The Human Condition 4-24-16

In this sermon, based on John 13:31-35, I explore Jesus commandment for us to love perfectly, and the way that our human condition gets in the way of that.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

There are times when the Holy Spirit works very clearly and very plainly, and by the time I sit down to write my sermon on Friday, I know exactly what to talk about. Other times though, not so much…and that was the situation this time around. Today’s gospel is quite brief…and its setting in the Last Supper makes it an odd choice to be the assigned text here three-quarters of the way through the season of Easter.

And so, Friday morning I stood in the kitchen over at the parsonage and made the comment to my wife “I’ve got zero clue what I’m going to do with this one.” (pause) Its funny though…because sometimes life has this funny way of revealing just what the spirit it up to…and so…today…a modern day parable…

The kingdom of heaven is like a guy who goes to the store and places an order for a new dryer…the salesman is quite helpful, and after a few moments, the sale is complete…with the expected delivery and setup scheduled for the following Friday, as well as the plan to haul away the old dryer…and when the day of arrival occurs, the delivery team shows up, as expected, and everything seemingly goes well…until the team leaves, having said “you’re good to go” and then the man walks down into his basement to discover that the power cord now installed is simply hanging off the new dryer, as it was the wrong style of cord.

The man calls customer service and explains the issue, but is told that they can’t get someone back out to fix the problem until Monday…and so, irritated with the inability to get the problem resolved on their end…the man takes it upon himself to overcome the problem…and so he grabs his tools, disconnects the incorrect cord, drives 30 miles each way to exchange it…and then installs the correct cord himself…leaving himself greatly inconvenienced…and yet with a functional dryer. (pause)

Now, if this was actually happening in the gospels…we would likely see the same sort of result…when Jesus’ audience, whether it’s the crowds or religious opposition, or possibly even Jesus’ disciples asking the question, “Lord, we don’t understand…what does this mean?”

That question right there…as well as the parable itself, reveal a lot about the human condition…our inability to understand just what God is up to in the world…as well as our shortcomings which caused God to take action in the world in the first place. (pause)

And now, to explain the parable…the man had expectations of what would happen…that the store and the delivery would hold up their end of those expectations…but they didn’t…and when presented with a way to overcome the issue, they reveal that they are unable to do so in a way that’s acceptable…and so the man takes matters into his own hands to overcome the problem, despite the personal cost of time and effort.

Now I could connect that, in general to the overarching story of the gospel…in that God created humanity, and gave us a single expectation…which we messed up…and then God gave the Law, intended as a way to overcome and atone for the foul up…but we were unable to successfully fulfill it…and so God took matters into his own hands, at great personal cost to rectify the situation…and so long story short…the man buying the dryer is God…the furniture store is humanity, the dryer itself seems to be the functioning relationship between God and humanity…and that cord…well that seems to represent sin, or our brokenness…because as it originally was…well, it just didn’t work.

But despite all that going on…and despite the surface value of using this whole dryer delivery as a metaphor for THE GOSPEL…perhaps you’re wondering just where this fits in with TODAY’S gospel…and that’s a pretty good question.

Now as I mentioned earlier, this is a bit of an odd snippet to cover…but if we think about it…perhaps it starts to make a little more sense if we consider Jesus’ statement to the disciples that “I will be with you only a little longer.” If we think Last Supper, then that points towards his death which was literally right around the corner. But on the other hand, if we consider it in light of our current season and timing…we begin to think of Jesus’ pending ascension…40 days after Easter…and coming right up in about another week and a half.

And so, in that light, we see the importance of Jesus’ teaching here towards the end of his earthly life…but even more than that…we see the importance of this new commandment that he issues to the disciples…as they look towards the pending reality of Jesus’ absence…when they will look for him and will not find him, because where he is about to go…they…and we for that matter…cannot follow.

A new commandment I give to you…love one another, just as I have loved you…so you must love on another…by this all will know that you are my disciples…if you love one another. (pause) Now, by itself…perhaps this isn’t surprising…one of our most basic tenants of the faith is that God is love…it shows up all over the place…particulary in the writing of John…and specifically in two different spots which I’m guessing you’ll recognize. Who among us doesn’t know the song (sing) “Beloved…let us love one another, for love is of God and anyone who loveth is born of God and knoweth God…he who loveth not…knoweth not God for God is love…beloved, let us love one another 1st John 4, 7 & 8.”

And then the second one is equally well known…maybe even a little bit better when we hear “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (pause) Love…it’s a pretty major point isn’t it…and so coming back around to this new commandment that Jesus gives during his final hurrah…maybe it seems like a bit of a no brainer…at least until we take a closer look…and realize that Jesus says “As I have loved you.” (pause)
Jesus is throwing out an expectation here…a benchmark for us to attain…but it’s a little trickier than it seems at face value…because of the way that Jesus says it…now in the original language, there are bunch of different words that we call love…and they reveal slightly different situations…but the word that Jesus uses here is Agape…perfect love…the perfect love that God has for all of creation including us…PERFECT…all encompassing love…and so let’s plug that back into the commandment…Agape one another…just as I have agaped you, so you must agape one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you agape one another.

But here’s the kicker…can we pull that off? Can we achieve…perfect love, even for a moment…if we think about it and answer that question honestly…well then I think we all come to the conclusion of no. We may feel love for one another…we may show it…and perhaps with a fair bit of regularity…but each and every day, somehow some way our selfish nature takes over and we fall short of that perfect love that Jesus commands…the presence of which reveals us to be his followers. (pause) That blasted human condition…this flawed nature that we possess, this messed up life that we live…it wins every time…which I guess doesn’t bode very well for us does it?

No wonder Jesus tells us that where he is going, we are unable to follow. We’re unable to follow his perfect example of love…just as we are unable to follow him beyond the borders created by the presence of sin and death in our reality. (pause)

But…there’s more to the story…remember back to our modern day parable…did the man simply accept that the situation was a lost cause? No…he did something about it…and took steps to fix it…and that’s why Jesus is here in the first place…we can’t do it…we can’t love perfectly as God loves us…but God has taken steps to overcome the breach…because of his perfect love for each of us. (pause)

Now if I had continued reading a few more verses beyond the end of today’s lesson…we would have heard Jesus tell us “Do not let your hearts be troubled…Believe in God, believe also in me…In my father’s house are many dwelling places…if it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, SO THAT WHERE I AM, THERE YOU MAY BE ALSO.”

This is the promise of the gospel…flawed and broken as the world may be…and as such we are cut off from the life intended for us by the Father…but despite that God, fixes what we are incapable of fixing…God meets the expectation for us since we are unable…and Jesus promises, that he comes back for us to bring us where we cannot follow on our own.

This is the promise of the gospel…that God claims us, even though we don’t deserve it…and in this regard, the gospel is the polar opposition of what we like to call Karma…instead of getting what we deserve, the gospel promises us that we get precisely that which we do not deserve and it is all predicated on this perfect love of God expressed in Christ Jesus…and the amazing thing about all of this is that it is offered to each and every one of us…and we receive this promise in a tangible way, through the waters of our baptism when God uses ordinary water to wash away our sinful self and we emerge as a new creation, claimed by God as his beloved child…and today, its Jett Taylor’s turn…today God claims him when he is brought up to this font by his parents and sponsors and by this congregation.

Together we are expressing love for him…not the perfect love that God commands, but yet we are expressing love in the best way that we can…by sharing the promises of God’s perfect love in the way that he is has commanded us to…this is how we share God’s perfect love, by proclaiming God’s promises for us…because despite our failings, despite our human condition, God’s love is still perfect, and his promise is for you. Amen.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Teresa on April 26, 2016 at 6:14 am

    So we’re you the man with the dryer problem? If so I’m glad you got a new one !! Loved the sermon. Have a great day. Love you.


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