Preached June 17, 2012
1 St. John 3:13–24
St. Luke 14:16–28
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We have begun the long season of Trinitytide in which the emphasis is on our sanctification, learning to live according to the teachings of Christ in this life, that we may be more fit to come to Him when death calls us to Him. This preparation does not happen just by accident, but rather there must be specific effort on our part to assure that we are moving at all times toward lives of increasing sanctification.
The key verses for our consideration at this point are found in the Epistle lesson, 1 John 3:16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. Also, from last week’s Epistle lesson, we read these words, 1 John 4:9-10 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. This is a very simple, direct message, telling us that we are to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, particularly His death, resurrection, and ascension, which have won eternal life for us, and we are to love one another. It could not get much more simple than that! And yet, how long does it take us to fully learn this simple lesson? For most of us, to really learn it takes a lifetime.
Thus, whenever we assemble to worship and celebrate our God, one of the things that should always be present to each of us is the manifest love of God for us. This should give us a sense of being refreshed and reborn by having been brought into the presence of God. It is certainly true that no man has seen God at any time, for natural men are unfit to come into the direct presence of God. In our unclean condition, we cannot come face to face with the limitless power that underlies all existence. Rather we are invited to know God in a limited way, suited to our condition, to know God as love. To know that the eternal principle moving and governing all things is the divine love manifest is a transforming knowledge, a knowledge that changes us. To know that God is love is to see everything through new eyes, to see “a new heaven and a new earth,” to be spiritually re–born and saved from fear and despair.
Until the coming of Christ, the love of God could be taken as an arguable matter, open to discussion, but after that, John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. After sending His only Son, the love of God for mankind is indisputable. Although God had been working through the Hebrews for generations for the salvation of all mankind, the plan of salvation really became evident with the coming of Jesus Christ. With His coming, the route to salvation became much more direct and more simple for all mankind, that we should simply believe in Christ and love others. Just as we are to be repeatedly reminded of God’s love for us, every time we hear words such as 1 John 3:23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. This reminds us that we are loved of God who gave us the commandment to believe on the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, because that is the key to our salvation. This is what connects us directly to God the Father, through His Son, Jesus Christ. But this is directly connected to the second commandment that we love one another. No man can love God except that he also love his neighbor also. Thus loving neighbor is an essential part of loving God. This is the second point then, that follows with the reminder of our rebirth, that is the necessity to love our neighbor as well as to believe in Jesus Christ.
This is one of the most difficult parts of the Christian faith. God loves me, He has sent His Son for my salvation, and I want to love Him in response. Why can’t I simply love Him back and be happy with just God and me? Why do I have to include other people in this love? Oh sure, God is Three in One, so I am happy to include God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, and me, but is it necessary to include anyone else in this love? It was God who has made provision for my salvation which motivates my love for Him. Why would I love some other human person? Why does God include this part about loving my neighbor? God has an answer to this. My neighbor is God’s creation and loved by God, just as I am, and is also capable of loving God just as I am. If God loves him, I must love him also.
Now most of us know people that we find it difficult to love. But are we thinking about this correctly? We know people that we find it difficult to like, but there is a difference between loving someone and liking that same person. To love someone ultimately means to be concerned about their eternal welfare, their relationship to God. To like someone is more related to enjoying their company. Thus it is possible to thoroughly dislike someone and yet still love them if we find their company disagreeable but are nevertheless concerned for their eternal welfare. Many adults dislike small children, but they love them anyway.
Yes, it is absolutely essential that we love other people; the Lord God demands it of us. We cannot have fellowship with Him otherwise. This is anything but a natural response on our part, and consequently it is something we must work to cultivate throughout our lives. God sows the message in our hearts with His commandment, but then it is up to us as to what we do with that message. Do we allow it to take root and become a guiding principle in our lives, or do we suppress it, and choose to follow our own ideas of life? The choice is ours, although only one response leads to God. This is the point of the Parable of the Great Supper that is the subject of our Gospel lesson today. You will recall that in the Gospel lesson, a particular Man prepared a great supper and sent out invitations to His friends. One by one, they all sent their regrets, excuses as to why they were otherwise occupied at the time of the supper. Now these excuses all sound quite legitimate, but the point is that they all prevent fellowship with the Host. The Host sends out His servants to find others to attend His banquet that His hall may be filled, meaning that He extends His invitation beyond the Jews who were the first invited to now include the Gentile nations, in order that the whole world may now be saved and brought into fellowship with God.
But now the invitation comes to us. What will we do? Will we send an excuse, or will we attend the banquet? It all depends on how we choose to live our lives. Do we want fellowship with God, or are we satisfied with something less?
Throughout the entire Trinity season, the concern of the Church is how we will respond to the invitation, Luke 14:17b Come; for all things are now ready. Our response will depend upon the new life that has been cultivated within us, something we must support individually and as a community. We know that we are moving toward God when we see in our own lives the evidence that we do indeed love others, as 1 John 3:18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. But notice the emphasis on the need for sincerity, that we are to love in deed and in truth, not simply in words. Thus to say to the starving, “be full” and to the man who is cold, “be warm,” are words that are completely empty and do absolutely nothing for them; this is not love in any way at all. We know that all such actions are completely bogus and carry no love at all within them; neither is God fooled.
Thus, we are commanded to believe the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ, and commanded to express that love for one another. Perhaps it seem strange that St John keeps speaking in terms of commandments, we are commanded to believe in Jesus Christ, and commanded to love one another. To many of us, perhaps that seems a very strange way of putting it. After all, people either believe, or they don’t; they either love one another or they don’t. How can such things be commanded? The commandment to love seems especially strange: we are used to thinking of love as something spontaneous, something that just happens. It is an experience. One “falls in love”. How can it be commanded?
But St John’s approach is more realistic than our conventional modern attitudes about the spontaneity of belief and love. Our beliefs and loves do not simply “happen”; they develop as a character formed by a long process of training. And that process always begins with commandment and obedience. Just as our natural life has its formation in obedience to parents and teachers, so our spiritual life has its formation in obedience to God’s word. There is, of course, a condition of spiritual maturity, when our beliefs and our loves are spontaneously right. That is the condition we strive towards — sanctity. But that is the end, not the beginning; our beginning is obedience and commandment, and the commandment is twofold 1 John 3:23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.