4th Sunday of Easter (B)
I John 3:16-24
April 29, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
One of the great unanswered questions is, at least according to musicians, poets, and artists, the definition of love. What is love? Is it an emotion? Is it temporary or permanent? Is it something we can fall out of as easily as we fall into it? Is love when songs make sense? I suppose that love is one of those things that you know it when you feel it, or at least when you feel it, you can define it. This is all well and good when it comes to defining love from a human standpoint, but love doesn’t find its definition in us. Instead, if we want to define love, we have to start with God.
We start with God because He is the very definition of love. We will hear John say next week, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” In His very nature God is love. We can call it an attribute or a characteristic, but it goes further than that. It’s His essence. It’s who God is so to be unloving is impossible for Him. We see this in every facet of our lives. Why does the sun shine? Because God is love. Why does the rain fall causing the crops to grow? Because God is love. Why does our heart keep beating? Because God is love! You get the picture. God is overwhelming generous with the blessings He gives to all of creation. As Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, He gives us all we need to support our body and life. And this never changes! God will never not be loving. He may show anger over sin at times, but we don’t say that He is anger. He is love, and this is clearly revealed by the things we see and experience every day.
However, nowhere is this seen more vividly than in Jesus, because while God is love, we are not. Shouldn’t children naturally love their parents? But not all children feel this way, do they? Some children just won’t love their parents. Knowing God has given us all that we have means we should naturally love Him. But many of His creatures hate Him, and we don’t show our love for Him very well at times either.
Our refusal to properly love God or others means that we should be punished, repeatedly. We generally don’t love those who hate us or do evil things to us, do we? According to God we should, but we don’t. And yet, instead of destroying us as we deserve, He does the unexpected, He loves us. As Jesus says in a very familiar verse, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
His love led Him to send you His Son and this shows the extent of His love for you. As you heard John say, “By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us.” You won’t die because of your sins, you will live because love led Jesus to the cross. I know we talk about this a lot, but we must! It’s the Gospel for you! It’s the perfect illustration of God’s loving nature. Now you can kneel in front of Him and not be condemned by you sins. Now you can beg for His mercy and know that you have it! Now you can pray and know that He hears you! His love is seen in Christ and His promises to you. We can believe Him, no matter what our hearts might say.
Don’t our hearts on occasion lie to us? We’re in love, and then we’re not. Or worse yet, our hearts cause us to doubt God’s love. They tell us that we’re terrible sinners, or at the very least miserable failures. We haven’t loved God back well enough. We haven’t perfectly loved those around us. John says it perfectly when he says that our hearts condemn us. Our hearts, the very picture of Valentine love, judge us and find us lacking.
But God knows your hearts and He sees your faith, even if we don’t see it. John says, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” He knows we’re sinners, but He also knows that through Christ, we’re forgiven. Through faith you live in His truth, trusting in Jesus, so you can have confidence that you’re not condemned, regardless of what your heart might tell you. Hearts frequently lie, God though is love and truth. There is no greater love than this – that Jesus died for you that you would forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus is always the answer to what perfect love looks like.
God’s love is greater than our hearts for another reason, His love transforms us. There are a hundred songs that sing of the change that a person feels when they’re in love with someone, but this pales in comparison to the change we undergo when we’re brought to faith. We now love because He first loved us. His love is reflected in the way we love those around us. Our love for others is God’s love in us.
John says that we love by dying for our brothers and sisters, our friends and our enemies. And this does include actual death! We may be called upon in a situation to decide if we’re going to die for someone else or save our own skin. I pray that none of us have to make this decision, but it does happen. Another way of looking at this though is that laying down our lives is also sacrificing them by the way we act and love.
What do I need to lay down for my brother or sister? In other words, you may say you love others, but how do you demonstrate that love? We love by sharing what we have – money, time, abilities, the special gifts we have. We serve those in need to show our love for God and them. As Paul puts it in Romans, “Let love be genuine.” Put your faith into practice because love is a demonstration of our faith.
If we’re not willing to do this, God and His love don’t live in us. John says, “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?” Saint James says that faith without words is dead. There are only two options when it comes to those around us. Either we show love or hatred, and which one it is seen in how we treat those around us. Now, I know this isn’t how most of the worlds seven billion people live. People are generally loveless and focused on their own self-interests, but not Christians, not you and me. We are called out of hatred and loveless lives because of what God has done for us. The love He showed by sending His Son, leads us to confess our failures to love, and by relying on the Spirit who lives in us, we can, and do, love others.
In one of the Post Communion collects we pray, “We implore you that of your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward you and in fervent love toward one another.” This is what Saint John is talking about! Love is God sending His Son to die for us, bringing us to faith, and stirring up in us a fervent love for one another. Our love for others flows from our faith. In a way, we can say that our love for others is God showing His love for them. So can you define love? Sure you can! It’s God. God is love! And His love lives in us, transforms us, and is seen by others when we love them as He loves us.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen