THE 6TH SUNDAY IN EASTER AD 2018
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality,  but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),  you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed:  how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree,  but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear,  not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.  And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared,  "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
1 John 5:1-8
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  For there are three that testify:  the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
“I’m sorry, Granny, but I beg to differ.” He was only 7 years old when he said it. Kids can say the funniest things. The young boy’s grandfather and I had a good chuckle about it when he told me the story. As many others have chuckled as I have passed it to them. Joy, yes, there’s much joy in children and grandchildren - a true gift of God. How sad it is that so many don’t want them anymore, or at least don’t want too many of them.
I hope and pray that what I’m about to say next will be seen by God as amusing as that 7 year old boy’s statement to His Granny. Before Almighty God I’ll be the first to say that when it comes to wisdom, I have no doubts that I’m not in the 7 year old category, or even the toddler department - a babe in arms would be a far better comparison. Counting on His love and patience for someone as ignorant as myself then, I dare to say, “I’m sorry Jesus, but I beg to differ.”
Should a child of God and especially a pastor ever utter those words, beloved? No, they should not. But they do. These days it seems to be a constant refrain with many. For the poor pope this tune has become one of those ear worms that he doesn’t seem to be able to get out of his head. Many are not even as polite as to say that they beg to differ with our Lord, they simply say to His face - even shouting it at Him - “You’ve got it wrong Jesus!” But lest in judging others we condemn ourselves we do need to be honest, beloved, and let the Law point out in each of us those places where we, in the secret of our hearts, have begged to differ with Jesus, too.
Which is why, beloved, I will openly say that I repent of my own thoughts where in studying this text I was tempted to say: “I’m sorry, Jesus, but I beg to differ.” To set you’re mind at ease I will tell you what I wanted to differ with the Lord about. It was His statement, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” “Really Jesus?" I wanted to say. “Really?” But what about, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?’ and ‘while we were yet sinners … that is haters of God … You laid down your life for us.’ Surely, love that lays down its life for its enemies is greater than love that lays down its life for its friends?”
This text is often used with military funerals. The reason is obvious, as the soldier regularly puts his life on the line for his friends, and when he dies in combat he has laid it down for them. Such love is truly awe inspiring without question. Worthy of all honour, respect and remembrance. But imagine a love that lays down its life for those shooting at you trying to kill you. Imagine giving yourself into their hands so that they wouldn’t suffer … they wouldn’t die. That’s what we have on the cross, beloved. Jesus laying down His life for those who hate Him, who mock Him, who are torturing Him. Jesus loving people who are His sworn enemies … people who hate Him to the very core. He prays for them as He dies for them.
And so I want to beg to differ with Jesus, but as a child of God and as a Christian Pastor, because of the Holy Spirit’s work in me, I know and believe that He can’t be wrong. And so that must mean that I am. There must be a way that what Jesus says is true since He and He alone is the way, the truth and the life. But how can it be? The answer is earth shattering and mind blowing as the Gospel always is. The truth is that Jesus on the cross is laying down his life for His friends. On the cross we see the mind boggling depths of the love of God in Christ where Christ chooses His enemies for His friends. Christ chooses people who hate Him who reject Him as their friend to be His friends … friends that He loves enough to die for. What a friend we have in Jesus, indeed! greater love has no one than this, yes, yes, indeed.
What joy! To know what kind of people Jesus chooses for His friends. The worst of the worst, the chief of sinners, haters of God - people like you and me. Jesus is my friend not because I chose Him but because He chose me. When I didn’t even want Him for mine He wanted me for His, that is the truth and heart of the Gospel, beloved, that is the truth and heart of the love of God. It is this love that we are called to abide in, to bask in, rest in, remain in, live in, not our love of Him but His love for us.
But as every parent knows a kid’s friends have a way of rubbing off on them. Keeping good company has a way of keeping you on the right track, and even at times, moving you in the right direction. Keeping bad company often lands you in a heap of trouble. Look where it gets the Son of God. He throws His lot in with the world. He hangs out with sinners and eats with them. He calls us sorry lot His friends. And where does it get Him? Hanging on a cross numbered with transgressors suffering and dying on account of them, judged and condemned for them, while they leave Him in the dust.
Keeping company with us leads Jesus to death and damnation. Keeping company with Jesus on the other hand leads to life and salvation. Love chose the first that the second might be yours, beloved. Even before you came to be, the Lord Jesus knew you and chose you to be his friend. Knowing all that you would be, He numbered Himself with you, so that you could be numbered with Him. In your baptism the Lord Jesus numbered Himself with you. He chose you, knowing all that it would mean for Him and knowing just what kind of friend you would be to Him.
Yes, His friendship with us is His choice but ours with Him on the other hand is our choice. Jesus is and always will be my friend, that’s as sure as the cross and my baptism, but whether or not I am a friend to Him, that has to do with abiding in His love and keeping his commandment to love others as He has loved me. And what does that mean? “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It means choosing to love in the face of hate. It means choosing to give to those who only want to take. It means opening up your arms and dying to yourself for the good … the life of others.
When you ponder how we do with this, beloved, its easy to see, or at least I know it is for me anyway, that as good a friend as Jesus has been to us, we fall pretty flat in the friend department when it comes to Him. Forgive your enemies and do good to those who hate you? We’ve got a hard enough time being merciful and patient with the faults and failings of those near and dear to us. We struggle with serving our families without grumbling and groaning, let alone laying down our lives for our enemies. When we are tired and overwhelmed the devil so easily has us taking offence and snapping back at any comment or remark with the slightest edge to it. This of course can lead to a snarling back and forth that would put any dog fight to shame.
Friends of Jesus? No, beloved, this is not how those who count Jesus as their friend are to act. Abiding in His love they are to live in it toward others. In the face of this truth, what a comfort it is to know that the Lord Jesus chose me to be His friend, full well knowing what a lousy friend I would be to Him. What joy there is in the truth that His friendship with me does not depend on how well I live up to it. What peace there is in the reality that He rejoices to see me today and is glad to share not only His time but His very life in His body and blood with me, even when I have let Him down in more ways than I can number.
But this is why our dear friend Jesus comes to share His good company with us this morning. In love He comes to befriend us, so that be being a good friend to us we might be better friends to Him … so that loving us we might learn all the more to love Him … so that serving us we might learn all the more to serve Him. And so beloved, let us rejoice in the friendship of our Lord Jesus today, even as we pray to the Father in His name, that He would make us better friends to Him, so that we may know the joy of loving one another as He has loved us. Amen.