First Sunday after Trinity, 2010
Readings: Jeremiah 23:23-35; Ps. 73; 1 John 4:7-21; Luke 16:19-31
6 June a.d. 2010
Laying a Foundation in Love
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer. AMEN.
Last week I said that Trinity Sunday marks our graduation from learning the Christian life to practicing it. The first two Sundays in Trinity are spent laying the only foundation that can be laid for that life: love. All our work, all our efforts, all our obedience, all our good deeds, will all be worthless without love. (1 Corinthians 13)
Now, contrary to every thing that American culture teaches & portrays, love is not automatic. Love is not spontaneous. Love does not come naturally. Rather, love is the gift of God by the Holy Spirit, and like every other gift from God, it must be cultivated. You are responsible to see that it grows. You must learn love, you must feed and nurture love by the Word, and, most of all, you must practice love. All these readings today speak this same message with one voice.
It is not by accident that both of these first two Trinity Sundays present Gospel readings that show people who love the world more than they love God. We always live under the danger of the world stealing our hearts from God, and must work to guard our hearts.
That is the message of this sermon: Love is the foundation of the Christian life, and your must cultivate it. If you love God, you must love your neighbour, and you must practice loving both.
This love is not the warm fuzzies. This love is not the love of infatuated teenagers, not some undefined, formless emotion. This love is a cause, not an effect. Stop wondering what love is. God clearly defines love for us in 1 John 5:3: “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”
Of course, this does not mean that you love God if you only observe his commandments outwardly. Outward obedience without the inward love of God is worthless. Our collect today prays that God would give us grace “that in keeping thy commandments we may please thee both in will and deed.” The deed is not enough; the will, that is, love, must accompany it.
Both these first Trinity Sundays take their epistle readings from 1 John. Why? Because the other title of 1 John is the “Book Of How You Can Know You Are A Christian.” It tells you how to measure your own life by the standard of Christianity to see if you are one.
In today’s Epistle St. John makes four points:
I. We know God through love.
II. We see God through love
III. Love is made perfect in us
IV Obedience proves our love.
I We Know God Through Love.
St. John begins with a command: “Beloved, let us love one another.” But why? Why should we do that?
Because love is of God, love is the essence of God’s character, and we who are made in his Image must love if we are to reflect that image. Every one that is born of God and loves God loves the brethren also, John says. And yes, the inverse is also true: He who loves not knows not God.
But why? Because God is love. Opposites cannot exist together, fire and ice, west and dry, oil and water. If God’s love lives in you, then love will come out of you. Love is never silent, love is never fruitless. Love will grow and overflow and make itself known.
God’s love makes itself know to us by his sending his only begotten Son into the world so that through him we might live, and that through him our sins might be removed. This is the original of all love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us. The love within the Trinity overflowed into creation, and after man fell, it overflowed into redemption. Love is a gift, not a reward, and our love can only spring from God’s love.
No natural man loves God. That has been true since Adam sinned. That sin makes every one of us hate God by nature. “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Ps. 14:3; Ps 53:3; Romans 3:10, 12)
St. John draws a conclusion from God’s example: If God loved us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to die for us while we were still his enemies, then we ought to love one another.
II. WE SEE GOD THROUGH LOVE
No man has seen God. God is a spirit and hath not a body like men. (cf. John 6:40; John 14:8-9)
But just as we know the wind is passing because it bends the tree tops, so we can see God by the evidence of his presence. If we know that love originates only from God and we see ourselves loving one another, and then we can be sure that God dwells in us, because his love shows in the love we show one another.
That love proves that God has given us his Spirit, and proves that we dwell in him, and he dwells in us.
But there is a test that even love must pass.
St. John writes, “I, John, have seen and bear witness that God has sent his Son as saviour of the world.” This is the foundation of all truth, and without truth love cannot exist. Therefore, whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, then God abides in him, and he abides in God.
Earlier, in 1 John 4:2-3, St. John has already given this test for all spirits, including all men. It is a very simple test:
“By this we know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God. And Every Spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. This is the spirit of Antichrist.”
John says, “I pass this test. I know and have believed the love that God has for us in Jesus Christ and bear witness to him.”
God is love. So whoever abides in love, abides in God, and God in him. Over and over John identifies God as love, and draws this conclusion: that love in a person furnishes sufficient evidence that God himself dwells in him.
III. LOVE MADE PERFECT IN US
Here is where our love is grown up, mature, “made perfect”, and why: “so that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.”
But that raises a question: which day of judgment? The Last Day? Or the day we must face judgment in this world? Every day?
Certainly we will be bold in the Last Day, covered in the blood of Christ, all our sins forgiven, but John adds something. He says we have this boldness because “as God is in this world, so are we.”
We are Christ in the world, and to the world. Christ had to face judgment and persecution in this world to show his faithful love for God.
So we as little Christs in this world show our faithful love for God in every tribulation and persecution. Yes, every one.
Perfect love casts out fear. Think of what this means, that we can walk through our whole lives confident that our Father’s love is so great that we need fear nothing in this world. NOTHING. Not our own sin, not our own failures (past or future), not any man or what any man can do to us, not any deadly catastrophe, no earthquake or fire or flood or tornado or hurricane or financial collapse. Perfect love casts out fear, and not fear of persecution only, but all fear.
All fear arises from doubting God’s love. There can be no fear in perfect love because fear denies love. All fear involves torment, and there cannot be torment in love. If God loves us, would he leave us in the torment of fear? No. The very idea contradicts love’s nature.
But wait! I’m a Christian. I love God. I love my neighbour. What if I still have fears?
If you still fear, then you haven’t yet been made perfect in love. You haven’t entered fully, in full trust, into God’s love. Period.
This is not my conclusion, this is God’s, by the Holy Spirit in the mouth of the Apostle John. But that is not the hopeless end of the matter, because John’s epistle does not describe the perfect Christian only, but all Christians. Freedom from fear is the maturity of love, not its infancy. It is the goal every Christian is working toward, so you may not be fearlessly perfect in love yet, but you will be. And you must keep training yourself in that direction.
IV. OBEDIENCE PROVES OUR LOVE
What proves your love for God? Your confession? Your donations? Your talk? No, only your obedience.
John says, If someone says he loves God and hates his brother, he is a liar. No middle ground or half-way house. Love God, love your brother; don’t love your brother, can’t love God.
Why is that? John explains: If you don’t love the brother you have seen, how can you love the God whom you have not seen? Your love for the unseen God can only be seen by your love for your seen brother. Period. God commands this: if you love me you must love your brother, too.
But wait! This is not new with Jesus and the New Testament. This is “the law and the prophets.”
In today’s Gospel, Abraham says that the law and the prophets are enough to teach anyone love. Just the mere words.
Every Sunday we hear Christ’s summary of the law: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)
If the love of God is working in you, and the Spirit of God is living in you, then inevitably that will produce love for your brother.
And that’s why it is so alarming, so terrifying, if that love does not appear in you, because that means that no matter how nice, no matter how well-behaved, no matter how religious you are, God’s Spirit is not in you.
The Holy Spirit inevitably brings forth love working obedience in every Christian, and if you cannot find some trace of that in you, however slight and weak and immature it might be, then you are not a Christian.
So we who by nature lack both love and obedience, pray in today’s collect that God would graciously help us. Even as we look at our own lack of love, we still ask him to help us keep his commandments both in deed and will, i.e., love. Give us, O Father, the love we need!
And because he loves us, and has planted his love in us, we don’t have to fear. He will answer that prayer. ?
Glory be to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be,
World without end, Amen.
The Collect for First Sunday after Trinity
the strength of all those
who put their trust in thee;
Mercifully accept our prayers; and because,
through the weakness of our mortal nature,
we can do no good thing without thee,
grant us the help of thy grace,
that in keeping thy commandments
we may please thee,
both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.