Cantate| Rev. Rolf Preus| May 10, 2009| St. John 15, 9-17
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.”
Let us pray:
Lord, ’tis not that I did choose Thee; that, I know, could never be;
For this heart would still refuse Thee had Thy grace not chosen me.
Thou hast from the sin that stained me washed and cleansed and set me free
And unto this end ordained me, that I ever live to Thee.
‘Twas Thy grace in Christ that called me, taught my darkened heart and mind;
Else the world had yet enthralled me, to Thy heavenly glories blind.
Now my heart owns none above Thee; for Thy grace alone I thirst,
Knowing well that, if I love Thee, Thou, O Lord, didst love me first. Amen
I have my freedom.
I can make my own rules.
Oh yeah, the one’s that I choose.
So sang Cat Stevens in his song, “Miles from Nowhere.” Words like these resonate in the minds of adolescents eager to put off the shackles of childhood. It becomes tiresome to be under rules. Rules are often arbitrary. They can be inconvenient. Rules keep us from doing what we want to do.
Less than a decade after recording this song Cat Stevens became Yusuf Islam. He embraced the Muslim religion, a religion with more than its fair share of arbitrary and inconvenient rules. He was twenty nine years old. Young men grow up and find that unfettered freedom is not what it’s cracked up to be. The quest for freedom becomes a search for order. Self disciple is nearly impossible without some sort of external moral code upon which to rely.
All religions require obedience. This does not mean that all religions are essentially the same. Only the Christian religion is revealed by God himself to be true. This is because Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. He is the only begotten of the Father. He is the manifestation of the Father’s love. Just as the Father loved the Son, so the Son became our brother and he loves us. In his love we know the Father’s love. The love with which the Father has loved the Son from eternity is the love in which we are chosen. From this love we love.
The Father loves the Son. The Son loves us. We love one another. That’s how it goes. It begins with the Father.
The wonder of the cross of Christ is that it reveals the Father’s love. The Father loves the Son. Yet he gives him a commandment. It is to suffer and to die. To become one of us is a wonderful mystery. It brings us together with God. If God is now a human being then we can know God as one of us. We can run to him and call on him and trust in him. He is not so far above us. He is not hidden behind a list of rules. He is revealed. He is the invisible God but he is also the visible Lord Jesus Christ. Here we see love in the flesh.
But more than that we see love in the suffering of Jesus. Jesus says, “I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” What commandments? Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” The commandments the Father gave to the Son are the commandments that love requires.
God’s love is no mere ideal. It is not contained in a list of do’s and don’ts. God’s love is concrete. It is where and when the Son of the Father lays down his life for us. In that obedience to his Father’s commands love achieves its goal. We are brought back to God. We are reconciled to God.
Christianity knows no rules but to love. St. Paul writes:
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13, 8-10)
God is love. The sole command our Lord Jesus gives us is to remain in that love. Whatever fruit we will bring forth in our lives will come from that love. Whatever good we ever achieve; whatever kindness we ever offer; whatever benefit to anyone we ever provide will come from this love and from nowhere else.
A religion of rules uses rules to establish the relationship between the god and his people. The god provides the rules. The people respond by obedience. The god will either bless or curse, depending on how faithfully the people have performed the rules. One religion is as good as another. They all amount to pretty much the same thing.
But we do not embrace a religion of rules. Our relationship to God is not established by rules. It is established by love. We don’t establish the relationship. God does. Jesus says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” To choose is to elect. He said, “You did not elect me, but I elected you.”
This is called the doctrine of election. This isn’t a popular teaching. That’s a shame. It is a wonderful teaching. God elects us. We don’t elect him. People object to this teaching because they think it takes away all human responsibility. If God chooses us to be his children before we have thought, said, or done anything good then what becomes of doing good? Doesn’t this teaching encourage irresponsible living? Doesn’t it promote selfishness? If everything pertaining to our salvation is the gracious gift of our loving God and we get no credit at all for it what is there left for us to do?
To love! That’s what we are to do! We are to love! The Son is begotten of the Father’s love from eternity. The Son in love lays down his life for us and makes us his friends. The Holy Spirit in love warms our hearts with the gospel of God’s pure love so that we can live in it and have joy in it. What’s left for us to do but to love?
The love of God in Christ chose us when we were blind to what is good. We were hostile to God. We could obey the rules, of course. Anyone can do that. But we could not love. We could not submit spontaneously and joyfully to God or to one another. We could not bear fruit because we were spiritually dead.
How does one know that one is chosen by God? Folks fuss and fret over this and drive themselves to distraction. Perhaps this is why the doctrine of election is criticized by so many. But the question comes up. What about me? How do I know that I am included when Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you”?
Consider this: did Jesus live for you? Did he love the LORD his God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind? Did he love his neighbor as himself? Did Jesus die for you? Did he bear in his body all of your sins, suffering the punishment you deserved, washing away your sins by his holy, precious blood? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Is he alive with life to give? Has God told you, in your baptism, that you belong to him? Has God told you, in the gospel, that he gives you eternal life? Do you know this love? Do you believe that this love is for you?
This is not your own achievement, nor is this an accident. God chose you. This is not a cold and arbitrary choosing. This is divine love. It is personal. It is for you. It is powerful. You can depend on it. It is eternal. It won’t change. It is gracious. You can rely upon it when your sins rise up to condemn you and to claim you. You were chosen in love to love.
What you do matters. It matters not because by doing you win over God and cause him to love you. Just the opposite. It matters because it comes from God’s love. God’s love matters. It achieves its goal. Its goal for you was that you be brought into the eternal enjoyment of it. Whatever you do as a Christian you do as someone chosen in God’s love. You do what you do as a saint. God is your friend. Jesus laid down his life for you to forgive you all your sins. You are at one with God. You live in God’s love. He hears all your prayers. Whatever you ask him in Jesus’ name he does.
What we do in love we do as those called in love. This means that every little act of kindness we show to one another has permanent value. It is true fruit that will last. God’s love cannot disappear. What we who are loved by God do in love for one another stands the test of time. It is worth doing. We are defined by God’s love. So are our acts of love. Whatever sin remains in what we do God graciously forgives for Jesus’ sake. We abide in our Father’s love and our joy is full. Amen