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The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Series B

Text: 1 John 3:16-24

Title: “Walking the Walk of Love in Truth”

Date: Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

One morning, little Julie wanted to surprise her mother with breakfast in bed. After Julie got out the breakfast tray, she put orange juice in a glass, then cereal with milk in a bowl, and finally bread in the toaster. When it was time for the toast to pop-up…nothing happen. Julie then got her Dad to look at the toaster and find out what was wrong. Dad found the problem right away. Julie had forgotten to plug the toaster into the outlet. No toast from a lifeless, unplugged toaster.

         In a similar way, when we are “unplugged” from Jesus, we are disconnected from our source of life. Being disconnected from Christ leaves us to our cold and loveless nature. It leaves us lifeless. “…[A]part from Me,” says Jesus in John 15, “you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) No connection to Christ means no nourishment for faith! Your good works…your gifts of money…even your daily conduct will be worthless in the eyes of the Lord!

         However, there is Good News. The resurrected Savior, the Good Shepherd, has “plugged” you into Himself. In your Baptism, Jesus grafted you into Himself and thus He lives in you! In Baptism, the Holy Spirit calls you and enlightens you with His gifts, including the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23, which includes love. The result of God’s work in keeping you in the true faith is that you are to bear fruit of active love for others. God expects you and me to do more than just talk the talk…more than just pay lip service to love. Talking the talk without walking the walk doesn't fool too many people and it certainly doesn’t fool God! John emphasizes this when he says in our sermon text: "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth." (1 Jn. 3:18)

         A woman was given a tour of a corn mill powered by a river that ran close to the wall. But all the wheels were silent and still. “Where is the power,” she asked. She was then shown a handle and told to press it. She did and the mighty force was instantly turned on…the wheels moved…and the place was alive with activity. Likewise, God powers you and me in His love through faith and His Word, so that you and I will be active in good works. God expects you and me to respond to His love by truly loving others and helping them. Carrying out these acts of love proves that love really does dwell in your heart and in your mind. This love in action is what James 2 is getting at when James writes: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (James 2:15-16) The apostle John puts it another way when he says: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" (1 Jn. 3:17)

How, indeed! How can the love of God be in you and me when we don’t help people who need our help? How can the love of God be in you and me when we consistently tell our children or grandchildren what they are doing wrong and not what they're doing right? How can the love of God be in you and me when we expect people to help us…but resent it when they ask us to help them?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when you consider the loving actions that God demands,

you realize that you have fallen far short. You realize that what you deserve is nothing but God's wrath and condemnation. Not a day goes by where you and I are not the loving people God wants us to be. I want to be more loving and caring throughout each day and I am certain you do too. The question is: "What can we do about it? How can we fix our loveless hearts that torment us?” The answer is…only Jesus can fix our loveless hearts.

In Aesop’s Fables, the wind and the sun prepare to make a man shed his coat. The wind used its violence and force to tear off the coat, but the man just held on to it tighter around him. As for the sun, it gradually used its warmth on the man and he voluntarily took off the coat himself. The gentle and gradual warmth of Christ’s love brings about change much more effectively than intimidation or force. God has given you and me the perfect model of love. You want to know what it means to truly love someone? Look at Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He is love in the flesh who willingly suffered and died for people like you and me who do not deserve His love. Lutheran Pastor Larry A. Peters puts it this way: “The one who has this Good Shepherd lacks nothing and has all things…including the lush green grass of an oasis and the still, deep waters that refresh. The one who has this Good Shepherd has his or her soul restored. Even more, this Shepherd shields against all fears of death and evil by His everlasting presence and power. His staff speaks fear to the enemies of the sheep…but comfort to those who welcome His protection and even His discipline. This Shepherd provides more than enough. His lavish grace anoints the head and overflows the cup.” (cf. Ps. 23:1-5)

         Since the Good Shepherd loves us poor miserable sinners unconditionally and has forgiven all our trespasses, we are humbly moved and inspired to show our gratitude to the Lord. We do this by sharing that same kind of love to others…by forgiving the sins that others have committed against us. At a particular time in his life, one of the greatest Afro-American leaders wrestled with the extreme difficulty of forgiveness. But finding the path to victory, Booker T. Washington said: “When I saw the injuries and insults hurled against my people, I grew to hate white men. I hated them until my soul dried up. Then I took my hatred to Jesus Christ. He took the hatred out of my heart. He showed me how to forgive and how to love white men.”

Christ's love for you and me is the model and motivation for our Christian love. In fact, John speaks about that very thing in our sermon text when he says: "This then is how we…set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything." (1 Jn. 3:19-20) God can see the big picture. Our heavenly Father takes into account the sacrifice that the Lamb of God made on the cross and His resurrection to make you holy. Jesus affirms this in today’s Gospel reading, saying: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (Jn. 10:11, 17-18)

What does that incredible love of God shown to you in the death and resurrection of Jesus mean for your daily life? St. John sheds light on the answer saying: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." (1 Jn 3:16) Isn't that one of the marks of true Christian discipleship? It is a willingness to make sacrifices for one another…to give ourselves to each other…to truly love one another as God has loved us. If you believe in the name of Jesus Christ and love one another, you are obeying God’s commands and doing what pleases Him. (cf. 1 Jn. 3:21-23) When you obey His commands, it’s because He lives in you and you live in Him. You and I know this because God loves us and dwells in us by the Holy Spirit He gave us. (cf. 1 Jn. 3:24)

So, when you are “not plugged” into, or apart from, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior…you will be lifeless and not love the way God wants you to love. Thankfully, God keeps you graciously connected to Him through the way He dwells in you and loves you…that is, His Word and Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Respond to God’s awesome love for you by loving Him and loving others because as Jesus declares in John 13: "All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another." (Jn. 13:35) Amen.

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