Sunday, May 13, 2012

God’s Commandments Are Loving

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 13, 2012
What did we pray for this morning in the Collect of the Day? “That we may think those things that are right and by Your merciful guiding accomplish them.” We prayed to God, addressing Him this way: “O God, the giver of all that is good.” This is who our God is. He is God, and He is a God who gives, and He is the one who when He gives He gives what is good. If you learn this and take it to heart you will understand much of what you have in your life: what your life is and what you have been given. You will see that there is so much good. You will see more and more that when God gives it is what is good.

On Mother’s Day many mothers wonder where all this affection and thanks and gifts are the other 364 days of the year. It’s sad that so many of us don’t readily and joyfully thank our mothers, that we don’t give them the affection they deserve, that we don’t give to them in return for all their love and affection. If there’s any good in this perhaps it’s that our mothers don’t love us and care for us in order to receive thanks and affection.

That’s really what love is, isn’t it? Can you imagine if moms loved their children for love in return? There might not be much love they would give to their children. When moms love their children it’s much more that they just naturally love their children. That’s what love is. They want to love them and care for them and do what is best for them.

This leads to another thing we learn from our moms: that what they give us isn’t always what we want or what is pleasant. But it’s certainly love. And it’s definitely what is best for us. Love often means giving us things that our sinful nature recoils against. But that is exactly what we need. We need someone to love us in a way which won’t ignore our sinful ways.

In the Gospel reading today Jesus talks about His relationship with us. He talks about the relationship His Heavenly Father has with Him. In our moms we get a wonderful picture of the kind of love Jesus is talking about with us and that His Heavenly Father has for Him. It’s love that gives what is good, even if it’s painful.

So when Jesus is saying that as the Father loves Him so He loves us and then He starts talking about commandments and how we are to keep His commandments, well, we get a little squirmy. What do commandments have to do with love? How is it when God gives us commandments that that is good and that in this way He is loving us? He says: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” When we write our Mothers Day cards we probably aren’t saying things like, “Mom, thanks for telling me to clean my room and eat my vegetables.” We say things like, “Thanks for loving me and taking care of me.” As we grow older we see more and more that all those commands are part of that love, part of taking care of us. This is the way it is with God. He gives us His commands because He loves us and takes care of us.

Of course, a relationship that consists of the one in authority handing down commands and the one under authority obediently keeping them wouldn’t be much of a loving relationship. Fortunately, that’s not what Jesus is talking about here. He is talking about a true loving relationship in which He loves us and we love Him in return. Again, we have an excellent example of this is in our relationship with our moms. What kind of relationship would it be if all she did was tell us what to do and we simply did it because we had to? That wouldn’t be much of one. But it’s not that way. She loves us unconditionally and we love her and trust her and give to her. That we also do what she tells us to do we, hopefully, see more and more that it is because she loves us and it is what is best for us.

With Jesus He knows all this. He’s God and He is love Himself. His relationship with His Father is pure love yet even so Jesus delights in keeping His Father’s commandments. Does it seem odd that He does so? Yes, it does. He certainly doesn’t need to, He’s God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a perfect relationship without any commands needing to be kept. There is one reason Jesus keeps His Father’s commands and that is love. It’s love for His Father of course. But it’s really located in His love for us. Jesus keeps His Father’s commandments because of you and me. Because it’s what we need, because it’s what’s best for us.

So when Jesus talks about us keeping His commandments He’s not laying something down on us that zaps all the love out of our relationship with Him. He’s giving to us something that breathes love. If we’re honest, and hopefully we will be, we will see that we do not keep God’s commandments. We’re often like we are with Mom: “Do I have to?” We so often see God’s commandments as burdens. Kind of like the way we so often see the things Mom makes us do. But John in the Epistle reading says that “His commandments are not burdensome.” God does not gives us His commandments to burden us but to love us. That’s why we prayed in the Collect “that we may think those things that are right and by [His] merciful guiding accomplish them.” His commandments are loving.

That we sin and often recoil at God’s commandments shows that we often don’t think the things that are right, and we could also add good and beneficial. We need to keep in mind that when Mom tells us to do the things we ought to do these are first and foremost commands from God. Her authority is first and foremost God’s authority. By grace we will also see that her love for us also is first and foremost His love for us. He is loving us by giving us a mom to love and care for us.

So when Jesus says “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” He is not laying a burden on us. He is not telling us, “This is how you must obey Me, you must love one another.” He is giving to us. He is loving us by giving us a command which is not a burden but rather an act of love. We are to love others. Should we not? Should we not love others? Don’t we want to? Does a mother love her children because she has been commanded to by God? Doesn’t she rather do it because it is a  joy? Doesn’t she do it simply because she loves her children?

And so with us. We love others. If it seems a burden at times that’s because it’s hard work loving others. It’s hard when they’re not very loving back to us. It’s hard when it does seem to be a burden, when it takes a toll on our time or health or finances. But Jesus’ command is really an exhortation simply to love others in the way He has loved us. And how is that? He says that there is no greater love than someone laying down his life for his friends. This is love exemplified in Jesus. It’s His love for us, in which He loves us to an extent in which there is no greater extent. It’s not a love that has a limit or a love that can be exhausted or a love that places conditions on us. It’s a love in which He lays down His life for us.

When He laid down His life for us He didn’t just give His life, He took our place. He’s not just talking a physical act of salvation here. He’s talking about taking our place as we stand before God. He became as we are, a sinner. He became as one who deserves punishment for not keeping the commandments of God. He laid down His life so that when we die it doesn’t mean eternal death and condemnation.

The kind of love that draws Jesus to do this also draws Him to view us in a new way: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” Jesus is above all our Lord and Savior. He is also our friend. When you have close friends you know what a blessing they are. When you don’t you know that also because you know what you need. We need friends. Jesus calls us His friends. We know one friend we can always count on and His command to us is that we then love each other as fellow Christian friends. This command and this love is not burdensome. If it’s tough to love one another at times it’s because love is not an easy thing. It’s a conscious choice and effort. But the good news is that it’s love that flows out of the Father’s love for His Son and our Lord’s love for us in laying down His life for us, His friends.

We did not choose Him, He chose us. His love really comes down to that. He has loved us and continues to love us by giving us what we need to think those things that are right and by His merciful guiding accomplish them. Amen.


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