Loving and Obeying God
If there’s one thing that we all share in common; it’s that we wouldn’t be sitting here today if it weren’t for our mothers. To those mothers among us today: thank you for your contribution to life – to humanity. For giving up yourselves – literally giving up your bodies for a time – that we might have life. For all you have done, and continue to do for your families and your children, Thank You.
As I was reading through the gospel passage for today, John 15:9-17, with this kind of motherly love and sacrifice in mind, I couldn’t help but think of Our Lord’s famous words in the previous chapter of St. John – in the very same discourse – when he says to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
When I think about these words in relation to my own mom, I can’t help but chuckle. My mom never said anything like this. She never said, “If you love me, you will clean your room.” She always said something more like, “Look buster, I don’t care if you love me or not — in fact, I don’t care what you think about me – you’re gonna clean your room!”
I would venture to guess that most parents adopt this attitude over time. Given enough disobedience and push-back from our kids, we’re more interested in results rather than our child’s opinions of us or our house rules.
Today’s Gospel lesson is a continuation of Our Lord’s final discourse with his disciples on the night before he dies. In it he speaks repeatedly about this connection between loving him and keeping his commandments.
And in truth, Jesus’ words to his disciples are not a passive-aggressive, coercive request. Jesus is not saying, “You know, if you guys really loved me, you would keep my commandments.”
Instead, his words are spoken as a matter of fact – acknowledging this natural connection between loving and obeying God. What he’s saying is, “If your love for me is true, if it is real, then that love will naturally manifest itself in your actions, you will follow my commandments.”
The rebellious side of our humanity wants to push back against Jesus’ words: to separate these two actions of love and obedience. Can’t we love God without obeying Him? Aren’t those two separate and distinct things? Can’t I have love for God in my heart, but do my own thing in my life.
Our Lord challenges us to consider the reality that love and obedience are two sides of the same coin. They are, in a sense, synonymous.
We don’t like the idea of being commanded to do anything – of being told what we can, or cannot do. The very idea is offensive to our sinful and prideful sensibilities. Why should I have to obey God? Why can’t I just do my own thing?
Our pride blinds us, and the devil tempts us, to think of God as some bossy, authoritative deity with an ego trip: a megalomaniacal dictator who demands compliance. A jerk!
But nothing could be further from the truth! God is not sitting on a distant throne ruling with an iron fist.
God is not some egotistical jerk on a power trip demanding to be served. Our Lord himself said he came among us “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The Word became flesh, and demonstrates true Love for us! First! He leads us . . . by example. Jesus tells us “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And then he practices what he preaches, he walks the talk . . . all the way to the cross.
God is Love. And He came among us. Love came among us — incarnate in Our Lord, who reveals on the cross, what Love is, and who God is.
On the cross Our Lord redeems us from our own self-imposed imprisonment to sin and death by acting in perfect love-for God so loved the world.
Our Lord did not lay down his life for us out of obligation, or because he was forced to, or because he had to. Nor did he lay down his life for us, to get something in return.
He did so voluntarily, of his own free will. And this is precisely what makes it an act of love. He gave of himself — he gave his whole self — for us. No greater love is there than this.
Beloved, God is not bossy, or authoritarian, or manipulative. God is love.
And “His commandments are not burdensome . . . for whatever is born of God conquers the world!” God’s commandments do not exist to diminish our lives or our happiness. To the contrary, His commandments exist to give us life. As Jesus says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.”
Loving God, and keeping His commandments are synonymous – they are two sides of the same coin. After all, what is it Our Lord commands of us?
Twice he says it in today’s gospel, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” And again, “This I command you, to love one another.”
The heart of God’s commandments, the heart of his charge to us…is to love!
We want to come to that place in our lives — in our hearts — where all that we do is out of true love. As today’s collect says – that we would love God in all things and above all things. That place where we give of ourselves to God, and our neighbor, where we keep Gods commandments, not because we have to, but because we WANT to, because we desire to.
Our Lord went to the cross, not because he had to, but because he wanted to out of love for us. He didn’t want to suffer and die. But he did want to redeem us, and save us, and offer us life. Out of love, he did what he needed to do in order for us to have life.
This is the heart that we want to have. Not a heart that acts out of obligation or fear, begrudgingly or skeptically, but a pure heart – a faithful and trusting heart — that acts out of a desire to love in all things.
What God asks us to do, He does. What God commands us to do, He is! In a sense, His commandment to us, is to follow him in loving others.
Beloved, let us keep Our Lord’s commandment to love one another. And let us abide always in the love of God.
Not just in the pews or during the peace, or after church at coffee hour or in the parking lot. But also on Sunday night at home with our families. And on Monday morning back at work. And on Tuesday when we don’t feel like it. And on Wednesday when we’re tired or demoralized or depressed or afraid. And on Thursday when we’ve forgotten all about God. And on Friday when all we want to do is have some fun. And on Saturday when we are at rest or play.
Let us love God and one another, at all times and in all places, in all things and above all things. Because He first loved us.