Friday, April 18, 2014

Sermon -- Maundy Thursday (April 17, 2014)

JOHN 13:1-15,34

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus had told his disciples that he would be going to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise.  They did not get it, not entirely.  They did not seem to grasp the rising from the dead part, as their fears on Easter Sunday testified.  Nor did they seem to understand why he had to die.  But they did get that he was going to die soon.  Now, if the rabbi dies, who takes over?  They had twelve candidates in mind.  Who would be Jesus’ successor?  For this reason, a dispute arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. (Luke 22:24)  And so, Jesus was not done teaching.
     It was standard etiquette at gatherings to have one’s feet washed.  It was a filthy, lowly job.  It was humbling for a person to have to scrub the layers of dirt, sweat, and stink off of each guest’s feet.  For that reason, it was given to the least slave in the household. 
     While Jesus’ disciples were debating amongst themselves who would be the greatest, and perhaps who would be Jesus’ successor, Jesus rose from supper.  He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:4-5)  The rabbi, the teacher—the Lord!—was the lowliest slave who got down to deal with the stench of his disciples’ feet.
     Simon Peter was offended by Jesus’ actions.  Peter would not allow his Lord to lower himself for his sake.  “Lord, do you wash MY feet?”  Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:6-8, emphasis reflects the Greek)  Peter did not get this, either.  If you will have any place in the kingdom of God, if you are to have any hope of everlasting life and joy, there is no other way than through Jesus.  There is no one else who cleanses.  Peter was certain that he could hold his own.  He would not allow Jesus to go through any dishonor for his sake.  But here it is: Unless Jesus lowers himself for you, unless Jesus endures shame for you, unless Jesus is the lowliest slave for you, then you have no part with him.  Then there is no forgiveness, no salvation, no peace.  But Jesus does take the lowest place.  He becomes the lowliest slave.  This is what Jesus means when he sais, “As I have loved you….”
     The disciples had been arguing about who would be greatest.  You know how we assess greatness.  Greatness is the CEO who sets company policy.  Greatness is the military commander to orders other men to go into battle and die.  Greatness is the senator who makes the laws, or the judge who punishes the lawbreaker.  Greatness is even the spouse who wins the argument and puts the other one in his or her place.  Chances are you despise the one who has such power and authority.  Why?  Because YOU want to be the one who calls the shots.  You want things run your way, at your direction, and without anyone questioning your choices or motives or production.  We all want to be God, and we all want other people to agree that we are.
     But our Lord does not allow for other gods in his universe.  He does not even allow for gentlemanly disagreements with his commandments.  You are not permitted to love yourself above any others.  There is no excuse for having that debate within yourself why you are, or should be, greater than others.  It is both selfishness and idolatry.  Repent.
     When (Jesus) had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:12-15,34) 
     Jesus commands that we love, “As I have loved you….”  Jesus’ love his seen in how he gave himself completely for us.  He willingly lowered himself to the lowest place.  He submitted to the shameful death of crucifixion so that we would not perish in our sins.  He suffered as the worst of sinners—in fact as the only sinner, for he took the sins of the world upon himself—so that we would be reconciled to God the Father.  Jesus’ interest was not how great he would be, but that we would be redeemed from sin and death, and that we would be restored to the kingdom of God, and that we would have the hope of everlasting life.  Therefore, he gave his body into death.  He shed his blood as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  “As I have loved you,” he said, “you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
     Jesus had given the new command.  He orders you to give yourself up for the sake of your neighbor, to seek his well-being and to strive for his eternal good.  Jesus tells you to humble yourself for the sake of your fellow man, whether friend or foe.  There is no room here for establishing your greatness, for demanding your respect, or for boasting of your service.  The lowliest of slaves had nothing to brag about when he washed feet.  He was only faithful if the feet were clean when his task was complete.  Likewise, when you have served your fellow man at what God has given you to do—whether at work, at home, in the community, or at church—your confession is that you are only an unworthy servant; you have only done your duty.
     But as it is with all commandments, Jesus’ words and example only show us how we fall short.  For, we do not live up to Jesus in either actions or attitudes.  We resent our fellow man because he needs to be served at all.  We despise our fellow man when he does not praise us.  We still argue for our greatness.  We do not love according to Jesus’ words: “As I have loved you….”
     That is why the Church is not saved or sustained by a new commandment, but rather by a new testament.  On the night Jesus was showing the disciples the full extent of his love, he poured it out in the sacred meal.  The body and blood Jesus would give into death for the forgiveness of their sins, he would give them that night—the fulfillment of the Passover.  The body of the Lamb which was slain on their behalf would be given to them for their highest good.  The blood of the Lamb would be given to them so that they would be marked and death would have to pass over them.  Jesus would consume death for them, and they would consume the body and blood of the new testament to be delivered from death.  “As I have loved you,” Jesus said.  Jesus loved them to death, and that meant their eternal life.
     And so it is for you.  From this altar, you partake in the new testament in Jesus’ blood.  This is what marks you as children of God and heirs of everlasting life.  This is what fills you with a love for your fellow man so that you would even consider loving him as Jesus has loved you and forgiving him as Jesus has forgiven you.  So you strive to live up to the new command, for your neighbor needs your love and mercy, your patience and your prayers.  But remember: Your life comes to you only in the new covenant.  This is the lifeblood of the Church.  This is what covers you in Jesus’ love, in Jesus’ righteousness, and in Jesus’ mercy.  For, he loves you to death.  As we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  As we eat this bread and drink this cup, Jesus supplies the Church’s life.  For, here, the Lord’s love is given in visible, tangible form.  Here, forgiveness is consumed.  And here, the greatness of the Lord is yours.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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