Sixth Sunday Of Easter – Vicar Schleusener

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Given the connotations of some of the words used in the text, our Gospel reading for today says some things that might make us Lutherans uncomfortable. We’re very clear on the truth that we’re saved by grace through faith rather than by our own works, so it can be uncomfortable when Jesus says things like, “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.” Or “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Taking these words at face value, especially the word “if” combined with the connotation that words like “command” and “commandments” have taken on, it might appear that Jesus is telling us that His love and friendship are contingent on our following His rules.
And while the flesh might like the idea, theologically speaking, that’s more than enough to make us uncomfortable. After all, didn’t Jesus die for us while we were still sinners? Isn’t God’s love something that He extends to us even before He brings us to faith? And if we factor in our cultural biases, it just gets worse. After all, aren’t commandments just rules that are being imposed upon us by an outside force? Isn’t this an infringement upon our beloved individuality and freedom? In an environment like this, it would be strange if Jesus’ words weren’t unsettling.
And yet. Is this what Jesus is saying, or is the translation, perhaps combined with our own cultural issues, creating problems that don’t actually exist?” To answer this question, let’s begin by digging a little deeper into what Jesus is really saying here. For starters, the word being translated as “keep” is actually more focused on guarding or watching over something. When applied to God’s commandments, it’s a warning that something (such as the world, the flesh, and the devil) wants us to live in violation of those commandments. It tells us that we would do well to be watchful and alert for the way those three foes of the faith seek to lure us astray.
And when we look at it this way, we see that this abiding in Jesus’ love bit isn’t so much about perfectly following His commandments as it is about valuing them and being watchful over them. About acknowledging them as true, and good, and right. About being quick to repent when we go astray. And speaking of going astray, it’s also worth noting that the modern Western assumption that commandments are just rules—maybe even arbitrary rules that were issued for opaque or possibly even non-existent reasons—is a bad one.
It’s an unhelpful assumption in its own right, but in this case it also obscures the nature of the underlying Greek word for commandments. You see, that Greek word is one that points to the existence of a specific goal. An end. A purpose. There’s a destination in mind, and the commandments are the roadmap on how to get there. They’re the directions for traveling safely through life to reach the goal. Far from being arbitrary or invasive, the commands that God gives us are the ones that point out to us how to successfully travel the road that leads to Him. Watching over His commandments, then, is about staying on the road. About moving in the direction that leads to Him.
All of which leads to some obvious and very significant questions. Where’s the road? What’s the direction? How do we get and stay on that road? To answer that, let’s look and see what commandment it is that Jesus is issuing. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” This focus on loving one another is an important clue. This isn’t going to be a road that we can walk alone. Western individualism is missing something important. Walking the road of keeping Jesus’ commands will involve other people. That Jesus also issues this commandment back in John 13 (verse 34) and calls it a new commandment even though “love your neighbor as yourself” was God’s command all the way back in Leviticus (19:18) is another clue. It makes it clear that what we need in order to be able to follow His directions isn’t just any group of people. Rather, what we need is our fellow believers.
So where is it, then, that you meet with your fellow believers in love? Where is it that you set aside your differences and disagreements, whether personal or political, and join together in love? Is it not right here? Here in the Divine Service where you come together to hear the word of God? To hear the absolution as one body? To eat at Christ’s own table together? And as you come together in love in this place, are you not also abiding in God’s love for you?
The love of God that was put on full display in the broken and bleeding body of the Incarnate Son of God, suspended between earth and heaven on the cross for you. The love of God that refreshes your weary spirit with the sure and certain word of forgiveness. The love of God that feeds you with the body and blood of His crucified and risen Son, the medicine of immortality that takes away your sin and strengthens and preserves you, body and soul, to life everlasting.
Coming together in the Divine Service is indispensable in following the roadmap. Joining together in the worship of the Church is a crucial part of keeping the commandment. And so you love one another by coming together every week. Laying down your life week after week, no matter how stressful, hectic, or exhausting the week has been for you. You find the high point of your week in coming together with your fellow believers in His house to keep His commandment. In partaking together of the food that feeds you into life eternal. And the love of God abides in you. Jesus Himself calls you His friend. God’s own joy rests on you and you are forgiven and set free. And you are filled with the joy of knowing the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding that guards your hearts and your minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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