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Worship Theme: The Risen Christ Gives His Church a Purpose
Sermon Theme: Remain in Jesus’ Love
If you heard a screech, crash, and crunch outside, I know that many of you would have an urge to run out and see what happened, not just to gawk but to offer whatever assistance was needed until the EMTs arrived. Once the professionals are on site, they would prefer that you not hang around so they can do their thing. I have nothing but admiration for the professionalism of dental hygienists and dentists, but when they’re done poking and polishing, I have no real desire to hang around at their office.
There are situations and circumstances when we don’t want to stay but then again there are those when we do, like hearing the echoes of the final notes of a magnificent concert as they soar to the heavens, or like the grand finale of a Fourth of July fireworks display that bursts into the night sky but fizzles just as quickly. If only we could prolong those blissful moments and remain in the beauty and joy!
The disciples of Jesus fretted and fidgeted because the night before he died, he told them, “I’m going away.” But they needed to keep their ears open; because he went on to describe how they could “remain in Jesus’ love.”
His love is Intentional
This is getting old hat because anyone and everyone can do it, but I couldn’t resist checking. There were twenty-five billion two hundred seventy million results when I googled “definition of a friend.” Here are a couple good ones: A friend is someone you respect and who respects you, someone whom you trust and who trusts you. A friend is someone who not only doesn't care if you're ugly or boring, but doesn’t even think about it. A friend is someone who forgives you no matter what you do. You may have friends who are willing to let you borrow their car or lawn mower, but a real friend comes through when the chips are down.
Jesus was even more specific. “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” You certainly have heard of stories like the Marine from a small town in Wisconsin who drowned in a canal near Baghdad as he tried to save fellow Marines whose helicopter had crashed. We agree with what Jesus said. The most vivid demonstration of friendship love would be for someone to give up their life to save others.
Jesus did more than that. Just twelve hours before hanging on the cross, he was telling his disciples that he was going to die in their place. He was talking to people like Peter who would deny him, James and John who selfishly asked for glory in his kingdom, Philip who lacked trust in his power to feed a big crowd, and Matthew who had been a money-grabbing, conniving cheat.
We smile when a rich person gives ten thousand dollars to help the poor. We lift an eyebrow in surprise when a billionaire wills his estate to his chauffeur. But we stand in awe that the holy Son of God gave up his life for people who can be caustic and careless, greedy and guilty rude and insensitive, self-centered and self-satisfied. He gave up his life for people who were originally his enemies. He gave us his life for a sinner like me and like you. No wonder the disciples wanted to remain in his love. Did they deserve such love? Do we? Not in the least. Yet, Scripture tells us that God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Don’t you just want to linger in Jesus’ love, love that is so intense and intentional so that we don’t have to fear God’s anger but can be assured, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you!” Remain in his love!
His love is Intimate
Two elderly gentlemen had enlisted in the armed forces together and served in war together. In the twilight of their days, they scheduled an evening out with their wives. As they sat across the table from each other, one of the men raised his glass and said, “Friends may come, and friends may go. Friends may disappear we know. But we’ve been friends in many ways, even in the darkest days.” No one else knew how they shivered in fear when bullets whizzed past their helmets. No one else knew how they together pulled the body parts of a buddy from the pit of a mortar blast.
That’s the kind of intimate, close, personal love that Jesus shared with his disciples. They would always be his servants. They were bound to him as their only Lord and Savior. But they were more than mere servants because a servant does not know the purposes and plans that lie behind the master’s commands. A servant simply obeys. Jesus elevated his disciples to a higher position. “You are my friends … I no longer call you servants … Instead, I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you.” He let them in on the mysteries of God’s plan to save the human race from hurtling into the abyss of hell. He told them that he had come to earth to pull them from the mortar pit of sin. He told them that he was going to rise from the dead and then withdraw his visible presence so he could be with them invisibly, always, everywhere. He took them into his confidence and entrusted them with the good news about how people can go to heaven. No wonder they wanted to remain in his love.
The Bible is God’s love letter to sinners like you and me. Through his Holy Word Jesus comes to us and invites us to cling to God’s promise of forgiveness and life. Take that message to heart, and you will experience the love, the comfort, the peace that Jesus described when he prayed to God the Father about believers, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:26). Don’t you just want to linger in Jesus’ love, love so intimate and personal, aimed right at you and me, revealing that God has pulled us close to his heart and wrapped us in his loving arms! Remain in his love!
His love is Inspiring
Generally speaking, people make friends among their own peer group. It’s only natural that moms with little kids become friends. It’s only natural that couples who enjoy concerts or plays become friends. It’s only natural that college students in a similar major and with similar extracurricular interests become friends.
Jesus is our Friend. But we can’t say that we are in his peer group, that we are equal to him. So he reminded his disciples and us, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” If anything, that will keep us humble. There’s no way we can say, “Lord, you picked a pretty good friend when you picked me.” Scripture makes it clear, “God saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4). But that truth is not only humbling. It’s also inspiring. Jesus said, “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last … If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. This is my command: Love each other as I have loved you.” Then, just to make sure we get it, he repeats himself, “My command is this: Love each other.” Let’s say good friends came to you with a request. “If we die, would you take over the spiritual training of our child?” That wouldn’t be a burden. You would consider it a great honor. In a similar way, it’s not a burden but an honor and privilege for us to follow Jesus’ command to love one another. His love inspires. His love is the energy source, the power pump from which our love for others flows.
We can sit back and say, “I like my church. It’s where I get filled up each week, and as long as the sermons aren’t too boring, I’ll be back.” But Jesus is making it clear that he doesn’t want us to be filled up like a river behind a dam without an outlet. He doesn’t want us to be disconnected like Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks in Castaway) alone on an island. Jesus’ love is inspiring, building up in our heart and seeking an outlet. You have just that all around you! This spring ten of our Grace young people publicly confessed their trust in Jesus and committed themselves to following him faithfully throughout their life. The rite of confirmation is a joyful event that brings smiles to the faces of parents and grandparents. We pastors are also overjoyed and thank God for each confirmand, but you can probably guess what is most on our minds. Will they remain in Jesus’ love? That, of course, has a lot to do with the example their parents set. But you can have an impact, too. Find their names on the essays they wrote on the bulletin board in the parish center. Write them a note. Identify them at church and offer a word of encouragement to remain in Jesus’ love.
The people of the ancient nation of Israel turned their backs on God, dove into ritualistic behaviors, and tried to fool themselves into calling that worship. This might make you lose your breakfast, but I’ll say it anyway. What they did was head to the pagan temples and consort with the prostitutes there. Babies were made. It gets worse. They often treated those children like garbage. I don’t mean that they were mean to those kids, but they treated them like literal garbage and sacrificed those children to idols. That’s disgusting. But imagine how those little toddlers felt, unwanted, unloved, dangled over flames, and dropped in. If you think that’s bad, imagine the alternative to remaining in Jesus’ love. The alternative is not a neutral existence as if to say, “Jesus? I can take him or leave him. Religion? I don’t need it. I’m fine on my own.” The alternative to remaining in Jesus’ love is to be unwanted, unloved by the heavenly Father, dangled over the flames of hell and dropped in. You don’t want to go there. Remain in Jesus’ love! But please don’t do that because you’re scared of the alternative. Do that because he has rescued you from the alternative by his intentional, intimate, and inspiring love.
The hymn writer has it right:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a tribute far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all (CW 125:4).
Remain in Jesus’ love. Amen.
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