9 May18 April 2004                                                                                        St. Athanasius Lutheran Church

Easter 52                                                                                                                      Vienna, VA

 

 

Jesu Juva

 

Love as I Have Loved You

Text: John 13:31-3520:19-31

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

 

“Love one another.”

 

That sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  But our world is in a crisis of love.  For each of us, our mother was the first person to carry us, feed us, and protect us while we were not yet born – but today some children have to be protected from their mothers.  Families – parents and children – do not display the kindness, care, and closeness that God designed and desires for us.  Divorce is commonplace, and even expected or assumed when some people get married.  Hate is so rampant in our world.  We are perhaps more polarized, more isolated, more suspicious of each other, than ever before.  . . .  What does it mean to “love one another?”  Is love something that you “fall into” and “fall out of?  Is it that accidental?  There was a song that came out a number of years ago which said “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”  I suppose it will always be that way.

 

“Love one another.”

 

Jesus spoke those words on Maundy Thursday night.  After washing His disciples feet.  After identifying the one who would betray Him.  After giving the gift of the Lord’s Supper.  Actually, what Jesus said was somewhat more than that.  He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

 

Now on the one hand, this is not really a new commandment.  In the Old Testament, back in Leviticus, we already have the command “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev 19:18)  But notice here that Jesus has changed the wording.  He’s changed the basis for love.  He’s made it deeper, broader, and fuller.  No longer does Jesus say, “Love your neighbor as yourself but now “Love one another as I have loved you.”  That’s quite different, isn’t it!  That’s a lot more!  This is a different love.  It is a new commandment – not new, as in altogether different; but new in nature. 

 

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

 

One pastor, in commenting on these verses, put it this way:  Look, if I can't force myself to like Brussels sprouts, watch bowling on television, or put all nine zip code numbers on my envelopes, how am I supposed to love the guy who cuts me off in traffic, the people who talk out loud at the movies, and the child who kicks his dog?  How am I supposed to love all the negative, nasty people this world holds? (Rev. Ken Klaus, Lutheran Hour Sermon, 5/9/04)  That’s a good question, isn’t it?  But here’s a better one: how are they supposed to love you?  Or me?  When we act so negatively and selfishly; when we think the world owes us; when we like to “dish the dirt” on others; when I’m too consumed in helping myself to be bothered with helping others; when I manipulate others by playing hurt until they give in; when I use all the tools in my arsenal to get my own way? 

 

Love one another.”

 

It’s such a simple command.  No contingencies.  No wiggle room.  No loopholes.  You do not get to choose who you will love and who you won’t.  Or who deserves your help and who doesn’t.  No I’ll love them when they love me first.  Nope.  “Love one another as I have loved you.”

 

That statement, as convicting as it is; as profound as it is; as all-encompassing as it is shows us also that love is not accidental.  Love is not something that we “fall into” or “fall out of.”  It is not primarily an emotion that comes and goes, so that I may love you one moment, but not the next.  It is much more than that.  It is deeper than that.  It is purposeful.  It is an act of the will.  And so in a Lutheran marriage ceremony, the bride and groom do not take their vows by saying “I do” – they say “I will.”  From this moment on.  It is a commitment.  A promise.  Even when I don’t feel like it, I will.  Even when I don’t want to, I will.  Even when the world tells me to take a better offer, I will love you.

 

That is the love that Christ has given to His bride, the Church.  To you and me.  A love that is not accidental; that does not come and go; that is not contingent on anything you and I do.  Which is good, because we can be pretty unlovable, can’t we?  Especially in God’s eyes, who knows our sin even more than our friends, our spouses, and even ourselves!  . . .  But He has committed Himself to you.  He has promised.  I will love you.  And He kept His promise.  Showing His love, His commitment, to you.  The Son of God leaves His throne in Heaven and comes down, to be born into a humble family.  He suffers rejection and betrayal, allows Himself to be arrested and abused, and goes to the cross.  He is pierced with nails and spear, lashes and thorns.  Suffocated by the weight of our sins.  Forsaken by His Father.  He goes where we cannot go and lays down His life in love for His bride, for He knows that only by His death can His bride live.

 

And so He says in the Holy Gospel that we heard, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.”  For the love Jesus shows in His life and death shows us the glory of God.  Glory that is not self-seeking, but self-sacrificing.  Glory that gives Himself that we might live.  Glory that shows us what true love really is.

 

And this One, who has so loved us, now tells us: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

 

Now this would be impossibleas we have already thoroughly discussed! – were it up to us.  If we were on our own.  This is a love we simply do not have and are not capable of! 

But as Jesus gave this command and showed us this love, so He has also risen from the dead and now alive forevermore, continues to give us this love.  And so Jesus is not here commanding the impossible, but rather simply commanding us to give what we have received.

 

That’s why its important that Jesus gave this command after giving the gift of the Lord’s Supper.  For here is where we receive this love from Him.  Here we eat the body and drink the blood of our Lord which He gave in love for us, and as we eat and drink in faith, through the forgiveness of our sins we are being conformed, or transformed, into His image.  To be like Him.  To love like Him.  We are being made new. 

 

And that’s what we heard Jesus say also in the reading from Revelation.  “Behold, I am making all things new.”  And again, that means: not new as in altogether different; but new in nature.  For this is what happens to us as Jesus, in forgiveness, loves us and gives Himself to us.  In Holy Baptism, our old, sinful nature is drowned, and we are born anew.  As we hear the Word of God and receive our Lord’s forgiveness, our old, sinful nature is slain, and the breath and Spirit of God breathe life into a new man.  And as we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, we feed the new man; we are what we eat; we are made new.  To be like Him.  To love like Him.

 

And so in order to “Love one another,” the answer is not to resolve and promise to do better; to be more determined; to “really mean it this time!”  No, I’m afraid we’ve all been there, done that!  The answer is to repent.  To stop looking within ourselves for what is not there, and turn to our Saviour, to receive from Him what He wants us to give.

 

“Love one another as I have loved you.

 

I read this week (for this Mother’s Day) (Rev. Ken Klaus, Lutheran Hour Sermon, 5/9/04) that what sets the love of a mother apart from other loves is that she believes in her child.  Even mothers of murderers and rapists and the worst criminals, beyond all logic, continue to believe in their son or daughter.  Everyone else may have given up and turned their backs on that person, but a mother won’t.  She believes there is a spark of goodness, some small redeeming quality, something – in her child.  That tomorrow will be better.

 

But the love of Jesus is even greater than that – for Jesus, in contrast, held no such beliefs or delusions.  He knows our hearts and souls.  He knew His disciples would desert Him; His friends would fail Him; His listeners would leave Him.  He knew that you and I would let Him down, would go our own way, and that there is not even a small redeeming quality in us.  He knew, and that’s why He came.  That’s why the cross.  There was no other way.  His love would let Him do no less.  So we might be saved.  So that we might live.  That we might have a future in Heaven.

 

That is His “I will love you” love for you.  Your Saviour’s committed love for you.  His love which will never stop loving you.  His love which will never stop giving to you.  His love which will never leave you for someone better.  His love, which His death and resurrection has provided for you for eternity.  . . .  That is His love that is here for you, that in repentance and faith we receive that love, and thus made new, love one another.

 

 

The disciples were in turmoil.  They were confused.  They were scared.  They didn’t know what to do.  They didn’t know what to think.  The women had seen the empty tomb.  So had Peter and John.  Perhaps it was true.  Perhaps Jesus had risen from the dead.  . . .  But if He had, where was He?  The Jews – they were still out there!  And surely, confident and energized by their victory over Jesus, surely once the Passover Festival was over, they would be coming after the disciples next!  . . .  And so the disciples had no peace.  Even behind locked doors, they had no peace.  Every time they heard a voice, or some strange sound, or the march of feet or horses’ hoofs – they thought the worst.  And fear fed upon fear, and the longer it went, the worse it got.

 

But it was not only from things outside themselves that the disciples had no peace; it was not only from things outside themselves that the disciples were hiding – they were, I think, also trying to hide from themselves.  They had let their Lord down.  They had abandoned Him right when He needed them.  They had pledged themselves to Him and were not able to follow through.  They thought they could, but they could not.  And so the voices from within would also give them no rest, no peace.  Their sin, their conscience, their weakness, weighing heavy on them; condemning them.

 

And we know how they felt.  For who among us has not felt them same?  There is so much in this world, outside of us, that robs us of peace, and that causes us fear.  Criminals that we can see; diseases that we cannot see.  Terrorism that comes upon us so swiftly and unexpectedly; accidents than seem so random.  Gone are the days when we could leave our doors unlocked at night.  But even locking our doors does not help.  That does not give us the peace that we are seeking.  For also, like the disciples, there is the battle for peace that we fight within ourselves.  For we too have let our Lord down.  We too are sometimes too ashamed or too afraid to speak.  We too have pledged ourselves to Him and are not able to follow through.  We sin, and continue in sin, and even like some of our sins.  But our sin, our conscience, our weakness, also weighs heavy on us; and robs us of our peace. 

 

If only we could get away from it all!  And hide from it all.  Then we would have peace, right?

 

Well actually, no.  Because despite what we may think, it is not anything outside of us or inside of us that has robbed us of our peace.  For I have seen people at peace who are dying with cancer in its final stages.  I have seen people at peace even after horrible accidents.  No, peace is not taken from us by troubles, nor is it given to us by a lack of troubles.  No, what robs us of our peace is, in fact, unbelief.  It is a lack of faith.  It is the thought that these things that are happening around us and in us are more powerful than God.  That God cannot or will not protect us from them, or deliver us from them, or use them for His good.  It is the thought that it is just me against them . . . and I am so little and weak, and they are so big and strong.  . . .  And therefore, without faith and trust, we are just like the disciples:  we worry, we have anxiety, we fear.  Fear that cripples us, and threatens to consume us.

 

But then, Jesus comes.  Jesus comes to His frightened, cowering disciples.  He comes, not as a spirit, but in His body.  His resurrected body.  And He gives to them what they so desperately need:  peace.  He comes and says, “Peace be with you.  And His Word does what it says.  The disciples are at peace, because with His Word and His presence, their faith was restored.  Did they fear the Jews?  Did they fear death?  These need not be feared – see, Jesus has conquered them!  And did they fear their sins?  Did they fear what Jesus would think of them?  These need not be feared either – see, Jesus does not hold these things against them.  They are forgiven.  He makes no mention their sins, or shortcomings, or fear.  He brings only peace.  And they have peace, for they now know that there is nothing to fear.  They are not alone.  They are not on their own.  They believe.

 

But there is one who is still in turmoil.  Still confused.  Still scared.  Who still didn’t know what to do, or what to think.  Thomas.  And so his brothers, now filled with faith, go searching for him.  And when they find him, they tell him the good news, but he cannot believe it.  His fear, his despair, his doubt, is too much for him.  . . .  And so they re-create the scene, for Thomas.  They are again behind those locked doors – this time not, we are told, in fear of the Jews, but for Thomas.  And Jesus comes again.  A “second coming,” if you will.  In flesh and blood.  And again He does not condemn.  He gives peace.  He offers His body to Thomas.  And because of His Word and His presence, Thomas’ faith is restored.  He believes.

 

And for the same reason, Jesus comes to us today.  To you and I, who are afraid, who worry, who wonder, who doubt.  He comes with His Word and His presence.  His Word, which does what it says, and His presence – His real body and blood – to give us what we so desperately need:  peace.  For although we do not see and feel the wounds of Christ, the Lamb of God, as Thomas did, those wounds are here for us.  We may not be able to put our fingers into the holes in Jesus’ hands and feet, or our hand into His side – but we do have His body put on our tongues, and His blood poured on our lips.  The same body and blood that Thomas touched.  The same body and blood that hung on the cross and laid in the grave.  The same body and blood, here, to give us peace.  And so this is what we say in the liturgy.  This is what we confess to be true.  Right before you come forward to receive this body and blood, you hear of this peace: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  And then again, right after you receive this body and blood, you hear: “Depart in peace.”  Depart in this peace.  The peace of the Lord.  The peace of sins forgiven.  And you reply: “Amen.”  And with that word you are confessing, “Yes, this is true.  Yes, I am forgiven.  Yes, I believe.  Yes, I have nothing to fear.  Yes, my Lord and my God.”  For if my Saviour is here for me; if He has conquered all my enemies; if sin and death and Satan and hell could not hold Him; what have I to fear?  What will He not give me?  What will He not do for me? 

 

And our faith is restored.  We believe.  Now that doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen – they will.  But it does mean that even in the face of these things, you can have peace.  For things are not out of control.  Your Saviour has conquered all.  There is nothing more powerful, on the earth, or under the earth, or above the earth; nothing in all of creation, that can separate you from your Saviour.  He is here for you – in His body and blood – to give you peace.  To give you faith.  To give you hope and confidence.

 

And to give this peace to all Jesus now also sends His disciples, armed with His peace-giving forgiveness.  The forgiveness He earned through His cross and Easter resurrection. 

To forgive and give peace to those who are in turmoil, who are confused and scared and doubting; and to withhold forgiveness from those secure in their sins, that they may come to realize their sins and repent, and so receive His peace and forgiveness.

 

And so this is what the Church now does. 

 

 

 

They go find their brother Thomas. 

 

 

 

The apostles went out and found not only their brother Thomas, but went out to all – filled with peace, not fear. 

 

 

 

 

But there is one who is still in turmoil.  Still confused.  Still scared.  Who still didn’t know what to do, or what to think.  Thomas.  And so his brothers, now filled with faith, go searching for him.  And when they find him, they tell him the good news, but he cannot believe it.  His fear, his despair, his doubt, is too much for him.  . . .  And so they re-create the scene, for Thomas.  They are again behind those locked doors – this time not, we are told, in fear of the Jews, but for Thomas.  And Jesus comes again.  A “second coming,” if you will.  In flesh and blood.  And again He does not condemn.  He gives peace.  He offers His body to Thomas.  And because of His Word and His presence, Thomas’ faith is restored.  He believes.

 

 

 

And so Jesus has given not only His peace to His disciples, but also the means to give this peace forever.  He gives His apostles, His Church, His keys.  To forgive.  To continue to forgive.  That this peace may not just be for some, but for all!

 

 

 

 

 

Did they receive this peace?

Just look at the reading from Acts!  How else could they have stood up to the authorities that they had feared before, hiding behind locked doors!

 

Did they need this peace?

Just look at Thomas and His reaction!

 

Do we need this peace?

Just look at yourself!

 

 

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

 

(Thanks to the Rev. David Fleming [Concordia Pulpit Resources] for some of the words and thoughts contained in this sermon.)