Text: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15
Dear friends in Christ, He is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
Now, the text for our sermon today, is the first verse of our Gospel reading, from John fourteen, verse fifteen, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Along with the verse that ends the Gospel reading, the verse staring out at you from the front of the bulletin “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me…” And believe me, I’ll understand if, as a result, today’s bulletin somehow doesn’t manage to find its way home with you. I understand how that verse, and the image of Moses’ two tablets there might not provide a person whole lot of comfort. It’s something that might provoke a little anxiety when you get in your car to go to work come Tuesday morning and it’s there on the passenger seat, where it ended up, on the way home from church, “my commandments.” Something that might make you wince a tad when you get home from a day at work, and there it is on the kitchen counter, “keep them.” Or there on the coffee table when you sit down to catch the evening’s shows, “love me.”
And then back to that verse at the beginning of the reading. It’s one of those verses that can make us squirm a little bit. It makes us stop and ponder the nature of our relationship to Jesus. It starts out with that little word if. That little word, that might be assuming everything it says is true. But it also introduces a little element of doubt into matters. The possibility that something might not quite be right and the statement falls apart. The possibility that we in fact do not love Jesus.
And then there is the second part of that clause, “If you love me,” then “you will keep my commandments.” That word, commandments, is barely heard, and already a sense of inadequacy starts creeping in. And if we take Luther’s advice that he gives in the section of the Catechism on confession, and consider our place in life according to the Ten Commandments, that sense of inadequacy and failure picks up from a creep to a full-out gallop. As a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker, have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? You have not loved me. Have you been hot-tempered, rude or quarrelsome? You have not loved me. Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? You have not loved me. Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm? You have my commandments, and you have not kept them. You are not one who loves me.
Chances are, the weight of these words fell upon the disciples in much the same way. In the course of the evening, in the midst of Jesus explaining the great mysteries of the faith, telling them of His death and resurrection to come, breaking the bread and giving the cup, the disciples found out how far short they fell of who they thought they were, and who Jesus wanted them to be. When Peter professed how great his love for Christ was, how he was willing to lay down his own life to save Jesus’, Jesus shook His head and said, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:38). And as we heard last week, when Jesus told the disciples that they knew the way to where He was going, Thomas had to confess, “Lord we don’t even know where it is you’re going to. How could we possibly know the way?”
With these things heavy on their hearts, these words must have been uncomfortable to say the least. “If you love, you will keep my commands.”
We began worship by confessing those accusatory words from the First Epistle of St. John, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8). To confess these words puts us in the same awful predicament in which we find ourselves when we sin against those closest to us. To confess that we have sinned against someone close is to admit that we have not respected them, we have not honored them, we have not cherished them, that we have not loved them. With these words in our worship, we confess that we have not loved Christ. And with that confession we deserve nothing but death.
But death is not the sentence that Jesus leaves with those confused, doubting, and denying disciples. Foretelling His death and resurrection, he says “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” Christ’s resurrection, His living, His life, this is where the promise of life comes from for the disciples. This is where their hope comes from. This where the forgiveness of sin comes from. This is what gives them the hope of eternal life. This is where their love would spring from. “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus says, “that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (15:13) He laid down His life for them and took it back up again, and in that, He gave them life and love.
After the resurrection, Jesus came to His disciples just as he promised that He would. They saw the victory complete, the Father glorified in His Son, sin and death defeated, and the Holy Spirit soon on His way.
And Christ has come to you as well. You have been brought through the water to new life in Christ. Your sin, your doubting, your denials, your failure to love, all of these have been swallowed up in His love for us on the cross. Because of that death and resurrection, that text of St. John’s that we confess “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” that text does not end there, it continues, as we also said, “But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And in the words of absolution spoken by the pastor, He has done just that.
This then is what gives us the hope of eternal life. This is where our love springs from. We are not able to love Christ because of anything in us, but only because of what He has done for us. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). Christ loved you so much that He laid down His life for you.
And this changes the way that those words on the cover of the bulletin looks. It changes the way we hear those words. Christ tells us that He does not leave us alone. Now that He has given this new life to us, He will not leave us as orphans to fend for ourselves, to try and make it on our own, to try and keep His commands by ourselves. He has come to us, in Word and Sacrament, and He has given us the Holy Spirit, who brought us into the church through Baptism, gathers that church around the one true faith, leads us to repent of our sins, and is daily at work to sanctify and strengthen us to hear the Word of God and to keep it, loving God and loving one another. Amen.