Sunday, July 1, 2012

Command: Love (John 13:1-17,31-34)

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart this world and go to the father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.  And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.  And you are clean, though not all of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.  If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer.  You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I realize school is out for summer, but I’d like to administer a pop quiz this morning.  I’m going to give you four possible answers to fill in the blank on the following sentence (and don’t answer just yet, even if you think you know it!):  _______ is Lord.  Now, before we answer the quiz, let’s define the term, “Lord.”  To call someone or something “Lord,” what are we saying about them?

Bishop Kenneth Carder expresses it well.  He says, “When we say ‘Lord,’ think ‘boss.’  Whatever is ‘Lord’ is in charge.”  OK, so using that definition, think about your life and who is ‘Lord’ - boss, in charge - of your life.  Is it A.) My teenage daughter?  B.) My cat?  C.) My spouse/partner?  D.) My in-laws?  E.) Me, Myself, and I?  OK, so who is it?  Do any of these fit, or you think we should maybe fill in the blank with something else, and if so, what would it be?

When we say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ we’re saying, ‘Jesus is the boss.’ Does that work for everyone?  OK, if a boss tells you to do something, how do you respond?  Now, if Jesus is our Lord, our boss, and Jesus tells us to do something, how do you think we should respond?  May we pray.

The text we have just read is set in the context of Jesus’ last evening with his disciples before his death, surrounding the meal we commonly refer to as The Last Supper, and he gave them a new commandment that night that was really a summary of all he taught taught them to this point - to love.  Knowing all that lay ahead of him in the coming 24 hours, Jesus used the opportunity of one last family meal with his followers and closest friends to tell them something important.

Now, let’s think about that for a minute.  Suppose you knew you were going to die within the next 24 hours, and you had your closest relationships—family, friends, whomever—around you.  Given that scenario, do you think you would say things and share things that were important or inconsequential? 

So it was for Jesus on the night before he gave himself up for us.  Knowing that he would meet with death in just a few hours, Jesus said in verse 34, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).  He leaves his final wishes in the form of this new command: “love one another.”

I find this to be a fascinating, ironic piece of the journey with Jesus: a command to love.  A command – not optional – to do something that by its very nature can only be done voluntarily, freely, and without compulsion – love.  Participation in the self-giving, love-filled life of Jesus is completely voluntary, and yet, once you have signed up for the life of faith, love is now mandatory.

Friends, if you remember nothing else about this sermon, indeed, if you remember nothing else about the entirety of the Gospel story, remember this: it’s about love.  It’s the only law or command you need to worry about or follow, for if our lives reflect God’s love in the same way the moon reflects the light of the sun, the rest of it - the do’s and don’t, the rights and wrongs and rules, the shoulds and coulds and ought to’s - will take care of themselves if our lives are rooted in and constantly reflecting God’s love.

It’s about love.  And to be clear about this, when Jesus says, “Love one another,” he isn’t saying “Have warm fuzzy feelings for each other.”  It’s impossible to have warm fuzzy feelings for everyone else because so many people are downright irritating!  Further, that’s not what love is.  Love is not a feeling; it’s an action, it’s a decision, it’s a choice.  And in our text, Jesus displayed his love in action.

In those days, most people travelled by foot.  Roads were dusty, and people’s feet would get very dirty as they travelled from place to place.  Upon arriving at your destination, your host would make it possible for you to clean your feet.  Typically, a pitcher of water, a basin, and a towel would be left by the door; if a person was wealthy and had servants, one or more of the servants would be on foot-washing duty at the door.

But that night, there were no servants to wash feet.  There was a pitcher and basin by the door, but the disciples realized that if they stopped to wash their own feet, they might end up washing everyone else’s feet, too.  None of them wanted to get stuck doing that –  that was the job of a servant!  It was menial!  It was degrading!  Not the type of thing that the closest friends and followers of someone as important as Jesus should do!  They were all above that!  And so the basin sat by the door.

But as the supper progressed, Jesus got up from the table, and he walked back to the door, and he picked up that pitcher, basin, and towel.  And the disciples thought to themselves, “Oh no.  Who is Jesus going to pick to wash the feet?  Was he going to scold them because they hadn’t washed their feet before dinner?  Was he going to say, “John, you’re the youngest - you do the dirty work!”?  But then, Jesus himself got on the floor, and the disciples were mortified.  The very thing they all thought they were too important to do, Jesus does himself. He washed their feet- first John, then Judas, then on around the entire table, washing each of their feet and they’re embarrassed because their Lord has assumed the role of a servant.

You see, Jesus had already taught that “The Son of Man [that’s Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his very life” (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28, emphasis added).  Jesus Christ – the son of God, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords – washed his disciples’ feet, and when he did, he was saying, “Friends, this is what love looks like.  I have taken the most degrading, humiliating job a servant can take on; I’ve taken a job nobody else wanted to do.  Go and do likewise.”

We have a constant reminder of this command to love each other here in our sanctuary – do you know where it is?  The purple banner with the pitcher of water and basin, reminding us of how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, how he linked this to loving them, and then how he called us to love each other - and others - in the same way.  This banner is a constant reminder of Jesus’ command to love one another, and I hope that every time you look at it, you remember Jesus’ call upon your life to reflect his love.

Jesus came among us as a servant - he was here to serve rather than be served.  The same is true for those who wish to follow him.  Those who claim the name Christian - from baby Adalynn who was received into the Christian family just moments ago, to the longest tenured church-goer among us - we are called to serve.  Serving others above ourselves is how Jesus taught us to love - commanded us to love, even - and just as he washed his disciples’ feet, now he looks at each of us and calls us by name and hands the basin and towel to each of us and says, “If you love me, show it in your love for others.  Take the tools of love, and go to serve others in my name.”  Jesus is calling you by name to love and to serve - they are one-in-the-same - will you take the pitcher and basin and towel and do as he tells us to do?  Or, like it did on that night so long ago with Jesus and his disciples, will the tools of love once again sit neglected by the door in the hopes that someone else will pick them up?

One final thought.  Later that same evening, Christ would pray in the garden.  That’s what the stained glass window here in our sanctuary depicts - Jesus praying in the garden following supper in the hours before he was arrested.  I love that window, in part because of what it symbolizes and what we know about the content of Jesus’ prayer on that night.  A few chapters after the passage we’ve looked at today, John’s Gospel tells us that one of the things Jesus prayed for was that his followers – all of us, everywhere – Jesus prayed that his followers would all be one (John 17).

Think about that.  On the night before he met with death, Jesus was praying for us.  Of all the various things that were on his mind at that time, he stopped and prayed for his followers, that we would be united in our love for God, our love for each other, and our common ministry.  Every time I look at this window, I like to think of Jesus praying right now, in this moment, for the congregation here at St. Paul.  Jesus is praying for us, that we would love each other and be made one.  I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to let Jesus down.  I want his great prayer to be answered, that we may all be one.

And here’s the cool part: if we do what Jesus commanded us to do earlier that same night - love each other - and if we make a way of life out of it such that the law of love is permanently written on our hearts and constantly reflected in our lives, then the inevitable result is that we’ll be drawn together, unified, made one.  Looks like maybe Jesus was onto something.

Love one another.  For when we do, we are the answer to Jesus’ prayer.

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