wrong place. It started in the hearts of men, and Jeremiah 17 assures us, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately wicked." And Jesus informs us that "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander" not love.
Love starts in God's heart not man's. That's where Jesus starts in our text. "As the Father has loved Me." You know how fallen fathers love sons; imagine how the Father loved the Son. You don't have to imagine; you've heard it. At His Baptism, the Father proclaimed to the world His love saying, "This is My beloved Son." Then just in case in the Church missed it, a few years later on a mountain the Father again proclaims, "This is my Son, whom I love."
Do you know where I'm going with this? You do if you know John 3:16. The Father has eternal, perfect love for His Son, but in the familiar John 3:16 Jesus tells us His Father loved the world more than He did Him. "God loved the world so much that He gave up His only begotten Son." Ponder that. In the words, not of classic Rock-and-Roll, but of a classic hymn 1,596 years old Jesus is "Of the Father's love begotten." Or in the words of a classic Lutheran hymn a mere 361 years old: "O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done!/ The Father offers up His Son!/ The Son, content, descendeth!/ O Love, how strong Thou art to save!/ Thou beddest Him within the grave."
Neither classic Rock nor any of the world's pleas to love one another starts with the Father's love, so they can't live from His love towards them in His Son. Jesus says, "As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you." Miss the Son's love for you and you miss in Jesus' words "complete joy" and His friendship. Miss that the Son entered your flesh and blood to carry and complete all the do's and don'ts of the law and you will live your life under a dark cloud of "have to's," "better's" and "must's." If you don't see that Jesus lived the perfect life you are suppose to in your place, you are doomed and will eventually be damned trying to do it yourself.
But there's even more. Miss that God the Son took on flesh blood not only to keep the laws of God you do not, cannot, and will never be able to, but to suffer their just punishment in your place, and your conscience will bother you. Maybe only in your dark days, maybe only in your depressed days, maybe only when the days are long, but someday what you deserve for your very real sins will creep into your thoughts and fears. And guilt is a funny thing, you can put if off for awhile by promises to do better, try harder, make things up, but it comes back bigger and uglier the next time. Say as strongly as you can, "Guilt will only get this far!" And still guilt creeps closer and deeper, till every bad thing in your life says "You're guilty!"
Only Jesus suffering, sighing, bleeding, and dying on a cross for all your sins can stop the cancer of guilt. His dying "guilty as sin" for every one of your sins is the only thing guilt can't overcome. If Jesus paid off your debt of sins, what can guilt, what can your conscience, what can others, what can the Devil himself demand you feel guilty for? Not a single thing.
Classic Rock-and-Rollers missed this. Missing God's love in Christ they were helpless to love each other as God in Christ loved them. They missed the freedom that comes from having Jesus keep all God's Laws, so those laws remained hanging over their heads as something they still had to do. They missed the freedom that comes from having Jesus suffer the guilt, shame, and pain of their sins, so they remained slaves in the Father's house. "Love one another" was just one command among many others. One more thing they failed to do; one more thing they couldn't do; one more thing they were guilty of. Not knowing the intense, immense, forgiving love of the Father through the Son, they could only resent His wanting anything from them.
Our loving one another in the future can be no different unless we go back to the upper room where Jesus speaks. There He rescues us from the terrors of a hidden God by telling us, "Everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you." We don't have to wonder, speculate, fear what the Father might be thinking or planning for us. Everything that we need to know about our future has been made known to us by the Son. He shows us that God plans joy, salvation, eternal life for us. No matter the twists, the turns, the granted hopes or the crushed dreams, in Jesus we see all that God wants for us, and it's only grace, mercy, and peace.
In Jesus the Father has revealed our future and in Jesus everything that the Father thinks about our past has been made known to us. Look at Jesus; do you see a Father who has given up on you? Do you see a Father shaking His head in dismay? No, you see Him in Jesus' name baptizing you, absolving you, communicating forgiveness to you in, with, and under Body that is Bread and Blood that is Wine. Look not to what happens in your life for what the Father thinks about you or your sins; look to Jesus because He communicates to you all that the Father wants you to know.
Back to the upper room. There we hear Jesus relieving our doubts about salvation. He assures us, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you." Thanks be to God. I am always uncertain about what I choose. I choose one car over another and immediately I am unsure. I choose steak and instantly I think I should have chosen the fish. What Jesus chooses is certain because He is true God. He can't choose wrongly, unwisely, or ineffectively. What God chooses to happen does. In the great kick ball game of life, God the Son has chosen you to be on His team, and He doesn't pick you last, regrettably, or reluctantly. No, He says, "I want her; I want him."
Back in the upper room is where love all comes together. Jesus tells us that He chose us not only for salvation but to bear fruit that will remain. Last week that fruit was "faith toward God" expressed in praying; this week it's "fervent love toward one another." Loving one another is a fruit of being loved by God the Father in the Person of the Son. What Rock-and-Roll sings of, Jesus grows in the hearts He brings His saving love to.
Let me prove this. In our text there is only one imperative; there's only one command, and it's not "love one another." The only imperative in this text is "remain in My love." Then Jesus goes on to say, "If you obey My commands you remain in My love." What commands did Jesus personally leave His Church? He commanded Her to Baptize all nations; forgive penitent sinners; and eat and drink His Body and Blood. Is it burdensome to go to your Baptism and remember that you have been born again? Is it a heavy command to confess your sins and be freed of them by forgiveness? Is it a "have to" a "got to" a "must" to eat His Body and drink His blood for life now and salvation later?
But I know what's bothering you back in the upper room and it threatens your loving each other in the future. It's the last sentence Jesus speaks, "This is My command: love each other." This is how your insert translates it, but this is not what Jesus says. He says, "These things (plural) I charge you in order that you love one another." "Things" is plural, so it doesn't refer to the single thing of loving one another. It refers to what Jesus has just said above: His charge to go by what He says, not by a hidden God. His charge to go by His choice of us rather than our choices. And His charge to remember that He has appointed us to bear fruit that lasts. Jesus says He charges us these things for the purpose of our loving one another.
Think about it. Rock-and-Roll could tell you to love, make you want to love, but it couldn't empower you to love in the future. Back in the upper room Jesus does. He plugs you into the Father's love through His cross; He assures you that He has chosen to save you, and He promises that you will bear the fruit of love. This empowers, inflames, ignites love. Not a mushy, indulgent love that gives whatever the other person wants, but a love like Jesus loved you with marked by forgiveness for the past in service of an eternal future. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Sixth Sunday of Easter (20090517); John 15: 9-17