Text: 1 John 4:1-11, John 15:1-8†††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††† †V Rogate (5th Sunday of Easter)
Love the Truth, Love Each Other
††††††††††† In the name of him who came from his Father full of grace and truth, dear friends in Christ: Last week we were blessed to witness the confession of faith made by three young men in our congregation as they publicly confirmed the trust in Christ God gave them in their Baptisms.† In the sermon message for that day, I emphasized how important it would be for them Ė and indeed for all of us who profess faith in Christ Ė to remain near Jesus and to continue to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd.† Why?† Because to fail to do so would make one a sheep without a shepherd, and therefore subject to getting lost, or attacked and killed by wolves, or any of the other horrible things that end up happening to unguided and unprotected sheep.† It only makes sense:† if we who confess Christ want to keep on confessing Christ, we have to keep on being led by the Good Shepherd, and fed, protected, and cared for by him.
This vital truth is echoed in todayís Gospel reading using a different picture.† We move from the pasture to the vineyard and from livestock to horticulture.† This time Jesus says ďI am the Vine; you are the branchesĒ.† And the point is you that have to maintain your connection to Christ.† You have to be grafted into him and continuously receiving the life-giving nourishment that flows from him in order to be alive and productive.† A branch removed from the vine withers and dies.† It produces nothing and ends up getting consumed in the fireóand itís frightfully clear what he means by that.
So the emphasis of both these teachings of Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the Vine and the branches, is that the living bond to Christ must be maintained.† And fortunately, weíre not left to wonder exactly how it is weíre to go about maintaining that bond because itís precisely for this purpose that Christ has created his Church.† Itís to congregations of the faithful that Jesus calls us together into a living body to be fed and cared for.† There each Christian is connected to the True Vine that is the source of life as Christ gives us of himself through his Word and Sacraments.† So itís important that we understand that the Church is not a human invention; rather it was created by God for our good.† And so our participation in the Church is not optionalónot if we want to remain faithful and produce the fruit that God desires.
All right, that being said, that the Church is Godís creation for our good so that through it we remain connected to Jesus, the next question is what is it that we are supposed to be doing here in the Church? What I mean is this:† the Church is created and maintained by the Lord; but on a day to day basis, its run by human beings like you and me.† Itís an awesome responsibility heís laid upon us, and all of us have a part in it.† And this is true wherever we are in the world.† I mean the Church exists in many different forms.† Thereíre big congregations and little ones.† They are made up of different kinds of people. They exist in different cultures and face different challenges Ė and have throughout the ages. †And we understand the specifics of what a congregation does; namely, it gathers around Jesus to hear his Word and receive him in his Sacraments.† But weíre the Church of Christ even when thatís not going on. So is there some broader guidance out there to keep us on track?
Iíve probably let slip a couple times that I used to be something of a Star Trek fan.† I enjoyed all those stories of Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, and later Jean Luc Picard and the next generation of trekkers zipping around the universe, having all kinds of adventures, and meeting strange creatures and alien civilizations.† You never knew what would happen from episode to episode; after all, with science fiction the imagination of the script writers could run free.† But one thing was constant from show to show.† That is, there was an overarching principle that governed the characters in their exploration of the galaxy.† It was called the Prime Directive.† It was a basic rule that overshadowed everything Ė every action and thought of the crew.† As I recall, it had something to do with prohibiting interference with the development of alien cultures Ė it really doesnít matter.† My question is:† is there such a thing as the Prime Directive for the Church?
And the answer is yes, as a matter of fact there is. We heard it in todayís Epistle reading. There St. John gives us the Lordís own general operating principle for us in his Church so that no matter where we are or what weíre doing, we can be sure that if we stick this basic rule, weíll be moving in the right direction. And here it is:† the Churchís Prime Directive is first that we love the truth, and secondly that we love one another.†
††††††††††† To love the truth means that we cherish the Word of Christ and seek to hear it.† But itís more than that.† It also means that we protect it and endeavor to keep it whole and undefiled.† This is why St. John enjoins us not simply to accept everything we hear without question; but to carefully consider and weigh the words of our teachers and anyone else who claims to have a word from the Lord.† ďTest the spiritsĒ, John says, ďwhether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.Ē† There is real danger here, and we need to be on guard.† Our enemy, the devil, understands that we are saved by faith in Godís truth Ė the Gospel of his Son.† So, if the devil canít stop us from hearing it, he makes it his goal always to undermine, erode, and twist the truth in order to deceive us Ė anything to get us to believe his soul-killing lies over Godís saving truth.† And it doesnít take very much sometimes.† Iíve said before that a statement can be ninety-nine percent true and still be one hundred percent false.† I recently heard it stated this way: if you put a teaspoon of wine into a barrel of sewage, you get a barrel full of sewage.† And if you put a teaspoon of sewage into a barrel of wine, you also get barrel full of sewage.† You wouldnít want to drink it, would you?
††††††††††† Thatís why I donít quite understand the people I often encounter who tell me that Christians shouldnít be too concerned about doctrinal purity, that it really doesnít matter that much.† ďAll you need are a few of the basicsĒ, they say.† ďIf you start getting into the finer points it will only lead to controversy and arguments.Ē† I say bring the arguments and controversies on.† Letís ask the tough questions.† Letís confront them, and letís look for the answers and solutions in Godís Word Ė thatís where the truth is to be found.† As a matter of fact, the word that John uses when he tells us to test the spirits is the one the Greeks used to describe the testing of metals to check them for impurities and contaminants.† It implies a rigorous examination.† Thatís what we want because itís precisely by subjecting whatís being taught in the Church to a rigorous standard that we can be sure that the truth is preserved and impurities are removed.
††††††††††† And as we do this, itís good to remember that all that glitters is not gold.† John gives us an example of this from his day.† At the time he was writing his Epistle there were a lot of people who had been heavily influenced by Greek thinking and philosophy. It was the majority world view of the age.† And prevalent in such thinking was the notion that only things entirely spiritual could be good.† The material order, the physical side of reality, according to Greek philosophers, was inherently evil and inferior.† Now for people steeped in such a world view who then later became Christians, the person of Jesus Christ was an inexplicable puzzle.† The idea that he was True God, well, that was easy to accept because God is spirit and spirit is good.† Where they had trouble was with the idea that Jesus was born into this world as a man because a man is, at least in part, a physical being and physical is bad.† Understanding it that way, they ended up with a Jesus that was both good and bad Ė and they knew that wasnít acceptable because Jesus, they believed, is only good. So, in order to keep Jesus only good, they denied that he ever actually became a true man.† Oh, to be certain, he appeared on earth as a man.† He made it seem like he had a living, breathing, flesh and blood body that needed to be fed and washed and rested like any real human; but it was all an illusion for our benefit, you see.† There was never any real physical substance about him.† And understand that they came to this conclusion and taught this about Jesus because they wanted to honor him.† Their intentions were good.† They didnít want to defile Jesus with what they saw as an inherently corrupt physical form.
††††††††††† †And you may think, ďOkay, whatís wrong with such an understanding of Jesus?† Surely if they meant to honor Jesus by it, it canít be all that bad.† So whatís the big deal if someone believes it?Ē† The answer is that in their attempt to honor Jesus, they threw out the heart of the Gospel.† You see, a Jesus that does not truly become a man cannot truly be manís substitute on the cross Ė nor can he suffer and die as a man for the sins of the world.† It makes the passion and death of Jesus just part of an elaborate illusion Ė nothing really happened on the cross.† No suffering took place there.† No one really died there.† And if thatís the case, your sins are not atoned for.† This is why John calls the teaching that Christ did not come in the flesh the doctrine of antichrist, as indeed it is.
††††††††††† And itís important to note that John is addressing here just this one heresy and not giving us an entire catalog of all the false doctrines that had already appeared in his time Ė not to mention the many others that would arise after him.† But his directive for us to love the truth and test the spirits applies to everything we hear and read that claims to be the truth of God.† It doesnít matter how good it looks or sounds, or how much it may appear to honor Jesus.† What matters is whether it is demonstrably the truth of God Ė and we show our love of the truth by doing the testing.† Thatís why I encourage you never to simply accept whatever I or any other teacher has to say, or accept uncritically what you read in books by authors that claim to be Christian.† No. Test.† Ask.† Analyze. Make us prove to you the truth from Godís Word and you will be fulfilling the first part of the Churchís Prime Directive.
††††††††††† And that leads us to the second part, which is loving one another.† Two things to mention here.† The first is that we have to get the sequence right.† Our love for one another flows from our faith in Godís truth. Itís not possible to have godly love for each other unless we are living in Godís love and forgiveness that come to us by his truth.† Or, say it another way, true Christian doctrine leads to true Christian love. Sometimes people try to do that backwards.† They put love up front and say thatís all that matters, or they put love up front and say that it will lead us to the truth.† It doesnít work that way.† Itís like saying the fruit can be produced before the branch is attached to the vine. Itís not possible Ė though it is possible to fake it, and people often do.† There are whole church bodies that claim to have love and tolerance for everyone that have pretty much thrown out every sense of Christian doctrine. Theyíre friendly.† Theyíre inviting.† Theyíre open.† But they arenít Christian.† Nor are they truly loving because one thing these folks will never do is warn sinners of the wrath of God and the coming judgment Ė and therefore their need for a Savior in Jesus Christ.† Instead they lie and say God loves you just the way you are.† No need to repent.† No need to turn.† No need for forgiveness in Christ.† One big happy family Ė and all headed to hell together.† Thatís not love.† Thatís insanity.
††††††††††† The second thing to mention is thatís itís possible to become so focused on seeking the truth and weeding out all heresy that our love for each other gets short shrift.† This happens when we fail to grasp that knowing the truth about the Lord is not the same as knowing the Lord through his truth. The first has to do with the accumulation of dead facts, figures, and theological concepts.† The latter has to with a living relationship that is established by spending time with Christ in his Word and receiving him and his forgiveness in the Sacraments of the Church Ė and so truly coming to know Jesus and his love. Listen, we arenít here to learn about Jesus.† We are here to listen to Jesus who speaks to us through his Word.† We are here to have him touch and heal our sin sickened hearts.† We are here to experience first hand the love he has for us Ė that he displayed in giving up his life on the cross so that we could live with him forever. †We are here to have him fill us with his Spirit to direct and guide us, precisely so that the love he has for us will become a part of us and influence our behavior so that we willingly give up ourselves for one another Ė not as sacrifices for sin; but as living sacrifices that continue to care for and seek the good of each other.
††††††††††† This, then, is our Prime Directive:† that we love the truth, and that we love one another.† May our gracious Father in heaven cause us to keep it, that we may bear much fruit and prove to be Christís disciples, and so bring glory to his name.† Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!