Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sermon -- 5th Sunday of Easter (April 28, 2013)

JOHN 13:31-35

In the name + of Jesus.

M:       Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     One of the reasons Jesus is so popular with Americans is because of such words in our gospel today.  Jesus said, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” (John 13:34)  We live in a world where we are exhausted by the hatred, violence, and brutality we see.  We do not want to hear any more reports about terrorism or cyber-bullying.  We prefer to hear reports about acts of kindness.  We would even prefer reports about how nothing is really going on except that people are busy going about their lives and not causing anyone harm.  That might not sell newspapers, but it is better news that we usually get.  So, when people hear Jesus say that you are to “love one another,” they naturally praise Jesus for saying so.  
     The problem is with the word, “love.”  It has become such an elastic word that it almost becomes meaningless.  No man would put his feelings for his wife on par with a plate of nachos.  And yet he might say that he loves them both.  So what does that word really mean?  And what do people mean when they say that they just want everyone to love each other?
     When Samson was shacking up with Delilah, she would pout and moan because he would not tell her the reason for his strength.  Finally, she said, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?” (Judges 16:15)  The truth is neither really loved the other at all.  Samson used Delilah.  Delilah used Samson, hoping to cash in big by handing Samson over to his enemies.  Both would have said they loved the other, but that was a lie.  Both wanted to use the other and make it seem innocent by calling it love.
     The world does not love.  People want to use, to get, to manipulate, and to demand first tolerance and then acceptance of whatever it is they are doing.  And if you will not accept or praise them for their choices—whether they are chaste or perverted, they will badger and malign and persecute you until you do.  After all, if you won’t love and tolerate them, you need to be pressured until you do.  This is not love at all, but manipulation and self-promotion.
     It is no different in your own homes.  Whether it is parents or children, we act as though love is bestowing one’s blessing one whatever behavior or opinion a loved one takes.  We have been led to believe that we are not to make a judgment, much less a condemnation, of anyone’s actions.  Christian parents know better.  But when a child engages in behavior that parents know is wicked, they begin to change their minds about the behavior.  Perhaps it is because you think that loving your children means that you have to do whatever it is to make them happy.  But what kind of love is it that grants permission to practice what God condemns?  Love will turn the other cheek when you are attacked, but love will not turn a blind eye to sin.  Why are we content to let people go to hell as long as they are happy on their way?  In this world, that is what love is: Letting people do whatever it is they want as long as they are happy doing it.  That is a great lie.  Defending sinful behavior brings a curse both on the one who practices it and on the one who encourages and defends it.  This is not love.  Not even close.  Repent.
     If you want to invoke Jesus’ name as the one who tells us to love each other, then make sure you listen carefully to what that means.  Jesus 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.” (John 13:34)  The key phrase is this: “just as I have loved you.”  Jesus shows you what love is and what love does.  Love is not about seeking praise.  Love is not excusing everyone for everything.  Love is about seeking the good of someone else.  This is precisely what Jesus Christ has done for you.
     Jesus Christ does not bless or encourage or tolerate your sins.  That which is holy cannot embrace that which is evil.  So, Jesus does not excuse you for your self-absorbed love and for your tolerance of the sins of others.  Such actions and attitudes fall under God’s judgment.  What Jesus has done for you is to become sin for you.  All of your iniquity was poured upon him.  Drenched in your sin, Jesus stood before God’s court and was fully condemned.  He was punished for every infraction.  He was spared no mercy.  The Father’s love was completely withheld from him so that he endured hell while he was on the cross.  For, that is the consequence of sin.
     Jesus did not excuse your sins; he suffered and died for them.  In doing so, Jesus sought your highest good.  He made sure that you would not be cut off from God’s love and blessing.  He made sure that you would not be rejected and condemned.  Having taken your sin, Jesus, in exchange, gave you his righteousness.  You were baptized into Jesus and have been drenched in Jesus’ righteousness.  Therefore, God sees you as one who is blameless.  This is for your good, for it means that you are pleasing to God.  It means you shall receive a place in heaven.  It means you have God’s blessings.
     This is how Jesus loved you.  He died for sins he did not commit so that you would have blessings you do not deserve.  Jesus forgives your sins.  Jesus tells you that you are loved by God.  You are not merely tolerated, you are embraced as God’s own.  The Lord does not turn a blind eye to you, but watches over you to care for you, to admonish you, to protect you, and to preserve you. 
     And now, Jesus says, 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.” (John 13:34)  This is the love that Jesus wants his disciples to reflect to one another and to all the world.  Brothers and sisters, you will continue to be sinners in this world, and you will even sin against each other.  The world would not blame you if you responded to such sins with vengeance and slander and law suits.  But you are not taught by Jesus to attack, to threaten, or to retaliate.  This is not love. 
     St. Peter would have you consider: “Let none of you suffer as … an evildoer…  If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.  Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 15,16,19)  It is commendable to show mercy and to seek the good of your neighbor, even if he has sinned against you.  You may destroy your neighbor with vengeance, but this is not love.  You will never win your brother over by destroying him or with vengeance.  It is true that the Lord says, “Vengeance is mine,” but the glory of God is not seen in his vengeance.  It is revealed in his forgiveness.  This is how Jesus has loved you.  He has been merciful.  He forgives your sin.  He has sought your good.  He has secured your blessing.
     And now Jesus says, Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)  Your glory is that you have been forgiven.  Your glory is also that you forgive.  While you grow in the faith and God’s light shines more brightly in you, you will grow in mercy, in love, and in doing and seeking good for others.  Love will not tolerate sin, but love will forgive it.  Christ will continue to transform your hearts and minds so that they will be like his.  Christ will continue to guide you so that you reflect his love to others. 
     But more than anything, it is Christ who will continue to be loving and merciful to you because you need it.  Seek his mercy, for he seeks your good.  Come to his altar, for that is where he gives his good things.  That is where you find forgiveness and mercy for you, and that is what will compel you to love and forgive others.  You seek the good of others because you have a Savior who has sought you for eternity.  This is love.  And since you have known it through Jesus’ words and actions on your behalf, you get to show it in your words and actions toward others.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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