Second Sunday after Trinity (1 John 3:13-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Second Sunday after Trinity + June 30, 2019

Text: 1 John 3:13-18

The word “love” has taken on a life of its own.  It’s as if everyone has their own private dictionary of what they want it to mean.  So many interpret it simply as an emotion, and a shallow emotion at that.  The word “love” is the same as strong affection—I have good feelings toward you because you put butterflies in my stomach, but as soon as that euphoria wears off, then I can just as easily despise you and cast you off.  Love is a strong emotion, but that’s only a narrow slice of what love encompasses.

It all starts with God, who loves.  Man’s love is fickle, man’s love is finite, and soured by bad history. Man’s love is fallible, no matter how strong or devoted.  The Christian band, Third Day, showed this in their song (appropriately named) “Love Song.” Written first person from the Lord:

“I’ve heard it said that a man would climb a mountain
Just to be with the one he loves
How many times has he broken that promise
It has never been done
I’ve never climbed the highest mountain
But I walked the hill of Calvary

“Just to be with you, I’d do anything
There’s not price I would not pay
Just to be with you, I’d give anything
I would give my life away.”

No matter our experiences or our feelings, God teaches us what love truly is: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us.”  Here is the gold standard for love: our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is Almighty, and yet He washed His disciples’ feet.  He is a King, and yet wore the form of a servant and was beaten for others’ crimes.  He was immortal and infinite, and yet to seek us He entered this world.  God became flesh.  While we were yet sinners, God died for us.

That’s what love is.  Not just a feeling, although the emotions are involved.  Not just a word, although the Word of God is living and active.  Love is not a passive thing, but a movement of the heart that pours out self-sacrificing action. John 3:16 gives us a definition of love: “God loved the world, namely that He gave up His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish.” (John 3:16, alt. translation) Call this not just love, but divine love.

But there’s a problem when it comes to us and divine love.  It’s problem we run into when we see the difference between God’s perfect love and man’s flighty love.  God made us for love, and even commands, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Yet, it’s easy to find examples contrary to that.

We could sit here all day, talking about what love truly is.  But, it’s not good enough to just have a head knowledge of divine love, looking down on the ignorance of others.  We aren’t just to receive divine love and go on our merry way.  John says, “…And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  How important is this?

Verse 14: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.”  The presence of divine love for our fellow human being is the evidence that God’s love has had its intended result in us.  When God talks about our loving as He has loved, He’s really talking about a living faith that abides in Him.

Maybe an illustration is best: “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?”  Like with love, heart is another word that gets boiled down to simply mean emotions.  But the Greek word, often translated “have compassion,” means the guts, the place where you feel your deepest affection and your deepest unease.  If you close your guts, cut off affection for your brother in need, how does God’s love abide in you?  It’s not a jab, or a religious trump card to manipulate someone; it’s a question of fact. 

The difference between God’s love and our love is important, and where it exists, it is a call for us to repent.  Yes, Lord, I have closed my heart to my brother’s need.  I’ve passed him by; I haven’t picked up the phone; I’ve resented that he never seemed to learn his lesson.  And yet that is exactly what God did for you! In His love for you, in spite of your sin, He did not close His heart.  “And out of compassion, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” (Matt. 18:27)   This is what our heart (our guts) should do when we see others in pain and grief.  Rather than push them away, make excuses why it’s not our problem, we are to live in that love which we so highly prize for ourselves.  It’s the love that won for us eternal life.

How do we get there?  This is the Lord’s doing, to make His people those who know His love in their inner being.  Trust what God is able to do with you, because He is the one who removes your heart of stone and gives you a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26).  First of all, trust that He is able and willing to forgive all those times when you closed your heart to your brother, for the sake of Christ. 

Then, with the gift of the Holy Spirit in you, pray for Him to continue making you a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)  Think of this when we sing and pray the Offertory in a minute: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  You are confessing to God that it’s not good enough that you have a cold or lukewarm heart toward others.  Don’t let us be Cain, who was so blinded by his own jealousy that he raised a hand against his brother.  Don’t let us fail to raise our hands in help like the priest and the Levite who passed by the man in the ditch whom the Samaritan helped (Luke 10:29-37).  Give us a heart to recognize that all that we have is a trust from You for supporting the ministry of the word, caring for ourselves and our family who depend on us, and being willing to share our abundance when the need arises. “Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”  Give us a true fear of you, never to become complacent in our place in your Kingdom.  Keep us also from despairing of your mercy and believing that you have called us to be your children.

And remember our Lord’s promise: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:16-17) God grant it for you, for the sake of Jesus.  Amen.

Second Sunday after Trinity (Luke 14:15-24)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Second Sunday after Trinity + June 10, 2018
Text: Luke 14:15-24

Life happens.  We all know that.  Sometimes life happens so much that one’s faith falls to the bottom of the list.  Children, work, family get-togethers, sleep…all sorts of things compete for attention in our lives.  This is how it’s always been, and how it will be in the future.
But when it’s a problem is when life is happening so much, that there is no room left for God to speak.
“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:16–20)
Week in and week out, the Church is in worship.  The Church hasn’t closed like a department store.  She hasn’t ceased meeting because a building was sold.  And only in times of dire persecution does she go underground so that you have to know someone to meet her.
Likewise, the messengers (pastors) haven’t stopped delivering the news.  They weren’t silenced because they were banned from Facebook.  They weren’t shut up by a group of rabble rousers who drove them out of one particular city.  And the faithful ones haven’t changed their message to get in line with the popular ideologies of the day.
So what so often accounts for the empty places in church?  It’s when we take this for granted that the Church will always be there—whether we mean the congregation, or faithful pastors, or the opportunity to fit Jesus back into our lives.  More often than we would like to admit, we say “Come back later, Jesus.”
“When things aren’t so crazy, then I’ll go back to church.”  This excuse might work for why you can’t volunteer for more things.  But the reality is that life is always going to be crazy to one degree or another.  The more important thing to realize is that life is always going to be messy.  You are always going to fail at some things.  You are going to hurt people by your actions or inaction.  People, no matter how much you may admire them, are going to let you down or wrong you.  To put it plainly, this messy life is full of sin.  It’s in the midst of that sin of daily life that God call you back to His grace.  Confess your sins to your pastor; don’t ignore them or make excuses for them.  Receive the Lord’s Supper as often as you possibly can and don’t get carried away with the lies that you’re strong enough without it or that less often makes it more special.
“If I could just get myself and my life together, then I won’t get stares at church.”  The social aspect of Church really gets to us.  So, we know we’re sinners who have sinned.  But it’s much more comfortable when we can keep a tight lid on that sin and not let it show to others.  It’s so much easier when we can put a smile on and go to church and tell everyone that we’re doing fine.
One of the great throw-away greetings that our culture uses is, “How are you doing?”  I even find myself using it, and sometimes I ask people on Sunday morning how they’re doing.  Now, the answer the checker at the store wants is “fine,” but I think it’s better when we can say something more honest about the burdens we’re carrying.  At the very least, be honest with God about why you’re here.  You need His grace, His strength, His guidance, His power.  Whether your sin is visible to others or not, know that every one of us is in the same boat.  We’re sinners here to dine with Jesus.
Lastly, we say, “When God shows me some good, then I’ll start praying.”  Many times we hear a brother or sister talk about the great blessings they received after praying—how a sense of peace washed over them, or a loved one’s health took a miraculous turn for the better, or a wandering child came back to their faith.  But when we look at our own lives, we can get down and only see the negative, the failings, the impossible situations.  Thinking God only answers other people’s prayers, we might not even bother asking.  Not wanting to be disappointed if God has another plan, we don’t bring it up to Him.
Take a step back and consider your life in light of God (not in light of your own understanding, Prov. 3:5).  According to His eternal purpose for your good, He called you into His Kingdom in Christ.  He adopted you as His child, and God Almighty as your Father.  He is eager to hear all your prayers because you are His child.  He is powerful enough to turn around even the most humanly-impossible things.
God does not change.  His Word is always the same.  His invitation to His grace in Christ is always going out.  Even if it’s ignored by some, it still goes out because His saving purpose is for all people:
21So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:21–24)
We can safely assume that the Church will always be there, even unto the end of the age.  But how can you be sure that you will always have the opportunity?  We don’t know the length of our life.
Yes, the Kingdom of God will come, and so will the King’s messengers.  But what’s to say they will always be readily accessible?  Luther, acknowledging that the Word of God comes down like rain upon the earth, also recognized that sometimes it’s like a passing rain cloud.  If the people reject it long enough, it moves on to another place.  We can see this happen in history: The Byzantine Empire rested secure in their Christian kingdom, only to be invaded by the Turks.  Europe had such a rich history of Christianity with the buildings to prove it, but now those buildings lie vacant or are museums.  It should be a signal to us in America where we boast of our religious liberty, that if we abuse that liberty by driving away true teachers and following after false prophets, that we will soon be a spiritual wasteland, and the Gospel will move on to places like Africa and China.
In 2 Corinthians 5-6, St. Paul says, “Be reconciled to God…Do not receive the grace of God in vain…behold, now is the favorable time, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 5:20, 6:1, 2)  We need to repent of taking God’s Word and the Gospel for granted.  We should truly hear what the 3rd Commandment says to us all:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
What a priceless gift it is for the King’s messengers to come among us and invite us to the eternal banquet!  The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is ready, all is prepared, come, taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34)   The Kingdom of God does not come with coercion and force.  It comes with the Holy Spirit in the heart, working a living and active faith.  For the sake of Christ and the salvation He wrought for us, may the Holy Spirit do this in each of our hearts and lives.  May the weakness of our flesh be crucified and die with Christ, and may our little faith be increased.  God grant it, even to us this day. Amen.