Glorified by love (John 13.31-35)

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April 23, 2016 by jmar198013

Manuscript of my sermon for April 24th, 2016. Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C.

The scriptures for this week are: Acts 11.1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21.1-6; John 13.31-35.

An audio link is embedded below for those who would rather listen.


Foot-washings and fish fries

Here’s something to chew on. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have the Lord’s Supper established during the Last Supper. That familiar scene where Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then, he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14.22-24; cf. Matt. 26.26-28; Luke 22.17-20). That’s nowhere to be found in John’s Gospel. Instead, right before where our Gospel lesson today picks up, we have a foot washing service. And Jesus saying, If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do (John 13.14-15).

Just think, if we only had John’s Gospel, we’d probably have a foot washing service every Sunday instead of the Lord’s Supper. If we had a Lord’s Supper at all, it would probably be fish sandwiches. After all, in John’s Gospel, Jesus fed the 5,000 bread and fish, and told them: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh . . . My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink (John 6.51, 55). That’s also the meal Jesus fed his disciples in John 21, a couple of weeks or so after he was raised. Bread and fish. Yep. If we only had John’s Gospel, every Sunday would be a foot washing followed by a fish fry.

In John, the only one Jesus passed any bread to during the Last Supper was Judas.

That happened just before Judas ran out into the night. To sell Jesus down the river for thirty pieces of silver.

And that’s where our Gospel lesson today began.

Between betrayal and denial

Judas has departed to go hand Jesus over to his enemies. I love how John puts it: When Judas took the bread, he left immediately. And it was night.

Darkness has descended not only into Judas’ heart; but also over the earth itself. Judas has gone to betray Jesus to his killers. That’s wicked enough. But he has also gone to hand the very source of life and love and light over to death. So of course it is night upon the earth. Her light is being betrayed.

But right now, Jesus and the Beloved Disciple are the only ones in the room who know what Judas is up to. The other disciples think Jesus has just sent him around the corner to the grocery store or something. Maybe to buzz by some beggars and put some coins in their cups. The last thing they heard Jesus tell Judas was not to dawdle. What you are about to do, do quickly, Jesus said.

They were all expecting Judas to come back soon.

What they didn’t know was that the next time they’d see Judas, he’d be leading a lynch mob of temple police and chaplains’ assistants to take Jesus into custody.

What they didn’t know yet was that a few hours later, Peter would be pretending not to know Jesus.

Our reading today is framed by Judas’ betrayal on one side; and Jesus predicting Peter’s denial of him on the other.

Everything that we hear Jesus say in this passage, he said in the midst of betrayal and denial.

With all that going on—all that happening to him—Jesus will talk about glory and love.

Like John said very early on in his Gospel: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

Glory

It was night, but the disciples did not yet know how dark that night would get. And in the midst of that darkness, Jesus shined a light.

Now the Human One has been glorified, said Jesus. And God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify the Human One in himself and will glorify him immediately.

That’s a lot of glory there, y’all! John’s Jesus likes to talk in circles, and it can be pretty confusing. Allow me to translate the Johnspeak for you. What Jesus just said is:

Jesus has been glorified.

God has been glorified through Jesus.

Since Jesus has glorified God, God will glorify Jesus.

Now, before I go further into this glory talk I need to pause and say a few things about how the Common English Bible translates a certain phrase in our reading. I promise that if you’re patient with me here, a lightbulb may very well flicker on above your head. Not only will it shed some light on this passage; it may very well shed some light on what God is doing for us through Jesus.

The Common English Bible consistently uses this phrase, the Human One. Capital H, capital O. Human One. Wherever all the other versions say Son of Man, the Common English Bible says, the Human One. So we just heard Jesus say, The Human One has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. Is the Common English Bible just trying to be different? No. Not at all.

In the biblical languages, the phrase is literally Son of Man. But throughout the Hebrew scriptures, the phrase simply means human being. We famously hear it used this way in Psalm 8: What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor. (Ps 8.4-5 RSV). Most recent translations have it: what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? (Ps 8.4 NRSV) Son of Man—ben adam in Hebrew—means earthling. A child of Adam. A human being.

This Psalm does a beautiful job of reminding us that God made us humans in his image and likeness, and for his glory. We humans glorify God when we faithfully image him in the world through creativity and compassion and community. Humans were made to reflect God’s glory as the moon reflects the sun. That is our entire reason for being.

But ever since our first parents listened to the serpent, even the best of us has tended to act for our own glory, instead of bringing glory to God.

So let’s go back to John. Near the beginning of his Gospel, he said this about Jesus: We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth (John 1.14). Jesus reflects God’s glory the same way an only son uniquely bears the image and likeness of his father. This is why—and Jesus only speaks this way in John’s Gospel—Jesus says things like: Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14.9).

In other words, Jesus is the Human One. Capital H, capital O. Jesus is everything human beings were meant to be. If you want to learn what it means to be human—to live in God’s image and likeness—you look at Jesus. So by his life, and even by his death, Jesus glorified God.

Jesus’ life and his death glorify God because they tell the truth about who God is. The image and likeness of God shine through his life and his death. Jesus reveals who God really is.

When Jesus ate with his disciples and outcasts and sinners, he reveals a God who longs to share a table with us. Who longs to be close to us. To live with us, and us with him.

When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he reveals to us a servant God, who humbles himself to care for us.

When Jesus raised Lazarus, he reveals a God who does not let death have the last word.

When he saved the sinner from the wrath of the self-righteous mob, he reveals a God of mercy and second chances.

When he fed the 5,000 from a child’s lunch pail, he reveals a generous and abundant God.

When he cast out demons and diseases, he reveals a God who wills healing for our bodies and our souls.

When Jesus goes to the cross, he reveals a God who suffers with us and for us. A God who would rather die than lose any of us.

By showing us who God really is, Jesus empowers us to be truly human. After all, how can we live in God’s image and likeness unless we can see him? When we live as true humans, our lives glorify God. Because then our lives reflect who God really is.

Jesus said it like this near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matt. 5.16 NRSV). And then Jesus goes on in the Sermon to teach us the good works that will give glory to Father God: Be reconciled to your brother. Be loyal to your spouse. Tell the truth to each other. Don’t repay evil for evil, but overcome evil with good. Love your enemies. Welcome strangers. Then, Jesus says, you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5.45).

We will look like Father God, act like Father God. We will be living in God’s image and likeness. And that will show the world the truth of who God is. And so we will glorify God. Just like Jesus.

Love

Since Jesus glorifies God—in life and in death—God will glorify Jesus. With resurrection. Jesus will be raised in glory, and exalted in glory to return to his Father’s presence.

But we must not take shortcuts! Jesus must glorify God in the cross. In the midst of betrayal and denial and abandonment, Jesus reveals most plainly who God is. For especially in his cross, the Son reveals the heart of the Father.

In the cross, we do not find an angry God whose justice must be satisfied before he will love us. Jesus himself said that God so loved the world—not, God was so angry at the world, but—God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. In the cross we meet a God who loves us enough to enter our darkness. Who is betrayed and forsaken and disowned not only for us, but with us. Those who believe in the Son—those who will have eternal life—are those with eyes to see the glory of God in the crucified Jesus.

Jesus has been trying to prepare his disciples for this all along. He must glorify God in his death, and God will glorify him in resurrection and exaltation. Little children, he tells them, I’m with you for a little while longer. Where I’m going, you can’t come. Not yet, at least.

Why can’t the disciples come with him yet? For the same reason, church, that we aren’t whisked away at the moment of our baptism. Because Jesus must leave a witness in the world. Jesus leaves behind a people who glorify God with our lives and even our deaths. That’s the reason Jesus says what he says next.

Where I’m going, you can’t come. I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.

Why does the world need to know that we are Jesus’ disciples? Because he has left us in the world to continue the work God began in him. Jesus has left us in the world to glorify his Father, and ours. To show the world by our lives—and even by our deaths—who God really is.

And how will the world know we are Jesus’ disciples? How will we glorify God? When we love each other.

Notice all the things Jesus did not say will bring God glory.

Jesus did not say:

Everyone will know you are my disciples when you believe all the right doctrines.

Everyone will know you are my disciples when you have the most cutting-edge programs.

Everyone will know you are my disciples when you are wealthy and healthy.

Everyone will know you are my disciples because your worship is so innovative.

Everyone will know you are my disciples because your worship is so simple.

Everyone will know you are my disciples when you vote for the right candidates.

Everyone will know you are my disciples when you make a stand for traditional values.

Jesus said: everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.

But Jesus also knew that we humans are prone to say and do all sorts of things to each other, and still call it love. We’re tricky that way.

So he put a real fine point on it: I give you a new commandment—a new standard; a new model; a new pattern. That’s how we should hear the word commandment in this context. Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.

How Jesus has loved us is the model for how we are to love each other. Jesus has to command us to do it, because it doesn’t come to us naturally.

The foot washing Jesus. The crucified Jesus. He says: Love each other. Just as I have loved you.

In the midst of our betrayal and denial of him, Jesus loves us. And by loving us, he shows us a God who loves us fiercely and suffers with us willingly. Even though he knows we will disappoint him, frustrate him, and let him down. But who relentlessly and stubbornly loves us anyway.

Jesus is telling us to love each other the way God has loved us through him.

And in a world of betrayal and abandonment and denial, a people learning to love as Jesus loved us glorifies God. Because when we love like Jesus—however imperfectly we do it, and we will do it imperfectly—the world will catch a glimpse of God, as God really is, in our lives.

As I have loved you

So Jesus—the crucified, resurrected, exalted Jesus—has left us—the church—in the world to glorify God. We glorify God when we do as Jesus instructed in our lesson today: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.

But you know, when we’re not careful, a command like love each other just as I have loved you can turn into greeting card Christianity. We can get the idea that Jesus is saying something like, Be really extra-nice to each other. But this is not what Jesus meant at all. And truth be told, if loving as Jesus loved us is a matter of how much we love each other, then Jesus has commanded us to do the impossible. We could never love each other as much as God has loved us through Jesus.

Jesus did not call us to love each other as much as he loves us. He pleads with us to love each other in the same ways he has loved us.

Sisters and brothers, our love for each other will always be imperfect. We will fail each other. We will annoy each other. We will frustrate each other. We will let each other down. We will hurt each other. I wish we could avoid all this. I wish I could promise you all that I will never disappoint any of you; never anger any of you; never hurt any of you. But we all know that none of us can promise each other that. We all do, and we all will, annoy and frustrate and let each other down.

But we see Jesus, with his disciples. Who had pushed all his buttons. Who had misunderstood most everything he told them at some point or another. Who bickered among themselves. Who pulled passive aggressive stunts like having their poor mother come ask him for special favors for her boys. They’d all let him down time and time again. And Jesus knew full well that before the night was over, they’d all fail him spectacularly.

But he still bent down and washed their feet anyway.

We are not so different from them, are we? They were a mess. So are we. And I don’t mean “we” in the abstract. I mean me. And I mean you.

So maybe the place for all of us to begin is to ask ourselves—speaking personally—How has Jesus loved me? How does Jesus love me? I can’t answer that question for you. You can’t answer that question for anyone else. Jesus didn’t say love each other as I have loved your neighbor. He said love each other as I have loved you.

How has Jesus loved you? Like I said, we can’t answer that question for anyone else. But I suspect that if we shared our answers, common threads would weave our stories together. We might hear each other speak of Jesus being present with us when we are lonely. Of him being our friend when we have been forsaken. Of how he has comforted us in our grief. How he has made room for us in his life. How we have felt his forgiveness. How patient he remains with us.

Love each other has I have loved you doesn’t always need to be an extravagant production. We can learn to weave it into into the fabric of the everyday. It can become the cup of coffee and the listening ear we offer each other. It can can be expressed in fair and patient conversation when we disagree. It can come in the form of sitting quietly with someone who is grieving. It can—and often does!—flow from sharing a meal together. All of these may become ways of loving each other as Jesus has loved us.

And while these may never be perfect expressions of Jesus’ love for us, they still glorify God. And God may very well crown even our imperfect love with glory and honor. God is known to do that sort of thing, you know.

Even our flawed performances of Jesus’ love for us allow the world a glimpse of who God really is. Even when our love is imperfect—as it usually is—God is still glorified by it.

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