St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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Rogate (Easter 5)
John 15:9-17
May 5, 2024

In case you were unaware, our Gospel reading for today comes to us from the upper room where Jesus and His disciples gather for betrayal, denial, and the Last Supper. This is important context, because not hours later, Jesus will be arrested and dragged before the religious leaders, before the political leaders, and ultimately nailed to a cross to die.

But unlike those religious leaders and political leaders, Jesus doesn’t teach His disciples to hate, to murder, to lie and slander and betray. Instead, Jesus teaches His disciples to love. It seems rather difficult to imagine that love is at the center of such an unloving time, doesn’t it?

For about 3 and a half years, Jesus went from town to town, region to region preaching and teaching and doing miracles and exorcisms. And during that time, His life was threatened at least three times. He was confronted constantly by the pharisees and religious leaders as they called him such things as a blasphemer, a devil worshiper, possessed by a demon, a false prophet, an enemy of the people, an inciter of violence. Even His own disciples questioned Him, challenged Him, and tried to make Him into a sort of king or ruler He did not come to be.

And yet, here He is calling His disciples His friends, washing their feet, establishing a new and divine Supper with them, one which connected them to Him in a far deeper way than just acquaintance or abstraction. Here Jesus is reminding the 11 remaining disciples that He sought them out and chose them, men full of scars and weaknesses and questions and doubts, Jesus chose them to go out and bear much fruit.

Here is Jesus the Son of God, loved by His Father and loving and abiding in His Father, sharing that love and that abiding fruit with them. And soon, within just a few hours, He will be laying His life down for them, and not just them but for the whole world. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

And know for sure, dear children of God, that Jesus’ words are for YOU inasmuch as they were for His 11 disciples. Jesus calls you His friend. Jesus calls you and chooses you to abide in Him and to bear much fruit as you abide. He calls you to obey His precepts, to abide in the mandates He has established, especially in the Lord’s Supper where we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus in bread and wine.

But we have a problem, don’t we? See, in church it’s easy to talk about love, isn’t it? We’re surrounded by the symbols and colors of God’s love for us. We’re protected by the Word of God and the Spirit of God in our midst. We sing the hymns of love, and we pray prayers of love.

But once we leave these doors and we go back down to the world, is it love that we see? In fact, no, it is not love that we see or experience but hate and anger and wrath and jealousy and strife and greed and lust and adultery and homosexuality and abortion and betrayal. We see broken relationships. We see people so unconcerned for the truth and for holiness and for righteousness but completely subdued by the devil and his lies of false love and self-love. We see narcissism at every turn, people who are so obsessed with their own selves, who love the desires of the flesh so much that they will trample atop anyone who gets in their way as they pursue more and more self-satisfaction and ego-driven lust for power and glory and possession and the desires of the flesh.

We see rejection, loneliness, despair, hurt, brokenness; we see the effects of sin and a sinful world as it wreaks havoc on God’s pinnacle of creation.

We can’t even listen to music anymore without being brainwashed into these worldly, empty, hell bound things, lust and greed and self-indulgence. Perhaps the world is more narcissistic today than it’s ever been. Perhaps man is more addicted today to Serotonin, the body’s own self-producing chemical high…

Everything on the TV, our favorite sitcoms, movies…it doesn’t matter…even in sports, the love of self and the love of the flesh seems to rule the hearts of actors and athletes while abiding in Christ and His Word is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

How do we convince our kids to flee from worldly love and the passions and desires of the flesh and instead pursue and live and abide in Christ and His love? And even God’s love gets distorted by this world.

The popular phrase today is “love is love,” a distortion of 1 John 5 where we read, “God is love.” “Love is love” essentially means “anything goes,” just as long as the person doing it loves himself, and no one has a right to tell him he’s wrong because true love just accepts and affirms.

As a pastor, I can tell you that trying to convince a person that what he is doing is sinful and he must repent is a difficult task by itself, but today in this “love is love,” self-important, narcissist world, it is next to impossible to say anything against a person’s sinful thoughts, words, and deeds because folks just don’t care if their sinning or not. They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do because it’s all about them, all about the individual and his self-interest, self-love.

It is hard to love these days, isn’t it? It’s hard to love as God commands we love, isn’t it? It’s so much easier to turn a blind eye, to go with the flow, do as the world, to never call a person to truly abide in Christ and abide in His commands. But when we do stand up and when we do confess the Christ, when we do abide in Christ and we call sinners to repentance and faith, we know full well of the suffering that will come. Jesus called people to repentance every day, many times a day, look where it got him, right? Death. Why would we want to face another person getting upset at us for confessing Christ, for calling a person to repentance, for calling them to abide in Christ, especially in a world like the one we’re in where no one cares or listens, and everyone looks for a reason to be hurt and offended and turned inward?

And yet, what does our Lord say to us? “Abide in my love.” Now, what we like to do in order to avoid what Jesus is really saying here, is Hallmark Card passages like this, make them fluffy and nice and easy on the ears and sprinkle glitter on top. But if we just let Jesus speak for Himself, what is He really saying when He says, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in my love?” What’s the real point to Jesus’ words when He says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Is this just fluffy stuff? Is this just teddy bears and gum drops? Absolutely not.

There’s an old song called “Love Hurts” which was song by the Everley Brothers and later by the rock band “Nazareth.” The words are pretty clear: Love hurts, love scars, love wounds and marks.” Of course, the words aren’t about God’s love, but you get the point.

Jesus’ love for us is a love that hurts. See, the heavenly Father loves His only Son, and His love for Jesus is so perfect and so good that His only Son abides perfectly in His love and that Trinitarian, Father and Son perfect love is then shared with us who are people of the Spirit of God.

But here’s the thing: The Father loves His only Son so much that He sends His only Son to die on the cross, and His only Son does it joyfully and willfully because He so abides and loves His heavenly Father. And by His death on the cross, God’s love for us is made known because Jesus’ death on the cross opened salvation and eternal life to all.

But it hurt. For the Son of God to give us life and forgiveness, He had to suffer and die. It was the only way. And we see and experience and know what God’s love – no, what TRUE love looks like when we look to the cross.

See, worldly love is fully loaded with restrictions and conditions, it comes and it goes, one day you’re in love the next day you’re outa love just like the Bon Jovi song attests. It’s not real, it’s not eternal, it’s not unconditional, and such worldly, limited, broken love cannot save you.

But when you look to Jesus, when you look to the cross, you see heavenly, divine, holy, perfect, eternal love where a perfect Son gives His life to please His heavenly Father and save His Father’s creation.

Then Jesus says to we who have received His love, “Abide in me, bear fruit.”

How do we abide in His love, how do we stay in it, how do we not lose it? You are Jesus’ friends; Jesus has chosen YOU, the Father has granted what you asked for – forgiveness of sins and life eternal. How do you remain in this vine; how do you remain a healthy, growing, fruit-bearing branch when everything and everyone around you is telling you to walk away, to please yourself, to be a 21st century narcissist?

It’s repentance and faith. See, God will never stop abiding in you; He will not turn from you or walk away from you or abandon you or leave you to your own vices. You can walk away from Him; you can leave His gifts and abandon His mercies and go off and forfeit your baptism and fill your life with the pleasures and pageantry of this world, do as the world, live as the world, follow the world and its downward, hell bound course. But God will never abandon you.

Jesus tells us everything we need to know to be a people who abide in Him. And His mandates, His precepts, His “commandments,” as the English translations assert, are very easy. Remain in Him. Abide in Him. Word…and…Sacrament. Word and Sacrament. Our heavenly Father commands us to listen to His only Son, listen to Jesus, and Jesus establishes this wonderful feast delivered straight from heaven called Holy Communion or the Eucharist, or the Sacrament of the Altar, or the Lord’s Supper. As a branch abides in the vine by feeding on the blood of the vine and being attached to the skin of the vine, so too do we abide in Christ by feeding on His blood and body.

This is how you abide. Word and Sacrament. Hearing and studying His Word often, like all the time, and receiving the Lord’s Supper often.

You are a baptized child of God, every one of you. He has chosen you, set you apart, given you a new name and a new heart, made you a citizen in His perfect and holy kingdom which will never be shaken. To remain steadfast in His kingdom, to keep your citizenship, to stay protected and prosperous behind the high walls of this New Jerusalem of God, abide in His Word and Sacrament.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it? For a subject of a king hears the edicts of the king and feasts on the food of the king. If you decide to go off to some other kingdom and abide in that king’s decrees and commands and eat from some other king’s table, then when your true king comes, your first love, the king of the kingdom into which you were reborn, when He comes, will He not treat you as a foreign enemy?

To abide in Christ means to hear and to feast in His kingdom. It means to repent, to confess your sins, to acknowledge that you’ve not been all that great at abiding, but that you have gone off to feast at the feet of false kings in kingdoms built on lawlessness, on adultery, on drunkenness, and lies and gossip, and laziness, and all the other vices from which your true King has called you away. To abide in Christ means to repent and to trust that He has forgiven you and that your seat at the great feast remains reserved for you.

To abide in Christ means to imitate Christ and His love for you by loving one another as He has loved you. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t affirm your sins or sinful lifestyles. He doesn’t turn a blind eye to your zeal for unholy living. He doesn’t pat you on the back when you fall for the temptations of vice and flesh. He doesn’t say, “It’s okay, no biggie,” when you make skipping church your habit rather than making a habit of attending church. He doesn’t say, “I’ll leave you to it,” and shut the door behind Him when you’re doing and living in ways that only the world and its darkness lives.

Instead, He says, “I forgive you, but you must stop sinning. I forgive you, but you must repent, and you must flee from these vices and embrace a life of virtue where the food of heaven, the Word of God is at the center, and the feast of eternity is before you, and you must learn to love your neighbor so that you do not lead your neighbor into sinning and rebellion, but you instead learn to forgive your neighbor as I have forgiven you, and confess My name so your neighbor hears and believes.”

This is what it is to abide. God, who loves you, abides in you and gives you life eternal. And He calls you and chooses you to abide in Him and bear much good fruit, fruit that will last to eternity. Temptation abounds, this fallen world keeps falling deeper into darkness and sinful vice, but you must stand up and confess and abide in Him, because the Christian faith isn’t merely about having a better life. In fact, the moment the faith becomes narcissist and “me-centered,” is the moment it is no longer the Christian faith. The Christian faith is about eternal life, REAL life, life in the way it was MEANT to be. Life surrounded by the love of God in Christ, and that love shared with one another.

May we all abide in Christ and His Word and Sacrament and so love one another and bear good fruit. Amen.