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05.10.15 Love and Obey? John 15:9-17 Sermon Summary

by on May 11, 2015

You would think that God’s love, being God’s love, would be an overwhelming irresistible power. And it is . . . given enough time. But God’s love does meet resistance, and only in Jesus can that resistance be overcome.

Summary Points

  • Where God’s love meets resistance
  • Jewish love of God and Christian love of Jesus
  • What loving God’s children actually entails
  • Three ways to lower the resistance to God’s love
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

It is characteristic of true love that it does not insist upon its own way (see 1 Corinthians 13:4), thus it can be resisted. Even God’s love can be resisted, and it is. It is resisted within us when we question whether God does actually love us. Many of my pastoral conversations are variations of this question. And God’s love is resisted by us when we don’t let it flow through us to others. Most of our social problems can be traced back to this resistance.

Today’s lectionary passages offer us some guidance on how to lower this resistance to God’s love, both for the sake of ourselves and for our society.

To start, we first to understand the way Jesus and his disciples understood their love of God. Jewish love of God is most obvious in the love of God’s Word. For example, Psalm 119:47-48 says, “I find my delight in your commandments, because I love them. I revere your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”

At the time of Jesus a Jewish sect called the Pharisees allowed their love of God to get off track. They are the group for whom loving God and Gods Word became a love for God’s wordS. They confused what the Scriptures say with what the Scriptures are saying. They couldn’t make the distinction that Jesus made, which was recognizing that God’s Word, which is to be loved, must be discerned from the words of Scripture.

The clearest example comes from how the Pharisees and Jesus understood the word “Sabbath.” From Mark 2 we see that to the Pharisees, “Sabbath” meant restrictions on certain activities. Jesus and his disciples engaged in these prohibited activities because Jesus taught that, “the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.”

In his book the Music of Silence, David Steindl-Rast says, “Just following the rules doesn’t deserve the name of true obedience.” Nor is it an expression of true love.

Jesus’ faithful discernment of God’s Word, as his expression of his love for God, eventually caused those around him to realize that he was God’s Word Incarnate (See John 1). For this reason 1 John says that if we love the parent (God), we will love the child (Christ) for the very Jewish reason that those who love God love God’s Word.

First John continues by saying if you love Christ, you will love the children of God. Why? Because Jesus, as the embodied and enacted Word of God, loved all God’s children. First John says that Jesus ministry came, “not by water only, but by water and blood.” Apparently there were some Pharisee-like Christians in John’s community who believed that ritual adherence, like to the waters of baptism, constituted loving God. John’s point is that baptism (water) isn’t sufficient without subsequent giving of oneself, out of love, even sacrificially (blood), because that’s the way Jesus himself lived.

Jesus sacrificially loved the children of God, and if you love Christ, you’ll also love God’s children. Peter puts it simply in his Acts sermon; he summarizes Jesus’ ministry as “doing good and healing.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that his commandment is that we love one another. In other conversations he identified the “Greatest Commandment” as loving God and loving neighbors. (Mark 12:30-31) The teaching of the Bible is that we love God by loving our neighbors.

Summing up to this point: if we love God we will love God’s Word, which Christians do by loving and following Jesus. If we love Jesus, we will love the children of God. Or to use the images of these passages, we will abide in Christ’s love, bear fruit, and let God’s love flow through us to others.

Loving God and loving Christ by loving our neighbors can be difficult because of the resistance to God’s love in our lives. By remembering three things, we may lower this resistance and increase our love of God by loving our neighbors.

First, it helps to remember how Jesus loved others. It wasn’t by rigorous observance of religious ritual. Jesus “did good” according to Peter, including things like healing the sick, feeding the hungry, forgiving the offenders, welcoming and even inviting the outcasts. In this way he “laid down his life for his friends,” and by doing so loved them. We can all do good, even if it doesn’t demand that we lay down our lives, and by doing so God’s love flows through us to others.

Second, it helps to remember that Jesus overcame a hostile world. The greatest resistance to God’s love is found among the powerful in the world. Jesus was opposed by religious and political powers because to love the way God loves is to relinquish power and control. Remember, love does not insist on its own way (above). Jesus love and the world’s resistance ultimately led him to the Cross.

But God’s love triumphed over this exertion of power in Christ’s resurrection. As Colossians puts it, God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in the cross.” (Colossians 2:15) This is the Christian faith that 1 John also says conquers the world.

Finally, it is helpful to remember that Jesus calls us friends. Servants, he says, don’t know what the master is doing. But Jesus has revealed the master’s plan to us, and that makes us friends. We know what God is doing, which is overcoming the world through Jesus’ love.

Jesus has told us, his friends, all of these things so that his joy may be in us. Remember when Jesus was baptized? The voice from heaven declared, “You are my beloved child and with you I am well-pleased.” I can hardly imagine a more joyful moment in the life of Jesus than to hear those words from his Father. This is the joy Jesus says can be in us. He says this makes our joy complete. The reason is because this is what we were made for. We were created not to resist God’s love but to receive it, and to let it flow to others.

By remembering how Jesus loved others, and that Jesus himself overcame resistance to God’s love, and that we are Jesus’ friends, we can lower our resistance to God’s love and experience ourselves and share with others the joy of Christ.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • How does it make you feel that we can confuse love of God’s wordS for the love of God’s Word? In what areas might you be doing this?
  • In what ways do you see God’s love being resisted in the world? In your own life?
  • What are some of the other obstacles to God’s love, and what can you do about them?
  • How can you love God more by loving your neighbor more? How can you better follow the example of love that Jesus set?
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