Divine Service I
Order of Worship
Organ Prelude: Aria Paul Manz
Confession / Absolution
Hymn: Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness – #849
Collect of the Day
Old Testament Reading: Acts 17:16-31
Gradual: Psalm 66:8-20
Epistle Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
Holy Gospel: John 14:15-21
Offertory: What Shall I Render To The Lord David Cherwien
Prayer of the Church
Organ Postlude: Now All The Vault Of Heaven Resounds Bernard Wayne Sanders
“If You Love Me”
The text is the Gospel for reading from John 14:15-21, but especially verse 15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Up to this point in the gospels, Jesus has tried to impress on His disciples the fact that He LOVES THEM. Even as God is love and He is God, His love for them is God’s love for them. The well-known John 3:16 sums it up. “For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only Son.” The giving of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ to the world to atone for the sin of the world by His suffering and death on the cross is God’s definitive proof that He loves the world… and much more personally – He loves you.
Jesus has also tried to impress on His disciples that, as they are LOVED BY GOD, they also ought to LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Here in the Upper Room, Jesus has just told His disciples to “love one another, as I have loved you.” (Jn. 13:34). He’ll repeat this two more times in chapter 15. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Now Jesus introduces a third dimension of love and makes this a real LOVE TRIANGLE. God loves us. We love one another. All that’s left is for us to love God. God’s love goes from Him to us, from us to our neighbor, and then back to God.
Each leg of this love triangle has its own concrete action by which ‘love’ is demonstrated. God’s love for us is shown by giving His Son to the world, even unto death, even death on a cross. Our love for our neighbor is demonstrated by giving ourselves over to our neighbor, even unto death, even death of whatever personal sacrifices that our neighbor might need us to make. Now, our love for God is demonstrated by our giving ourselves over to His commands, which involves the surrender of our heart and mind to God’s Word.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This third leg of the love triangle begins with a big, fat “IF.” Here is the ‘concrete action’ by which you will demonstrate to Me that your love for me is ‘true love.’ “You will keep my commandments.”
Mom and Dad say to the child, “I hope you know that we love you. And we really want you to love us. And you can show us that you love us and how much you love us by putting your toys away and taking care of your clothes and keeping your room neat and helping out with some chores. That shows us that you appreciate us and our love for you.” And the child says, “I love you Mommy and Daddy,” and their room remains a disaster area.
Husbands say to their wives, “I love you dear.” And sometimes the message is punctuated with a flowers and chocolate. And the wife says, ‘that’s wonderful. I’m so glad that you’re willing to lay down your life for me, just as Christ laid down His life for His bride, the Church. And the flowers and candy are nice, but what I’d really appreciate is if you would you do the dishes and give me a break with the kids?” And the husband says, “Sorry honey, I’ve got to run.” And on the way out the door he says, “I love you, dear.”
As children of God, we say, “I love you, God.” But how do we demonstrate our love for God? But before we start inventing all kinds of clever ways that we think God should appreciate and that should convince Him that we love Him, like giving Him our heart, as if He should be pleased with a rotten, sinful thing as that, what Luther calls “that bag of worms,” we should listen to Him. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
“Commandments” as in “THE 10 COMMANDMENTS.” I know we’d like ‘loving God’ to be much jazzier than that. The 10 Commandments are so OLD TESTAMENT. Who can even name half of them?
But it’s Jesus who repeatedly connects our love for Him to keeping His Commandments. Still in the Upper Room with His disciples, He will tell them again, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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.” (Jn.15:9-10)
Isn’t this right where our love for our Lord gets ‘sacrificial’ even as His love for us is sacrificial and our love for others is sacrificial? It’s sacrificial because we have already committed ourselves to other gods and other commandments to live by that seem much more practical in this day and age. Must we really ditch those other gods and repent of OUR WAYS and walk in HIS WAYS, to the end that we might actually mean what we say when we say, “I love you Jesus”?
That’s sacrificial. There’s a real ‘crucifixion’ of self in that. But as our Lord has demonstrated before our eyes, all true love is cross shaped. All true love is cruciform.
And isn’t it right there where, if we’re willing to be honest with ourselves, makes us really wonder if we actually do love our Lord as we say that we do?
One of the great things about following a liturgy that puts God’s own words into our mouths for us to speak back to Him, is that we do not say things that WE WOULD LIKE TO SAY AND THAT WOULD LIKE GOD TO HEAR, but we say what is most honest and most true.
Based on His Word that we make our own we say, “We have NOT LOVED YOU with our whole heart, we have NOT LOVED OUR NEIGHBORS as ourselves.” Rather than coming before God and telling Him how much we love Him, WHICH IS NOT TRUE, we come before God and confess what IS most true, “WE HAVE NOT LOVED YOU.”
And if we’re willing to begin right there, with CONFESSION, that is painfully sacrificial, then there is a clear path for us to go forward. And the way forward begins with ABSOLUTION. “I forgive you all of your sins.” That’s how God loves you. Not by keeping OUR COMMANDMENTS, but by forgiving us for not keeping His. ABSOLUTION is the love of God FOR YOU, poured out on you every time you pour out your confession to Him.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” THAT’S NOT A DEAL. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments, and then I will love you in return.” No, if that were the deal, then we would be absolutely sure that God would never love us, because we never keep our end of the deal.
So let’s be sure to get first things first. God’s love for us is not secondary or His reaction to our love for Him – or our love for our neighbor for that matter. If the Christian hope was based on God’s response to our love for Him, we would have no hope at all. In the Upper Room, Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) And maybe this is why so many people would be surprised to discover that we were His disciples.
Religions and people that try to give the impression that they produce the most family loving, spouse loving, neighbor loving, earth loving and God loving people there are, HAVE PUT THE EMPHASIS IN EXACTLY THE WRONG PLACE.
The Christian faith and the Christian life is based upon God’s love for us – while we were still enemies; while we were dead in our sins. John writes, “This is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1John 4:10).
Thank God that true love is a one-way street and not a two way street. GOD’S LOVE FOR US IS UNCONDITIONAL. He does not love us IF we love Him by keeping His commandments. There should be no uncertainty or doubt as to whether or not GOD LOVES US. We do not look at our behavior or our faith or even our obedience to His commandments. We look to the cross and there we see God’s love for us in unmistakable clarity. He loves us while we were still sinners.
But the appeal to LOVE HIM still remains. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But now, hopefully, we hear these words in a different tone than we heard them at first – as harsh law laying down its impossible demand. In 1st John 2:3, we read, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
The gospel does what the law cannot do – it changes our hearts and minds from resistance and fighting against – to taking up the yoke that is light and easy – ‘not burdensome’ any more than any true love is ‘burdensome’ regardless of the sacrifice required.
Rather than ‘obedience’ to His commandments as the law we must keep in order demonstrate our love of God, it’s ‘obedience’ to His commandments that we most desire because we love Him. Because, just to be clear, OBEDIENCE in and of itself is no ‘virtue.’ There is such a thing as BLIND-OBEDIENCE, and there is not LOVE in blindness, just as it’s possible to OBEY out of fear – and there is no love in fear. It is possible to OBEY and HATE, or OBEY with RESENTMENT, or OBEY just for a paycheck.
But LOVE sets OBEDIENCE free from blindness and fear and hate and resentment and as a means to an end. Obedience that springs forth from love is the TRUE OBEDIENCE that our Lord desires from us.
This ‘obedience in love’ is not something that we will ever be satisfied with – at least not in this lifetime. We always fall short, and we always need His forgiveness and we always will be striving to do better.
But God is pleased with the person who desires to OBEY HIM IN LOVE, even though we may fall short or completely fail. He is the One who makes everything perfect – not us. And the day will come when He will do just that, and our obedience in love will be perfect – and then we will know His joy and our joy will be complete.
In the meantime, rather than cooking up all kinds of convenient and easy ways to show our love to God that are nothing more than flowers and chocolate, maybe the first thing we should do is simply memorize the 10 Commandments so that we know what His commandments are.
“You shall have no other gods besides Me.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
You shall honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
You shall honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against you neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
After that, we can make time to think about what each one means and pray on it, and the Small Catechism can be very helpful with this. Luther once said that there is enough in the 10 Commandments to keep us occupied with meditation and prayer for our entire life.
The Holy Spirit, Whom Christ has given to us, will encourage and reward even the smallest effort to grow in our love for God by keeping His commandments.
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to Him.”