The Father’s Love
The Father’s Love
NO GREATER LOVE
Jesus tells us that there is no greater love a man can have than to lay his life down for his friends. So I went searching for some stories of friendship online. Here are some that I found.
In the wilderness of Alaska naturalist Casey Anderson spotted two bear cubs weeping beside their dead mother. Casey, refused to leave the cubs in the cold to die, so he brought the cubs home with him. One of the cubs didn’t make it but the other one survived and grew up as his friend. He named the bear Brutus. Today Brutus enjoys swimming in the hot tub with Casey. He even attends the family Thanksgiving dinner. Brutus was even invited to Casey’s wedding. I am sure it was difficult for Brutus to share Casey with his beautiful bride, actress Missi Pyle, but Brutus was able to bear it.
Gerdi McKenna is a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer. And as a side effect to chemotherapy, she lost all her hair. To support her, her 11 friends underwent a drastic transformation and got their heads shaved.
40 year old Elizabeth Diamond was another woman diagnosed with cancer. Except this cancer was untreatable brain cancer. Before she died she made her childhood best friend Laura Ruffino promise that she would take care of her four daughters after she died. As storypick.com reports Laura fulfilled her promise. To quote the article, “Today, Ruffino and her husband, are busy taking care of Lily, Ella, Samona and Tara, with a full heart and devotion.”
On February 14, 2018 a shooter opened fire at a High School in Parkland Florida, killing 17 people, including teachers and students. Aaron Feis was one of those who died. He was a security guard, football coach, and proud alumni of the school. He selflessly shielded students with his own body from the shooter. Scott Israel, the county sheriff, knew Feis personally, and this is what Israel said about his character,
“”I know Aaron personally,” Israel added at a news conference Thursday. “I coached with him, my two boys played for him. I don’t know when Aaron’s funeral is, I don’t know how many adults will go, but you’ll get 2,000 kids there. The kids in this community loved him. They adored him. He was one of the greatest people I knew. He was a phenomenal man.”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
On this Good Friday, on this dark Friday where we remember how Jesus was nailed to the cross for our sins, how he laid his life down for us, we also remember how the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. This Good Friday as we remember the suffering of the cross, as we remember the suffering in this world, we remember that it is still a Good Friday, there is still good news for us.
The Good News is this. When we lay our lives down Jesus will introduce us to the fullness of God’s Love, which is the fullness of the Trinity.
Friendship with Jesus is meant to lead us into a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit and the Father. I the Holy Spirit we shall receive power. Power for living. Power to become Holy. And in the Father’s bosom we shall find all the love we shall ever need. And in this passage Jesus gives us a metaphor for experiencing the Love of the Trinity. The metaphor he uses is a vineyard.
I had a roommate in college who wanted to start a vineyard and I learned from him that the start up costs for a vineyard and the work it takes to maintain a vineyard are great. On average it takes three years from the planting of a new vineyard to harvest the grapes. It takes another two years to produce a vintage or fine wine.
In the Old Testament God often calls the nation of Israel a Vineyard that has gone wild, that has refused to be pruned (Isaiah 5). It has gone wild with idolatry and violence. So what Jesus is saying that the people had placed their hope in being a nation with an army, a nation with political power. But Jesus is equating himself with the nation of Israel. He is the hope of Israel. He is the True Vine and we are the branches.
Jesus being the vine and us being the branches is a great analogy for the Christian life. When I first opened up the Bible in College I fell in love with Jesus. in the metaphor of the vineyard we see all the Trinity at work. Imagine that Jesus is like a vine that stretches from your heart to the Father’s heart in heaven. He is the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). The four Gospels, present to us four different views of Jesus’s life. The Letters of Paul, Peter, John, and Hebrews, give us a detailed description of what Jesus’ life, his death, and resurrection, meant for the early church and for us. Though Jesus says hard things, like take up your cross and follow me, we also get a sense of how approachable he is. He is righteous, not self righteous. You could be as comfortable eating dinner and hanging out with Jesus as listening to his teaching and watching His amazing miracles. And he died and rose again for our salvation. But I have found in my life and in the church that Christ looks a little different than my life. He looks a little different than the church.
Mahatmna Ghandi, who lead India in peaceful protests against British rule, is famous for saying, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Indeed, one of the biggest reasons people leave the church and don’t want to become Christians is they think Christians are hypocrites compared to Jesus. Indeed, in my own ministry I have said look at Jesus don’t look at Christians. Or I have tried to joke about Christian hypocrisy. One joke I have read online that I have used before is a guy says to a pastor, “the church is full of hypocrites”, and the pastor replies, “yes but there is always room for one more.”
To say that, “yes I am a hypocrite but so are you,” isn’t an answer, it is a deflection. To say don’t look at me look at Jesus, isn’t an answer it is a deflection. Because that is not what Jesus says. He says the world will know we are his disciples by how we love each other, not by our committees, not by our music, not by our programs, not by our buildings, but by our love. Jesus says if we abide in Him we will bear much fruit and by this the Father will answer our prayers and give us whatever we ask. And we see this in Jesus’ life. His fruit was his life. His words were his deeds. His life was love incarnate. His life was full of grace and truth. And if we abide on the vine Jesus says we will become more like him. But we don’t see that happening. We change our behavior but our hearts remain the same. We operate under will power and not God’s power and when our will power fails the world sees our hearts and we are exposed. Part of the reason for this is we are lacking in water of the Christian life, the Holy Spirit.
Jesus does not compare himself to water, he compares the Holy Spirit to water. In John 7:37 Jesus says, “ If anyone thirsts let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John tells us that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit, whom the disciples would receive when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. In the analogy of the vine, the Father is the source, Jesus is the vine, and the Holy Spirit is the water that allows the fruit to grow. The Holy Spirit comes to us when we come to believe in Jesus. But the analogy of the vineyard suggests that we can be filled with more or less Holy Spirit, depending upon whether we abide in Jesus’ love. Jesus suggests that our hearts should be like wells of the Holy Spirit that overflow so others can drink. For so many of us in our Christian life this is not the case. I believe this is because we forget about the last person in this metaphor, we forget about the Father.
In John Jesus says, “I am the way the Truth and the Life no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Jesus is the way. He is the vine, the path, the road, the destination is Knowing the Father. Often we think of this as just going to heaven. But Jesus tells us in John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will make our home with him.” Jesus suggests that the way is a two way street. There is always more to know about God.
I was listening to a story on marriage this week. And the point was made that the key to a successful marriage is believing that there is always more to know about your spouse. That marriage is an adventure. And likewise with God there is always more to know about God. Loving God is an adventure.
In Matthew 11:27 Jesus says, “ No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus desire is not just for us to know Him but to reveal the Father to us. As Jesus came from the bosom of the Father, he draws us into the Father’s love. Jesus tells us that this spiritual process is much like growing a vineyard.
The thing about the vine dresser is he prunes the vines. And no one likes to be pruned. No one likes to have something cut off of their life even if it is good for them. But as Jesus said the key is to say Thy Will be Done. The key as Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 18 you are the potter and we are the clay let us not resent the work of his hand.
Jesus shows us that the key to all of this is being willing to lay our lives down. It is like love our selves is like a Damn keeping the Holy Spirit back. But the good news is our Father will love us more than we could ever love ourselves. The Father comes and he just tears the damn down and the Spirit flows when we are willing to lay our lives down. As the Apostle Paul put it in Galatians, “ I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” ( Galatians 2:15-21)
Jesus wishes to reveal the Father to us, so that the Father may make His home in us, but first we must lay our lives down. What do we need to lay down tonight? The Father knows every hair on our heads and he knows our hearts. We cannot flee from his presence. Even if the sun were to fail we could not hide from him for darkness is as light to him (Psalm 139). Father tonight glorify your Son. Holy Spirit tonight show us what we need to lay down. For there is no greater love that we can have than to lay our lives down for our friends.
In the name of the Father, Son ,and Holy Spirit. Amen.
LET LOVE GO
Mary must have thought it was the cruelest joke in all of history. The Gospel of John tells us that Mary Magdalene was there at the foot of the cross watching her Lord and her hope die, naked and ashamed on a cross. She had already endured so much tragedy, so much grief, so much loss, all she wanted to do was give her teacher a proper Jewish burial. She couldn’t do that on the Sabbath, so she came to the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week. It appeared to her that it wasn’t enough for Jesus’ enemies to shame him with the most gruesome death imaginable. Now they had robbed his grave and denied him a proper burial. They had denied Mary her chance for closure, her chance to say goodbye to her Lord and her teacher. They had spat on her love and her grief. Mary ran to get the disciples to show them this terrible news. After they had seen the empty tomb Peter and the other disciple, most likely John, left the tomb, but Mary remained and wept. The deeper the love the deeper the grief and Mary’s love was deep and her tears would not be satisfied by a short visit to the empty tomb. Mary stood there at the empty tomb and she wept for her friend. As Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus, Mary wept for Jesus. And Mary wept with such grief that it was unbearable for her.
There is much speculation as to who exactly Mary Magdalene was and what her relationship to Jesus was. The entire premise of the popular fiction book The DaVinci Code is that Jesus and Mary were married and had children, and the Catholic Church spent centuries covering it up. But there is no evidence for that in the scriptures or in history. And it is more a commentary on our culture than it is on the Bible that we can’t believe that Mary could have such intense love for Jesus if she were not romantically involved with him. Mary tells us why she loved Jesus. He was her Rabboni, her teacher. In a society where men didn’t even look women in the eye, in a society where Rabbi’s would not teach women, Jesus saw Mary’s heart. He saw that she was hungry for every word that comes out of the mouth of God, and Jesus had no problem teaching her all the Father had taught him.
Another theory that goes around that maybe you have heard of was that Mary was a prostitute. Even in the movie entitled Risen, Mary was portrayed as a prostitute. But there is no evidence for that. Why we think that is true is because in Mark and Luke it says Jesus delivered Mary from seven demons (Luke 8:2, Mark 16:9). And we think Mary must have done something really bad to be delivered from seven demons. But maybe it wasn’t about what Mary did but what the world did to Mary. Maybe it was because Mary lived in a society that was cruel to women as our society is still cruel to women today. Maybe Mary was dealing with everyday demons and maybe that is what bound her.
Sometimes It is not the breath of the wound it is the depth of the wound that allows the Devil to bind us. The Roman soldier lashed Jesus with a whip leaving long scars. But it was the nails that held him hanging on a cross. The wounds of the nails were not as large but they were far deeper. Sometimes wounds that the world thinks are insignificant drill deep into our hearts, they are our everyday demons, and they hurt our hearts.
Jesus delivered Mary from her everyday demons. If someone did that for me I would love them with a love deeper than any ocean. The deeper the love the deeper the Grief. This is the principle we teach in our Grief Share ministry and I have seen that at work the lives of many.
One of the most moving services I have experienced during my time here at Calvin Presbyterian Church was not my idea but the idea of Kate Wilson, our director of music. She wanted to celebrate All Saints Day, a day in the church where we celebrate those Saints who have gone before us, those saints who have gone to be with the Father. For that service we lit candles at the front of the Sanctuary, one for each loved one we have lost, calling out their names as we lit them. I didn’t expect that service to be that moving. But as people kept coming forward, as the candles kept being lit, and the names kept being called out, I felt the immensity of what was happening. One of our Elders, who serves in the navy, lit at least thirteen candles for all the sailors she has known personally who have laid down their lives for our country, who have laid down their lives for their friends. I felt a deep love in the sanctuary, a deep grief that made the air thick. And I felt that we were surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, saints who have gone before us urging us onward to through off every weight and the sins that clings so closely, and to run the race set before us, following Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the shame of the cross. (Hebrews 12:1) If you feel shame today Jesus has endured the cross for you. I see in my Spirit that as Mary wept a thousand candles burned around her, the incense of her love for her Lord, calling down the angels. And she is desperate as we are desperate in our grief. And she sees a gardener and she asks him where have you taken him? I am not looking for hope, I am just looking to get by, I don’t expect a miracle. And then Jesus called her by her, as he calls us by our name. He says, “Mary.” And her eyes were opened and her sorrow turned to joy and she cried out, “Rabboni”, which in Aramaic means teacher. And apparently she did what any of us would do if we got to see our loved ones again. She holds him. Perhaps she hugs him. Jesus says something that scholars have puzzled over for centuries.
Jesus tells Mary to Let Love Go.
This seems cruel to us since most of the reason we want to go to heaven is to be with our loved ones again. To hold them and never let them go. It seems cruel to us that Jesus would stop someone he loved from embracing him, since this is what we spend our entire lives imagining will happen one day. Why would Jesus do such a thing? He is Risen that that is good news, amazing, incredible, Earth shaking, world changing news. But because he is Risen Jesus tells us there is even better news.
The Good news this Easter is this. Christ is Risen and has made His Father our Father, his God our God, so we can let love go.
What the Trinity says to us is that the Holy Spirit comes to be our comforter. He has sent To provide a presence for when those we love die and are not present.Jesus comes to us to be our friend, to encourage us onward to greater works. And God is our Father because he knew the Devil’s plan was to destroy life, but while he could destroy life he could not destroy love, because God is Love and Love never ends. He made a plan that we would not be orphans. That in this great communion is all the love we will ever need. And He himself wanted to give us the Love of a Father, the Love of a Mother, the love of a brother, the love of a sister, the love of a friend, poured out into our hearts, all the love we will ever need.
In Jesus’ darkest hour, as Jesus prayed in the Garden, where he sweated blood and he prayed to the Father that the cup may pass from me, but not my will but thy will be done, in that night, when all his friends had fallen asleep and abandoned him, Jesus called out Abba, Father (Mark 14:36). And in your darkest hour, in your deepest pain, in your broken family, when your heart is pierced with a thousand nails, you can cry out Abba, Father as well.
He says he will come to us (John 14:23). He will embrace us as a mother hen (Matthew 23:37), he will wrap his wings around us (Psalm 91:4), and his kindness, and his tenderness will heal our hearts and our bodies, his perfect love will come and cast out our fear, our everyday demons. The good news today we are no longer slaves to fear (Romans 8:17), we are no longer orphans (John 14:18) , we are children of God, we have an inheritance, for this is our Father’s World, it is not the Devil’s world, it is our Father’s world, it is not a world of pain, it is a world of hope and glory, if we are willing suffer with him, for it says for the joy set before him he endured the shame of the cross, and when we endure the shame we shall find joy. Glory be to God, Glory be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are not beggars, but we are children of God with a hope. We can let love go, in time we can let love go, for as the scriptures say love never ends.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.