Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 6, 2018

Sermon on John 15:12-15

NO GREATER LOVE

Sermon based on John 15:12-15

Introduction

Everything seemed fine at first. It was just another commercial flight traveling from point A to point B. But not everything stayed fine. The left engine blew. The debris broke open a window. The plane immediately dropped in altitude. The oxygen masks fell down. The passengers knew that something had gone horribly wrong, and many assumed that they were going to die in a tragic crash.

SWA1380Apr172018pic2Now that a few weeks have passed since that fateful Southwest Airlines flight 1380 took place on April 17, I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the news story and the reasonably happy ending of a reasonably safe landing. One of the passengers on that flight was WELS Pastor Timothy Bourman, who serves Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in New York City. Pastor Bourman was interviewed on CNN shortly after this incident. During the interview, he said that he quickly sent a text message to his daughters, thinking that the plane was going to crash and this might be the last message he could ever communicate to them. What did he choose to make his presumed last words? Afraid that they might become bitter toward God if they would have lost their parents, he texted them that he loved them, that they should never lose their faith in God, and that Jesus loves them.

I hope none of us is ever in that situation. I hope if one of you are in a similar situation, you experience the same happy ending that Pastor Bourman and his wife did. But if you are in that situation, what would your last-minute message be to your loved ones?

In the Gospel for today, Jesus was in his equivalent situation. Knowing that his crucifixion and death would occur within 24 hours, Jesus celebrated his last Passover meal with his disciples and gave them a lengthy last message recorded in John 13-17. Perhaps this seems like an odd Bible reading choice for the end of the Easter season, but if we read the entire section, we discover how well Jesus’ words fit into worship this time of year. This Thursday, we will celebrate Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, and in two weeks from today, we will celebrate the day of Pentecost, when Jesus miraculously sent a special gift of his Holy Spirit on these same disciples. On the night before he died, Jesus looked ahead to his Ascension from this world and the day of Pentecost, and his words to his disciples prepared them for that day. That’s why we typically read from these words of Jesus during the end of the Easter season: Even though the words were spoken the night before he died, Jesus’ overall topic fits with his Ascension and the day of Pentecost. Jesus weaved several different topics into this discourse; the excerpt we will look at today focuses especially on living a life of genuine Christian love in light of the love that Jesus has shown us.

Verse 12

The night that Jesus spoke these words is called Maundy Thursday. The word Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means “command.” That name for this night comes from a statement that Jesus made near the beginning of his long discourse: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). As his discussion continued, Jesus moved on to other subjects, but then returned to this new command in verse 12 of our reading: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

Jesus repeated this command a few times during his Maundy Thursday address. The love he called for was not some kind of mushy sentiment, nor was it an occasional attitude when the circumstances seemed right. This was a way of life, an ongoing behavior. And it was hardly a burdensome command! Luther said it well in a sermon he preached on this section of Jesus’ words: “I would really call this a kind commandment, that the Lord, who gave body and soul and did everything for us, does not demand of us that as payment for this we give Him anything or do anything, as though we had to do so for His sake. He asks that we do something in our own interest. From Him we have everything for nothing, and all that is required of us is that we help one another.”

Verse 13

But notice that Jesus does not simply say, “Love one another.” He says that we are to love each other in the same way that he has loved us! Could there be greater love than this? Could there be higher love than the love of God? Could there be a more substantial act of love than the love Jesus has for us—love that is described in the very next verse: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

The problem with that verse is that the order of the words in translation makes it hard to understand. The order of the words reflects Jesus’ emphasis in the original language, but the meaning might be clearer this way: “No one has love greater than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” There is no greater act of love than to literally give oneself on behalf of another person.

Thomas Buntrock statueIn the front of the Mequon Safety Building, located a short distance from one of the entrances of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, there is a statue of a police officer kneeling down next to a little girl. Some of you may know the story behind that statue. I had heard the story previously, but I went to the Safety Building on Friday to verify the story, and I ended up talking to the current Mequon Chief of Police, who happens to be the son of the officer depicted in that statue. Many years ago, an armed robber took an infant girl and her father hostage. After a police chase, there was a standoff that lasted into the night on a cold December day. In an effort to eventually capture the gunman, the Chief of Police agreed to be taken hostage by the gunman if he would free the father and the infant girl (who is depicted as a toddler in the statue). After that remarkable exchange, the stand-off continued for a while. At one point, a police sharpshooter finally took aim at the criminal, but he only grazed the forehead of the criminal. This led to a scuffle in the vehicle between the chief and the criminal. The chief of police wrestled the gun away from the criminal and shot him. But because it was dark, the other officers couldn’t see what had happened, and thinking that the criminal had shot the chief of police, there was more gunfire from the officers who mistook the chief for the gunman, and the chief of police was fatally wounded by friendly fire.

I have a hard time driving past that statue and not feeling a little choked up when I see it. Could there be a greater and more unselfish act of love than to willingly put your life at risk in order to free someone else? I don’t think so! That willingness and unselfishness is why we ought to be grateful to those who serve our communities as first responders and to those who protect our nation in the military.

Yet you and I are well aware of an even more generous act of love—not from a brave chief of police, but from the Son of God himself. There is no greater love than God becoming human flesh on your behalf and trading places with you under the requirements of God’s law so that he could be your Savior. There is no greater love in action than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, willingly allowing himself to be declared guilty of your sins, and giving you his holiness in exchange, so that you would no longer be Satan’s hostage, but now you stand before God perfect and sinless in his sight. There is no greater love than Jesus trading places with you, taking the bullet for your sins, suffering the very hell and death that your sins and mine had earned. There is no greater love than Jesus going to the grave only to burst out of his tomb and defeating death on your behalf. Jesus’ simple words couldn’t have captured this truth more succinctly, and his death on the cross brought these words to reality: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Verse 14

How can you repay that kind of love? You can’t! How can you adequately respond to that kind of love? It seems so impossible. Yet Jesus makes it so easy! In the very next verse, he says, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” It’s important that we don’t misread Jesus’ words. He didn’t say, “Here’s the formula for becoming my friend: Do such-and-such and then I will accept you.” He is speaking to his disciples, whom he will directly calls his “friends” in the very next verse. He is not giving us a formula for becoming his friends; rather, he is showing us what it looks like to be a beloved follower of Jesus.

In a same sermon on these words of Jesus that I mentioned earlier, Martin Luther talked about how quickly the people of his day forgot Jesus’ simple and winsome command to love one another. Luther pointed out that people in his era had finally been freed from all the religious legalism with which the church had once burdened them, but now that they were freed from that burden, all too often people failed to love each other, treating the inspiring love of Christ as if it was no big deal.

Could Luther say the same to us? Is Jesus’ command to love one another just a Sunday morning motto that we fail to live out the rest of the week? Do we give little thought toward the genuine needs of others? Do we presume to know the motives of others and project negative intentions on their actions because it makes us feel a little more self-righteous in our own eyes? Are we quick to spin the words other say into something negative instead of understanding them in the best possible way, as we would want others to understand our own words? Do we find it easy to complain and hard to listen to others—and are these the attitudes exhibited even toward our own fellow Christians?

Dear God, lead us to repent of such loveless thinking! Dear God, save us from such a lack of love! And he has! Though we hardly deserve it, God has saved us from the eternal consequences of our lack of love through the One who has loved us perfectly, his only Son, Jesus Christ. And our Lord Jesus has not only loved us perfectly, but by his life once laid down for us, you and I receive a gracious “not guilty” verdict through our God-given faith in our God-given Savior, Jesus.

Verse 15

Since God has rescued us from our sin and an otherwise certain hell-bound fate, what is our relationship with him? Would you be content to be God’s slave? Would you be happy to merely be a servant of the one who bailed you out of an eternal prison?

Of course we would be content with that! The alternative is far worse! And yet our relationship with God is so much greater than that! Jesus told his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” The Bible often describes Christians as servants of God, and rightly so, but when Jesus speaks on Maundy Thursday, he calls his disciples “friends.” He speaks about them as equals rather than subordinates! He does so because he let them in on eternal mysteries that reveal God’s love and his eternal plan to rescue and save us. What a remarkable thing for Jesus to say and do! He not only has changed our relationship with him, but in his Word he has revealed to us the great, eternal, saving truths that would have otherwise only been known to the Triune God.

Conclusion

The people on that traumatic flight three weeks ago have a new bond with one another. Passengers who lived through that experience said that there were cheers and hugs for everyone after they landed safely—especially for the brave pilot who remained so calm under duress. People who were once total strangers became immediate friends.

The family of the Mequon Chief of Police and the family of the father and infant who were taken hostage developed a new bond with each other after that tragic shooting on December 2, 1979. They stayed in regular contact through the years and even spent holidays together. As sad as the circumstances were that crossed their paths, that shared experience created a new bond and friendship that would not have existed otherwise.

You and I have been brought together in an even more important bond. The bond we have is not one that resulted from unexpected trauma, but from God’s eternal plans to rescue us from our sin. We have been united together by our Lord who literally gave his life for us, by our Christian confession of faith, by Holy Baptism, and also by the partnership we share as members of Crown of Life congregation.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” While none of us will be literally sacrificing our lives for another as Jesus did for us, let us take those words of Jesus and make them our motto. Let us look to our future as a congregation, but not in fear of the uncertainty that comes with changes in staff and circumstances. Let us look to our future as an opportunity to listen to each other, to pray for each other, to look for ways to advance the gospel in our community, and to find ways to serve each other with the same unselfish and loving service with which Christ has served us. Let it be said of Crown of Life that every member among us is a mirror reflection of the Savior’s love for us! There could be no greater display of love than that! Amen.

Advertisements

Categories

%d bloggers like this: