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Compassioned Boldness August 6, 2017

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Romans 9:1-5

Proper 13

August 6, 2017

 

Focus:  God gave everything in His love for us.

Function:  That the hearers share Christ’s bold compassion with their neighbors.

Structure:  Parallels.

 

Compassioned Boldness

 

Just how far are you willing to go?  How much are you willing to sacrifice for those people you hold dear?  The loved ones, those closest to you.  Your spouse, your children, your best friend, your parents.  How much would you give of yourself to ensure their wellbeing?

What if we change the person, to say, the person sitting a few pews either behind you or in front of you?  How much would give up of yourself for that person?  Would it be difficult to say that you’d give up just as much?

What if we change the person again, but this time, to the person who lives three doors down from you, whether that’s apartments in a hallway, homes on a block, or for you farmers, about a mile, how much would you be willing to give of yourself to care for that person?  For your neighbor?

And if you’ll allow, let me push this one more time.  How much would you be willing to lay down of yourself for the person you despise the most?  The person who has caused you the most harm, or the most embarrassment?  The person who has literally stolen from you, belittled you?  What would you be willing to give that person?

In America, we have a logical worldview on this subject.  What I mean by that is the way we look at others, the way we treat others, makes sense.  We understand.  We understand if you love a good friend who loves you.  We understand if you are angry with the person who’s been gossiping about you.  We understand if you want revenge when someone has done great harm to you.

But the problem is, this logical, American way of thinking isn’t Christian.  This isn’t what Jesus taught.  It isn’t how He instructed His disciples to live.

Instead we get a fascinating text today from the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Many of you still remember The Titanic movie, but even more of you still remember the story.  This giant vessel crashing into an iceberg and plunging into the depths of the ocean.  The people flooded to the lifeboats, but there weren’t enough.  So what happened?  Well, in that time in our culture, men sacrificed themselves.  The women and children got the first seats.  The men offered their lives to save others.

That’s an extreme example from our history.  But it pales in comparison.  Paul just said that he would willingly trade places.  That if he could, he’d give up not just his life, but his everlasting life if it meant his Jewish brethren would come to know Christ, and receive everlasting life.

Now, you and I, and Paul, we know this isn’t how it works.  It’s not a seat on a boat, it’s not something Paul could trade, or even sacrifice.  But it’s a powerful statement and illustration.  The Apostle Paul was a Jew.  Born a Jew, raised a Jew.  Studied under the best teachers they had.  He was one of them, and he was in a position to be one of their leaders, if he wasn’t already.

And then it all changed.  On the Road to Damascus, when Christ appears to Paul and strikes him blind, and directs him to go on into the city where he will receive further instructions.  Paul, before losing his sight, saw the resurrected Christ.  Or, at the very least, heard His voice.  And upon reaching Damascus, the Lord sends Ananias, who heals Paul and baptizes him.  And Paul is saved.

Now, this didn’t sit well with his old Jewish friends, teachers, and well, any of them.  And Paul began to suffer at their hands.  His own list in 2 Corinthians 11 is astounding:

“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

 

Beaten, and not just with fists.  The lashings, the stonings, the imprisonments and torture that Paul endured at their hands.  And yet, instead of wanting revenge, instead of wanting to see them get what was coming to them, which would have been a very natural reaction, what did Paul want for them?  He wanted nothing more than to see them know Christ and be forgiven for all the pain and all the wretchedness that they had caused.

There was no grudge to be found.  In fact, just the opposite, compassion.  Paul would give up his spot for them if it worked that way.  Praise be to God that it doesn’t work that way.

Because God’s plan is infinitely better.  God’s plan was that His own Son Jesus Christ would step down into this world, taking on flesh, becoming a man, born of the virgin Mary.  That this Jesus, this Son of God would then at the hands of God’s own people endure beatings, and lashings, and even a death by crucifixion.  And that as He hung there upon the cross, rather than free Himself or call down His Father’s wrath, Jesus called out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Even in His dying breaths, Jesus was accomplishing what He came to do.  To forgive all people.  To forgive every man of every time and every place.  To forgive every sin committed past, present, and future.  That Christ did not hold a grudge against the wickedness of mankind, but gave His life in our place.  Spilled His blood so that we would not have to.

This is the gospel!  That you and me, in spite of our sins, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our open and obstinate rebellion against God: you are forgiven, you are saved!  The compassion that Jesus had for His people led Him to be so bold that He would even willingly die for us.

The compassion that the Apostle Paul had for the people around him, even those we would consider his enemies, enabled him to be so bold that he would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in His name.  Paul didn’t cower, he didn’t step back and wait for God’s wrath.  He went to the people who needed forgiveness, who needed love, who needed a Savior, and He gave them the good news.

We are forever grateful that this good news has been proclaimed to us.  And to 2 billion other people alive today who have heard the good news and believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And it’s not just those living, but the countless men and women that heard and shared this same gospel proclamation in the generations from Paul to us.

And so it is that this same good news overflows in us.  We share the love of Christ with our neighbor.  We look upon them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, with compassion.  And it is this compassion for them, as it did for Paul, that leads us to be bold.  To proclaim the truth, to proclaim forgiveness and life in the name of Christ.  To our spouses and children.  To our best friends and parents.  To the people in the pews around us or the neighbors down the way.  To the very people who have done us harm.  We give of ourselves, we sacrifice of ourselves to give these people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  To hear of the forgiveness of their sins and our sins.  To hear of the gift of life that is for all people.

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A Guide to Loving Your Enemies February 19, 2017

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Matthew 5:38-48

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

February 19, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves even His own enemies.

Function:  That the hearers love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

A Guide to Loving Your Enemies

 

As we gathered together here in this place last week, to hear of God’s love for us, and to receive the forgiveness of all our sins, I was privileged to share with you from the Sermon on the Mount. More specifically, to look at what Jesus is doing with this middle section of the sermon.

Do you remember which use of the Law we talked about?  2nd use/mirror use.  Jesus said that if we just had more righteousness than the Pharisees, we could enter the kingdom of heaven.  But then, He takes the Law as we know it, and He cranks it up, He raises the bar to levels beyond our capability.

Jesus uses the Law to show us our sin.  Jesus uses the Law to crush us, to destroy us, to bring about confession, repentance of our sins.  But it’s not just that.  That would be twisted and deranged.  Christ doesn’t kill us and leave us.  He kills us, and then He makes us alive again, in Him.

This is the beauty of both law and gospel.  That they work together.  The law kills, the gospel makes alive.  Without the mirror in their faces, the people didn’t know their sin, they didn’t know their need for a Savior.  But once they did, He didn’t scoff at them, but He died for them.

But today, as we continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount, I want to focus in more on the first and the third uses of the Law.  Which again, are what? Curb and guide.

So our gospel reading today started with an all familiar Old Testament teaching.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

If your neighbor kills your ox, you take one of his.  If an enemy lops off your hand, you lop off one of his.  If someone kills your wife, you don’t kill their wife, you simply kill them, a life for a life.

And so just like what we saw with murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths last week, the next words out of Jesus’ mouth radically change our thinking, our concept of what the law even means.

39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

 

The curb use of the law is rather simple with this one.  It’s so civilization, continues.  If we were always dealing out justice in this way, exacting revenge as described earlier, there would be no end.  There would be nothing left.

The guide use of the law is also rather simple.  It’s do what Jesus said.  If they take out your eye, offer the other, too.  If they bust your tooth, offer an extra.  If they slap one cheek, turn the other to them in case they want another shot.  If they sue you for your clothes, give them more.

Jesus actually takes a law that they understood as a law of revenge and violence, and turns it into a law of reckless generosity.  That we would give of ourselves fully.  The Greek words behind the clothing illustrate that.  Your tunic would be like the long johns you’ve been wearing all winter, and your cloak would be the outer layer.  What was left?

This is one of the places of great of benefit to those of you who are single.  You can be recklessly generous without having to worry about also then caring for and providing for a spouse or children.  I’m quite certain that’s part of Paul’s conversation, and Christ’s as well later in Matthew, as they lift up the gift of celibacy as a true spiritual gift within the church.

But as we saw last week, we see again here.  The mirror use of the Law smacks us in the face.  It shows us that we haven’t done these things.  We haven’t been recklessly generous with the time, treasure, and talents that God has entrusted to us.  We haven’t been willing to give to those who would first see us harmed.  And again, if this were all the Law was, we’d be damned.

One of the things Christ pointed to was that part about going the extra mile.  It wasn’t uncommon then for a Roman soldier to simply, forcibly, ask someone to carry their load for them.  They even did it to Christ.  Forcing Him to carry the burden of their cross up to the top of the mount where they would then hang Him on it.

Bearing their sins, not only up the mountain, but bearing them on His shoulders straight to the judgment throne of God.  Where your sins and my sins are what caused His death.  He literally went the extra distance for us.  And on His account, all of our sins are gone, wiped clean, forgiven, and His righteousness then fills us.  The love of Christ is ours now and forevermore.

And then Jesus, in much the same way, does the same thing with our next piece.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Now, if you remember our Old Testament reading from earlier, what’s wrong with that statement?  It’s not what the Bible says.  Somewhere along the way, the phrase was added to.  The hate for one’s enemy isn’t even in Leviticus, which we all know has a bad reputation to those outside the church.  If we’re honest, even to most in the church.

But, nonetheless, it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if the Pharisees had added it, or the Sanhedrin, or the Sadducees, or some other group.  Jesus is about to obliterate it anyway.

44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

 

The curb use of the law with this one, again, it’s pretty straight forward.  Don’t kill your enemy.  Don’t wage war. Don’t commit genocide.

And that brings us again to the guide use of the Law here.  Again, it’s simply stated, although, hard to do.  Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.  I’m going to put this out there, and just let you dwell on it this week.  Can you love your enemy by killing him in war?  If you want to discuss it further with me privately later, we definitely can, but just chew on it for now.

Here is where we are thankful for men and women like the Gayed family.  For the work being done through POBLO, not only here in Rochester, but in much of the world.  As people overcome their fears to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who need to hear it.

Go, even if it’s just once, go volunteer once, just so you can see it done.  Let them lead you by example.  We are quick to think of Islam as our enemy, even an enemy that would see us dead.  And in some ways, that’s very true.  John could share stories with you that would break your heart.  But then, he would also share stories with you that would encourage you, that would convince you that it’s all worth it.

Because even our enemies, whether they could simply care less about us, or they truly disdain us, even our enemies are creations of God.  And it is for them that Christ came and died upon the cross, just as much as it was for all of us.

And I know I fail at this one.  I know I let anger become the first response, rather than say, compassion or sorrow, when someone opposes Christ and His truths.  But I’m ever so thankful for the forgiveness of my sins that comes through gospel of Jesus.

8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)

 

While we were enemies of God, He sent His Son to die for us, for them.  Jesus died to forgive the sins of all people.  And those verses are an excellent reminder to me to be humble, to not consider myself better than others, because I too, was once an enemy of God deserving nothing but His wrath.

But instead, He chose to spare me.  He chose to spare you.  Through the faithful work of our families, our churches, our communities, that Word of forgiveness, of life, of love, that Word has been shared with you, has taken root in you, has changed you, transformed you from an enemy of God, into a child of God.

And as Paul taught the young pastor Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:4, that’s the outcome God would like to see for all of His creation.

Although we’re not even half way through the Sermon yet, the last verse of our text today reads:

48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Some see that as a challenge.  Some see it as a challenge to be met.  I have to do this, and they strive for perfection their entire life long.  Perfection becomes their God, the desire of their heart.  Others hear that challenge as overwhelming, as something they could never achieve, and then despair becomes their God, as they give up all hope.

But for you and for me, and truly for all people, the verse isn’t a challenge for us at all.  It is the full killing weight of the Law.  You’ve failed.  But Christ has made you alive.  He has fulfilled that Law.  He has been perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.  He has then taken His perfection, and given it to you.  That’s the beauty of Christ’s imputed righteousness.  It’s 100% free to you.

 

 

 

The Love Chapter January 31, 2016

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1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

January 31, 2016

 

Focus:  God’s greatest gift to us is His love.

Function:  That the hearers love one another.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

The Love Chapter

 

Our sermon text today is 1 Corinthians 13.  It’s estimated that in the typical pastor’s time in service to God’s ministry, he will perform 117 weddings.  And for 83 of them, the couple will ask for him to preach 1 Corinthians 13.  I may or may not have just made those numbers up, but the point is the same.  This is one of the most well-known chapters in the Bible.

It’s been dubbed, “the love chapter.”  And it is without a doubt, the most popular wedding text.  Many of you likely had it read at your wedding.  Several of you even have it on display in your homes.  And a few of you might even have it memorized.  But for as popular as it is, you might be surprised to know that the Apostle Paul wasn’t thinking about weddings when he wrote it.

That’s why I wanted to preach on this text today.  It’s a chance to put this part of Paul’s letter back into Paul’s letter.  To look at it through the context he wrote it in so we can see what he was trying to communicate with the Corinthians, and potentially us.

Now, we won’t rewind our way through the whole letter.   We’d miss our chili cookoff if we did that.  It’s enough to simply point out the purpose of Paul’s letter.  On the one hand, he’s rebuking them for being a church divided.  But on the other hand, he’s encouraging them, he’s answering their questions about marriage, and idols, and the Lord’s Supper.  And he’s encouraging them to be one, united body.

The first section of the letter handles those divisions.  Then he comes back and answers their questions, does some teaching.  And then he puts forth a section on life together.  What does it look like to be a church, to be the body of Christ?  What does it look like to love one another?  What does it look like to worship God together?  He’s encouraging them and teaching them.

Our text today is in this section.  We’re going to skip over some and start with chapter 12.  Here we learn about two different, but very related ideas.  The first is spiritual gifts.  God, our Father, is a gracious God, and He loves creating.  He loves giving.  And so not only did He create you, but He created you uniquely made.  Your personality, your interests, your skill set, these things are all gifts.

And he lists some: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues.  A variety of gifts God gives to His people as He sees fit.  God has given you some gifts like these, as Paul says in verse seven, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

And that gets into the second part of the chapter, where Paul teaches the Corinthians that “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”  It’s a helpful image.  Maybe you’re a hand.  And you’re a foot.  You’re an elbow, or an eye.  You’re an ear, or the mouth.  So many different members of the body, each with its own unique function.  But without the mouth, how would the body eat to survive?  Without the eye, how could we see?  Without the heart, how could we pump the life blood through our veins?  Without joints, how immobile would we become?

Do you see how this all flows together?  God has blessed us all greatly with many things.  Each of you has unique spiritual gifts, and when we come together as a family, as a community, as the body of Christ, we are so much stronger, so much better for it.

In a world that seeks independence, the church thrives on interdependence.  We’re not alone.  We’re in this together.  We help one another, we build each other up, we serve together.

And then we get the transition between chapter 12 and 13.  Paul says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way.”  And he begins to talk about love.  That none of this matters without love.

And we have to pause here for a moment.  We live in a culture where love and sex are synonyms.  Now, don’t get me wrong, sex is a great gift from God.  And a great blessing between husband and wife, but it doesn’t fit here.  You can’t take the word love in chapter 13 and replace it with the American mindset of what sex is.  It just doesn’t work.  Love is so much more than romance, it’s so much more than lust, of satisfying our own wants and desires.

We have examples from our other readings this morning.  We have the prophet Jeremiah.  And we see him called, we see God declaring “I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  And we see Jeremiah recoil.  But, but, I don’t know how to speak, I’m, I’m, I’m just a kid.  But God still gave him the gift, God still sent him, and worked through him.

Jeremiah still went to the people of Judah, to God’s people in exile, with a message of good news.  He prophesied to them not just about freedom from Babylon, he prophesied to them about an eternal freedom, about being a people of God again.  About a ruler who would come to set them free from their bondage to sin.  Jeremiah used his gift from God to help an entire nation.  But it took sacrifice.  He had to give of himself, to give up his own desires, to be humble enough to speak to people who would laugh in his face even at the greatest message ever told.

Then we have that ruler who came.  Jesus Christ, God Himself in the flesh for us.  Jesus comes and He uses His gifts in service to others.  But it’s also about a relationship.  It’s about loving others to the point that you are willing to serve them.  This is what He knocks the Pharisees for.  In Matthew 23:23, He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

What was the point of the tithe?  In addition to its connection with God, of trust in our relationship with Him, on our level it was so that the church would have the resources to feed, clothe, and shelter the widows and the orphans.  Without love, why even bother?  You Pharisees are giving, but you don’t love.  None of it even sees the least of these.  You’re not actually caring for anyone with what you do.  It’s all just a show.  You care more for a building than for the people in your community.

Then we see Jesus in our gospel reading.  We see Him casting out demons, healing the sick, preaching to the people a message of good news and of hope.  That’s love.  That He’s using His gifts to serve others.

It takes sacrifice.  We see from the end of that reading that the people followed Jesus and tried to stop Him from leaving.  We see that several times in the gospels.  We see a group that wants to make Him their bread king.  He could have been surrounded by popularity and wealth, but He sacrificed it.  And He said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” He left it all behind to continue to serve, to continue to love.

He continued on, preaching and teaching from one village to the next.  From one people, one city, one leader to the next.  Until that night when He was betrayed by His own, arrested in a garden, tried in the wee hours of the morning, convicted of no crime, tormented and tortured for us as He hung there upon the cross.  He didn’t do that for Himself.

This is love!  This is what Paul describes to us.  It’s patient and kind, it doesn’t insist on its own way, it’s not self-seeking.  It bears all things.  Endures all things.  Love never ends.

What point are God’s gifts to us if we don’t have love?  What point is there to anything if you seek only after yourself?  If God has given you the gift of teaching, literally, what good is that to you?  If He’s given you the passion of carpentry, what good is that if you don’t share it?  If you have the skills of a doctor, what use do you have if not to help others?

The best way to live is in love.  It’s in self-sacrifice.  Whether you’re talking about work, or family, or sex, or anything, the best moments you’ll experience are the ones where you’re being selfless and loving someone else.

And there’s a reason for that.  We are children of the King.  We are made in the image of God.  When we serve others, when we love others, when we are selfless and giving, we’re reflecting God in us.  We’re reflecting the God who took on flesh and willingly went to the cross, giving His body and blood as a sacrificial gift for each of us.  There’s no greater evidence of love anywhere.  Not real, not fictional, than the love that Christ has for us.  The love He graciously gave us by paying the price for us.  Christ died and rose again that we might live!

When we live for others instead of ourselves, we’re reflecting the God who so joyously creates and gives and blesses His world and His people.  And that’s the way we were made.

Together, we are all one body.  Many members, but one body of Christ.  And there are so many unique gifts that we can share with each other.  That out of love for one another, we can use to serve each other, to help each other.  To grow together.  There’s a great appreciation for our farmers for providing us food.  The farmers in turn appreciate those who make the machines.  The machinist appreciates the doctor for helping heal their wounds.  The doctor appreciates the teachers that loved and trained him.  The teacher appreciates the parents who taught their children respect and hard work.  The list goes on and on.  It’s called interdependence.  As a family, as the body of Christ, we work together, we serve one another.  We love each other.

In time, all these things will pass away.  In time, we won’t need teachers or doctors.  Lawyers or accountants.  But when the perfect comes, when we are fully known, love will remain.  The love of God that gives life, that is life.  The body of Christ will be with Christ forevermore.

 

The Mystery of Submission August 23, 2015

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Ephesians 5:22-33

Proper 16

August 23, 2015

 

Focus:  God gave us a Groom, that is, Christ.

Function:  That the hearers submit themselves to the love of Christ.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

 

The Mystery of Submission

 

I want to begin today by calling out all of you Packer fans.  You’ve had a good run, but it’s a new season, and I want to see some respect.  So this season, when the Packers play the Vikings, out of respect for your brothers and sisters in Christ here at St. John’s, I want you to wear purple to church, and if you win, which isn’t too likely, don’t rub it in.

Now all you Vikings fans, I know it’s been a tough few years, but it’s a new season.  To show that you’re good sports about all this, when the Vikings take on the Packers this season, I want you to find a Packer family here at church, and have them over to your house where you’ll eat lunch together and watch the game.  And don’t make fun of them for the silly yellow triangles on their heads, or whenever you see another State Farm discount double check commercial.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on with the sermon.  Ephesians 5.  Admittedly, I love this text.  And part of that is because it ruffles feathers.  This text, more than most, turns people off.

Singles tune it out as soon as Paul begins because he’s just talking about marriage again, and that has nothing to do with them.  Women tune it out because Paul tells them right at the start to submit.  And modern, civilized, egalitarian American ladies want nothing to do with that.  And men either tune out as soon as Paul’s done addressing the women, or once they realize what’s being asked of them.

This is a tough text.  This is a counter-cultural text as much today as it was 2000 years ago.  This text makes us uncomfortable.

So let me tell you why you should still be paying attention.  We have a diverse family here at St. John’s.  Singles of all ages, men and women.  Some have always been that way and like it that way.  Others wish to be married someday.  Some are still hurting and suffering the pains of divorce, and others still are grieving the loss of their spouse.  We have husbands and wives who love each other dearly, and we have husbands and wives who would rather spend most of their time apart.  And yet, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re the church.

To all of you who are single, this text matters to you because of this verse: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”  Wives, every woman, this text matters to you because it helps you to see and truly appreciate the gifts Christ has given to you.  Husbands, all men, this text matters to you because it teaches you what it means to be a leader.  This text matters, for all of us.

Keep the text open, whether you’re in your bulletin or in the Bible, keep it ready.  You’ve got the NIV in front of you, I like to preach from the ESV translation.  And that’s a good thing as noticing differences between them can help you learn more about the Bible.

As we get ready to dig into the text, let’s first notice how Paul gets their attention.  Maybe you caught it, maybe you realized that the start of the sermon today wasn’t just meant to be goofy in honor of the upcoming NFL season, but it was meant to draw your attention.  And more specifically, it was meant to get you familiar with Paul’s technique.

Now, for those of you who’ve been in one of my Bible classes on marriage, or to my pre-marriage counseling sessions, we’ve gone over this.  But I want everyone to see it.  This is a great technique.  The authors of Scripture weren’t fools!  They had the Spirit of God guiding them.

Paul knows his audience, and he plays a trick on them to get them to pay attention.  He speaks first to the women in a male dominant society.   He addresses them and tells them how to live, how they should treat their husbands.  And how do you think the men respond?  What do you think they were doing when they heard “wives, submit to your own husbands,”?  They were listening.  They might even have started cheering, or egging Paul onward.  They were hooked.  Just like you Vikings’ fans when I was telling all of Packerdom to wear your colors on game day.  You loved it.

But then I turned it around.  It’s one level of difficulty to put on a different color shirt, it’s a whole nother level when we start talking about hospitality, about hosting a rival, about cooking them a meal, about being nice to them even if the game goes south.

Paul had the men’s attention, and then he turned it on them.  He tells them what their role in the marriage is to do.  And there’s a lot more responsibility, and it’s a lot harder.  If you don’t see it, don’t buy that Paul knew what he was doing, just keep reading into chapter six, as he pulls the same technique twice more, with children and parents, then slaves and masters.

Anyway, let’s start with Paul’s mystery.  Christ and the church.  So we go back to verse 25, and we look to what Christ did:

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

 

That’s us!  We’re the church, we’re the bride of Christ.  We are the ones who are in need of washing, cleansing.  We’re the ones in need of sanctification.  We’re the ones that need wrinkle removers and cleaning companies so that we might be presented as pure.

We’re not even close.  You and I know it.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we know it.  We know our mistakes, we know our faults, we know when we fail to listen to God and instead put our trust in earthly things, whether it’s a relationship, money, a job, or raising kids.  We all do it.  We all fall short.  There’s not one of us who’s blameless, spotless, and wrinkle-free.

And yet Christ loved us so much that He came for us.  In the midst of our filth, He calls us His bride.  And more than that, He gives up His own life for us.  We didn’t deserve it, we certainly aren’t worth it, but He loved us so much that He gave us everything, even His own blood shed for us on the cross, that we might be forgiven, healed, cleansed, indeed presented before the Father as holy and without blemish.  Christ did that for us.

So what’s this got to do with marriage? With husband and wife?  Paul tells us this is an analogy.  Paul calls upon this relationship to help us understand our relationship with God.  So he begins with wives, although the order doesn’t really matter.

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

 

Now I’m not going to stand up here and lie to you and say this is easy.  I’m not going to do that because we’re all the bride.  Each and every one of us, as the church, is the bride of Christ, and we’re not blameless.  We struggle to submit to the Lord, to admit that He knows what’s best for us, that He wants what’s best for us.  We hear His commands and sometimes we do them, but other times we question them, and wonder if God really knows what He’s doing.  Sometimes we just plain ignore it.  But nonetheless, this is where Paul points.  That wives follow the leadership of their husband, as husbands follow the leadership of Christ.

And then as I mentioned, it gets harder.  Husbands love your wives, even as Christ does the church.  Ladies, don’t take offense, because we’re all sinners.  But husbands, you are called to lead your family, to lead your wife, to present her in all splendor, without spot or blemish, cleansing her, washing her, sanctifying her.  There’s no going to our buddies and sharing the dirty secrets of our relationship.  When your wife mistakenly says something foolish, you forgive her, and you forget it.  Your coworkers don’t need to know the latest gossip.  Your friends don’t need to see your wife’s flaws.  It’s your job to cover them up.  To present her as nothing less than a precious gift from the Lord.

But more than that.  Husbands, you are called to love your wives just as much as Christ loved the church.  You are called to give yourself up for her.  That means dying for her, if it comes to that.  But in the present it means humility.  It means casting off yourself, your interests, your desires, and instead treasuring your bride.  Doing whatever it takes to care for her, and to prepare her to meet her true groom, Jesus Christ, in Paradise.

You see, the word submit doesn’t mean women don’t matter.  In fact, if we take an honest look at Scripture it’s just the opposite.  Christ gave everything for His bride.  And we see from Genesis 1 that woman was created to be man’s helper.  If a husband lords himself over his wife, refusing to accept her influence, denying her thoughts and emotions, not considering her input in decisions, he’s removing her creative function as God designed her.  He’s calling her worthless, and there’s nothing loving about that.

And in the same manner, when wives desire the role of their husband, the role of leader in the home, when they fight for it, when they oppress him and overtake him, they are removing his created function.  They are calling him worthless, and there’s nothing respectful about that.

Again, singles, I’m hoping you didn’t tune me out, because all of this matters greatly to you.  I need a volunteer couple, I just need one married couple to stand up for a minute or two.  Single brothers and sisters in Christ, you don’t have to want this for yourselves.  In fact, Jesus and Paul both talk in the New Testament about what a blessing singleness can be.

But whether you want it or not, you do need to understand it.  Because this is the analogy that God has chosen to use to help us understand our relationship with Him.  In this relationship, God wants you to see Him.  And you can take part in this.

If you wish to remain single, that’s a good thing.  But you can encourage your friends and community to be faithful in their marriages.  You can encourage them to be good parents.  You can help them raise their children to know the Lord.

If you want to be married someday, you can begin to show this to others.  You can show faithfulness by waiting for marriage as the Lord instructs.  I won’t pretend that’s easy, but it’s faithful.  It’s what God wants for you.  You can pray for your future spouse, even if it’s someone you haven’t met, you can pray that they would know the Lord, and have a strong relationship with Him.  You can learn more about your relationship with God, so that when marriage does come, you’ll be all the more prepared for the role God gives you.

And husbands and wives, I hope you caught that.  If we don’t model this well, we’re preventing people from seeing their Lord and Savior.  If you’re struggling, don’t hide it.  Please, please, please, I’ll beg if I have to.  Come talk to me.  Let’s build your marriage on the rock of Christ.  Let’s build you up so that you can more clearly see Christ and show Him to others.  This matters.  Let couple sit down.

We can’t give up on our spouses.  This is why the Bible speaks this way on divorce.  “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” – Mark 10:9.  We are told this because we are the bride of Christ.  And despite our atrociousness, despite our unfaithfulness, Christ, our groom, never gave up on us.  He constantly gives, constantly calls us back to Himself.

If you’re struggling with divorce and the pain that it has brought into your life, please come talk to me.  Let’s sit down, let’s pour through the Word of God.  Let’s work on healing, and if at all possible, let’s work toward reconciliation and forgiveness.

This is our witness, that we would love and respect one another.  We live in the midst of a culture that is drowning, it has no clue what marriage is about.  God is calling us to be a city on a hill, to be transparent, to be fish in a fishbowl, that others might see us, and they might see Christ in us.

This is why marriage matters.  Because through it, whether it’s our own or someone else’s, we see Christ!  We see love, sacrifice, and service.  We see humility, contentment, and respect.  We see forgiveness, reconciliation, and new life.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, we submit ourselves to Christ, to His authority, to His leadership, to His love, and to His sacrifice.  We are His bride, we are forgiven, and He is presenting us as holy and blameless in the sight of His Father.  There’s never been, and will never again be, a more selfless deed than that.  Our groom has given us life.  Amen.

 

Love Each Other May 10, 2015

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John 15:9-17

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 10, 2015

An updated version of the sermon from: May 12-13, 2012

 

Focus: God loved us so much that He gave up His Son for us.

Function: That the hearers love each other as God first loved us.

Structure: .

 

Love Each Other

 

Over the last couple of weeks, our Scripture readings have focused a lot on love.  That really comes as no surprise, as love is a major theme throughout Scripture, especially in John’s writings.  But it does pose a challenge to us.  What is love?  Do we even know anymore?

We all love a good story, whether it’s a book, a movie, or something else altogether.  And it doesn’t matter how old you are, we all like to get wrapped up in the plot.  If it’s well done, we can get lost in the story for hours and not even notice that time has gone by.

Most of these stories have a common theme.  Fairy tales make it quite obvious: love.  How many fairy tales revolve around a princess just waiting for her Prince Charming, her knight in shining armor to come and sweep her off her feet?  They call it true love.  And it usually ends in them riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after.

While that makes for good entertainment, or as the guys say, a chick-flick, unfortunately, stories like these give us an inaccurate view of love.  They portray love as an emotional high, a feeling of bliss, like floating on Cloud Nine.  It’s sublime happiness.  But how many marriages end a year or two in because the couple comes down off of this emotional high?  It certainly contributes to our nation’s ridiculously high divorce rate, which is somewhere around 50% of marriages.  They don’t understand that life indeed is full of challenges and that there will be rough moments in every relationship.  That’s what sin does.  That’s what happens when two sinners live together.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in our vocabulary.  You can love your spouse.  You can love your children.  You can love God.  You can love a good story.  You can love Taco Bell’s Dorito tacos.  You can love sinning.  You can love money.  You can love a sport.  You can love pretty much anything.  I think you get the point.

But the Greek language had four words to describe love.  Agape, phileo, storge, and eros.  Definitions of these words aren’t always mutually exclusive, as they do occasionally overlap in meaning.  But for the most part, they’re unique.  The romantic kind of love of fairy tales and newlyweds is eros.  It’s all about passion and attraction.  And while that certainly is a gift of God and adds to a marriage relationship, you won’t find it in the Bible.

Storge describes natural affection, the love you have for your whole family.  It only appears a couple of times in Scripture.  Phileo is a love along the lines of friendship and loyalty.  We see it in words like philosophy, which is the love of wisdom or in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.

And lastly, we have the love called agape.  While agape and phileo are occasionally used interchangeably, agape tends to mean unconditional love.  It’s the love of God for us as His people and it’s the one that’s been coming up in our texts of late.

I know you’re not all Greek scholars, but the point of the little Greek lesson today is to help us identify how love can differ.  The most common love in the world around us is selfish.  How many relationships are formed merely so that we can benefit from them?  We don’t say we love something unless it somehow brings us pleasure or happiness.  We don’t usually say we love someone else unless that relationship has some benefit to us.  That also ends up being the way fairy tales portray true love.

So do we really know what love is anymore?  Thankfully, God has left us with some examples.  I want to do a men’s retreat sometime soon looking in depth at God’s calling for men; being the Christian head of a household, being a loving and faithful husband and father.  There’s no shortage of Scripture to back this up.  In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he said that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

That’s a difficult verse for us to swallow, but it deals with love, specifically the love of God.  Throughout Scripture, God portrays Himself as our Father.  And Christ portrays Himself as the groom, with the church as His bride.  Family relationships, things we can comprehend and understand.  So to Timothy, if you don’t take care of your own family, you clearly don’t comprehend the message of God’s love and salvation.  You don’t get the relationships He has used to express Himself to you.

In this way, we can look at the relationships in our lives today to help us better understand what love is.  We’ve already looked at fathers, and we can look at mothers, too.

We can come up with a whole slew of things that mothers do for us.  Whether it’s the way they care for us when we’re just little babies to how they always seem to know just how to make us feel better.  Mothers and fathers both have that willingness to go through just about anything for their children, making sacrifices, enduring the lack of respect and appreciation that too often comes when their children hit puberty.

Most of us could come up with examples of agape love, of unconditional love that we’ve been given in our lives.  We could certainly share stories together about the kind of love many of you have given to someone else.   It’s a good reference to the love we see in our text; however, before anyone accuses me of building up egos too much today, we need to remember that our love is tainted by sin.

The greatest moms and dads the world over aren’t perfect.  And that’s why the Bible points us to the One who is.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”  That’s the agape love of God in this text.  It’s the unconditional love that only He can have for us.  It’s the agape love that Paul talks about in his letter to Rome:

“Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by His blood, will we be saved through Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life.”

 

That’s the unconditional love of God, that while we were still His enemies, He sacrificed His Son to forgive us and save us.  It’s the unconditional love as He showed through the prophet Hosea, who illustrated God’s love to Israel through his role as a husband to Gomer the prostitute.  No matter how many times she abandoned him and went away with other men, Hosea went to her as God comes to us.  He forgave her and took her back, as God does for us.

That dear brothers and sisters, is the true agape love of God, which He has so graciously poured out on all of us here today.  Through the waters of Holy Baptism, He claims us as His own children.  And every time we pray, read the Bible, or anything else that brings our thoughts to Christ, we see the ultimate in love and sacrifice.  A willingness to sacrifice it all for someone you care about.

It is from this love that Christ then issues the command from our gospel today.  “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”  He roots the command in what He’s already done for us.  It’s not just a random command to go and do something.  It’s connected and flows from His love that He’s already most graciously given to you and me.  We love one another as He first loved us.

What is love?  What does it look like?  It’s putting everyone else before yourself.  If your neighbor is hurting, care for them.  If they’re in any kind of danger, lend a hand, or more.  If they’ve wronged you, it means no grudges, but forgiveness.  If they fail to respect you or appreciate you, it means continuing to love them anyway.  It’s commitment, care, communication, and Christ.  If ever you want to know what love looks like, look no further than the cross.  As God first loved us, so we love one another.

Yahweh’s Covenant Faithfulness July 1, 2012

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Lamentations 3.22-33

Proper 8

June 30-July 1, 2012

Focus: God is faithful to His covenant.

Function: That the hearers place their hope in Yahweh.

Structure: This is the historical situation in the text…these are the meanings for us now.

Yahweh’s Covenant Faithfulness

Have you ever felt like your life was unlucky, or that you had run into a string of bad events? No matter what, the human spirit can be an amazing thing. Take for example the case of Larry Hanratty, who was named by the Los Angeles Times in 2007 as the most unlucky man in California.

This poor man was nearly killed in a construction site accident. For weeks he lay in a coma with his lawyers fighting for his liability claim — until one of his lawyers was disbarred, two of them died suddenly and his last lawyer ran off with his wife!

Then after his recovery in June, he was in a terrible car accident and before the police arrived on the scene, he was robbed of $55. On July 4th, his insurance company tried to stop his worker’s comp claim; he came within 2 days of being evicted from his home. By the end of July of 2007, he was suffering from lupus and the start of a lung condition that required him to carry a canister of oxygen with him; Larry was taking 42 pills a day for his heart condition and his liver ailments.

Finally the City Council came to his aid and then his friends rallied around him. After all that had happened to Larry that year, he said to the Mayor of Whittier, “There’s always hope”!  Even though he was stricken in one year with very bad circumstances, that never stopped him from doing what he did best. You see he was a Deacon in his church and was constantly helping others in their time of need. Everywhere he went in his town he was known as “HOPE” because he always told everyone… “There’s always hope.”

We won’t be talking about luck today.  Instead, we are focusing on men like Job.  Men who suffered so much in their days in this world.  Larry fits that bill.  And yet, like Job, he kept his eyes focused on the bigger picture.  He continued to believe that there is hope; he continued to believe in a faithful God who sent His Son to die for us.

The prophet Jeremiah, in this way, had much to share with Larry.  Jeremiah was called upon by God Himself to be a prophet, to be God’s mouthpiece to His people.  And while Jeremiah had his good days, much of his service was filled with the groanings of a faithless people.

As God’s children, they were to follow Him.  They were to believe in Yahweh and be His people.  But so often they went astray.  In fact, there were large periods in their history that they didn’t even remember who Yahweh was, let alone follow Him.  To this, Jeremiah prophesied.  It was his role to warn them of the errors of their ways.  To warn them that everything they knew and held dear was coming to an end.

That doesn’t mean Jeremiah delighted in his work.  The book of Lamentations is Jeremiah’s groaning.  In the course of the five chapters, he composed four poems and a conclusion.  They may not look like much in English, but in the Hebrew language, they were strong.  Chapters 1, 2 and 4 are each 22 verses, the first verse beginning with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and continuing until the final, 22nd letter.  And chapter three contains three verses for each letter, for a total of 66.

Jeremiah’s poems weren’t happy or mushy; they weren’t written in joy or in love; they were sorrowful, poems of mourning and loss.  The writings of a man in grief.  Jeremiah had lived and seen the sinful glory of a prideful people, much like the kinds of happiness and lifestyles we see in our own culture today.

And then he watched it all get destroyed.  Villages and cities toppled.  The holy ground of God Himself, the temple in Jerusalem, lost to savages.  People dying from murder and sickness alike.  I’ll refrain from details, as there are many other things going on that would make for an R rating, or worse.  And yes, that’s in the Bible.

But as is good Jeremiahan prophecy, right in the midst of all the gloom and doom, he puts a ray of light.  If we start our Old Testament lesson one verse earlier, with verse 21, we read: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:” Jeremiah proclaims hope for the people.  Hope, as in the words of our text today.  It’s probably not a coincidence either that this is the only snippet of Lamentations that we use in our worship services throughout the year.

Hebrew grammar works differently than English.  The typical, normal order of a sentence has the verb first, then the subject, and then the object or predicate.  If the word order is changed in any way from that formula, the writer is emphasizing something.  Here, the very first word of verse 22, the first word following that hope, is ds,x, (hesed).  This word is translated any number of ways in English, and in fact shows up twice in this reading.  In verse 22 it’s “great love.”  In verse 32 it’s “unfailing love.”  Other definitions can include steadfast love, mercy, and grace.  But my favorite of them all is “covenant faithfulness.”

Unless you’re a visitor, you’ve likely heard me talking about God’s covenant before.  He came to Abraham and made the covenant with him and his descendants after him.  A covenant that He would be their God and they would be His people.  A covenant that included the blessing of all nations through His seed.  It included the rescuing of his offspring, the nation of Israel, from 400 years of bondage.  It included the promise of land that the Israelites would indeed possess.

But perhaps even greater than all these things about the covenant is how it was made.  Covenants were blood pacts.  Animals were sacrificed, cut in half and laid out so that the makers of the covenant could walk between them, signally their approval and ratification of the covenant.  Because a covenant is made in blood, if it is broken, bloodshed is the result.

Now I say that this covenant is greater because God alone did it.  He walked through the blood of the sacrifices, but Abram did not.  So the covenant is truly God’s covenant for us.  He is our God and He has made us His people.

So translating ds,x, (hesed) as covenant faithfulness brings out a much deeper meaning.  When you view it as God’s covenant faithfulness, it actually defines what you mean when you say love.  There is no greater depiction of God’s love for us than that He kept the covenant.  Because of Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness, we’re not consumed or destroyed.  Despite all our sin, despite our breaking the covenant bond, He is faithful and His compassions never fail.

Because God is faithful, He is our portion, and we can hope in Him.  For we hope and wait for the One who gives salvation, and that One is Yahweh, through His faithfulness, through His Son.

Though He brings grief, whether by the deserved punishment and consequences of our sin, or by allowing evil and sin to remain for the time being, God will show compassion, for so great is His covenant faithfulness.

God is forever faithful to His covenant that He made to us, for us, and with us, that He would be our God, and we would be His people.  Throughout the ages of man, through the plagues of our sin, God remained faithful, He remained our God, and we His people, when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant.  He is the seed of Abraham through whom all of the nations of this world are blessed.  He is the One whose death grants us forgiveness, and as we are forgiven, we are restored to our God and Father, Yahweh.  So it is that through Christ, through Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness, we can join together with the prophet Jeremiah, with Job, with unlucky Larry, and all the rest of God’s people, in placing our hope in Yahweh and the salvation that He gives through His faithfulness and through His Son.

Love Each Other May 13, 2012

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John 15:9-17

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 12-13, 2012

Focus: God loved us so much that He gave up His Son for us.

Function: That the hearers love each other as God first loved us.

Structure: .

 

Love Each Other

 

Over the last couple of weeks, our Scripture readings have focused a lot on love.  That really comes as no surprise, as love is a major theme throughout Scripture.  But it does pose a challenge to us.  What is love?  Do we even know anymore?

In chapel this week, we talked about how we all love a good story, whether it’s a book, a movie, or something else altogether.  And it doesn’t matter how old you are, we all like to get wrapped up in the plot.  Most stories have a common theme.  Fairy tales make it quite obvious.  Love.  How many fairy tales revolve around a princess just waiting for her Prince Charming, her knight in shining armor to come and sweep her off her feet?  They call it true love.  And it usually ends in them riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after.

While that makes for good entertainment, or as the guys say, a chick-flick, unfortunately, stories like these give us an inaccurate view of love.  They portray love as an emotional high, a feeling of bliss, like floating on Cloud Nine.  It’s sublime happiness.  But how many marriages end a year or so in because the couple comes down off of this emotional high?  It certainly contributes to our nation’s ridiculously high divorce rate, which is somewhere around 50% of marriages.  They don’t understand that life indeed is full of challenges and that there will be rough moments in every relationship.  That’s what sin does.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in our vocabulary.  You can love your spouse.  You can love your children.  You can love God.  You can love a good story.  You can love Taco Bell’s new Dorito tacos.  You can love sinning.  You can love money.  You can love a sport.  You can love pretty much anything.  I think you get the point.

But the Greek language had four words to describe love.  Agape, phileo, storge, and eros.  Definitions of these words aren’t always mutually exclusive, they do occasionally overlap in meaning.  But for the most part, they’re unique.  The romantic kind of love of fairy tales and newlyweds is eros.  It’s all about passion and attraction.  You won’t find it in the Bible.

Storge describes natural affection, the love you have for your whole family.  It only appears a couple of times in Scripture.  Phileo is a love along the lines of friendship and loyalty.  We see it in words like philosophy, which is the love of wisdom or in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.

And lastly, we have the love called agape.  While agape and phileo are occasionally used interchangeably, agape tends to mean unconditional love.  It’s the love of God for us as His people and it’s the one that’s been coming up in our texts of late.

I know you’re not all Greek scholars, but the point of the little Greek lesson today is to help us identify how love can differ.  The most common love in the world around us is selfish.  How many relationships are formed merely so that we can benefit from them?  We don’t say we love something unless it somehow brings us pleasure or happiness.  That also ends up being the way fairy tales portray true love.

So do we really know what love is anymore?  Thankfully, God has left us with some examples.  At our men’s retreat a couple weekends ago, we looked in depth at being the Christian head of a household, being a loving and faithful husband and father.  And we discussed a couple of Bible verses on this topic.  In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he said that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

That’s a difficult verse for us to swallow, but it deals with love, specifically the love of God.  Throughout Scripture, God portrays Himself as our Father.  And Christ portrays Himself as the groom, with the church as His bride.  Family relationships, things we can comprehend and understand.  So to Timothy, if you don’t take care of your own family, you clearly don’t comprehend the message of God’s love and salvation.  You don’t get the relationships He has used to express Himself to you.

In this way, we can look at the relationships in our lives today to help us better understand what love is.  And what better a day than Mother’s Day?  That one day of the year that we set aside to let our moms know just how much we appreciate everything they do for us.  Hopefully everyone remembered!

We can come up with a whole slew of things that mothers do for us.  Whether it’s the way they care for us when we’re just little babies to how they always seem to know just how to make us feel better.  Now, I don’t want men to feel left out, as similar things can be said about fathers too, but that’s next month.  I stumbled across any number of stories this week in honor of Mother’s Day, but I would like to share one with you that I think really illustrates the love of a mother for her child.

There was a teenager who didn’t want to be seen in public with her mother, because her mother’s arms were both  terribly disfigured, downright gruesome. One day when her mother took her shopping and reached out her hand, a clerk looked horrified. Later, at home crying, the girl told her how embarrassed she was. Despite the hurt, the mother waited an hour before going to her daughter’s room to tell her, for the first time, what had happened.

“When you were a baby, I woke up to a burning house. Your room was an inferno. Flames were everywhere. I could have gotten out the front door, but I decided I’d rather die with you than leave you to die alone. I ran through the fire and wrapped my arms around you. Then I went back through the flames, my arms on fire. When I got outside on the lawn, the pain was agonizing but when I looked at you, all I could do was rejoice that the flames hadn’t touched you.”

Stunned, the girl looked at her mother through new eyes. Weeping in shame and gratitude, she kissed her mother’s marred hands and arms.

I chose that story because it illustrates how much a mom truly loves her child.  It demonstrates the lengths that she is willing to go for her baby, the sacrifices she’s willing to make, and also the lack of respect and appreciation that she’s willing to endure when her children hit puberty.  It’s a good reference to the love we see in our text; however, before anyone accuses me of building up egos too much today, we need to remember that our love is tainted by sin.

The greatest moms and dads the world over aren’t perfect.  And that’s why the Bible points us to the One who is.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”  That’s the agape love of God in this text.  It’s the unconditional love that only He can have for us.  It’s the agape love that Paul talks about in his letter to Rome:

“Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by His blood, will we be saved through Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life.”

 

That’s the unconditional love of God, that while we were still His enemies, He sacrificed His Son to forgive us and save us.  It’s the unconditional love as He showed through the prophet Hosea, who illustrated God’s love to Israel through his role as a husband to Gomer the prostitute.  No matter how many times she abandoned him and went away with other men, Hosea went to her as God comes to us.  He forgave her and took her back, as God does for us.

That dear brothers and sisters, is the true agape love of God, which He has so graciously poured out on all of us here today.  Through the waters of Holy Baptism, He claims us as His own children.  And every time we pray, read the Bible, or anything else that brings our thoughts to Christ, we see the ultimate in love and sacrifice.  A willingness to sacrifice it all for someone you care about.

It is from this love that Christ then issues the command from our gospel today.  “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”  He roots the command in what He’s already done for us.  It’s not just a random command to go and do something.  It’s connected and flows from His love that He’s already most graciously given to you and me.  We love one another as He first loved us.

What is love?  What does it look like?  It’s putting everyone else before yourself.  If your neighbor is hurting, care for them.  If they’re in any kind of danger, lend a hand, or more.  If they’ve wronged you, it means no grudges, but forgiveness.  If they fail to respect you or appreciate you, it means continuing to love them anyway.  It’s commitment, care, communication, and Christ.  If ever you want to know what love looks like, look no further than the cross.  As God first loved us, so we love one another.