“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this sixth Sunday of Easter comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ: God is love. Love defines Him, it is His essential quality. But love never exists alone. By its very definition, love is turned toward an object. The Father’s love is turned toward His Son. God is love, and He loves His Son. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father, linked together in this highest expression of love. And when the Son took on flesh and became man, God’s love wasn’t diminished. Instead, humanity was given the privilege to see this love expressed in our world. At the Jordan River, on the mountain of Transfiguration, the disciples heard, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” This love is deeper than the many ways we use the word ‘love’ today. In many situations, it is almost a throwaway word that describes a liking for a baseball team, a new car, or an ice cream cone. Too often it is simply an expression of our quickly changing feelings. But when husbands love their wives, when parents love their children, that love mirrors the relationship of our Heavenly Father to His Son. The greatest love that we show to others is a dim and shadowy reflection of the love of the Father for His Son. God is love, love which links together Father and Son.
Jesus is love. The Father shows the Son love, and then the Son shows love to us. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” Love overflows, it pours from the Father to His Son, then from the Son to you and to me. This is the same love; the inexpressible love that links together the members of the Holy Trinity, which was manifested before our very eyes at Jordan’s stream and the mountain of Christ’s glorification, is turned now to us. This love isn’t static, it isn’t stationary; it moves Jesus to action. “I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” Jesus shows love to His Father by holding to His commands and humbling Himself to walk this earth as a dirt-poor rabbi, harried and persecuted by the very ones He created. Jesus abides in His Father’s love by showing love to you and me. That is the Father’s command: that love would find its fullest expression in bringing salvation.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down His life for His friends.” Jesus is love, and this love will be expressed in sacrifice. In love He became man to walk the way of the cross. In love, He will submit to betrayal and trial. In love, He will feel the whip and the scourge. In love, He will carry His cross the last steps toward Golgotha. In love, He will offer up His hands to be nailed, His side to be pierced. The cross is love; the love of the Father for His Son, the love of the Son for you and for me. Love doesn’t exist by itself; it always has an object. Jesus didn’t love His own life, He loves you. Love moved Him to lay down His life for you. He set down His life in your place; His perfection for you sin, His death for your life. Jesus is love, and “greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down His life for His friends.”
We are now His friends, for we have been shown this love, the love of the cross. Love makes us friends of God. When Jesus stood before Pilate, the crowd shouted at the Roman governor, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend.” Pilate was one of ‘Caesar’s friends,’ a powerful, influential, and exclusive group of Roman leaders who were in the good graces of the emperor. For fear of being cast out of that group, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. Ironically, when he sent Jesus to the cross, an even more important group was established: the ‘friends of God.’ In the Old Testament, only Abraham and Moses are described as ‘friends of God,’ but now, thorough the love of the cross, we too are called friends of God. Jesus brings us into the relationship of love, the love that existed from eternity between Father and Son, the love that the Son showed to us by laying down His life for us. We are brought into the very relationship of the Trinity, a relationship defined by love.
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” The friends of God know the things of God, they know how the love of the Father for His Son was made manifest in this world through the love of the Son for you and me. They know the secret of salvation, they know how God is working, hidden behind the horror of the cross. They see God hidden in the preaching of the apostles, in water, bread and wine. You are no longer a servant, subject only to orders, you are a friend, one who has been shown love by the Son. The love of Christ has come to you and made you a friend; you dwell, you abide in the love of the Trinity.
God is love, love turned toward His Son. Jesus is love, love turned toward us, even in suffering and death. We are His friends, in relationship with God, and therefore we are love, love shown to those around us. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Our love proclaims to the world that we abide in the love of Jesus, that we have been shown love by the One who laid down His life for His friends. His love leads to our love; we cannot give what we haven’t first received. We can only show love for others because we have first been shown love, the love of the cross. If we have no love for others, then we demonstrate that we do not abide in His love. “If you keep my commandments then you will abide in my love… These things I have commanded you, so that you will love one another.”
Jesus loves us as the Father loves Him; we are to love others with that same love. Our love is to be turned outside of ourselves to the ones around us, especially those placed closest to us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” Love to our neighbor means placing their needs ahead of our own, seeking to serve them in any situation. Love is self-giving, it is sacrificial, it doesn’t look for reward or payment. Love in marriage means that the husband lays down his life for his bride. Saint Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Love in the family means that parents lay down their lives for their children. Today we celebrate mothers, those who have shown the love that Jesus first showed to them by sacrificing for their children and grandchildren. Today we give thanks for their love, love that doesn’t have its source in them, but in God Himself.
Jesus creates a community characterized by such sacrificial, self-giving love; a Church founded in His love for you and me, a Church that expresses this love to all people. This Church is chosen out of this world for this purpose, that it may show love to the world. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.” Love doesn’t have its origin in us, but in God. God is love. Jesus is love. This love flows from the cross to sinners like you and me. It claims us, grabs hold of us, creating faith within our hearts of stone. We didn’t choose God, we didn’t choose Jesus. We were born not only indifferent to His love, but violently opposed to it. But this love broke into our hearts and Jesus claimed us as His own. He showed love to us so that we would go forth and bear fruit in this world, fruit that endures.
Love abides, it remains. All of the other stuff of this world will fade away, but love will last for eternity. That is why we bear fruit, not on our own strength, but only through the love of Jesus flowing through us. Martin Luther puts it this way: “Oh, faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for it not to be constantly doing what is good. Likewise, faith does not ask if good works are to be done, but before one can ask, faith has already done them and is constantly active.” A tree made good by the love of Jesus will bear good fruit. That’s simply what good trees do. The fruit doesn’t make a tree good; a good tree makes good fruit. That’s just the way it is. Your fruit demonstrates that you abide in the love of Jesus. Your fruit doesn’t make you or keep you a Christian, but a Christian isn’t without good fruit.
We don’t always bear the fruit that we ought as trees made good through the love of Jesus, those called out of this world in order to show love to it. Quite often, we look like the other trees that do not have the love of Jesus flowing through them. For us today, these words of Jesus—“This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you”—are stern, condemning Law. It should move us to sorrow and repentance. We have not lived in love toward others, we have not borne the good fruit that Jesus has called on us to produce. We need forgiveness, we need redemption. Thanks be to God that Christ’s love is more powerful than our sin! “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down His life for His friends.” Jesus pours out His love upon sinners, upon you and me, by giving up His life in our place. Today’s text is one of joy, for it tells you of the love of Jesus for you! “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” We can have fullness of joy because the love of Jesus that we abide in covers over all of our sins, even our lack of love.
Jesus spoke these words on Maundy Thursday, just hours before He would be betrayed, just hours before He would lay His life down for His friends. Jesus and His disciples had much sorrow ahead of them, but here He promises them joy. This joy is revealed on Easter, when Christ rose in love for you and me. This is the joy that fills our lives as Christians, as we abide in the love of Jesus and then joyfully show that love to those around us. This is the joy that will characterize eternity; heaven and earth will pass away, but love and joy will endure, for they both have their source in God Himself and Christ’s victory on our behalf. And so, let our voices ring out once again with joy: Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.