Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 6, 2018

John 15:9

Love

  1. As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you; abide in My love.

So far Christ had consoled His disciples and has exhorted them to remain in Him and to be good branches. He has done so by pointing out the benefits and the fruit that will accrue to them from this. Now, as He bids them farewell, He also gives instructions and commands about the love they are to bear toward one another. As has been said before, the reason for this command is that Christ foresaw how the devil would sow discord, anger, impatience, hatred, and envy in Christendom. Unfortunately we, too, have seen all too much of this all along, and it is still in evidence. We are branches that must constantly be pruned and purged. Even though we are clean in Christ if we remain in Him, still we are not yet completely clean in our lives; for we are encumbered with this mortal frame and with many daily frailties and shortcomings. It is inevitable that one member occasionally jostles the other, just as a foot or a toe of our body bumps the others, or as a person injures himself. Such bumps and trials do not fail to come, especially because we are sojourning here in the realm of the devil, who tempts us uninterruptedly, and also because the flesh is still weak and full of flaws. This explains why even dear and faithful friends fall out or become irritable with one another. At times the devil injects poison and suspicion into a heart because of a single word or glance and thereby stirs up mutual animosity. He is a master in this art and devotes himself to it most diligently. He employs his craftiness before one is really aware of it. As we read in Acts 15:2, this is what he did in the case of St. Paul and Barnabas, who had a sharp dissension and parted company. Or take the two men Jerome and Rufinus, who had been the best of friends and like brothers. They quarreled over a preface and were unable to re-establish their former friendship. The same thing would have happened between St. Augustine and Jerome if Augustine had not been so shrewd.32 Trifles can lead to such quarreling and enmity that great harm results to many. The blood soon begins to boil; then the devil shoots his venomous darts into the heart by means of evil tongues, and finally no one says or thinks anything good about the other person. The devil keeps on fanning the flames and is eager to set people against one another, to spread misery, and to incite them to murder.

According to a story—it may have been invented, but it serves very well to illustrate the devil’s cunning—a certain husband and wife loved each other so dearly that the devil was unable to alienate them from each other as he wished. Finally he bribed an old witch34 with the promise of a pair of red shoes to sow discord between the two. She accepted the offer. First she went to the husband and convinced him that his wife was a whore, felt an attraction for another man, and had designs on his life. In proof of this, she said, he would find under his wife’s pillow a sharp razor with which she intended to cut his throat at night. The husband swallows the poison and begins to grow suspicious. Meanwhile the old whore also approaches the wife with the very same story. She tells the wife that her husband is chasing after other women and is planning to kill her stealthily. She advises her to anticipate her husband and take a razor to bed with her. Henceforth the two did not have a friendly word or show each other a single token of love the whole day long. The wife took the razor to bed with her, the very razor for which her husband was lying in wait. And when he discovered it, he seized it and cut her throat. It is also related—and it sounds credible—that the devil then handed the shoes to the hag on a pole and said: “I do not want to come near, for you are far more evil than I.”

Therefore it behooves us Christians to be on our guard against the devil’s craft and cunning, to exercise prudence, and to beware of letting such poison develop in our hearts. We must repel any suspicion and antipathy that may be stirred up in us and remind ourselves not to let love depart and die out for this reason but to hold to it with a strong hand. And if aversion and discord have arisen anywhere, we must restore and improve the love and friendship.

It does not require such great skill to begin to love; but, as Christ says here, remaining in love takes real skill and virtue. In matrimony many people are initially filled with such ardent affection and passion that they would fairly eat each other; later they become bitter foes. The same thing happens among Christian brethren. A trivial cause may dispel love and separate those who should really be bound with the firmest ties; it turns them into the worst and bitterest enemies. That is what happened in Christendom after the days of the apostles, when the devil raised up his schismatic spirits and heretics, so that bishops and pastors became inflamed with hatred against one another and then also divided the people into many kinds of sects and schisms from which Christendom suffered terrible harm. That is the devil’s joy and delight. He strives for nothing else than to destroy love among Christians and to create utter hatred and envy. For he knows very well that Christendom is built and preserved by love. In Col. 3:14 Paul speaks of love as “binding everything together in perfect harmony.” And in 1 Cor. 13:13 he calls love the greatest virtue, which accomplishes and achieves most in the Christian realm. For in the absence of love doctrine cannot remain pure; nor can hearts be held together in unity.

Therefore Christ admonishes us so solemnly and earnestly to hold firmly to love above all else after we have come to faith in Him and are now His branches. He places both Himself and His Father before our eyes as the noblest and most perfect examples: “As My Father has loved Me, so have I loved you; abide in My love.” He wants to say: “My Father loves Me so much that He transmits all His power and might to Me. To be sure, He lets Me suffer now; but He takes to heart all that I do and suffer as though this were happening to Him, and He will raise Me from the dead, make Me Lord over all things, and completely glorify His divine majesty in Me.

“So do I love you. I shall not leave you in your sins and in death, but I will stake life and limb to rescue you. And I shall communicate to you My purity, holiness, death, resurrection, and all that I can do. Therefore you should let My love for you be reflected in your love for one another. Though you are sorely tempted and tried for My sake and hard pressed to forsake Me, stand firm and be patient. Let My love be stronger, greater, and mightier than the suffering you feel. For I know that the devil will harass you severely for My sake, to sadden and weary you, to make you impatient, to induce you to defect, and to make you say: ‘I wish I had never had anything to do with this!’ ” That is the sentiment of many right now. I myself have been assailed by such aversion and weariness, and the thought has come to me: “If I had not begun to do so, I would never again preach another word; I would let everything take whatever course it may.” For flesh and blood is flesh and blood; and the thought of seeing and suffering so much contempt, ingratitude, and peril in return for one’s love and kindness gives anyone pause.

But Christ declares: “That is not the right attitude. Do not let the devil, the world, or your own flesh overcome you; but think of how I have loved you and still love you. Call to mind what I have spent on you to make you righteous and to save you, to make you acceptable to the Father, to make you His priest and servant and My disciple. To accomplish this, I suffered and overcame everything both the devil and the world were able to do against Me. My beloved one, thus you also should remain in My love and not be deterred by any aversion you may feel for the many trials and temptations. Stand firm, and defend yourself valiantly. I, too, would surely have reason to complain. I could become displeased and impatient because My Father permits Me to be reviled so deplorably, to be crucified so shamefully, and to have My love requited by the world with such ingratitude. But I do not let any torment or suffering frighten Me away from My Father’s love or deter Me from My love for you. Therefore even if the world inflicts harm and suffering on you, look to Me, and see what I did and suffered for you. Let the world go to the devil, where it is determined to go. But for My sake remain in Me, and let My Word abide in you.”

Thus we must now learn to follow this example of Christ and observe this injunction in our mutual relations, each one in his own calling toward his neighbor. For without this example which Christ put before us it would be too difficult, yes, entirely impossible to keep this commandment and to endure. But now, as I consider what He suffered for me, I can take courage and say: “Very well, He did this for me. Therefore I will also suffer this or something else for Him. And even if the world should become furious and foolish in its raging, I will nonetheless remain with this Man and be content that He loves me and that the Father also loves me through Him and bids me hold firmly to His love.” This is the first love, our love for Christ. We must maintain it over against the hatred of the world.

In the second place, Christ also wants to encourage us to practice love for one another. He wants to forestall any aversion and dissension that may arise in Christendom when someone who encounters adversity supposes that he is being forced to suffer and endure too much, not only from the world or those outside the pale of our church but also from those who are among us and are our brethren. Christ wants us to know that it cannot be otherwise; all kinds of flaws and unpleasant things must crop up among us. We must not give vent to our anger even if we bite our tongue with our teeth, our fist strikes our eye, our foot trips, or our head runs up against a wall; but we must reason thus: “Well, he is your fellow member, your brother or neighbor. What do you propose to do about it? He erred; there was no malice involved, and he means no ill. Perhaps it was done in weakness and ignorance. You did receive a blow from him. It hurts, but are you willing to cast your fellow member away for this reason? It is a little spark. Spit on it, and it will go out. Otherwise the devil will come with his venomous breath or through evil tongues and fan it into an inextinguishable fire, and it will develop into discord and hatred that cannot be allayed but will harm the whole body. For the devil is a spirit who does not desist and cease if he is not restrained.”[1]

Let us then, love one another as Christ has loved us and so fulfill His commandment, abide in His love, and our joy will be full. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, pp. 244–248). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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