4th Sunday of Easter Proper 4B
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
1 John 3:16-24 Sermon
April 29, 2012
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Hymns (congregation's choice):
NOTE: Any month there is a fifth Sunday, we ask members of the congregation to submit hymns in advance that they would like to sing. We have adapted Luther's Chorale Service to include 8 hymns, which are listed below. All of the hymns are from The Lutheran Hymnal except one which is from the Service Book and Hymnal.
339 "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name"
658 "Onward Christian Soldiers"
376 "Rock Of Ages"
SBH 356 "Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory"
533 "Nearer My God To Thee"
409 "Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus"
15 "From All That Dwell Below The Skies"
552 "Abide With Me"
TRUE LOVE IS MORE THAN EMPTY PROMISES
TEXT (vs. 16-18): “16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
I love doughnuts. This love of doughnuts I have actually goes a bit deeper than that, because I love about anything that comes from a bakery. I love the smells that emanate from a bakery. All I have to do is walk through the door, and I'm hooked. I'm sure that this little admission of mine comes as no surprise to any of you.
When I lived in Atlanta, I used to drive past a Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop quite often. In the window of that shop, they had a neon sign that read: "Hot doughnuts now." Even though the shop was open 24 hours, they would light up that sign whenever they were frying up some fresh doughnuts.
I would go in and ask for a dozen "hot ones." Then they would take a box, and go over to the cooling rack and load it up with 12 hot doughnuts with the glaze still dripping off of them. To make matters worse, they would tempt me by telling me they would give me a dollar off of a second dozen. Anyway, when I put one of those doughnuts into my mouth, it just literally dissolved. And of course who could stop with eating just one doughnut? Oh yes, it's no secret that I love doughnuts.
This morning, my little illustration probably got your attention. I'm fairly sure that you've had fresh bakery products too, and you would know just how good they are. I might have even made you hungry by just talking about the subject.
As you listened to what I was saying, I'm guessing that your attention was focused upon doughnuts. But that's not the reason I have for bringing up the subject. I used one little word several times, and you probably never even gave it a second thought. I said that I LOVE doughnuts didn't I? That's the word we're going to be talking about today. The word is "love."
We use this word so carelessly; so much so in fact, that I was able to use it in my illustration without raising so much as even an eyebrow. Think of how we use it: I love doughnuts, I love fishing, I love the beach, I love to travel, I love football, I love a porterhouse steak, I love my car, and the list goes on. And to be honest about it, I will frequently use the word "love" in this sense about as much as anybody, because there's nothing technically wrong with doing that, just as long as people understand how it is meant. If we really like something, or we're really fond of something, we will often say that we "love it!"
That's all well and good. However today, we're going to be talking about what the Biblical definition of love is. In our Epistle reading for today, John gives us a good description of it, and how it is to be put into practice by Christians. For the Christian, true love is more than just an expression or an empty promise. Love involves a definite positive action that goes far beyond a fondness for somebody or something.
John's first epistle is probably one of the greatest "love books" in the entire Bible. And please understand that I'm not referring to John's Gospel, which is the 4th book in the New Testament. I'm talking about John's first epistle, which is one of three short letters at the end of the Bible, just before Jude and Revelation. In those 5 short chapters, John presents what love means as far as God is concerned.
Listen once again to verses 16-18 of the third chapter: "16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." And now we add in verse 23: "23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us."
It doesn't take too much to see that when I tell you "I love doughnuts," it really has nothing to do with the type of love God tells us that we are to have. In fact, we are warned against loving things that have no meaning. If we go back to chapter 2, verses 15-17 explain this: "15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."
John lets us know that God's definition of love is more than empty words and promises. God's love is a love of action. He actively loves us, and he wants us to be active in our love as well. He wants us to know exactly what love is, and to not be misled by the world's definitions.
People begin dating, and so often get married with very differing and flawed definitions of love. One party might understand love in terms of a relationship, where the other party might understand love as a one-night stand. Or, one party might understand love as the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from a romantic evening, while the other party might understand love in terms of earthly security. And then comes the "guilt trip love," where one party says to the other: "You know, if you REALLY loved me, you would...," and fill in the blank with any number of situations. It doesn't take too much to see that some very huge conflicts can arise when people have flawed definitions and understanding of love.
If we back this up a bit, think of a boy and a girl who are middle school teenagers. They say, "I love you" to each other all the time. They are almost inseparable. They sneak away and make out any chance they can get. Their affections are strong, and their hormones are raging. They reckon that they have this "love thing" all figured out, while the adults in their lives are going nuts and asserting that these two kids have no idea of what love is all about. And it's true too; infatuation and love get confused all the time.
When I've taught confirmation classes with young teens, I always try to impress upon them the difference between romance and love. Romance is nothing more than an action or behavior, and is not the basis for love. For example, if your spouse has a bad case of the stomach flu, you still love that person, even though neither of you will be feeling too romantic at the time. So love that is based upon romance is on very shaky ground.
I'm going to go back to the Apostle John again, the person who penned those profound words of love. Think about the type of person he was. He, and his brother James were fishermen. They worked with their father Zebedee in the family business. Jesus called them the "sons of thunder," which would have been a testimony to their temperament. They were often over-zealous, and would allow their emotions to take control of them.
As I mentioned last week, John's three epistles would have probably been written during his advancing years. History records John becoming more and more disabled as the years went by. He even got to the point of having to be carried to worship services. At the conclusion of each service, he would be asked if he had any words to share with the congregation. Each time, he would respond: "Brothers, let us love one another." One day, a man approached him and asked him, "John, why do you always say this? Why are you always telling us to love one another?" John's reply was simply, "because the Lord commands it."
Jesus himself shows us the prime example of love. He loved us so much that he gave his life for us. The love of Jesus always was looking to the benefit of others, and never to himself. This love is shown by God the Father, who loved humanity so much that he sent Jesus to the earth in the first place. The heavenly and Biblical definition of love is one that always puts somebody else first.
So why does the definition of love get so misunderstood? Why does so much strife and turmoil happen when love enters into the picture? Satan introduced one huge flaw into the concept of love, which is selfishness. And if we look at things even casually, we can see how true this is. All Satan had to do was to change the focus from outward to inward, and that made all the difference.
During one marriage seminar, the presenter had everyone do a little exercise. He handed everyone a sheet of paper. At the top was written the words, "I love you because...." Underneath that was a whole series of blank lines, numbered down to the bottom of the page. He asked everybody to list the reasons they loved their spouse, and hand them in anonymously.
After everybody had completed the task, he had a whole variety of answers. There were things like, "you make me happy, you make me feel good, you are a good cook, you are a good mother, you are a good provider, you are a hard worker, you are a nice person, etc." However, there was one piece of paper turned in that had only one thing written on it. It said, "I love you, for no good reason." That person needed no selfish basis for their love, and that was the whole point of the exercise.
If we look at our Gospel lesson for today from John chapter 10, Jesus begins right away by describing his love for people. Verse 11 says, "I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Could there be any greater unselfish act of love than that?
Christ's love for us is for no good reason at all. We've done nothing to earn or deserve that love. When it comes to the likes of you and me, Jesus could not have written anything on the "I love you because" list. We've done nothing but sin and go our own way. Our lives are little more than vain attempts and huge disappointments.
But Christ loved us anyway. He came to save us. In order to do that, he bled and died for us. The Holy Spirit has come to create faith in our hearts, the faith to accept him as our Lord and Saviour. Through his love, Jesus invites us to have an entire relationship with him, and not some exchange of empty and meaningless words of love.
But it doesn't stop there. We are to turn around and love others the same way he has loved us. That's what John was talking about when he was asked to share some words with the congregation in his declining years.
In our Epistle lesson for today, John records in verse 23: "And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us." Love is more than just empty promises. The love Jesus has for us is a love of action, and that's what we need to show others.
There's the story about a woman who had been away on a cruise for several weeks. The first Sunday after she returned, she went to church. When she got there, she was immediately met by another woman who had always been an adversary of hers. Much to her surprise, this woman ran up to her, put her arms around her, and told her how happy she was to see her.
Well, this really shocked the first lady. She couldn't believe what happened. But nevertheless, she was really feeling good about all of this. Then as the pastor was ending his sermon, he said: "Your assignment this week will be the same as it was last week. I want you to love somebody you cannot stand."
I don't know how sincere this woman's display of affection was, but it does make a valid point. Remember what John wrote: "And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us." The love of Jesus has redeemed us, and the faith God has given to us to accept free gift has saved us. Believing is the most crucial part, but that's not where it all stops.
Now the command is to love one another, and not with empty and meaningless words, but with real and genuine actions. How hard would it be for you to go out and love somebody you cannot stand? Can any of us emulate the love that Jesus has had for us when it comes to others? How can we love the unlovable? Just remember that this is a command, and not an option.
This morning when I told you that I love doughnuts, it was really just a figure of speech. I don't love doughnuts to the point where I would risk death to get some. When we say we love something in this regard, it is an indication that we really like something or we are really fond of something. We all use love in this manner, and there's nothing wrong with using it that way, as long as we understand what the true meaning of love is.
In chapter 15 of John's Gospel, Jesus says these words in verses 12-13: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." This is the true love that Jesus demonstrates. This is not just some selfish thought or a bunch of empty and vain words. These are real words accompanied by real action, spoken by the Good Shepherd, Jesus himself, who loved us, the members of his flock so much that he laid down his very life for us. He loves us for no good reason. He loves us just because he does, and that's the kind of love that he wants to have living within all of us.