Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Living Impossible Love

Here, you'll find the video of in-person worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio for Sunday, May 2, 2021. Below that video, is the text from the message shared then.

John 17:1-8
Have you ever tried to do the impossible? 

When I was in the fourth grade, our teacher, Mrs. Everett told us that it was impossible for a human being to mark out a perfectly straight line across a piece of paper by hand. 

I went home that afternoon intent on proving her wrong. I pulled out a tablet of paper and drew a line across one page. I could see where I had gone off-course. I kept drawing and drawing lines until I was sure that I had created the perfect one. I placed a ruler next to it and found that I had actually swerved here and jumped there. That was no problem, I thought. I’d gotten close. I’ll draw another. 

But no matter how hard I tried, or how steadily or firmly I thought I held my pencil, unassisted, I could not, with a free hand, draw a perfectly straight line across the page. It was impossible.

Some people who call themselves Christians think that being a disciple of Jesus is a matter of being good. 

Such people fall into two broad categories. 

One category is made up of those who are sure they’ve got this whole “good” thing down, dismissing those who don’t measure up. 

Another category is composed of those people left miserable by the realization that they don’t measure up and either put on shows of righteousness or secretly give up on a life with God. 

But none of us is capable of being good. As Jesus, God-in-human flesh, said, “No one is good--except God alone. (Mark 10:18) 

Being good, that is, perfectly loving God and loving others, keeping the Ten Commandments, being righteous, is even more impossible than it was for me to draw a straight line across the page.

And yet, all Lutherans who have studied The Small Catechism know the Ten Commandments, the first three addressing our relationship with God (You shall have no other gods; you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy) and the last seven commandments addressing our relationship with every other human being with whom we share the planet (honor your father and your mother; you shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; and the ninth and tenth commandments that tell us not to covet what belongs to others). 

God not only wrote these commandments on stones for Moses and His ancient people Israel, the Bible says that He has also written them on our hearts

We’re all born knowing what’s right and wrong and having two fervent desires: to have everyone do right by us and to be able to freely do wrong to others. That’s why, as I’ve said before, one of the first words any child learns to say is, “NO!”

In today’s Gospel lesson, John 15:1-8, Jesus says that God--Jesus Himself--expects that every human being will bear fruit. “I am the true vine,” He says, “and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit…” (John 15:1-2) 

Anyone who fails to bear fruit is dead, forfeits life with God, and is condemned to separation from God for eternity. 

But what exactly does it mean to “bear fruit”? 

Paul refers to this when he speaks of “the fruit of the Spirit.” He says that “the fruit” that should be evident in our lives include “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23) 

The Ten Commandments say that these are the bottom-line behaviors--fruits--that should be present in every human life. 

Speaking for myself, I know that I do not measure up to these baseline standards. 

I might give evidence of some small measure of these “fruits” some days. 

Some days I love, but I don’t give my love to everyone every day. 

I live in joy, until my mood changes. 

And so on. 

I identify with that anonymous morning prayer, “Dear God, so far today, I've done all right. I haven't gossiped, and I haven't lost my temper. I haven't been grumpy, nasty, or selfish, and I'm really glad of that! But in a few minutes, God, I'm going to get out of bed, and from then on, I'm probably going to need a lot of help.” 

We know what fruit God wants us to bear and we consistently don’t bear it. 

We know God’s Law and we don’t--we can’t--keep it.

Many people come upon these two facts and decide that they need to get busy. They act like I did when Mrs. Everett said it was impossible for me to draw a straight line across a page with a free hand. They want to prove God and His Word wrong. 

The atheist will say, “There is no God, but I can be a good person.” 

The agnostic says, “I don’t know if there’s a God, but I don’t need God to be a good person.” 

The evangelical Christian says, ”I have decided to follow Jesus.” 

To the disciple of Jesus, each of these approaches will ring false. And the reason for that is simple. After telling us we are to bear fruit, Jesus also says: “...apart from me you can do nothing…” (John 15:5) 

God’s Law, the Law that demands that we live good lives and bear fruit is meant to silence all our self-righteousness, self-will, and self-absorption (even our self-reproach) and turn instead to the only One Who can imbue our lives with goodness, the only One Who can make it possible for us to do the impossible, bear fruit.

The good news is that Jesus has already done everything necessary for you and me to bear the fruit God expects of every human life. “You,” Jesus says to His disciples, both of the first- and twenty-first centuries, “are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you…” (John 15:3) Through His cross and resurrection into which we are baptized, Jesus has cleansed us of the power of sin and death over our lives. 

Jesus is God’s answer to our David’s prayer, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:2) And, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right[b] spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) 

Jesus’ Word to you today is that all, by the power of the Holy Spirit are able to confess faith in Jesus, are clean

All who continue to turn to Him will undergo the sometimes painful and difficult process of being pruned, cleansed, of sin, so that, by the presence of Jesus in our lives, we will bear the fruit of a life filled with Jesus

Every day, Jesus calls on us as He did the first-century church at Laodicea: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) People who welcome Jesus into their lives will bear fruit. They will be made alive by the only One Who can re-write our lives: making the proud repentant, making the guilty innocent, making the sinner a saint.

It’s impossible for us to make ourselves clean, good, or to bear fruit. But when Christ is living in us, the impossible happens. Jesus tells us, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…” (John 15:5) Jesus is saying that as we remain in Him, as He lives in us as our daily invited guest, He will even fill our praying with His power. We will begin to ask God for the good that He wants to do and not just for the ease we desire. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:7-8)

We bear fruit, we do the impossible, by abiding--remaining--in Jesus, the Vine, not by trying to be “good people.” Abide, remain, rest in Jesus each day. He will save you from sin, the devil, and the grave and He will make you a branch who bears His fruit so that, through you, all the world will know and desire the God Who has saved you by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Amen