Sermon by the Rev. Dr. James A. Gibson III
Fifth Sunday of Eastertide
Texts: Deuteronomy 4:32-40, 1 John 3:11-24, John 14:15-21
Collect of the Day
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Do you notice a common thread running through the readings this week? Listen carefully to these choice excerpts from Deuteronomy, 1 John, and John’s Gospel:
“Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time.” (Deuteronomy 4:40)
“Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” (1 John 3:24)
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)
Now, this common thread could be summed up in several different ways, but I would like for us to think about it through the lens of three simple words:
“If you love me,” Jesus says to his disciples, “you will keep my commandments.”
And, in case you have any questions about what he means by obeying his commandments, John reminds us in his first Epistle, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”
Love for Christ is tied with obedience to his commandments, that is, to love Christ is to love one another as he has loved us, and with that love and that obedience comes the promise.
“And I will ask the Father,” says Jesus, “and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
Don’t miss that little hint from Jesus that the promised Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, is already indwelling his disciples. It certainly did not escape the attention of St. Augustine.
Yet, without the promise, it is impossible to obey the commandment to love. So, in the wondrous economy of God, the promise is fulfilled before the commandment is given. Love and obedience are not conditions for receiving the promise. Rather, they are the manifestation of its fulfillment—and that manifestation is not merely an abstract concept.
“And he who loves me,” Jesus says, “will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
The whole of the law is summed up in love—love God, love one another—and that love is made manifest, fulfilled, in absolute perfection in Jesus Christ.
“I will not leave you as orphans,” he promises. “I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
The whole of the law is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and only in Jesus Christ. We cannot obey his commandment to love apart from him and his Spirit indwelling us. The law cannot save us. Only Jesus can.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
The Spirit dwells with every believer, that the love of Christ may be manifest in their lives to the glory of the Father who, out of his boundless grace, fulfills the promise even before giving the commandment.
Thanks be to God.