In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There’s a story that’s been around a while, about a Sunday school teacher. One morning she tells her students, “Okay, class, I’m going to describe something to you, and I want you to tell me what it is.” The children are all listening intently, and she begins the description: “I’m thinking of something that’s small, grey, and furry, with a bushy tail; it climbs trees and likes to eat nuts. What is it?” One boy shoots up his hand and answers, “Well, it sounds like a squirrel; but since this is Sunday school, it must be Jesus.”
Sometimes it does seem that in Sunday school, or Bible study, or church, or confirmation class the answer to any and every question is “Jesus.” Someone carried that to the extreme with a bumper sticker that says, “Whatever the Question, the Answer is Jesus.” Clearly this approach won’t work on tests in most school subjects, or in your work life. What is the average distance between the earth and the sun? “Jesus.” No, it’s 93 million miles. If the multiplication question you have to answer is “Who multiplied the loaves and fishes?” then the answer is Jesus. On the other hand, if the question is “What’s 15 times eight?” the answer is 120, not Jesus. If you ask your auto mechanic what’s needed to fix your car, and all he says is “Jesus,” you might want to find another mechanic.
Now as Scripture testifies, and as we confess in the Creeds of the Church, Jesus is The Answer to the deepest, most important, most foundational questions we can ask about God, truth, creation, existence, the universe, life, death, faith, hope, love, eternity, and our purpose. When we say that Jesus is The Answer (capital T, capital A), we don’t mean in a simplistic sense as in those examples. We mean it in the sense that He is The Answer to who made us, who God is and what He is like, what truth is, what we are to believe, why we exist, how we can have hope in a fallen and dying world, what’s in store for us after this present life, what we are to be doing while in this life, and what love is. He is The Answer, God’s Answer, to our greatest problem, the problem of sin, our rebellion against God, and the debt we owe Him as a result, that our lives are forfeit.
Where can we find these answers, this Answer? In sacred Scripture, God’s holy written Word. There are many who seek the answers out there, by observing nature, as in the physical sciences, or in the human heart and mind, such as by the study of philosophy. It is true that God has made known some of His attributes through His work in the creation, as St. Paul declared to the Christians of Rome: “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20). Yet “although [men] knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (vv. 21–22). That doesn’t apply just to “those people out there”; it applies to the whole human race ever since the Fall, when mankind rebelled against God and sought its own ways, sought to fulfill its own desires. We were all part of those “men who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (v. 18b).
But in His grace and mercy God would not let the truth remain suppressed. In His great love for us He would not leave us in our unrighteousness. He called and sent the prophets to His people of old to proclaim His Word to His people. The written record of their proclamation we still have in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. What, or rather, Who is the Center and Focus of the Old Testament Scriptures? Jesus! Yes, the Sunday school answer is in this case the right and true and proper Answer! We hear it every Easter season, in Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and when He appeared to the Eleven in the locked room, and said, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk 24:44). And of course the Apostolic Scriptures, the New Testament, continue to bear witness of Him as the written testimony by the hand of the Apostles and Evangelists, who saw and knew Him personally, face to face, testifying that He still and ever lives and reigns among His redeemed people, His body, His bride, His Church.
This is the Faith (capital F) in which you have been catechized, instructed. In His Word God speaks to you, making use of the voices of human catechists, teachers of the Faith, so that you hear Him and then can speak to Him in response. How did you first learn to talk? By listening to others talk, and trying to imitate them. Sometimes Mom or Dad, or other family members, would try to get you to say certain words—“Say ‘ma-ma’” or “say ‘da-da’”—and you might echo it back, much to their delight. Likewise we learn how to speak to our heavenly Father, how to speak the Faith of Christ, by hearing Him in His Word, repeating what He says to us, and by the Holy Spirit’s power we believe His Word. And we don’t just speak His Word; we sing it and pray it and are shaped by it. Do you know what that is? That’s worship: God speaks, and we respond. It always starts from Him as He comes to us, and only then are we able to respond.
This is the Faith of the Catechism. Martin Luther called his Small Catechism “the people’s Bible.” He wrote it so that “the head of the household” would have a simple way to teach the essentials of the Christian Faith to their families. He wrote it to serve as a guide to Christian prayer and devotion. You have learned the Six Chief Parts—the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar—and you keep learning them, as long as the Lord lends you breath. What is the purpose of the Catechism? That’s another question we could ask as “Who is the Purpose (capital P) of the Catechism?” Christ Jesus is the Purpose of the Catechism, for the Catechism is, like the Scripture from which it is drawn, all about Christ, and bringing, raising, and keeping you in the one true faith in Him. And what of the Father and the Holy Spirit? Jesus says, “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn 14:6), and “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (v. 26). Whoever would try to come to the Father apart from Jesus, the Father will say to him, “I don’t know you.” Whoever would seek to follow the Spirit without following Jesus, could not, for the Spirit would point him to Jesus. The Father loves the Son, and in Their great love for us the Father sent His Son into this world, into our flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and the Son willingly came in order to lay down His life willingly and to take it up again by His own authority.
Jesus says, “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” (Jn 15:9–10). There are some significant words repeated here: abide, commandments, love. In today’s Scripture readings the words command and commandments appear thirteen times, and the word love ten times. What is love? We have heard from John’s First Epistle, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Love is of God’s very nature and essence. What does that mean? What does that look like? Love, God’s love, which is the original love, is self-giving, serving the other. The Father loves the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit loves the Father and the Son. Perfect mutual love and perfect mutual service. Only God can love so perfectly, without need for another being or any creature. The ultimate picture of love is Christ Jesus, our God in the flesh, hanging on the cross, “He who came by water and blood” (1 Jn 5:6). In His great love for us, He identified with all us sinners by His baptism in the water of the Jordan “to fulfill all righteousness,” and He poured out His holy, precious blood on the cross on Calvary for our redemption, to buy us back from sin, death, the power of the devil, and our own sinful flesh. We cannot go back to these events, nor need we. For He brings us the benefits of these, His works, for us. In Holy Baptism we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness that covers all our sin; in Confession and Holy Absolution we return daily to the promise of our baptism, hearing again the voice of Jesus, “Father, forgive them;” and in His Holy Supper He feeds us His body and blood, given and shed on the cross, present here for you.
We need Him, and He made us for Himself and for one another. His commands to you are not to you singular (“thee” in the old King James Version), but to you plural, to us. By His very triune nature, God is community, fellowship, family, and He made us to be in community, fellowship, and family, too. His commandment to us isn’t “Love one another as I have loved you,” but “Abide in Me,” as branches in the Vine, as the Source of our life and ability to love, and “Abide in My love … so that, in order that, you may love one another.” Remember what He also says: “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). His commandment or instruction is not a “do, or else” type of burdensome, weighty, and potentially damning command of the Law of God, which has already been fulfilled in Christ’s perfect obedience on our behalf and in His atoning sacrifice for our lifelong and sinful breaking of God’s holy Law. Rather, it is—because of Christ—the caring parental instruction, which lovingly informs and directs and even enables you, the child of God, to live the love that God desires. It is the whole Word of God, not the Law only but the Gospel as well, which teaches; but only the Gospel enables the child of God to please the Father. As Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home, Our abode, with him” (Jn 14:23). As close as the Son—who is the Word made flesh—as close as He is with the Father, so closely do the Father and the Son abide with you, in the unity the Holy Spirit. As a dear child of the heavenly Father, come to Him in prayer and so abide in the Father’s love for you. As a member of the Bride of Christ, the Church, come to His house, eat His Meal, and abide in the Bridegroom’s love for you. As a lifelong catechumen of the Spirit of Truth, hear His Word and so abide in the Spirit’s love for you. And what does Jesus deem to call you? He calls you friend. We tend to call someone a friend who can do things for us, who likes us and whom we like. Jesus raises it to something so much higher. Those whom Jesus calls friends are those whom He loves, for whom He has done something. The King of kings, He who has overcome the world, the Conqueror of the universe calls you His friend! What can you do for others, even those who do not know Him, with that friendship? Abide in His love, what He does for you, what He gives to you; abide in His friendship!
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.