28 March 2013
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Matthew Harrison, our Synod President would say, "Show mercy." It means, "Love one another." Francis, the new bishop of Rome is known for encouraging works of charity; "Love one another." Such love naturally flows from faith in Christ. It is expected by Him; yet it is given by Him.
Think back to first-century Ephesus. The congregation has their beloved pastor who had seemed to be there forever, coming out of retirement to preach -- THE Pastor of Ephesus -- "the Elder" as he had come to be known. The door opened, and everyone turned to see him. A little old man, frail, bald, with a long, white beard, was being carried in on a litter. He was over 100 years old. He summoned his strength, and preached the Word of God: "Little children, love one another." And as quickly as it began, the sermon ended. One little sentence. St. John the Apostle and Evangelist did not seem to have the strength to say more, and yet, what more needed to be said?
"Little children, love one another." At first, that is Law. "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another." When St. John heard Jesus speak those words, decades earlier, they stuck with him. Profound. With authority. Jesus, who loved everyone perfectly, now commanded His disciples to do the same. And He tells you to do it too!
"Love one another." But you don't. You are not constantly thinking about the actions to do and the words to say to serve your neighbor. You really don't perfectly keep your spouse or parents or children above yourself, much less friends, acquaintances or even strangers. You constantly fail this simple command from Christ. Many times every hour, simply by what you omit or avoid, you do not "love one another."
And then there is the fact that you actively break this command. You gossip and hurt reputations, defiling the eighth commandment. You fool yourself into thinking that God does not detest your sins as much as those of your neighbor, and refuse to love him, because for whatever reason, you find his sin more repulsive. You show a lack of love as you steal from others, whether time, or effort, attention, or things. You refuse love to those who suffer or have no voice when you keep silent regarding the unborn, the downtrodden, the sick and the poor. In these and many ways, you are selfish and put your own wants and needs first, loving yourself rather than others in your life. Sadly, little children, you do not love one another. And that is a damning situation for you.
But St. John also tells you, "God is love." The Lord Jesus is Love incarnate. He took on flesh to perfectly love you and every other human being. Yes! Your loving God became Man in order to be perfect love in life, in death, and in His resurrection. He loved you perfectly as He kept God's Law in your place. He loved you perfectly as He bore your sin of failing to love, as He suffered and died in your place. He loved you perfectly as He rose to new life for you! He loves you perfectly even now, as He lives and reigns to all eternity.
Perhaps the clearest and most direct way that He gives this love to you is the very gift He instituted on this night: the Holy Supper of our Lord! In this gift of His very Body and Blood, Jesus is loving you completely. Here He unites His Body and Blood with bread and wine, giving you the thrilling gift of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting the love of God! The ultimate in loving others -- laying down one's life for them -- that is what Jesus did on that next day, Good Friday. He blesses you with that gift of love!
So really, even though it was Law for those Ephesian Christians, they were also hearing Gospel. Not Gospel in the command to love. But when they heard the very word, "love," their thoughts were turned to Jesus Christ, who is the very embodiment of God's Love. In hearing, "Love one another," the Lord led them to focus on Christ who is the One of whom we say, "God is love." Yes, He is. God is love. He is the perfect Love who gives His life as the ransom for the many. He is the Love that has redeemed and saved you. He is the Love that has rescued you from sin, death, and the devil, gifting you with forgiveness, life, and salvation in this Blessed Sacrament of Love.
And having been given His love in such a pure and profound and holy way, He fills you with it. He loves you and now loves through you, showing mercy and compassion and holy love to those around. You are not loving on your own, but as His redeemed and baptized creatures, Jesus shares His love through works He has prepared in advance for you to do.
So you do love. And when you fail, you have the calm and sweet assurance that Jesus Christ loves you perfectly, and mercifully forgives you, that you may forever abide in His love. "Little children, love one another." Amen.