7:30am Sunday Sermon May 6, 2018

May 6, 2018 – 6 Easter B
Acts 10:44-48; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.

 

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” “You did not choose me but I chose you.”

 

The first several hundred years of the history of the church were pretty dicey in terms of what people thought about who God is and what part we play in the matter of salvation. God becoming incarnate in human flesh is hard to understand. The Son of God being fully human and fully divine makes heads spin. The co-eternal, co-equal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all things coming from the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit is confusing. And all sorts of interpretations of who God is, how God reveals himself, and how God considers us cropped up in those first several hundred years.

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, who died in the year 430, is to be credited with establishing much of what we consider to be orthodox Christianity. He converted to Christianity from the school of the Manichees who held a dualistic world view. The world, according to the Manichees, was divided into good and evil, light and darkness. The two worlds are at war with each other and the outcome is up for grabs. The spiritual realm was good but the physical realm was evil. Escaping the physical realm was the goal, uniting with the light, and was possible for only a relative few who were able to gain the secret knowledge. St. Augustine worked to correct that world view by teaching that the one true God made the world out of nothing and that its essence is good, albeit fallen. God alone is God and his work is sure and certain. God works to save his creation through his Son Jesus Christ. Our job is not to escape this world but enter it more fully through accepting the love of Christ and attuning our wills toward God.

Augustine also had to do theological battle with Pelagius, a theologian who taught that we gain entrance into the kingdom by our good works. Free will, according to Pelagius, was totally free. Humanity is perfectly able to choose good over evil. Our lives are the result of our decisions, pure and simple, so work more and try harder.

Augustine goes against that humanity-centered theology to teach about the need for God’s grace. We cannot choose the good all on our own, Augustine says, but grace brings goodness to us and guides our decisions. As we tune into grace, our lives are transformed and so are our wills.

Augustine was a quotable fellow. He wrote a lot and spoke a lot, his sermons often two hours long. “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us,” he wrote. “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” Probably his most famous quote was, “Give me chastity, but not yet,” as he came to grips with his call to celibacy. But the quote that may sum up his beliefs and his effect on Christian orthodoxy the most is, “Love, and do what you will.” Augustine believed that, as we center our lives on loving God, our entire beings – our wills, our decisions, our actions – line up with goodness. If we truly love God, what we want to do will be what God wants us to do.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” “You did not choose me but I chose you.”

Both the Gospel of John and the First Letter of John that we read today have to do with the great love of God for us and our call to be loved and to love. The call to love each other is made clear by Jesus on the night before he dies as he gives us a new commandment, to love each other as we are loved. But there is another call given to us that makes it possible for us to love others. That call is to be loved, to know our value, to accept that we are loved by God even when we are at our most unlovable.

The commandment that Jesus gives us is not simply to love others but to accept the love of God for us into our hearts and extend that to the world. His commandment to love centers on God loving us first which is a lot different than how we might hear the commandment. What we tend to hear is that, if we love others, God will love us. Humans tend to approach our relationship with God from a contractual understanding. If we do right and good, God will do something for us. But the Gospel of Christ centers on covenant. God loves us first, always, and no matter what. From that love, we are able to love others. Without that love, Augustine would remind us, we’re unable to do anything good at all.

It’s also true that, as we are loving toward others, as we carry out loving acts, we come to know the love of God more and more. Jesus comes to show us the love of God for each and every one of us. As we know that love, we become loving. Jesus commands us to love and, as we carry that out, we know we are loved all the more. That’s the way it is with God. He doesn’t just tell us what to do and sit back to see how it works out. God gives us his love and invites us to love the world.

Today you might need to hear that you are loved no matter what. That’s what the Gospel tells us. Today you might need a swift kick in the pants and be reminded that you need to love others better than you are. That’s what the Gospel tells us too. And always the Gospel tells us that God loves us first and just as much as the Father loves his son Jesus Christ.

Love one another as I have loved you. You did not choose me but I chose you.