St. Stephen’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School | Beaver Dam, WI | 920.885.3309

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Sunday: 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m.
Thursday: 6:00 p.m.
Friday: 1:30 p.m. (Shortened)




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Define “Love”!


Sermon on 1 John 4:7-11, 19-21 and John 15:9–17 for Easter 6 April 6, 7 & 9, 2021

  1. I try to follow Jesus the Master Teacher who used parables—stories about everyday things–to teach deeper spiritual truths. When I’m teaching catechism class, I often tell some story including the students to make a point or to help the kids remember. We reviewed the whole catechism for the examination last week—and so we reviewed many of my stories. There’s one I tell about the first commandment. “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.” So the question is, How do you define “love” in that statement, “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things”? In class I would say “I need a girl to pick on.” And almost all the girls raise their hands. I pick on a girl. Let’s call her Sally. So, Sally goes up to her boyfriend and says, “It’s my birthday next Tuesday! What are you going to get me? Where are you going to take me?” …and the boyfriend says, “I’m not going to take you anywhere. I’m going to Madison to watch the monster trucks!” Now comes the hard question. “Does he love you?” “Are you most important to him?” No. The monster trucks are most important to him. (At this point, some of the girls say they want to see the monster trucks, too.)
  2. Now think about that as a definition of love. …to see someone as most important. How is that love reflected in actions? With priority! With time spent! With money spent! With concern! With service! What if the boyfriend’s answer was “I am planning to take you out for tacos because I know that’s your favorite. And then I was thinking about taking you to the movie you’ve been talking about for weeks.” That shows importance. It shows he was listening. It shows concern for needs and feelings. Let’s take that definition of love, “to see someone as most important” and revisit today’s lessons. Look at that lesson from 1 John: “Dear friends, let us view one another with importance, because that attitude comes from God. Everyone who sees the importance of others has been born of God and knows God. … This is love, not that we see God as important,[1] but that he saw us as important and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God saw us as that important, we also should see one another as most important.”
  3. So how do we do that? John tells us. First, look at the love of God. Drink in the love of God. See what he has done for you. Every day his mercies are new for you. Every day he hears your prayer “Forgive us our trespasses,” and in his grace he gives you daily bread and delivers you from evil. He gave you Jesus, and with Jesus, he gives you all things in earth and heaven (Romans 8:32). God thought you were that important.
    • What did Christmas mean for Jesus? It meant squeezing the infinite into six pounds of human flesh, in rough swaddling clothes and the grime and grit of a donkey’s feeding trough—for you, to make you his own.
    • What did Good Friday mean for Jesus? Whipping, bleeding, pain, spikes through hands and feet, agony, shame and abandonment—for you, to make you his own.
    • What did Easter mean for Jesus? It meant that he stuck around—for the disciples who abandoned him, denied him, ran away and hid—to show them his victory, in love—to show them, and us, what he did to make us his own.
    • And he’s not done yet. What did Ascension mean for Jesus? He’s there at his Father’s right hand. He receives our prayers and brings them to his Father. He rules all things for the benefit of his church (Ephesians 1:22).
  4. You heard me say this several times, in our Bible class on John and in Lent and Easter sermons. “For us and for our salvation” Jesus did all these things for us. And that leads us to that second definition for love. …
  5. Look again at what Jesus says in today’s Gospel—and this is his definition of love. It goes with what we heard before, “see someone as most important,” but it goes beyond that—to action. In John 15:13 Jesus says “No one has greater love than this: that someone lays down his life for his friends.” Jesus said this Holy Thursday night, knowing very well what Good Friday would bring, what it meant for him, and why he was doing it. “For his friends.” Define love? … to give your all for someone. Even to give your life for someone.
  6. Can you give a minute to someone when your phone rings, and the caller ID shows someone you know that you’d rather not talk to? I’m not talking about telemarketers, I’m talking about that friend, relative, or acquaintance you know—and it’s so tempting to blow them off. Can you give an hour to that person that you know is troubled? Yes. It means listening. It means listening to some unpleasant things. Maybe you are the one to help them sort things out. Maybe you are the one to show them love, to show them that you see them as important, to give them your all, at least for the moment.
  7. All of this is hard. It’s hard because it is truly counter-cultural, and it is counter to human nature (that is, our broken human nature). Our culture is stuck on self and self-worship. Our human nature, the Old Adam, the flesh, sin within, is completely devoted to serving self. We are addicted to ourselves. We are addicted to self-service and self-love, and self-love is so very often self-destructive, because you can’t see beyond the mirror—and with our self-love, it isn’t an accurate mirror. I think it’s beyond hard. Humanly, it’s impossible.
  8. So, John tells us, “We love because he first loved us.”  One of my favorite Lenten hymns puts it very elegantly, almost Shakespearean: “love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.” “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God.” It’s not in us. It comes from God. It doesn’t flow from us, it flows through us—from God, through us, to others. We are like empty vessels that only God can fill—he fills our cups to overflowing (Psalm 23:5), and then uses us to fill others—with the message of his love—and not just the message, but with love itself—showing how God values every human being, by the way we value them. …showing what God has given every human being, by the way we give ourselves.

1 John 4:7–11, 19–21 (EHV)

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love has not known God, because God is love. 9 This is how God’s love for us was revealed: God has sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10 This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us so much, we also should love one another. … 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For how can anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, love God, whom he has not seen? 21 This then is the command we have from him: The one who loves God should also love his brother.

John 15:9–17 (EHV)

“As the Father has loved me, so also I have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you hold on to my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have held on to my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that my joy would continue to be in you and that your joy would be complete. 12 “This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this: that someone lays down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you continue to do the things I instruct you. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will endure, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 These things I am instructing you, so that you love one another.
[1] This is the message of the Gospel, God’s love to us. A dominant message of our love or service to God could end up being a work-righteous message.

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