John 15:9-11 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
I love trains, and it is for that reason I want to remind you of the story of the little engine that could. The little engine could carry the cars up hill, and down hill, and across the plains and get them to their destination safely and on time. And for a little engine, what more is there to life? Well, one day he saw a plane, and he wasn’t happy being a little engine anymore. He zoomed up the hills, he zoomed down the hills, but try as he might he could not get off the ground – finally, he let go of his cars, left them on the track – but he still couldn’t fly. Not only was he sad, that he couldn’t fly, the cars were angry, because they were left on the track, and the railroad was angry because they did not get there on time. It was not good, and when all seemed lost – he saw a boat – and so he ran away to become a boat. I think you can imagine that did not go well either.
What’s the point? Be who you are! And don’t get distracted from what you do well. Last week we heard that we were the branches, God made us that way, God made us to bear fruit. God connected us to the vine, and will continue to feed us. But sometimes we are like little engines, and we don’t want to be branches, we don’t want to be sheep, we don’t want to be what God made us.
And that is why, when we hear a text like today – and then we say to ourselves, I can be whatever I want to be – and I can save myself, if only I keep God’s commandments. A little engine can do the things that little engines do, not because they think they can – but because that’s the way God made them. So also, even if a little engine things it would like to be a boat or a plane, that doesn’t mean they can, they just weren’t made that way.
So what is it that God has made us? By grace through faith in Christ we have been made the children of God – and the children of God are able to love, for that is the way God made them. Not only that, the children of God keep the commandments – not because of fear – not out of desire for reward – but simply because we know that’s the way God made us.
We call living this Christian life, sanctification. And we do not have to work on becoming perfect, because God is the one who does the work – and through the Holly Spirit working through the Word, he changes us. You see it is not work for a branch to be a branch, nor is it work for sheep to be sheep – so also – it is not work to be a Christian – and that is why Jesus can talk about keeping commandments and love – and to talk about them in terms not of work, but of joy. For being what you are is a joy.
The problem is that every day there are temptations – that is, there are things that entice us to be something that we are not. Sometimes the things that entice us are evil, and it should be easy to turn away from them. Sometimes the things that entice us, are good things – but they are not our things. Its like the little engine that wanted to be a boat – and through he tried very hard, all he got was a sinking feeling, and rusty at what he once did well.
So when we come to a text that talks about how we ought o love, and about keeping the commandments – and there is no joy, but it seems a great burden – well that is the law convicting us – showing us our sin – showing us, that somewhere along the line we turned from what God made us, and it is not wonder it seems a burden – for in giving in to temptation, we turned away from what God made us to be, and are trying to be something we are not.
So where do we find the joy? We find the joy in the forgiveness of sins. We find the joy in God restoring us to where we ought to be. We find the joy in following our Savior, knowing that just as he provides our daily bread, so also he will provide for everything else. We find our joy in living the life that God has given us – as indeed the scriptures say – this is the day, the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. For we know that the greatest joy of all, is the love of God which is ours in Jesus Christ.