“Loving the Bookends”

John 13: 31-35

19 May 2019 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

(Sermon Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTaBVA95QE4 )

John 13: 31-35

 

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 in himself and will 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.”

 

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Prayer.

 

Jesus had just washed the feet of his disciples;

An act of humble service.

I wonder how the world would be different

Had Christianity adapted the Pitcher and Bowl as our symbol

Instead of the Cross?

 

The tool of the state

(Rome, that is)

To impose it’s ways was the cross.

The means of the state was death by public crucifixion.

 

Take one, make an example of him.

Then take another.

And another.

Hang ‘em high for all to see.

Hang ‘em to die outside of city gates, where everyone passes.

The longer and more drawn out the affair, the better.

 

Wails, cries, and word of mouth is better than social media.

No pay per view: it’s free, sponsored by Rome.

Bring lots of towels and hand sanitizer because it’s

Bloodier than a butcher shop.

 

Crucifixion projected

Domination. Cruelty. Oppression. Death.

Reminds me of conquering colonization of the past 300 years.

 

My inherent pessimism and privileged bias

Leads me to counter my internal conflict;

“No, it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Our sinful nature and love of evil probability

Would have led to the same outcome;

Regardless if we wore a shiny cross on a necklace around our neck

Or a sterling charm molded in the shape of a bowl and pitcher.”

 

Maybe I’m wrong.

 

Had the Church adapted a bowl and pitcher instead of the cross,

We might be living in an age of peace and tranquility,

Where service is above self,

Where the Light has overcome the Darkness, and

God’s kingdom has come.

 

God’s time is God’s time, not our time.

 

 

Jesus had just washed the feet of his disciples;

An act of humble service.

Our Gospel narrative from St. John is far more familiar

On Maundy Thursday of Holy Week,

Yet, we revisit it five weeks later.

Why?

 

The major characteristic story arcs

That make the Gospel of John unique and distinct

From the paralleled synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are

Abundance,

what a life of Discipleship looks like,

Love, and

Glory.

 

1. Abundance.

 

Eucharist symbols are related to the abundance of God’s grace:

Jesus feeding 5,000 and their families with five loaves and two fish,

Jesus turning water into an abundance of wine to save a wedding feast,

Jesus directing his disciples to fish on the other side of the boat,

Having them pull in 153 fish that nearly broke their nets.

 

That’s abundance.

Abundance is the fingerprint of God.

 

2. Discipleship.

 

In the final scene from the Gospel of John,

Jesus has a face-to-face with Peter.

A life of discipleship is one of service, Jesus tells him;

Tending the Lord’s flock,

Feeding the Lord’s flock,

Leading the Lord’s flock,

In the physical absence of Jesus until his return.

Serve the flock just like the Good Shepherd has served you.

 

If you claim that you are a follower, a disciple, of Jesus Christ

And you’re not engaged in an intentional ministry of service

You’re doing it wrong.

 

Roll up the sleeves.

Get your hands dirty.

Put to work the talents God has given you.

Get to work in God’s name for God’s benefit.

If you can’t work, write a check.

If you can’t work or write a check, pray.

 

Discipleship and service are inseparable.

 

3. Love.

 

The Gospel of John oozes love;

God’s love for the world, and

Christ’s love for his followers.

 

We hear from this Upper Room narrative

Immediately after Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus teaching

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” (13:34a)

Taken in it’s short form, we know this isn’t true.

God had already put commandments in the book to love others.

 

Leviticus 19:18 reads

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

 

Leviticus 19:34 reads

“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

 

Allow this commandment to speak for a moment,

In context of our modern body politic.

 

What is new

Is the longform command of Jesus:

“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (13:34b)

“Just as I have love you,” is what is new and set’s the love of Jesus apart

From anything the world had ever seen.

 

Jesus’ love is new, fresh, different, … revolutionary.

 

Case in point:

The context of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

This narrative is bookended

By Judas’ betrayal before and Peter’s denial afterwards.

Yet, Jesus loved them enough to wash their feet anyways.

 

It’s easy to love the center,

Those who everyone loves.

It’s much harder the further you pull away from the center.

It’s hard for me to love those on the outer edge.

 

It takes the love of Jesus

To love the bookends.

 

Who are the bookend people in your life?

Those who are most difficult for you to love?

 

Are they people who have betrayed you, like Judas?

Ask Jesus for the strength,

And wash their feet anyways.

Are they people who have denied knowing you, like Peter?

Pray for strength, courage, and direction,

And wash their feet anyways.

Are they people with whom you have become estranged?

People who you approach as if walking on eggshells?

Those who are broken?

Those who you dread?

 

Just as Jesus sucked it up and loved his disciples,

Wash feet anyways.

 

If you have Jesus in your life,

It’s possible to draw upon his love

When our love reaches it limit and runs out.

 

4. Glory.

 

When it comes to interpretation

Sometimes the Gospel gets in its own way.

I mean, what is this “glorify” thing?

What is this “glorification” thing all about?

It’s hard to read, untangle, understand;

Even for me!

 

“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 in himself and will glorify him at once.” (13:31b-32)

 

Traditional Christianity defined “glorify” as

Words and actions that direct praise, honor, and adoration

To the penultimate act of God’s salvation history:

The cross,

The empty tomb, and

The ascension.

 

God is glorified in the words and actions of Jesus.

The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus brings praise, honor, and adoration to God.

 

Likewise, Jesus is glorified in God’s initiative and actions throughout salvation history.

God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world,

Not to condemn the world,

But that the world might be saved through him.

 

This is a great definition of “glorification”

For a sterile, academic discussion,

But it falls short of the target if we are seeking application to our lives.

 

Are you daring?

Let’s push the thinking of traditional Christianity just a nudge:

Let us consider

“Glorify” is a recognition of the presence of God in our midst.

 

Judas didn’t recognize the presence of God in Jesus, so he

Walked out and betrayed him.

Peter was so caught up in the murderous, frenzied crowd,

He was unable to think beyond self preservation

And he denied Jesus three times.

 

Too often,

I am so focused on navigating through secular life -

Paying bills, working long hours, juggling responsibilities, being a dad, and,

Oh, what’s for dinner? -

That I, too, fail to recognize the presence of God in my presence.

I suspect I’m not alone.

 

I’m not suggesting the cliche

“Slow down and smell the roses.”

 

I am suggesting engaging in an intentional spiritual discipline

Known as mindfulness.

Mindfulness means tuning our spiritual antenna to achieve maximum efficiency and sensitivity.

 

Mindfulness means we

Watch.

Listen.

Be alert.

Recognize the presence of God.

 

When we become conscious or aware of God’s presence, direction, power, grace, and love ...

Right here, right now ...

We become the glorification of God

Of which the Gospel of John speaks.

 

Glorify God.

Recognize God’s presence.

 

….

 

The Gospel of John is about

The abundance of God symbolized by the acts of Jesus;

Living the life of a discipleship;

Loving one another, neighbors, and aliens,

Loving those who are easy to love and

Loving the bookends,

Just as Jesus loved his disciples, Judas, and Peter alike;

And living a life of glory,

A life lived with Jesus Christ,

A life lived in the presence of God.

 

Dearly beloved,

Love, just like Jesus loved;

Love with no strings attached.

When your love runs out, ask the Lord to make up for our deficits.

 

Live in the presence of God.

Be aware of how God is at work in the world.

Testify to God’s presence.

That brings glory to God. 

That’s how you truly glorify his name.

 

Amen.