+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 15:13
Theme: The Image of Love
Dear friends of the Risen Lord,
God formulates the definitions. We have the privilege of apprehending them. We do so not in theory, but in participation by faith and the Spirit. Today Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”1 As a reference to His own death and resurrection it was a concise definition of the gospel. His life-given freely and abundantly- is the heart of Christian teaching.
As Christians we are called to lay down our lives for others. This doesn’t necessarily happen in a dramatic way resulting in the sudden loss of our life. It happens every day as we sacrifice our own interests for the well-being of others- especially their spiritual welfare. St. Paul said, “In view of God’s mercy…offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.”2 These words of Christ cannot be dismissed as being inapplicable just because we may never be called upon to be a hero in a life-threating situation.
Little by little, piece, by piece, bit by bit, day by day we expend the energies and abilities, the talents and blessings God has given to us in service to others. Isn’t this the lifelong vocation of motherhood also? The concept is not complicated: Faith is never evidenced in idleness. It is always active in good works. What do the Scriptures say, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”3
But the execution is another matter altogether. The heart, mind, and will struggle as the Holy Spirit wrestles with our sinful natures. Self-sacrifice on behalf of others happens simultaneously with two other important phenomena: The crucifying of our sinful natures, and our spiritual maturity in the faith. The apostle says, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”4 All the manifold expressions of unrighteousness look for opportunities to reassert dominance. Repentance is the lifelong vocation of every Christian.
Identifying which particular maladies plague the wider church is another challenge before us. The Lord warned the church at Laodicea about apathy, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”5 How applicable is the concern of apathy still today!
One forward-thinking Christian suggests (in jest) that some of the most well-known hymns of the church should be revised to more honestly reflect the state of being lukewarm. Some of the proposals are as follows, “Sit Up, Sit Up for Jesus”, “A Comfy Mattress Is Our God”, “Above Average is Thy Faithfulness”, “Lord, Keep Us Loosely Connected to Your Word”, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Much” and, “Praise God from Whom All Affirmations Flow”- just to name a few. Would this not be a more genuine expression of some of the lip service that is offered throughout the breadth of Christianity? God grant that the Spirit would cultivate in His people a passion for the truth!
Dear friends, Christ continually reaffirmed with His disciples the living dynamic of union with Himself. Christians are constantly pruning the mindset of worldliness. Affinity for worldliness is also found within. Our soul-searching must always lead to the realization of a greater need for God’s mercy. Such searching always serves as a check, a corrective. Never will we discover godliness within. The quest for internal answers will lead eventually and inevitably to darkness and doubt. The deeper we pry into the well-guarded motivations of our hearts the more we will uncover uncertainty and suspicion. If we are honest, the more we will clearly we see sin. And who doesn’t know instinctively that death is a horror against which we can mount no defence? Only the self-deluded or those with seared consciences could believe otherwise. Surely at the precipice of mortality there is use for neither unfounded possibilities nor naïve gambles. Nothing short of the Redeemer’s own blood will do. The Scriptures continually redirect us back to objective truths.
Instead of wringing your hands agonizing over whether your faith will hold up, focus on Him who was hung upon the cross and upon whom was hung the sins of the world. It depends not on your strength, but His might. Instead of doubting whether you are good enough to qualify to be in His company, marvel that He was so eager be in yours that He underwent humiliation, suffering, and death. It depends not on your piety, but His purity. Instead of trying to forge your own identity and purpose in life through the means the world provides, appreciate your baptismal identity by which you become a bearer of His name and His holy purposes. It depends not on your legacy, but on the dynasty of His eternal kingdom.
The apostle reminds us today that in Christ we have already overcome the world. Christ participates in our humanity that we may share His immortality. He was sentenced that we might be acquitted. He tasted bitter gall that we may enjoy sacred food. He wore the crown of thorns that we may wear the crown of life. He quenched Satan’s fury that we may be spared from his scorching accusations. He re-opened paradise so that we won’t be left in exile.
At the beginning of His public ministry Jesus announced the kingdom of God was near6. The time had come for the Father’s plan to be completed. At Jesus’ death God gives warning that time will be rendered obsolete. The death knell is delivered. In Christ the new era has commenced and we participate in its benefits even now. In Holy Communion the sacredness of eternity breaks into the mundane chronology of our daily lives. We drink the fruit of the cross of Him who reigns eternally in the Father’s kingdom. The very image of love, He moves us towards the day of the full consummation of His divine compassion: Union with Him as resurrected saints in heaven. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Sixth Sunday of Easter
13 May 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 15:13
2 Romans 12:1
3 Romans 12:6-8
4 1 Corinthians 5:19-21
5 Revelation 3:15-16
6 See Mark 1:15