We love because he first loved us

Sunday 24/04/16

John 13: 31-35

Tuesday last week I had to drop my car of for a service, in Cooee. After dropping it off, Josiah and I then walked back along the bass Highway into Burnie to get some exercise. As we were walking along I happened to notice that along one of the walls on the other side of the road, someone had spray painted these words “All we need to do is Love” followed by the peace sign. Now why this stood out to me was that I had already started thinking about the words from Jesus that I was going to preach on this week from the Gospel of John, chapter 13. Which are: 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”

So are the people who wrote those words right? Is this the answer to all life’s problems? Is life all about love? Maybe they are because even Jesus tells us to love each other right.

Unfortunately it is not this simple is it. Choosing to love is so often an awfully hard thing to do. By making the statement “all we need to do is love” is recognising the fact that we do not love, otherwise they would not make this statement. But I wonder if they have ever asked the question: why? Why is it so hard to love others? Why does the world not love each other? To ask questions like these is hard because they confront us, they make us uncomfortable. Forgive me if I sound harsh here, but I have to honestly say that Christians can be the worse people in not asking the questions why? Choosing to Love one another is often quoted by those who like to make is sound easy, but who rarely practice what they preach.

Why are we not choosing to love others? Have we determined someone unworthy of our love? Are we afraid to love because we fear it won’t be reciprocated? Why should I love them, because they won’t love me back? Do we expect a return on our efforts? An adequate response to our investment? These questions may sound silly, but this is how love seems to work in our world. We live in a world that values agreements, securities, sureties, warranties, and contracts, and unfortunately many, these days see weddings in these ways. For Jesus to command us to love without a guarantee, seems almost impossible to obey in world that we live in.

What is striking is that Jesus gave his disciples this commandment directly after Satan had entered Judas and he had left in order to hand Jesus over (27-30). I believe that there is something significant going on here. Right in the midst of evil, Jesus give his disciples this command. This command it not only to them, but to you and I as his disciples. When evil seems to be having its way. When those we thought were close, we thought we could trust, hurt us and abandon us; when the actions and words of others clearly come from, anger hate and suspicion and prejudice. It is here that Jesus says these words to us: “…Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”

The disciples were commanded to choose love in the aftermath of betrayal and in the midst of uncertainty. This is what “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” means. And this is the kind of love Jesus is asking you and me to choose – not a love, wanting guarantees, or getting things in return from others, or for assurances to meet our needs, but for the sake of a different way to live in the world. And why? So that the world can come a little closer to knowing God’s love.

 

One of the dangers that we have in a verse like this from today’s Gospel reading is that we hear the commandment given, and think that is all up to us. We need to change the world by loving as Jesus tells us to? We can so easily fall in to the trap of only hearing part of the command. Listen again: “…Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Love as I have loved you. Choosing to love others starts with a recognition that you and I are just as sinful as others, and we have undeservedly received God’s grace to us through Jesus. It is easy to read over the: “As I have loved you…” bit and move on to the ‘what we have to do clause’. But the reality is that you and I cannot love others without God’s grace to us. We can’t do this without our Lord Jesus Christ coming to us strengthening us, encouraging us through is Word, giving us the Holy Spirit to help us, reassuring us of where we stand with him.

This is the main problem with the sign on the wall. By saying “All we need to do is love” implies that the power to change this world that we live in is in our hands. That if we just did the right thing and loved everyone then everything would be okay, and the world would not be in the mess that it is in today. Even those who say that if we just love like Jesus did then the world will be fixed of its problems, in fact there are Christians who are extremely critical that as a whole we are not more active in the social problems of the world as Christians. The underlying problem though is not one of motivation or will power, it is one of sin. You and I cannot fix the problems of this world, on our own. You and I do not have the power on our own to love as Jesus did and does. If this was the case, then quite simply there was no need for Jesus to die on that cross. We can’t do it on our own. But we can do it because Jesus loves us and comes to us.

The love that Jesus is commanding of you and me is not something that is abstract. If I were to ask you what love is, how many different ways would there be to describe it? Rather Jesus shows us and demonstrates to us what the love he is commanding us looks.

He demonstrates his love for the same disciples who will fail him miserably. Jesus washes and feeds Judas who will betray him, Peter who will deny him, and all the rest who will fail to stand by him in his hour of greatest distress. The love that Jesus demonstrates is certainly not based on the merit of the recipients, and Jesus commands his disciples to love others in the same way.

You and I as disciples of Jesus have continually fallen far short in our love for one another as well as in our love for those outside the community of faith. Arguments often descend into personal attacks; personal interests often trump the common good of the community; too often those in need of compassion find judgment instead.

But in this chapter of John, chapter 13, Jesus could not be clearer: How you and I demonstrate love is not by our theological correctness, not by our moral purity, not by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know that we are his disciples. It is quite simply by our loving acts — acts of service and sacrifice, acts that point to the love of God for the world made known in Jesus Christ. And these acts of love are motivated by the fact that you and I have received and continue to receive the God’s grace and mercy to us for our sins; that we continually have the Holy Spirit in us guiding us in these acts of love.

I encourage each of you that when you hear Jesus speak of loving others, that you don’t think about love through the worlds view, but that you remember how much Jesus has done for you and how much he loves you, and then ask him to help you to demonstrate this love he has given you through your actions to others.

 

Whose Voice Are You Listening To?

Sunday 17/04/16

John 10:22-30

In my previous career before going to study at Seminary, I worked as a counsellor. Now one of the things that I realised early on is that as a society where are terrible at listening to each other. A significant number of people just needed someone to actually listen to them, and then they were able to move forward. But it is not just listening to others that is a problem, for us at Christians it is also about the fact that we struggle to listen to God himself. Hearing and listening to God is not something that is very easy for many.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus says these words:  “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  If I were to ask you “how do you know Jesus voice” how would you answer? One way I hope that you might respond is by saying that you would read your bible, for this contains His words to us. So if I read my bible I will know his voice. However this is not as easy as it sounds is it? How many different ways are there, in the world we live in today, to interpret the bible? Some may interpret Jesus words one way, others interpret another way. So how do we know if we are listening to his voice or not?

This struggle is not something that is new. In fact it has always been a problem. We see this particularly, in John’s Gospel. Often when Jesus speaks his Word and teaches the people, his Word often evokes discussion among those who hear. Some believe, in response to his word, that he is the messiah; others believe that he is crazy, demon possessed; some just don’t understand him; and others believe that he is a blasphemer who deserves to die. Often when Jesus speaks, it brings division among the people.

And it did so again just before today’s reading. In John 10:19-21, where in response to Jesus, when had just finished speaking to them about the fact that he was the Good Shepherd, it says: “19 The Jews who heard these words were again divided. 20 Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”21 But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

What you read the Gospel of John you will see that the words and works of Jesus are open to many interpretations. They always have been from then until this very day. So the question then becomes how do we know if we are interpreting his word right. How do we know if we are listening to him?

Just as there are many voices and opinions of Jesus and his Word in scripture, so too there are today. There are many voices calling out to us to get our attention, and many of them claim to speak for God. The thing is that it is often difficult to recognize voices that may lead us away from the Good Shepherd. For example there are those argue that in order to grow closer to God, we must have certain religious experiences; We must be filled with the Holy Spirit, we must be able to feel the Holy Spirit working in us, this is how we know that we are hearting and listening to God; then there are others who say this is not right, it is about having the right teaching. Only when we are 100% doctrinally sound do we know we are hearing Jesus’ voice; others may disagree again and say that it is by our actions that we know we are listening to Jesus. We listen when we do what he says, if we do not do what he says we are not listening to his voice. These are just examples I am sure that there are many more I could use. And if we are honest many faithful Christians find themselves confused about what they believe, because there are too many voices to listen to.

As Lutherans, we are not immune from this. There are many different voices in the Lutheran church, and it is just as confusing for many.

One of the ways our Lutheran tradition can help us here is in the fact we say that it is only with the eyes of faith that one can see the truth concerning Jesus. We know that we are full of sin and cannot sort this out by our own strength, rather Jesus our Good Shepherd has to come and make himself known to us first. Those who belong to Jesus, who hear and recognize his voice and follow him, have been given to him by the Father (10:29). Everything depends on God’s initiative and God’s actions. God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (3:16-17).

This is very good news for us because by contrast to the many voices that tell us what we need to do to get close to God and hear him, our Lord Jesus the Good Shepherd tells us that everything depends on belonging to him. What this means for you and me is that how we stand before God, does not depend on how we feel, it does not depend on having the right experience, it does not depend on being free of doubt, and it most certainly does not depend on what we do for God.

It depends on one thing only: that is that you and I are known by our shepherd: again it says “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 10:28).

The voice our Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd is a voice that brings freedom rather than burden. His voice does not say, Do this and that, or experience this or that, and then maybe you will be good enough to be one of my sheep. Rather he says to you and me, you belong to me already. And because you belong to me, “no one can snatch you out of my hand.” Because we are known by him, because no one can snatch us out of his hand, we are free to live the abundant life of which Jesus spoke earlier in the chapter when he says: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

This abundant life of which Jesus speaks is not about abundance in years, or in wealth and riches, or in status, or in our own accomplishments. No it is life that is abundant in the love of God made known to you and me in Jesus Christ, love that then overflows to others (John 13:34-35). It is the promise of life eternal because its source is in God who is eternal (17:3), and in Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life (11:25-26).

Hearing the voice of Jesus our Good Shepherd is not so much about our trying harder to hear him, it is not about necessarily understanding straight away everything he says to us in his Word, because there are lots of things we have to grapple with. But listening to his voice is about trust. Trusting his word of promise to you that you are his, you belong to him, that he gives you eternal life. Trusting his Word that it is true that no one will be able to snatch you out of his hand (10:28).

We live in a world we there are many voices calling for our attention, and these voices are not just different voices among Christians. Because we live in a word that saturates us with their voices. Voices that evoke fear in us; voices that make burdensome demands on us; voices that are continually giving us advice; and the truth is that this can lead us to be confused and to distract us from the voice of the Good Shepherd.

I encourage each of you as you live your lives in amongst all these voices, to continually be in the Word. Too read His Word often, and as you do I encourage you to listen to the Good Shepherd, who speaks to you a Word of promise. Who speaks to you with the voice that calls you by name and claims you as God’s child because he has laid down his life and taken it up again for you. To listen to His Word of promise, because this is the voice of the Good Shepherd.

A Call to Follow Jesus

Sunday 10/04/16

John 21: 1-19

I wonder if I was to ask you what it means to be a disciple, or a follower of Jesus, how you would answer? Or another question might be: how do you live out your daily walk with Jesus in your life? What things do you think about? What comes to mind when you hear these question?

How do you and I live a life following Jesus?, or what does it mean for you and me to be his disciples?, is the focus of my sermon this morning.

Today’s Gospel reading from John chapter 21 tells about Jesus appearing to his disciples again, after his resurrection, and also about Jesus and his conversation with Peter. One of the things that stood out to me from this word from God is that it sounded familiar.

Luke’s Gospel describes to us in chapter five how Jesus saw these men out in a fishing boat, they had been fishing all night, yet caught nothing, so Jesus calls out to them to put their nets deeper. They obey his word and all of the sudden the catch so many fish their nets began to break. It is in this situation that Jesus then calls James, John and of course Peter. This is first call to follow him (in other words become his disciples).

Fast-forward to today’s reading we find James, John, Peter and this time other disciples, in a boat out all night fishing and again not catching anything. They do not recognize Jesus, but again he calls to them and tells them to put their nets on the other side and again the catch so many fish. It is John who then recognizes Jesus at this moment. This is no co-incidence. What follows when Jesus speaks to his disciples and more specifically to Peter, is seen as a another call from Jesus to discipleship.

The apostle Peter is one of the most well known of all the disciples, and he is often the one in the Gospels who has the courage to speak to Jesus and answer him. Peter is the one in Mark chapter eight who answers Jesus question: “who do you say that I am” with “you are the Christ”.

Earlier in the gospel of John after the feeding of the five thousand some those who were following Jesus decided to turn their backs on Jesus. Jesus asks his disciples “Do you also want to leave?” It is Peter who puts his belief in Jesus, and says: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6:68). Later on it is Peter, who had promised Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you” (13:36–38).

And yet, when the pressure was on, it was Peter who denied three times and Jesus said he would. Stating that he was not a disciple of Jesus; that he was not a follower of Jesus. Notice here that in Peter’s denial he does not deny who Jesus is. But he denies he is a follower of him. In doing so he turned his back on Jesus.

Peter was there with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them in the upper room. He was there again when Jesus appeared to Thomas, he heard the words of Jesus spoken to him: “peace be with you”. When he realizes in today’s reading the it’s the Lord he immediately jumped into the sea to swim to him. You see this is Jesus discussion with Peter is not about forgiveness. He has been forgiven; he was at peace with God because of Jesus. But it is about Peter now following Jesus. It is here that Jesus transforms this Peter from a disciple who cannot follow to one who again confesses him as Lord and receives his word to “feed my lambs/sheep” (21:15–17) and the invitation to be his disciple yet again. Jesus words to Peter in verse 19: are “Follow me,” this time Peter does, even unto death (vv. 18–19a).

As much as this reading is about Peter, it is also about you and me. You and I have been called through our baptism to follow Jesus, to walk with him, to listen to his Word. It is a journey of faith, a life in which we believe and trust in Jesus, and commit to listening to his words of life—especially, as John 20:31 tells us: 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

But as you and I well know, following Jesus is not easy. We, like Peter, all too easily grow weary in the face of the attacks of the world against our belief and trust in Jesus, and the temptation is always there to deny following him, and to stop listening to him through his Word. The temptation to walk away and turn our back on following him is with us constantly. And the thing is we are just as fickle as Peter.

Yet in the midst of spiritual and worldly attacks, and in spite of our struggle with sin, the Lord continues to gather unfaithful disciples like you and me around himself for fellowship and the hearing of his word, just as he did that day for Peter and the other disciples.

John 14:26 tells us that our Lord does not leave us “orphans,” but sends us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us in order to defend us from attacks against our faith in Jesus by reminding us of his words to us. When we lack faith, which you and I so often do, the Lord comes to us, supplies our need, and restores us to fellowship with him.

In today’s reading, our risen Lord Jesus spoke his Word once again to Peter, and as Peter again heard Jesus’ words and believed in him, Peter “passed from death to life” Chapter 5:24  says: 24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. In this we have a wonderful image of restoration, not only the restoration of Peter, but the restoration of you and me.

Being a follower of Jesus, is not about living a perfect Christian life. It is not about having it all together. It is not about never struggling with our sinful natures. All of us struggle.

One of the areas the many people struggle with is with understanding what it means to be repentant. There are many ways to understand what repentance means, but for Luther he was clear that repentance is “nothing else than a return and approach to your baptism, to resume and practice what has earlier been begun to be abandoned” (LC). In baptism we receive God’s Word of promise. In repentance we cling to this. He says elsewhere that this needs happen every day. He speaks about a daily repentance. In our baptism our Triune God spoke his Word to you, he branded you with his name. You belong to him and are called to live out this call in your everyday life.

The restoration that happens for you and me happens every time we return to his Word. When we stray, walk away, we change our minds, we come back to his Word to us, we once again put our trust him. And he receives us with open arms. And this is something that we will have to continually do until Jesus calls us home. Continually turning back to Jesus is a part of our discipleship walk with him, it is a part of what it means to follow him. But he never leaves us alone to do it by ourselves, rather he comes to us and helps us. We need to take comfort and hope from this.

So as you live your life with our risen Lord Jesus, take heart that he is with you in the midst of your everyday struggles. And be confident that he is with you and will never abandon you. Also continue to turn towards him, by coming to Worship, receiving Holy Communion, and reading his Holy Word. In these things he gives you strength, to live life as a true follower of him.