John 14:23-32 (Pentecost C)                                     

St. John, Galveston 6/5/22

Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart, mind, body, and soul. There’s really nothing convoluted, or complicated about the commandment. I mean, it’s not hard to understand. Still, we have questions, don’t we? What does it mean to love God? If I did love God, what what would that look like? Am I to sell everything I have and give it to the poor? Is that what it means to love God? Am I to deny myself every creature comfort? Is the love of God a feeling, an emotion, or is it something more, something deeper, something more profound? 

On another occasion, Jesus pushed the command to love God a little further. He said, “whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 

As we reflect on what it means to love God, we’re reminded that our love for those we hold most near and dear in life must not exceed the love we have for God.  Mind you, it’s not that we shouldn’t love others, especially those of our own household. In fact, that’s the second greatest commandment, isn’t it, to love our neighbor as ourselves?  Still, our love for God is to be above our love for all others.

Everybody feeling ok so far about your love for God? Of course, the commandment to love God, like all the other commandments, wasn’t given to us to save us. It wasn’t given to us so that we could prove our worthiness to God. To the contrary, of all the commandments, the commandment to love God is the one that most clearly sets before us the wretchedness of our souls and the utter desperation in which we find ourselves before God. It is also this commandment that should most certainly drive us to the cross of Jesus where God’s love for us is so beautifully and fully demonstrated.  Indeed, “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Do you see that? That’s you and that’s me, the ungodly.)  While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

In the Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus tells us a little more about what it means to love God. He says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep my word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.  Whoever does not love Me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not Mine, but the Fathers who sent Me.”

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word (Jesus says). To love God is to love His Word.  One cannot despise one and love the other. God’s word is the revelation of who He is. Perhaps nowhere is that more clearly proclaimed than in the first chapter of the very Gospel that we have before us this morning. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full grace and truth.”

As we hear our Lord call us to keep His word as a measure of our love for Him, it would be good for us to dig a little deeper to understand exactly what it means to keep His word. As it turns out, Jesus is not talking here about our efforts to live a holy and righteous life. In other words, He’s not saying that a perfect life is a sure sign of our love for Him. 

The fact is, we don’t do anything perfectly in this life, including love God. Though each of you have been created anew in Holy Baptism, and though the Spirit of God dwells in you, you will always be hampered and hindered in this life by your flesh, that is, by your old nature. Thus, we’re told elsewhere that “the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” St. Paul, who commended his life to Christ, and who counted the loss of everything as rubbish for the sake of knowing Jesus, still wrestled throughout his life with his old nature, with his flesh. “I know (he said) that there is nothing good that dwells in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”    

Like Paul, redeemed as you are in Christ Jesus, your flesh will always be with you. That’s more than just a theological point that needs to be kept straight. It goes to the very heart of what it means to live as a child of God. In a sense, we are all living contradictions, because there is battle that rages in us between the old man and the new. Luther reminds us that we should never aspire to such purity that we no longer wish to be a sinner, because Christ dwells only with sinners. 

So, as we hear Jesus say to us this morning, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word,” we can dispatch with the notion that we’ll ever be able to do anything perfectly in this life, including love Him. The word that has been translated here as “keep,” is the word tereo. It doesn’t mean to keep God’s word in the sense of living life perfectly. It means to keep in the sense of guarding, or, defending, or protecting. As the word “to keep” is applied to the Scriptures, it means that we express our love for God, in part, by loving His Word, by taking it seriously and by treasuring all that it says, including the proclamation of His love for the world, as well as His love for each one of us individually.

The psalmist expressed so beautifully his high regard of God’s Word. “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings (he said) and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.” And then elsewhere he describes the significance of God’s word in life. “Your word (he says) is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Luther too, in his great reformation hymn, A Mighty Fortress, wrote of the importance of God’s Word in our lives.  He uses Word in the sense that John uses it in his Gospel, that is, to refer to Jesus… 

“The Word they still shall let remain; nor any thanks have for it.

He’s by our side upon the plane, with His good gifts and Spirit.

And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife.

Let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won.

The kingdom ours remaineth.”

Indeed, God’s Word is a “lamp to our feet and light unto our path.”  It is His word that has revealed to us His love and mercy for us, for YOU. It is by His Word that God has created in each of you a profound and abiding love for Him, for the path that God’s word illumines has lead you out of the darkness and mire of your sin, to the cross and the empty tomb of His dear Son. 

“Lord, Your words are waters living

When my thirsting spirit pleads.

Lord, Your words are bread life giving;

On Your words my spirit feeds.

Lord, Your words will be my light

Through death’s cold and dreary night;

Yes, they are my sword prevailing 

And my cup of joy unfailing!”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +