John 15. 9-17
The Father loves; Jesus loves; we love.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” That’s another quote I ran into, during the pandemic. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” From – of all people – Albert Einstein! The world’s greatest physicist! Developer of the Theory of Relativity! Contributor to the development of quantum physics! And to tell you the truth, I never imagined that he’d, ever, be interested in anything simple! But here it is … “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” But, it makes sense. And it’s a good thing for a preacher to keep in mind! Unfortunately …
The church hasn’t – and preachers haven’t – been know much for its – and their – simplicity! Faith, for most of us, is complicated. Fine print. Crossed t’s. Dotted i’s. I think that’s why we have so many pastors. To keep track of it all. To explain it all to the people in the pews. Think about it. This city is full of churches. Truth be told, we’re probably overdosing on religion. And very few of them agree on anything. Among Lutherans alone, there are, at least, three distinct groups! If not four! And that’s not taking into account, the 2s or 3s meeting in living rooms and around kitchen tables, from week to week.
Heaven or hell? Saved or damned? In or out? Right or wrong? There are all kinds of answers to even the most basic questions. Some congregations have pastors. Some priests. Others preachers. There’s contemporary worship. Traditional worship. Liturgical worship. For some groups, the bible’s inerrant and infallible. For others, a book of faith. Some read it literally. Letter by letter. Word for word. Some, not so much. There’s concern for endTimes, secondComings, raptures. There are pre-tribulationists and post-tribulationists. Pre-, Post-, and A-Millennialists. And that’s not beginning to look at the sacraments. Seven? Or is it two? Or none? The lord’sSupper? HolyCommunion? The Eucharist? Transubstantiation? Consubstantiation? Real Presence? Or a souvenir? And we won’t, even, get into baptism.
We call it religious freedom. But theologically, it’s just a hot mess. Pandora’s box run amok! And that’s the first time I’ve ever used the phrase “run amok” in a sermon! Christianity in America. The church in the bibleBelt. There’s nothing – absolutely nothing – simple about it. It’s complex. Convoluted. Confusing. It’s funny. We Americans like to believe that we’re “one nation, under God,” when we don’t, when we can’t, even come close to being one church under god! But at least, for us pastors, it’s job security. As long as it remains like it is, you’ll need us! Us or someone like us! To help you make sense of it all! To lead you through the labyrinth! To guide you through the maze!
There will, always, be something spiritual about the chaos. Something mystical about the confusion. So week in and week out, we’ll ramble on … and blather … and digress … Wandering between Genesis 1.1 and Revelation 22. 21. Because we don’t know, exactly, where we’re going. We’ll drone on and on and on, because – bottom-line – we have no bottom-line. Maybe we don’t know it well enough. Maybe we don’t know it as well as we think we do. But if simplicity is the sign of knowing, complexity’s a symptom of not-knowing. The risky thing about it all … if we can’t say what we believe – really, truly believe – in just a handful of words … we just don’t know it well enough.
For Luther, it was Christ-and-Christ-crucified! He got that from Paul. For the Puritans – and the Presbyterians with them –the whole point was glorifying God and enjoying “Him” forever! Those are bottom-lines. They’re hearts and souls, substances and sums. For the writer of the fourth gospel, it’s love! It’s being loved! Being loved and loving!
Last week, we read about all things grape! Vines! Branches! Fruit! What, especially, stuck with us, over the years, were those branches that bore no fruit. You know the ones, that were lopped off and tossed aside, gathered up and thrown into the fire, and burned. We’ve heard sermons about them, for generations. But if we’d only kept reading. Just a few more verses. We’d’ve heard Jesus talking about the love! Always and forever, about the love! “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” And then, one more time, he lays down the law! The new law! “Love one another as I have loved you!”
He doesn’t say, “Love God; Love others!” He doesn’t, even, say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” He, simply, says, “Love! Love just like me!” Period! Full stop! End of sentence! Jesus doesn’t go on to talk about worship. Singing songs. Saying prayers. Nothing about reading the bible or giving ten percent. Not one word about anything we think necessary and essential. Instead, he speaks only of love! Of being loved! Of being loved and of loving!
According to John, love is Jesus’ own, unique message! The fourth gospeler uses the word nearly twice as much as the other three combined! John can’t tell the story without it. And the commandment, according to John … the greatest … the one … the only … Well, here … around the table … with the disciples … on the night in which he was betrayed … Jesus speaks it again and again, over and over. “Love one another,” he says! “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” It’s that simple! Be loved! Love! Start to finish! Beginning to end! That’s Christianity!
But, we make it so complicated. Because we don’t know it well enough. Or maybe, because we don’t want to know it. Turning the other. Going the extra. Doing unto. We don’t want to deny ourselves or take up our cross or follow. But that’s, exactly, precisely, why we’re here. For Jesus to do those things to us! AND for us to do those things to each other! We’re here to be loved! To be loved and to love! For us, that’s faith! For us, that’s believing! And it’s all pretty simple! It’s not metaphysical. Or supernatural. Or otherworldly. Nothing about pearly gates or streets of gold. Nothing about harps and halos. It’s love! God loving us! Us loving others! The exact same way! Loving generously! Loving extravagantly! Loving excessively! No strings attached!
So, my friends, when we can’t explain it simply, we don’t know it well enough. And when we don’t know it well enough, it almost impossible to believe it! Almost impossible to stake our lives on it! The Father loves Jesus! Jesus loves us! We love others! And it doesn’t get any simpler than that …