Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sermon -- Lenten Vespers (March 13 & 20, 2019)

This sermon was preached at St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Belleville and St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Plymouth on Wednesday, March 13 and Wednesday, March 20 respectively.

JOHN 13:31-35


In the name + of Jesus.

     Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, gave a new commandment.  The old commandment was good and it directs us to what is good: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)  If we do this, we fulfill the Law.  We do not do what is evil.  We do not do harm to our neighbor through violence and anger, or through slanderous lips, lustful eyes, or covetous hearts.  Rather, we strive to do what is good.  We befriend him in every bodily need.  We encourage him to love and honor his wife.  We do all we can to help him improve his property and means of income.  We defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.  We do this as much as we want our neighbor do this for us.  This Law is good.  In fact, it is perfect. 
     But Jesus gives a new commandment and ups the ante.  “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.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)  This new commandment is not only given by Jesus, it was also exemplified by him.  Jesus loved us beyond loving himself.  He emptied himself for us.  He covered debts that he did not accumulate.  He suffered punishments he did not deserve.  And he credited us with work that we did not do, but that he did for us.  In loving us, Jesus spared no expense.
     Jesus did not merely give us time and attention.  He gave us his whole life.  He took up our cause.  And it was not a just cause that he assumed.  A just cause is defending the rights of one who has been falsely accused.  A just cause seeks to aid someone who has been wrongly fired, was hammered with medical bills because of a prolonged sickness, or injured in an accident.  But our sinful condition is no accident.  Sin entered the world through person, and every person since has added his own wicked infractions to the world's evils.  But Jesus demonstrated love beyond just causes.  Jesus does not defend the falsely accused.  Jesus acts to deliver those who are undeniably guilty and from their just punishment.  Jesus' mercy should not be assumed, and his grace should not be expected.  Nevertheless, it is given.  He suffered our death and absorbed our damnation; we receive pardon and a completely different kind of life sentence.  We have God's blessing.  We receive a resurrection to glory.  Jesus is the only Son of God, but now we are included in the inheritance, too.  This is the love Jesus has for you.  And now he says: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)  
     You know that Jesus' command is good.  It has certainly been good for you; for, it saved you.  You know that Jesus' commandment would surely be good for others.  And you know that it is the right thing to do.  But how hard it is for us to do the right thing!  Even when we know that it is right and good to love one another as Jesus has loved us, we recoil.  For, we know that such love can easily be taken advantage of.  We know that it will cost us.  We are willing to give up money that we can spare.  We are willing to give time and effort that will be repaid.  We can love those who love us back.  But to seek the good of others at our own expense—an expense never to be returned—this is too hard for us. 
     We always consider other people by what they are worth or how we can benefit from them.  It does not take long to think up a list of people whom we can dismiss.  All I have to do is say, “You know the kind of people I am talking about,” and you do.  We all have our own lists.  We not only think it is good if we can dismiss them, we think we should!  And yet, Jesus says, “Love them.  As I have loved you, love them.”  Now, if you insist, “Jesus wasn't talking about those outside the church, he said, 'Love one another.'  He means us.”  We still don't want to do that.  When we give our love, we are always counting the cost.  We are always gauging—who is worth investing myself for them?  It should make you wonder: Has my heart been converted at all?  Repent.
     Jesus told his disciples: “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 good news is that Jesus did love you as he commanded.  Your place in God's kingdom is not based on how well you love your neighbor, your fellow Christian, or even on how much you love Jesus.  It is based entirely on how much Jesus has loved you.  That love is revealed by Jesus fulfilling all the commandments of the Father on your behalf.  Jesus perfectly loved his disciples who were often slow to understand his word but quick to debate which of them was the most important.  Jesus perfectly loved the sick who begged him for healing as well as the crowds who sought him out and infringed on his private time.  Jesus even perfectly loved those who betrayed him, who fled from him, who denied him, and who cried out for his crucifixion.  Do you think these things did not cost him?  Do you think anyone ever could repay him?  Do you recognize that many were never grateful for his perfect love, but still rejected him?  And yet, he loved them all—seeking their eternal good and obtaining it by his innocent death on their behalf.  If any perish, it is not because Jesus failed to love them or give everything to win their forgiveness.  See how Jesus does so deeply and perfectly love you, too!
     This is how Jesus revealed the glory of God to you.  Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.  If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” (John 13:31-32)  God's glory is this: He loves and saves sinners.  God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to display God's glory in saving us.  It was the Father's will that his Son would cover our wickedness with his goodness and atone for our cold hearts by taking the Father's fiery judgment.  Jesus willingly came to glorify his Father by doing all that his Father desired.  Jesus' glory is that he fulfills his Father's will and, in doing so, delivers us from death.
     What's more, Jesus has also sent his Holy Spirit to convert our hearts to fear, love, and trust in him above all things.  He transforms our minds so that we are no longer turned in on ourselves, thinking only of our benefits.  Our Lord has taught us that all people are the beneficiaries of his love.  Since our Lord has compassion on all, so shall we.  The Lord changes our hearts and minds, and he strengthens our will so that we actually do desire and work for the good of our fellow Christians, our fellow man, and even of our enemies.  This doesn't mean you will be buddies with everyone, but you certainly can seek the good of everyone.  This is the love Jesus seeks in us, and produces in us. 
     “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.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)  I don't know if anyone who watches us will be convinced that we are disciples of Jesus by the way we love others.  But do not fret over that.  Our goal is not to hear their appraisal or to gain their praise.  Our goal is simply this: “Love one another.”  We invest ourselves in the good of our neighbor—whether he is grateful for it or mocks it.  But our confidence is that our Lord Jesus Christ loves us.  His love for us abounds far beyond what anyone could repay, could replicate, or could grasp.  That is the love that saves us.  That is what we rejoice in.  And that is what makes us his disciples.

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

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