Its Not Up To Us 3-29-19 Maundy Thursday

In this Maundy Thursday Sermon, I explore the Last Supper found in John 13. Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, knowing what’s coming, as an example of the way that we are called to love one another.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-not-up-to-us-3-29-18

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

It never ceases to amaze me to consider the utterly outlandish stories that I come across as I read through the Old Testament narrative. There’s one in the book of Numbers that’s a great example. At this point in the Israelite history, the people have been wandering in the desert for quite a while. They’re of course, very numerous…and they’re actually approaching the borders of the Promised Land.

And as they’re traveling around, there’s this gentile king named Balak who’s getting a little freaked out…he’s seen their numbers…he’s heard reports of battles that they’ve fought with other forces…and he’s concerned.  So King Balak get’s this awesome idea to call in a prophet…a holy man…to call down a curse upon the Israelites…and this prophet’s name is Balaam.

Now maybe you recognize the name of Balaam…and maybe you know his story…at first he resists the messengers that King Balak has sent his way…figuring that if these are God’s chosen people, he better not try to curse them, even if King Balak offers him great riches…which he does…but then God tells Balaam go ahead and go…and so he saddles up his donkey and off he goes…but then an angel of the Lord shows up in the road…which only the donkey can see.

Now the donkey isn’t going anywhere near that angel…and just stops in the road…and Balaam gets so ticked off at this stubborn animal that he gets off and starts beating it…until God opens the mouth of the donkey who pretty much says “DUDE!!! Why are you beating me? There’s an angel there.” Now talking donkeys are awesome…but what is really important about the story of Balaam is the way he views God’s chosen people.  3 times, in 3 different places King Balak calls upon Balaam to curse the Israelites, but he won’t do it…because Balaam knows that God will bless whoever God choses…Its not up to us…and there’s not much that we can do about it. (pause)

Now with that in mind, let’s consider our gospel lesson for tonight…Maundy Thursday…the night of the Last Supper…the time when Jesus joins together with the 12 disciples for one last bit of fellowship…a time of teaching…a very intimate exchange between Jesus and these men that he has claimed…these followers that have been and will continue to be the closest recipients of his personal attention and his love.

We hear this from the get-go. Jesus loves his own…and he loves them till the end…regardless of what anyone else might think…regardless of how they might respond…regardless of everything…the love of Christ…the joy that he feels in the very presence of these people…this is the sense that takes shape here in the Last Supper.

After this time together…they will go out to the garden…Judas will bring along a great crowd…the disciples will flee…Peter will deny…and things only get darker from there. Tonight Jesus will be arrested…tomorrow he will be tortured and killed on the cross…and Jesus makes no secret of that. He’s told the disciples time after time what’s coming…and he even says it here with a term of beloved endearment. Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

And remember Jesus knows all this…he knows what’s coming…he knows what’s in the hearts of the men that are with him…he knows it all…and despite the utter betrayals that will come about on EVERYONE’S part…he still takes this time to literally show them what true love looks like.

During supper Jesus rises from the table, takes off his robe, wraps a towel around his waist…and then one by one, he stoops down to wash the feet of his disciples…some protest…Peter in particular…failing to understand just what it is that Jesus is really up to…but one after another, Jesus looks them in the face…knowing the failure that each will experience just minutes after this time together…and he still washes their feet.

Now you’ve maybe heard me talk about this before…that the job of washing the feet of a traveler would never fall to the master…either the individual would wash their own feet or the lowliest household slave would come along to do so.  This is a matter of hospitality…but no one would expect it go down like it did…and this is why we hear the confusion from Peter…the back and forth as he struggles to understand what’s really happening, just as I imagine the rest of the disciples were feeling as well…and then in the midst of it…in the middle of this odd back and forth which continues to reveal the perfect love of Christ in the face of Peter’s aversion to it…we hear the declaration that Jesus makes…you are clean. (pause)

Now as I think about water along with a statement about the individual on the part of Jesus…on the part of God, my mind goes to things sacramental…because of course this sounds like baptism.  Likewise, as we consider the Last Supper, perhaps we are reminded of Holy Communion…and rightly so…the other gospels tell us of Jesus’ first institution of the Holy Meal…one that we’ll share together in a few more minutes…a meal in which we are all reminded that this is for you for the forgiveness of sins…but not only that…we are also reminded that this meal is for all people.

This is the thing that seems so utterly significant tonight, as we enter once more into a mindset of remembering…of celebrating if we want to use that word…what Jesus endured…what God experienced in the event of Jesus’ life and death, which will lead to his resurrection in a few more days…the thing that is so significant, is that its not up to us.

Peter tries to control what Jesus will do, but Jesus shuts that down.  Judas has his part to play as well…and the rest of the disciples all have their failings. Likewise so do we…and yet, the promises of God, made real in Jesus Christ are still given to each and every one of us…simply because of God’s perfect love and delight found within each of us as individuals…each of us who were lovingly created bearing the divine image of God.

That’s something that we need to remember….that yes we are flawed and broken people…that’s a reality of humanity…but that’s not where our story begins.  If we go all the way back…Genesis chapter 1…we see that Humanity…each one of us was made by God from a place of delight…and God calls us good.  Brokenness doesn’t happen until chapter 3.

We don’t deny it…but we remember that the God who has chosen to redeem this world through Christ has done so because from the beginning of your existence…in the beginning of OUR…existence…we start from the place of goodness and the joy of our creator. (pause)

Now this perfect love…a love which admittedly, our brokenness hinders within each of us…this is the basis for the new commandment that Jesus leaves with his followers…to love one another. The Greeks call this agape love…perfect…sacrificial…all in love…and Jesus says that this is how the world will know that we are his followers, if we have love for one another. (pause)

But what does that look like? That’s a question that I often wrestle with…because it seems like we as a culture have gotten really good at the polar opposite. Many will argue that this is the single most divisive time in our history…and while that’s open to interpretation, I don’t think that any of us would argue that there is a sense of animosity…of division…of vitriol and anger…and dare I say, hate…that exists within the world…and all too often that’s the topic of conversation.

And rather than listening…we yell…we demonize…we throw the other side under the bus…and why? Because might makes right? Does it make us feel superior to have what we consider the better argument? Or have we just gotten really good at yelling louder than the other person?

Today…right now…it seems to be the 2nd Amendment and if its still relevant or outdated.  Or it’s the conservative right verses the liberal left. Or the president verses a porn star over who’s level of morality is better or worse. These are the big topics that everyone seems to be stuck on right now. And as we’ve all heard, maybe even participated in, its full of animosity.

And perhaps no where is this vitriol more present than right here in the church. And I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of being defined by who we hate. Jesus said love each other…so maybe just maybe its time that we as the body of Christ figure out how to start doing just that…instead of tossing logs around that look or sound a lot like judgement of who’s in and who’s out.

Let us remember that Jesus makes the declaration of who’s clean…Jesus makes the determination on who’s being blessed…not the other way around…and he is the one who reminds us that God loves the entire world and that God has sent the son into the world so that it might be saved through him. (pause)

So what does it mean? What does it look like to love one another? Maybe it starts from a place of respect and dignity for whoever it is that’s on the opposite side of the line from you…or maybe it starts from the realization that we’re all in this together, like it or not…and maybe we should act like it.

Maybe love looks like supporting a young man who’s bravely fighting cancer in our community.  Maybe it looks like crossing the street to say good morning to our neighbors. Sometimes it looks like just showing up when someone else is experiencing their own dark night of the soul…not with words of wisdom or the offer of a solution…but simply to bring your presence into their darkness so that they can see the truth that they are not alone.

We live in a world filled with darkness and brokenness and pain and suffering…that is our reality…but there’s a light that shines in the midst of it…a light that the world has tried REALLY hard to snuff out…in fact it tried so hard that it killed the source…but even death wasn’t strong enough to overcome it.

That light shines as a man named Jesus…And this same man, who looked his disciples in the eye, knowing that one by one they would somehow fail him, and he washed their feet…then he declared a blessing upon them…and he has declared the same blessing for you and for all people. Let us remember that in the end, this blessing is not up to us…for God will bless whoever God choses. Amen.

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