Love; Confirmation Sunday
This Is Love!
1 John 4:10
Vicar Brian Henderson
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you dear Christians, from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ, AMEN! Our text this morning is taken from our Epistle lesson, starting in the 10th verse: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atonement for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Thus far our text.
INTRODUCTION: Dear confirmands, you beloved of Christ, how did you come to this point in your lives? Another way to ask this is simply, “Why are you here?” Now some may answer, “It is time for me to go onto the next stage of my life with Him!” Very well, that is a good response, but why are you here? Did you simply decide that you must grow in your faith, or maybe you were persuaded by your family to take the next step because that is what people your age in the Lutheran Church do? At this point you may be thinking, “Well hold on a minute. Its not just that, but also the fact that I love Jesus!” Well now, we are getting closer to our text this morning and the true meaning of our Gospel reading.
Friends, did you have a hard time finding the Good News in our Gospel reading this morning (John 15:9-17)? If so, perhaps you focused in on these parts of the reading: “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.” (vs. 10) And, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you
At first glance, this Gospel reading sounds more like the Law than Good News. Could it be that Jesus is really saying that if we want to remain a part of His body, we must keep the commandments and love just as He did? Well, yes and no! In order to understand this correctly, and find the “good news” we must first understand the difference between Law and Gospel.
I. We know the law naturally when we hear it don’t we? The Law makes demands upon us and terrifies our conscience, and then it offers no way for us to fulfill those demands. Is that what our Gospel lesson is doing? Who, on their own can ever love as Christ loved us? No one! But yet, these words seem to call out to us, as if standing on the distant bank of a ragging river, demanding that we find a way across, knowing full well that it is impossible. But, then we begin to reason that it must not be impossible, or God would never have demanded that we do it.
ILLUS: Several years ago, the local news reported the story of a man who became stuck in the mud of the salt marsh, just south east of the J Street Marina park, in the city of Chula Vista. The police and paramedics responded and rescued the man from what would have been a certain death! Perhaps you may remember this event, but now, as Paul Harvey says, I will tell you “the rest of the story!” The man was going through intense personal problems, and had been drinking heavily for several days with a bunch of homeless people who regularly gathered in the park. Late into the night and early in the morning, when the beer ran out, he began to sober-up, and as he looked around, he noticed the wretched, hopeless company that he had been mixed up with and he became frightened. “Could I really have fallen this far?” he wondered. Out of fear and disgust, and in a fit of blind remorse, he made a rapid attempt to get away, and he ran right into the salt marsh. The first few steps that he took were squishy but easy. But then he began to sink deeper into the mud with each step he took. He paused for a moment and looked back at his former “friends” and this caused him to go even farther into the marsh that was beginning to consume him. All he could think of was, getting to the other side. Finally, he could go no farther. As he paused, he began to think, “At least I am better off than where I was a few moments ago!” But he soon realized that he was sinking deeper and deeper into the mud. He noticed that while he could no longer go forward, he could with some effort begin to crawl back to his former company. So now he had a choice, stay where he was and risk death or go back to the very thing that he was running from.
As it turned out, He did not need to decide, because the Chula Vista P.D. and the Paramedics did it for him. With much effort, they managed to get to the man and bring him back to the same spot that he ran from. Once safely on dry land, he was immediately arrested along with all of his former friends and thrown into jail for being drunk and disorderly. So what is the point of my story? Simply this: If the reason we come to church is to become a better person or to make God happy, then we are just as confused as the man in our story. If we want to change our life style by living better or doing better, then the path that we’re on is no safer than the swamp he was in. While it is good for us to want to turn from our sin, just as it was good for that man to turn from his drunken friends, if we do not know to where, or rather to whom we are fleeing to, we too will get bogged down in our own sinful ways. This is always the result of those who have been convicted by God’s Law, and believe that by their own power, strength or love that they are able to free themselves from their hopeless condition. In this way, like the man in our story, we will never be able to get to the other side. Instead, the law calls out to us and accuses us all the more. Then when our condition becomes hopelessly clear, we’re brought back to the reality of our own wretched life and then convicted and imprisoned right along with those who didn’t even try to change there sinful way. What then are we to do?
II. We are to look to Christ alone for hope and relief from our guilty conscience and the ability to change. Listen to the Good News that was in our Gospel reading: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” The Good News is that Jesus has chosen you! He’s the one who is calling to us from the other side of the raging river. Even if we hear the Law demanding and condemning us as well, we are to only follow the voice of our Master. It is through Jesus alone that we will be able produce fruit that lasts forever. And this is because any good work that is prompted by the Holy Spirit, is done through faith in Christ alone, and because it is blessed, it is centered in His love for us.
If we try to love without the leading of the Holy Spirit then our fruit, which is our works or good deeds will be weak and they will not last. That is why Christ said in last weeks Gospel lesson, (John 15:5) “Apart from me you can do nothing.” But with Jesus there is hope!
III. Dear friends and confirmands, Jesus is giving you this hope when He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life” (John 10:27, 28). How does He give us eternal life? By His love! “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atonement for our sins.
Outside of Jerusalem, there’s a yellow naked stone, that looks like a dead man’s skull. Long ago men planted a cross there, and on that cross they hanged the only one of our human race who through His own righteousness was ever able to perfectly fulfill the law. Before this, God had tolerated man’s sins, but the time came when He permitted His Son to die, because He wanted once and for all to show us that our sin must be met with His condemnation and punishment. God wanted us to know that he will not tolerate any changing of His standards of holiness. But this is how God demonstrates His awesome love for us; He let all of the curse and penalty of our sin fall upon the Innocent One, who freely gave himself in death for us. Jesus was made a curse for our sakes! He redeemed us from the condemnation of the law. He who was sinless, was made sin for us that we might become righteous before God. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, and by His wounds we are healed.
On that day, the rocky hill of Golgotha became the most holy place in the world. For us dear Christians, the way of obedience, the demands of the Law must always lead us to the foot of that cross. The only way of pleasing God leads to and from that cross. For at the cross is where we stand, as poor wretches, like Peter on that first Good Friday, full of shame and despair, looking upon the crucified Savior, whom he had been unable to follow. There it became clear that even the Lord’s best disciples were unworthy of him. Along with Peter, we are all betrayers and deniers, sharing in the guilt of his death. But there, at the cross, it also becomes clear that the Lord himself has paid for our sins. Dear friends, while the way of the Law ends at Golgotha with judgment, everyone who believes may nevertheless stand upon it, for it has now become a Rock of Atonement and Salvation. It is there that the way of grace begins, the new and holy way through the veil, the way that is sanctified by His blood.
The stony soil of our hearts, the rock foundation of our corrupt human nature, does not need to be the basis for judgment upon us. It can be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, just as the hill of Golgotha was when drops of His blood fell upon it and transformed it from a place of execution into the Rock of Atonement. In your baptism, God marked your evil heart with the sign of the cross and because of this, He has made us righteous in Christ. The whole sinful rock of our natural heart is lifted and made to rest on the Rock of Atonement. It still remains flinty rock. You and I in our natural state still remain sinners. But our guilt is atoned for, the curse is lifted, and we can come confidently as children into the presence of God, even to His very table and being thankful for the wonder of redemption, we may eat and drink of His precious body and blood, and through it be equipped to begin again to live and work to the Savior’s glory. Then the fruits of faith begin to appear. A fertile soil now covers the rocky base. It is the good soil of faith, which is watered by grace. Gradually something begins to grow that would never have grown there before. Fruit that abides; Good works that are pleasing to God! And what are these good works that Jesus brings out of us, which please God? Nothing less than rightly loving God and our neighbors.
Where the stone foundation of our sinful heart and the Rock of Atonement on Golgotha meet, God performs a miracle. Because of faith in Christ alone, He takes our imperfect attempt to love and to serve and He replaces it with the perfect love and service of Jesus Christ! Now, for the sake of Christ alone, God looks upon our sinful hearts and judges us righteous!
CONCLUSION: Dear (confirmands and) friends, come to the Lord’s Table of grace and mercy with a Holy Appetite! Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins, so that you may be strengthened for the work ahead. And what is that work? To abide in His love and to follow His Son, for through Him and only through Him can we love one another as He has loved us.
And now, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep you in His love, now and forever. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!