Trinity 2 2018
1 John 3:13–18; Luke 14:16–24
University Lutheran Chapel, Boulder, CO
In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 Jn 3:18).
Many people think God loves them in word or talk but not in deed and truth. For them God is like an abusive boyfriend. The boyfriend says love, but only wants one thing. He gives gifts, but with strings attached. Maybe he hits with physical abuse or maybe only yells with emotional abuse, but all the while he claims to love. But it’s all words and no truth. The man who beats on his wife all the while saying that he loves her does not lover her. The couple who sleeps together because, as they claim, they are “in love” do not love each other but transgress. If they will not marry, it’s only talk: they do not love in deed and in truth.
In their sinfulness people suspect God of the same fake love. They hear that he loves them, but really they think he is taking it out on them in life. They suppose that God’s love is like man’s love. All talk. All feelings. No truth. In it for himself.
Apart from Christ crucified we cannot know the God of Love. In Christ we see God’s Love take up our flesh and love us to the end in deed and in truth. In contrast, the god of Islam says many things and demands much but does very little. The divines of the Eastern religions think many thoughts but do little good. Only the Triune God who is Love—true Love—takes action. He becomes man. Loves you more than himself. Tells you the truth in love even when that truth is tough. Is tempted as you are yet without sin. Takes on your punishment. Suffers and dies in your place. He loves you to the end. He keeps his promises, always. “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true.” Only in the deed and truth of Christ crucified can we know the Father’s love. Only in Christ can the word “love” be more than a feeling.
“Love,” you see, is an action word, and not only a feeling word. God does not love you by merely feeling happy about you but by bleeding for you. To love is to lay down your life for what you love. God sacrifices himself for you. He does not sacrifice you for himself. God does not love you because he needs you, but he loves you because you need him. Behold the Lamb of God and see that your Father loves you in deed and truth. He forgives you. He is not taking it out on you, for his Son already took it for you.
The consequence of this is obvious but still needs to be said: If this is how God loves you, then this is how you should love your brothers in Christ. The Holy Spirit has called and gathered you into his church. He says to you here through St. John that if you despise the church, God’s Christians, your brethren, then you despise God. You cannot love Jesus and despise his bride, the church. He who hates a man’s wife, hates the man, for they are one flesh. He who hates the church, hates Jesus, for the two are one; he the head; she the body; he vine; she the branches.
To despise Christians is the world’s job. On the night of his betrayal Jesus said: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:18–19). It’s irrational, like Cain hating Abel. How could anyone hate Christians for preaching the free forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? But it’s true. The world hates the church. Please note: I am not making an observation (though we do see many examples of it), but preaching to you an assertion of Scripture. Don’t expect love from the world on account of your being a Christian.
On the other hand, Scripture asserts that Christians love their brother Christians. Maybe you have observed that, maybe not as much as we would hope, but that’s what the Holy Spirit says: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.” In other words, the fact that you love your brethren in Christ is a result and fruit of Jesus making you a Christian.
This is what’s called showing the cause from the effect. We are not made Christians and saved from death to life because we love our brother, but enabled to love because we are saved and enlivened. Dead people can’t love. Only the living can love. God made us alive with Christ to love. Our love cannot save us. John says that Christians love, but he is not saying that they are saved by their love. John is explicit on this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Again he says: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And because we are not reservoirs but channels of God’s love, he immediately adds: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:10-11).
So when the question is, “Why do they love? How are they made Christians?” the answer is: Because Christ is the propitiation of their sins which they receive through faith alone. But when the question is: “What are Christians like?” Then the answer is “Lovers of the brethren.” In other words, he who is forgiven much, loves much. The more we are freely forgiven, the more we are enlivened to freely love the brothers, especially by repenting of our sins and by forgiving theirs.
This is a warning for us the next time we are tempted to hate and despise God’s Christians. People will annoy you, even in the church. They will sin against you, even in the church. But the question is not so much how will you feel about them but will you love them? The Devil would love nothing more than for you to use other Christians as an excuse to neglect God’s love for you in Word and Sacrament. How many people claim that the reason they don’t go to church is because they don’t like the Christians in the pulpit and in the pews? How many people hop from one church to another as soon as the people or preacher start to annoy them? Do they not realize that those people are there for them to love? That if they believed the love God has for us in Christ they would love the church, especially when it’s hard to do so?
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). He loves us not because we are worthy of that love but because we need his love. So also your brother needs your love, even if he annoys you or sins against you. God does not give you permission to excuse your own sin by hating on your fellow Christians. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
That is a high calling, and none of us will claim to be masters of it. And yet your comfort here is this: that the Holy Spirit earnestly invites you to believe this Gospel. To believe that God loves you in the deed and truth of Christ crucified, and that frees you to love your neighbor in deed and in truth. God is not an abusive boyfriend. He is not taking advantage of you. He loves you apart from and before your performance of love. His yoke is easy and his burden light. He sustains you and enlivens you; forgives you and sanctifies you. He compels you—earnestly invites you—to the great wedding feast of his Son’s body and blood. See here that he loves you in word, deed, and truth. Thus strengthened and forgiven, go and do likewise.
Come soon, Lord Jesus.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.