Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Easter 2017

Peace in loving His Commandments. Through looking at how Jesus bestows peace upon us this Easter season, we turn our focus today upon the love for His Law.  The peace granted in the assurance in our status as God’s children through Christ points to how gratitude in this status enables us to love that which He commands. The peace granted through all the benefits we have in Him enables us to love that which He commands because His benefit to us was to fulfill the law where we were unable. The peace granted through His loving discipline to bring us from sin to repentance and through instilling godly disciplines enables us to love His commandments. Our collect prayer for this week speaks most beautifully, of how God alone through Jesus Christ orders the unruly wills and affections of sinful men to the point that we may the love the thing that He commands.  This morning, let us look through the lens of our lessons at how Jesus gives us peace through cultivating a grateful love for His commandments.

Let Your Heart

          To begin, our lesson from Proverbs 4 speaks of the heart in relation to God’s Law. Proverbs 4:4 states “Let your heart hold fast to my words; keep my commandments, and live.” Holding fast to the instructions of a godly father conveying God’s Word to live by is love. Holding fast is vastly different from doing so because we have to do it.  To hold fast is to hold onto something with sincerity and willingness. It is to know in terms of the Word of God, of Jesus Christ, that He is our life. Our keeping of the commandments is accomplished with perfection in and through Jesus Christ alone. We are unable to attain to this perfection. In the admission of this weakness, we hold fast to Christ and His Word in the assurance He alone atoned for our inabilities.

In such, He instills and cultivates a love of His Word within us. As Psalm 119:127 states, “Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold.” We often run into trouble when we think letting our hearts guide us is infallible proof that our hearts are guiding us in the right way. This is what we see and hear throughout our culture. From movies to popular songs, the heart is seen as the gauge to measure if something is right. Yet, when such is used to justify the heart holding fast to sin, it promotes false love, a love enshrined in promoting self. It is not the love of God. It is a love of self that sows discord and destruction every single time it rules our hearts. Ecclesiastes 8:11 states, “the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.”

God gives us good precepts as we read in verse 2 of Proverbs 4. There is no life in following the wicked devices of our hearts. Life eternal is found only in Christ’s fulfillment of the Law and bringing us to faith by His grace. This softens and transforms our hearts to bear His good fruit. This work in us through sanctification, the process He uses to convict us to repent and cling to Him helps us to love Him. The love He fosters in our hearts is seen in Proverbs 4:6, “Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.”

Gift

          Secondly, in our passage from James 1, we begin to understand how God brings peace to us through a love of His Word by seeing it as a gift, a grace. James 1:17 states, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” How do we view God’s Commandments, His Word? Do we approach the Word with gratitude? With gratitude comes respect. With gratitude and respect comes a love that is willing to stop and listen. As James 1:21 states, “and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

          This receiving through a loving gratitude leads to what we read in the passage from Proverbs 4:1, “be attentive, that you may gain insight.” Too often though, we take for granted what God has given us, especially His Holy Word. We often approach His Word as any academic work, thinking so highly of ourselves to the point we think we have the capabilities on our own to master the Word as we can master academic works or technical manuals.

          Instead, true peace in Christ comes through the humility of loving God’s commandments. As Proverbs 4:8 reminds us of how we should approach the gift of God’s Word, “Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her.” We submit to God’s Word. This brings a peace that is absent when we force God’s Word to submit to our fancies, emotions, and pride. Yet, in our time, Holy Scripture is treated as a common thing, something we take for granted. Increasingly, the Word is not viewed as a precious gift. Note the following from an Anglican Priest of the 19th Century, John Keble, “Just the same may we say of every Bible, however ill-used or neglected: it is the work of God, and its contents are the writing of God. You know how you would hold your breath and hearken, if your Lord were to speak from heaven: well, you have His very words in that Book: it is the same, as if He really did speak to you from heaven. In our too familiar use of our Bibles, we are sadly apt to forget this. We take them as matters of course, as being what every body has. Yet three quarters of mankind never saw or heard of a Bible; and for you and me to have the use of one is indeed a mark of God’s distinguishing favour. If we neglect or abuse it, woe unto us!”

He Will Guide You

          Lastly, in seeing Christ bestowing His peace unto us through cultivating a love of His Commandments in us is what we read in the Gospel from John 16. Verse 13 states, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.” Ultimately, the love of God’s Commandments is out of gratitude for God’s protection of guidance in them to preserve us, to keep us, and to call us to repentant when we go astray.

          When the Word is hated or tolerated, sinful man tries all he can to explain away Scripture to create loopholes to justify his favorite errors and sins. When the Word is loved through submitting to the work of God to constantly draw us closer to Him, we gradually let go of our pride in trying to worm our way out of the consequences for our sins. Christ’s perfect sacrifice through following the Law enables us to love the Word. We know we cannot follow the Law or love the Law perfectly. In the admission of this inability, God rescues us through His Son to see us as His Children with all benefits … with the full peace that we are saved from the penalty of falling short of perfectly following the Law. 

          God guides us in His Law, to love His Law. In this, we come to the point of staying in the Word of God. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” The love of the commandments is cultivated through the reading, hearing, and study of His Word. This love begins with the worship of God centered on the Word of God.  The public reading of God’s Word has been a part of worship going back to the Old Testament. It is how we experience the reverence and awe of the Word. It is how a deep love for the Word is cultivated. When we go to our homes to read the Word in our private or family devotions, we glean from our worship how to approach the Word, with love.

          The Word of God as we read in Psalm 85 and the Gospel conveys to us how we are forgiven by God, how we are restored by God, and how we are revived by God. In experiencing this love of God, we come to a love of the message or the Word. It is truly Good News, the entire Word of God. All of God’s Holy Word conveys the wonderful news that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law completely and perfectly.

          When we go it alone in terms of thinking we have to guide ourselves in regards to the Word, we will not come to a love of the Word. Rather, we will love self for our self-perceived knowledge of the Word. Repeatedly, God gently corrects us to a proper love of His Word where we submit to the point that He alone fulfills the Law, that He alone forgives us our sins, that He alone restores us, and that He alone revives us. We do not deserve this treatment. Great peace comes with giving up our self-perceptions of how important we are or how intelligent we are in regards to the Word. As Bishop Jeremy Taylor wrote, “To be proud of learning is the greatest ignorance.” Great peace comes to our hearts that are changed by the Lord to receive His Word meekly through love. Great peace comes with seeing all that God does as an unearned gift of grace, including the gift of His Holy Word to cherish and love as our nourishment. Great peace comes with seeing that God alone guides us repeatedly as our Good Shepherd to His safety, forgiveness, restoration, and revival to a love of His Word, fulfilled for all sorts and conditions of people that come to Christ by grace through faith. Amen.

Let us pray.

O ALMIGHTY GOD, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affection of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, wheretrue joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.