Sunday, May 25, 2014

You Are Loved by the Father

Sermon on John 14:15-21
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
May 25, 2014 (The Sixth Sunday of Easter)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be with you.”  It sounds at first glance like all the blessings that come along with being a Christian are conditional.  One can only get the gifts Christ gives, including the Holy Spirit Himself, if one keeps His commandments.  And in a sense that’s true.  God spoke the universe into existence with a certain order to it.  The Law summarized in the Ten Commandments was originally simply a description of that order as it relates to us human beings, just as the law of gravity and the law of inertia are descriptions of how and why physical objects relate to one another.  But as the only parts of creation with free will, the Law was something we had the ability, but not the right, to break.  And at that point, the law became a curse, just as surely as gravity becomes a curse if you’re on a tall building and you step off, or as inertia becomes a curse if you’re stuck in the path of an oncoming train.  Those who refuse to listen to the creative Word that made the world in a certain way, reap the consequences.  And you can’t love that Word if you’re not listening to Him in the first place.  If you’re stopping your ears and yelling at the top of your lungs, neither the Word nor the Breath which conveys that Word to you will be able to get through.

But that leaves us with a problem.  None of us love God the way we ought.  We’re born rebellious to the Word that made us.  We’re born wanting to be our own gods, wanting to control our own destiny, wanting to deal with everyone and everything around us on our own terms, and that includes the Creator Himself.  We want to establish the rules by which the world around us is governed, and we want to do it in a way that gets us the best results, and who cares what it does to our neighbor, or how much it grieves the heart of the One who made us to reflect His order and His love.

The problem, then, isn’t just one of doing a better job of trying to live by the Ten Commandments.  Despite our best intentions, our old self still tries to be in control, as if we could manipulate God into being pleased with us by cynically pretending to love Him by outwardly doing what He says.  Every attempt to please God and make Him love us is, well, an attempt to “make” God do something.  And a god who can be forced to do something against his own will, isn’t God.  True good works flow from a completely different source, even though they may outwardly look like exactly the same thing.

But let’s look again at what Jesus says in that first sentence: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Not, “you’d better,” but “you will,” not a threat, but a simple declaration of fact.  By the way, that’s how God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses in the first place: a simple declaration of fact.  You shall have no other gods.  Not, you’d better have no other gods.  You shall honor your father and your mother.  Not, you’d better honor your father and your mother.  This, again, is the creative word which makes what it says.  He’s simply describing what those to whom that word comes will be.  Granted, we are bound according to our old selves to refuse that Word, but it is still not just a series of things God tells us to do, but God’s own creative description of how things are simply supposed to be.

Remember the creative Word creates what He says.  And what He says is that you are righteous and perfect.  He says this because He is righteous and perfect.  This is all something He does for you, and then, because what He says comes true, something He does in you.  Keeping His commandments is not the result of loving Him, and loving Him is not the result of keeping His commandments.  Instead, they’re both the same thing.  Think about it.  What is the summary of the commandments?  Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.  In the catechism, Luther starts off the explanation of each commandment the same way: “We should fear and love God. ...”  What Jesus is describing here is not something we need to try and do in order to make God bless us, but a reality that God recreates in us by putting us to death and raising us to new life again in His own death and resurrection.  We really do love Him and keep His commandments, because that is what those who are new creations in Christ do.

And so the rest of today’s Gospel reading falls into place from there.  Jesus, who is gone only a little while in the tomb, and then comes back to us resurrected and glorious, bringing our resurrected and glorious new selves with Him, comes to us even now.  He is the Word, who sends the Breath, the Spirit by speaking, and then comes to our ears by means of the same Spirit.  Words are carried on air which is moved by the speaking of those words.  The same is true with God the Word and God the Spirit.  And since we, according to our new selves, do love Him, the Father who spoke that Word also loves us just as He loves His own Word.  And being loved by the Father is exactly what it means that we will live eternally with Him.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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