Remaining In Christ's Love (John 15:9-17)

                                                                                              Sixth Sunday of Easter  (May 9, 2021)

Blessed Mother’s Day to all mothers and grandmothers this morning.  I would just like to say to you today that even though many in our world are hell bent on maligning motherhood, insisting that it demeans and denigrates womanhood, there is no more essential office in humankind.  After all, God has gifted you mothers to be not only the womb of all life that He creates, but it is through you that God nurtures us all into adulthood.  Even if our own mother proved to be a poor mother through her weakness and failure to fulfill her office, you and I each owe our very life to our mother.  Without her we would not be here.

I can’t imagine not knowing a mother’s love!  Life in this loveless world is hard enough.  But if we never experienced that selfless, nurturing, loving guidance, and compassionate understanding that is the very fabric of a mother’s love, how impoverished our souls would be, not to mention how distorted our view of ourselves and the world around us would be!   

It is a salutary practice, indeed, then, to set aside a special day like today each year to honor our mother and give God thanks for her. But I’m sure I speak on behalf of all mothers when I say that more than accolades, flowers, chocolates, and special dinners, they feel more honored when their children simply remain in their love. 

How do we stay in our mother’s love?  First and foremost, we do so when we do not abandon our mother once we begin living life on our own.  You see, our mother’s love is a continual embrace.  She loves us in good times and bad, through ups and downs.  She doesn’t love us just when she has time.  She makes time just for us.  We remain in her love when we love her in kind, and not just on a special occasion. 

Secondly, I believe, we remain in our mother’s love when we honor her rearing of us by living life as she taught us and by being the person she loved us to be.

Of course, you and I have been recipients of an even greater love than our mother’s love.  In fact, the love of good mothers, as well as the love of good fathers, actually is itself part and parcel of this love.  This other love is Christ's love.  As Jesus says, "As my Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love." 

Remaining in Jesus' love is our focus this morning, and hopefully, the rest of our lives.   In order to remain in Jesus' love, we must first understand and appreciate what this love is and what it isn’t.  First of all, it is a love that is not natural to this world. This love is the Greek agape'.  Human beings are capable of loving their possessions, their money, their pets, their family and their friends.  Such affections come by us naturally, by reason of our human nature.  But none of these is agape!

The agape (love) Jesus speaks of is seen only in the heart of God and manifested to us only in the person of Jesus.  Jesus is agape’ in fleshed.  Jesus says, "Greater love has no one than this,  that he lay down his life for his friends."  Jesus laid down His life for each of us.  This is agape!  As the apostle John writes in our Epistle lesson:  "This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."  Jesus did much more than simply die for those who love Him.  He gave up His life for the ungodly, sinners, even His enemies (Rom. 5:6-10).  This love, is completely the opposite any sort of self-centered, feel good, or love to get kind of love you and I know of so well in our world.  Instead, this love is self-less... sacrificial ... and undeserved by the recipient.

This love of Jesus is also relational.  It exists in the divine relationship of God the Father with the Son.  Jesus says, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you."  It is because of this familial affection that Jesus calls His followers "friends," not "servants," or "slaves." 

The word translated friends here stems from another Greek word for love; phileo.  This is a brotherly love, as in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia.  This love is that natural bond that exists between two like-minded people or two people of the same blood.   Family members have this love for each other.  It’s the blood is thicker than water kind of love.

Friendships, on the other hand, are not born of bloodlines but are often formed by shared experiences ... shared interests ... kindred spirits.  Like David and Jonathan in the Old Testament.   They thought alike.  They shared the same faith in the God of Israel.  They wanted the same things for their nation.  They entrusted each other with their hurts, dreams, and concerns.  They would do anything for each other, even as proved out, risk their life for the other.  So in our friendships there is a sharing of feelings, secrets, intimate thoughts and a bearing of souls that is not enjoyed in any other relationship.

Jesus calls us His friends. This is not a relationship that developed by accident nor because we chose to be friends with Jesus or pursued a relationship with Him.  In fact, it is the complete opposite.   In spite of our wanting to have nothing to do with Jesus, He chose to make us His friends.  He said, "You did not chose me, but I chose you..." Jesus, in His love for us sinners, chose to befriend us.  He chose to place His intimate affection upon us. 

This is a big deal for us!  Friends intimately share with one another.  And when Jesus chose to make us His friends, He also chose to have a relationship of sharing with us that is the same as that which He has with His Father, God the Father Almighty.  Jesus said, "... for everything that I learned from the my Father I have made known to you." 

This is the ultimate in sharing!  Jesus shares everything with us.  He shares His knowledge of God with us… the love He has received from His Father with us… the companionship He has with His Father with us… the unity He has with the Father with us… and even the glory He has with the Father He will share with us! There is no greater relationship of love.

To remain in Jesus' love, then, is to remain in this loving relationship He has established with us.  That only happens when we continue to hold firm to Him and His love in faith. We remain in His love when it is His love that we cherish above all else ... when we long for being loved by Him more than being loved by anyone else ... when it is His love that we look to for our comfort, help, security, and hope ... when we value His loving relationship with us even above that relationship with our spouse... our children...our parents.

But, as with remaining in a loving relationship with our mother, our spouse, or anyone else, remaining in Jesus' love is heeding His voice alone and doing what He asks of us.  Jesus says also:  "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in His love... You are my friends if you do what I command."

If there ever could be a litmus test for remaining in someone's love, then it would have to be how well we honor what they say to us.  A wife asks her husband, "I know you tell me that you love me.  But if you really love me, wouldn’t I see it in your actions toward me?  Wouldn’t you listen to what I have to say as if it is important to you?  Wouldn’t you honor my opinions?  Wouldn’t you do as I ask?”

So it is in our relationship with Jesus.  We can't possibly remain in His love, without honoring what He says to us.  It's simply ludicrous to imagine that we are treasuring His love to us all the while disobeying or ignoring His words and commands to us or treating them as if they are only suggestions!  We demonstrate the value we place on our relationship with Jesus, with God, when we do His Word not simply hear it. 

Perhaps, one of the most grievous acts of spurning God’s love is to treat lightly the Third Commandment; Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.  After all, this commandment has to do directly with honoring His Word.  As Martin Luther rightly taught us in the Catechism concerning the meaning of this commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”  If we do not feel it important to go to church and hear God’s Word weekly, read and study it daily in our lives, how can we in any way consider that we are honoring His Word or remaining in His love?  As we heard last week through the first part of this same chapter of John, remaining in Jesus’ and His love necessitates that His words remain in us!

But here, chief on Jesus’ mind is honoring this command to us: "Love one another as I have loved you."  If we are remaining in Jesus' love, then we can't treat this command either as idle talk or something optional.  Jesus has loved us with His whole heart, body and soul.  If we don't seek to love in the same way our family, work associates, fellow church members, neighbors and even enemies sacrificially, without strings, putting their needs above our own, how can we imagine that we are treasuring Christ's love of us?  Loving others is more than a duty.  "We love, because He first loved us" (I Jn 4:19).  We are loved to love!

You see, this is the identity Jesus' love has given us, that we are lovers of others.  Loving others is the fruit produced in us by the Vine ... The One who is love... The One who gave His life for us in love.  He called us for this very purpose; to love one another as He has loved us.  In fact, as the apostle states in our Epistle Reading, "Everyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (NASB I Jn 4:7,8)  "The One who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (I Jn 4:16).

Jesus says His joy would be in us and our joy would be full, or complete, if we loved one another.  God's love for us in Jesus Christ is never meant to reach a dead end. His love is fulfilled; that is, reaches its goal, when it is extended into the lives of others through us.

I'm sure you have heard someone say, or you have found yourself saying it, "I sure wish I could see God's love."  Usually this is said in the throes of trouble and pain.  Under such duress one feels they are only seeing God's anger with them.  But the cross of Jesus shows us that even suffering comes not from God's wrath but from His love.  Such times become opportunities that God can minister to us through the compassionate serving others do toward our needs, sacrificing their own time and needs to help us.

So it is in our relationship with Christ Jesus.  John writes in His first epistle, “We love, because He first loved us.  If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Remaining in Jesus’ love is loving our brothers and sisters.

Dear fellow redeemed, it is as basic as this:  God continues to make His love known to the people of the world, as He always has, through the Body of Christ in the world. The Body of Christ is the Church, you and me and all others who believe in Jesus Christ.  We are those who have been born of God's love.   As members of His body, we are His voice, His hands, and His feet.  When we feed the hungry, He feeds them through us. When we clothe the naked, it is God who covers them.  When we forgive those who have sinned against us, it is He who extends them forgiveness. When we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is God who comforts, encourages, gives faith, and forgives.   

This is remaining in Jesus' love.  We are simply treasuring His love for us; being the loving person His love has made us to be, His word taught us to be and, perhaps, even our mother raised us to be.  Amen

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