A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

What Is Love? Just Watch! Sermon on John 13:33-35 May 12, 2017

*Preached on April 13, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO

Love one another. We often wonder how we will know if someone really loves and cares for us, don’t we?  We watch people closely to see if their actions match their words when we wonder about their hearts and intent for us or others. These words of “love one another” we hear Jesus telling the disciples over and over in all four of the gospels. Words that we, without hesitation, throw out when someone slights us or someone whom we love. “Love one another” are words that we take very personally and internalize what that means for us. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus talks at great length about loving your neighbor as yourself. Treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated. We’ve condensed that to a social platitude of The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Seems simple enough. As humans, we also cling to this saying because it leaves us wiggle room to not treat kindly those who don’t treat us with kindness. We can justify transactional relationships. What does my neighbor do for me? If nothing, then that’s how they must want to be in relationship with me.

But here in this passage of John, Jesus gives us a twist: Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus takes our wiggle room, our social platitudes and our justifications and hurls them into the abyss. Jesus once again pulls us out of ourselves, widens our view of love, deepens our understanding of who and what God is about and crush our egos that interfere with God’s transformational work inside of us. How do we know if Jesus’ really loves us? Just watch. Watch Jesus become a servant and washing smelly, dirty and worn feet. Watch Jesus offer the same caring actions to the one who would betray him to the authorities. Watch Jesus forgive those who persecute him as he is dying on the cross. Watch Jesus, dying on a cross, not so that we “owe God or feel guilty”, but to show that God withholds nothing, not even his son from us in love. Jesus on the cross is love in action. Love that transcends words. Love that does what is necessary for the wholeness and well-being of all people, with no thought of reciprocation, no consideration of risk to himself or worry of safety. Love that offers freedom from what holds us back from living as people of God. Love that opens our eyes to the needs of our neighbor. Love that dies to human self-ego and lives to see beyond today, the here and now, to a vision of how God sees the world, created good, in harmony and peace. Today we reorient to this love that is a commandment, Mandatum in Latin, and why we call today Maundy Thursday. A love command that is not a suggestion because there is too much at stake.

So we watch. We watch Jesus’ actions of love and understand that the world is watching us, how we love. Jesus says that the world will know that we follow Jesus by our love. This is not easy love. It’s hard. It’s messy.  It transcends our political, social and economic philosophies and places us squarely in the realm of how we think about God’s love in our lives and what difference the loving actions of Jesus Christ make in our everyday decisions. Jesus calls the disciples past, present and future into this way of living, knowing that we will stumble, get confused and need reorienting. Jesus’ love in action also draws us into community, community that supports and reminds one another of this love shown by Jesus. Today, we come to the table of this love that Jesus prepares where bread is placed in our undeserving hands and wine flows to soften our hardened hearts. Our first communion children and youth tonight come to this table to watch, to watch love made flesh, love given as a promise, love that surrounds and encompasses them, us and all of creation. We watch in ourselves for opportunities to be love in action, to offer ourselves fully and know that the world is watching for love from us. We don’t have to wonder about God’s love for us because we can watch Jesus as God’s love in action today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.

 

Exposed John 13: 1-17, 31-35 Maundy Thursday Year C March 24, 2016 March 25, 2016

005-jesus-washes-feet

A video of the entire worship service can be accessed at http://www.bethanylive.org.

When I began my seminary journey several years ago, I started out at Iliff School of Theology here in Denver. I joined a group called the Beatitudes Society whose focus was service. One of the service opportunities included an event that DU hosted to help people who are homeless receive assistance such as a haircut, dental work, resume/job assistance, interview clothing and a medical check-up. The Beatitudes Society was there to offer foot washing to the people as they waited for medical care. Now before you think that I’m so altruistic, humble and pious, let me lay down some truth. I signed up in a moment of “This will be good for me to get out of my comfort zone.” I woke up that day thinking, “What am I doing??!!! I’m a germ-a-phobe who will be touching feet that haven’t seen soap and water in a long time and who knows what diseases they have!” I’m not super proud of that thought or that moment when I considered calling in sick. I was so uncomfortable even thinking about this, how was I ever going to make it through my two hour shift? My own preference for comfort and keeping supposedly safe boundaries rather than connecting with people who were different than myself was exposed and it didn’t feel that great. Here I was in seminary, training be a church leader to proclaim the gospel and I found myself saying, “Ummm only within certain boundaries, Jesus. Only in my comfort zone.” My own hypocrisy was exposed that day.

But I showed up, and I was handed a basin, towels and some soap. I was told to walk around and offer to wash the feet of the people who had been bused from various shelters or from the street for this event. So, taking a deep breath, I set out into the crowd. What happened in those next two hours, I never could have anticipated or even guessed. I washed the feet of a gentleman whose feet where so mangled from years on the street that I was actually afraid I would hurt him if I wasn’t careful. Most often I was turned down. I had one woman take one look at me (an obviously white, middle class woman with the resources for graduate school) and laugh that I would even dare ask her-did it make me feel good to offer her charity she asked me? That stung a bit as I realized the complexity of my own discomfort, of other people’s discomfort and the vulnerability of humanity. I was once again feeling exposed.

After that experience I was a bit hesitant to even ask again, but I did. I asked a woman about my age, if I could wash her feet. She protested and said no, but I persisted. Finally, she allowed me to proceed. We talked for a bit as I washed her feet and she began to cry. I asked her why she was crying, and she replied that this was the first time in a long time that anyone had actually treated her like a real person. I began to tear up too, as I looked up at her from my position of being at her feet, I was even more ashamed of my selfish thoughts on this task, and how I had been too afraid to get this close to someone on the margins of our society. This woman in front of me, the woman who had rightly called me out as a hypocrite and those who had turned me down, had all exposed the tension of following Jesus. They revealed the messiness of humanity, the fear of vulnerability, our inability to really be connected to one another, our preference for comfort and stability, and our human need for knowing our role and our place, and the risk of boundary breaking love for one another. They also revealed Jesus to me. In the uncomfortable exposure of all of the ways I am broken, they pointed to our mutual need for Jesus. I am forever changed and humbled by those two hours. I will admit that it turned my world of privilege and comfort upside down.

Our John story draws us all deep into the brokenness of humanity, the vulnerability of our relationships with each other and even Jesus. Jesus stoops to wash his disciples, encountering them in a most uncomfortable and intimate way; unafraid to break worldly boundaries and get too close to their messiness. This closeness was too much for the disciples and this exposed all of the ways that they were afraid of getting too close to Jesus. This fear led them to say no to Jesus, to deny Jesus and yes, even to betray him. This great love was just too much for them to bear and understand.

But Jesus washed them all, equally and together. In spite of how the world might see them or later judge them, Jesus shows them abundant love that can only come from God. This uncomfortable and all too intimate act is one that Jesus does for the disciples and for us all. It’s difficult because it exposes all of the ways that we are not Jesus and yet are still called to follow him, even though we fear, even though we are uncomfortable, even though we are imperfect.

Jesus’ act of love, exposes that no matter how stinky, broken or unlovable we might seem to one another, we also cannot detach from one another. No matter how much we want to run, call in sick or not deal with those who might scare us, deny us or even betray us, Jesus bathes us all with love to expose that we are all interconnected whether we like it or not and whether we understand it or not. In our exposed brokenness, Jesus’ purpose of unconditional love and mercy is also exposed. Revealed for all of the world to see is how Jesus’ love matters deeply; Jesus’ love heals us; Jesus’ love nourishes us; Jesus’ love binds us together so that more love can be exposed for the sake of the reconciliation of all creation.

This love is also exposed at the table through the promises in bread and wine. In these common everyday objects, extraordinary love transcends earthly boundaries and is made real. Extraordinary love that exposes grace for all, reconciliation for all and Jesus’ promise to show up in our lives each and every day in the ordinary and in the mysterious. The children celebrating first communion tonight will sit at this table, close to Jesus who welcomes them and all to the table of abundance and boundary shattering love. When Jesus’ love shows up at our feet, it moves us past our own needs, wants and comfort zones in order to connect with people whom we wouldn’t on our own connect and risk relationship. When God’s love exposes the reality of our lives, we see other people, people with disabilities, people with differing political views, people who suffer from mental illness, people who we consider unworthy, or people who we simply don’t like, we see them through the love of God, who comes close to us, even when we resist. Jesus’ love removes the boundaries that we set for ourselves and for others.

God isn’t afraid to infringe on our boundaries and come too close to us or to be exposed. Jesus’ presence among us does expose us, turn us upside down and transforms us for the sake of love made perfect in servant hood, love made perfect in suffering, love made perfect in discomfort, and love made perfect in vulnerability. God proclaimed that we are worth the risk, worth the exposure, worth breaking boundaries and worth unconditional love. The experience of Jesus’ love doesn’t leave us alone, but gets too close, breaks our human boundaries, transforms us and makes us new so that everyone whom we encounter is exposed and has an experience of this same love in Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.