Sermon Text – John 15:9-12
When it comes to the subject of love, man has attempted to capture its essence using a variety of arts. The singer songwriter composes a ballad. The Hawaiians dance the hula. The artist paints a couple, enjoying a sunset. The poet writes a sonnet. And there have been plays and movies and concertos and books, all attempting to capture love and communicate its virtues. Now, given that the scriptures teach that God is love, that love is his very nature, that love flows out of Him as the fountainhead of life, christians have a particular artisanal advantage when they want to sculpt or paint or sing about love, because they can define it, “This falls under the category of love, while this falls under the category of hate.” We have a foundation to produce lovely things, because we know what love is. We worship a God who defines what love is by His very nature. He exists, and love, pours out on the human race in a myriad of colors, and shades and hues. God is love.
And so I too, would like to take the brush and paint a picture for you. And do what we humans cannot help but do, and image the invisible God of love through artistic expression, particularly, through the art of preaching.
THE FLOW OF LOVE FROM THE FATHER TO THE SON
If you are seeking for the perfect picture of a loving relationship, look no further, because there is absolutely no barriers, nothing standing in the way from the Father’s love reaching the heart of his son. He sends the son, and the son goes. He assigns a mission, and the son accepts without grudge. His disposition is the same as the Father, and they both think that the mission is wonderful. He says, “Have you not read this scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.’” Jesus says, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”
When Christ took on human flesh and dwelt among us, he kept the law perfectly, including the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus was never in a location that He wasn’t supposed to be. He never was doing anything that He wasn’t supposed to be doing. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”
When it comes to the exchange of love between the Father and the Son, there is no shame involved. There is no instance where one party loves the other party, less or more. They both infinitely love each other perfectly, with no sin.
THE FLOW OF LOVE FROM THE SON TO US
At the end of John’s gospel he says, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” So where do we start when talking about the love of Christ? In the story of the prodigal son, the wayward young man, returned of his own volition, convinced of his own folly, recognizing that being his Father’s servant was superior to tending pigs in a foreign land. Jesus uses the story to reveal the hard heart of the nation of Israel during his ministry.
But I’d like to borrow the characters in Jesus’s parable to draw another analogy. Imagine that the prodigal did not return willingly, but rather was dragged back home. Maybe he got in trouble with the law; he was to be executed. So the authorities took him home to have a discussion with his Father. The father sees a platoon of Roman soldiers in the distance, and his son being led in shackles. It’s been five years since the incident. When his son figuratively ripped out his heart and rebelliously asked for his inheritance early, an unprecedented display of disrespect. An offense that was essentially communicating, “Father, I wish you were dead.” Oh, how the Father wished everyday that the son’s silhouette would break over the horizon in the distance, and he could run to him, and hug him, and forgive him. But the soldiers reach the house, his son hangs his head in shame and the captain says, “This man is to be executed for his crimes. We’ve come to make an offer to you. Your life for his. We will execute you, and we will let him go free. What say you?”
You already know what he would say, don’t you, because he did it for you. You are that man in shackles. It is you who were in rebellion and spit in the face of your father. You wanted things your way, you wanted the inheritance now, so you could squander it and gratify your sinful desires. And you are quite right to stand there, with your head to the ground in shame. But the reason you do not look your Father in the eye, is because his look of love would melt you, as he says to the captain, “I accept, please set him free, kill me, and exonerate him.”
THE FLOW OF LOVE FROM US TO OTHERS
Like an expansive orchard, abundant with ripe fruits, life presents us with an endless harvest of opportunities to love others. It starts in the home, with your own family. It radiates out towards the church body, your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends, and even strangers. The author to the Hebrews reminds us to “not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
The catechism of the world teaches that you should hate your enemy. And the tactics of this hellish dogma include slander, attack, bearing false witness, stubbornness, and an unwavering moral indignation. The operative word there being “moral”, as it’s only a supposition of morality, a decoy, a stool made of two legs. These are blunt and crude instruments. But the Christian is not afforded any of these. We function and operate under a completely different paradigm of truth, God’s law, and the love of Christ. As such, slander is off limits. Bearing false witness is forbidden. But we are not to see this as a disadvantage. That would be like coveting their stick, when we’re armed with a sword.
Having reached the end, keep in mind that our love for the world and for each other, thanks be to God, is not something we have to psych ourselves up for because the power does not originate with us. The cascade of love has the power to split rock, and then shape it over time. The rock conforms to the flow of water, not the other way around. The barriers we once had, that prevented us from loving others, have been washed away. The waters of baptism have cleansed us, freeing us to be channels, and canals, and aqueducts that carry the love of Christ to the ends of the earth.