+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
"This is my commandment (Jesus says), that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you."
It is a perfect text for the coincidence of the 6th Sunday of Easter and Mother's Day. Mother's, after-all, are the closest we come, in this fallen flesh, to examples of self-less, unconditional love. By God's design they pour their hearts out to others in love, mainly their children, whom God committed to their care. They sacrifice for a greater good, namely the welfare of those they bore. Thus, today, we return thanks. Thanks to God for giving such examples of love in our lives. And thanks to our mother's for fulfilling God's design for them.
"This is my commandment (Jesus says) that you love one another." You can't be Jesus' friend, His disciple, without being confronted with His command to love one another. "Love your enemies (He says) and pray for those who persecute you." "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." "If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."
Verse after verse we are commanded to love God and to love one another. In fact, when the disciples asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, He summarized the entire Law, commandments 1 through 10, saying, "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Confronted by the vastness, the incredible height and depth of Jesus' command to love one another, the disciples thought they could narrow it just a bit. Jesus, they said, "but, who is my neighbor." It's our way, isn't it, always looking to define the parameters, looking particularly for bare minimums in God's claim on our lives? Jesus said, "your neighbor is your brother or sister who is in need." Thus, He told them the parable about the man who lay beaten and battered by the side of the road. They must have wondered, does God really mean that I am to consider someone I don't even know be my neighbor!? Absolutely! So much for narrowing love's command!
To love God with our whole heart, mind and soul, with our whole being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves is the greatest challenge we face as disciples of Jesus. It's a challenge because, as you well know, we are most adept at loving ourselves.
Even on this "Mother's Day" as we rightfully show our profound appreciation for our Mothers and for the love that they gave us in raising us, sin rears its ugly head and shows us just how turned in on ourselves we can really be. It happened this past week in Jacksonville, Florida, but, it could have happened in any city at any other time. A 22 year old mother shook her three month old child to death because his incessant crying interrupted a game she was playing on her IPhone. She'll likely face life in prison for her crime. Her greatest prison though will be to live with the realization that she took her child's life over a meaningless game. It was a fit of self-absorption and the epitome of self-love. We are, are we not, most adept at loving ourselves!?
Jesus calls us His friends and He says, "as I have loved you, so you love one another." In a sense, He one up's even the golden rule, whereby we are to "do to others as we would have them do to us." Here he says, "love one another, as I have loved you." We all, of course, know how Jesus loved us! We have that image of the cross etched in our minds. Our Lord bleeds and suffers for us. He endures ridicule and shame. He becomes sin, our sin, the sin of the whole world. We consider the cross and even the means whereby God brings that cross to bear in our lives, the body and blood of our Lord given to us in the sacrament, and once again, we perceive the vastness of our Lord's command to love one another. We wonder, no doubt, what it will finally mean for us to follow Jesus and to love each other.
A man once preached a sermon in which he shared his thoughts on what he perceived the cost of discipleship would be when he had first become a Christian. He said that he imagined he would have to write one big check to cover that cost. Having read about Dietrich Bonhaffoer, the Lutheran pastor who was put to death in Nazi Germany for opposing Hitler's regime, he imagined being put against a gray wall, asked to renounce his faith, and, upon refusal, being executed on the spot. Years later, people would visit the place where he had been martyred. They would weep and have their picture taken. They would tell their friends, this is "where Fred died for His faith." It wasn't long though, before Fred realized that being a disciple, a friend of Jesus would entail something different. He wouldn't write one huge check in response to Jesus' love for him, but hundreds of little checks: $.89 here; $.50 here; $1.25 there—45 years of little checks to date. Little acts of love, little sacrifices, everyday expressions of the love he had come to know in Christ, would mark the cost of discipleship for him. Over a lifetime, Fred came to understand the "dailyness" of a love lived out in response to the Gospel.
The little checks we write, the "dailyness" of Jesus' claim on our lives begins now and it continues until He calls us home and the love He has instilled in us is perfected! The woman's name, by the way, is Alexandra Tobias. She's the Jacksonville mother who took the life of her son. Jesus wept when she shook her baby to death. But, He never stopped loving her. In fact, He loved her unto death, even death on the cross. As His disciples, we are to follow Him by praying for Alexandra, that she would confess her sin and be forgiven by the blood of Jesus that was shed for her. If disgust and repulsion get in our way, remember, our righteousness can never surpass that of our Lord, thus, our righteous indignation, if it can't give way to forgiveness and prayer, is of our own making, and thus, it too is a product of our own self-absorption and self-love.
Love and forgiveness are inseparably connected to one another. Forgiveness is motivated by love and love naturally results in forgiveness. The principle runs throughout the Apostle John's gospel as well as his epistles. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life." "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins."
Love, you see, is a verb. It's an action word. God's love moved Him to die for you because it was the only way you could be forgiven for your sins. You are the recipient of both Jesus' love and forgiveness and as His disciple, His friend, you are a conduit, a doer, if you will, of His love and forgiveness in the world. We love, Scripture says, "because He first loved us."
"How can I thank you, Lord,
For all Your loving kindness,
That You have patiently
Borne with me in my blindness!
When dead in many sins
And trespasses I lay,
I kindled, holy God,
Your anger every day.
It is Your word alone
That I am now converted;
O'er Satan's work in me
You have Your pow'r asserted.
Your mercy and Your grace
That rise afresh each morn
Have turned my stony heart
Into a heart newborn."
(LSB 703, v. 1&2)
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
Send Rev. Alan Taylor an email.