Tag Archives: Disciples of Jesus

The Mark of Discipleship: The Way of Love

A Sermon for 13 April 2017 – Maundy Thursday

A reading from the gospel of John 13:1-17, 31b-35.  Listen for God’s word to us as we hear the gospel of John’s rendering of Jesus’ last night with his disciples.

“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.  And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.  And you are clean, though not all of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”  After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.  . . .

“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.  If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer.  You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.’  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

Christians all over the world tonight are gathering.  In elaborate cathedrals, simple huts, and sanctuaries much like this.  On Maundy Thursday, we hear the new command given by Christ while he was at table with his disciples the night before his end.  While most tonight will just get a taste of the bread and a sip of the fruit of the vine in remembrance; some actually will sit with their bare feet in a basin.  The pastor or other spiritual leader of the congregation will kneel before them, likely with a pitcher and towel in hand.  Water will be poured.  The worshipper will feel the cool liquid as it hits their feet’s skin.  Soap may accompany the wash and maybe even a relaxing massage to soothe tired toes.  I wish I could be in a place that included a soak with reviving essential oils – a little rosemary and eucalyptus to include all the senses in the defining act.

I don’t know about you, but other than family members when I was a small child and pedicures which don’t really count, only twice in my lifetime have I had my feet washed by another person.  Once was at the beginning of a much needed massage during a pilgrimage in the Holy Land.  Though we didn’t speak the same language, the therapist brought out a basin of warm water and indicated to me to put my feet in it.  She gently stroked my feet with a wash cloth to make sure any dirt from the road was gone.  It was wonderful!  . . .  Another time was in a sanctuary not that far from this one.  The night was Maundy Thursday.  A woman of the congregation who grew up with regular experiences of foot washings in worship, volunteered to wash everyone’s feet that night.  On our way up to communion together around the Table, we could sit down in a chair.  Silently then, the woman would indicate to hold your feet out over the bowl.  She would pour water over them, then reverently wipe dry each foot with a towel.  We all put our shoes back on before proceeding up front to get the bread and the juice, but I really wanted to leave them off.  The act seemed so holy.  Besides:  Moses stood barefoot before the Presence of God in that bush that was aflame but not burning up.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to approach the Table of the Lord clean-footed, nothing between the skin of our feet and the ground right under us?

We’re not including foot washing as a part of this service tonight.  You can relax.  You don’t have to worry that anyone will see that toe you think is ugly or that scar you got from some risky childhood stunt.  Few among us really want to be that known in worship – our bare feet hanging out for all the world to see.  Which is too bad because just hearing about the act that marks this night doesn’t go far enough to communicate the depth of what Christ did.  The humility of bending, touching, smelling through it all.  The intimacy of holding in this hands bare foot after bare foot.  I wonder if he looked deep into each person’s eyes while he washed them.  Maybe smiling as wide as a proud parent when he considered all the places those feet had followed behind him.  Knowing the feet of his disciples had so much further yet to travel to enact God’s good news all around the world.  . . .  This is the act that defines tonight.  The mark of the new command he gives to us all.  The towel and basin still prominent in the room, Jesus says:  “I give you a new commandment that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).  This is the way all will know you are mine, he proclaims.  Bending, touching, holding tenderly – as if the most precious treasure.  This is the mark of one who bears his name.  That night, that last fate-filled night; Jesus preaches a silent sermon as he bends.  Touches.  Washes them all – including Judas, who, according to the gospel of John, still is in the room.

One commentator claims:  “the mission and strategy of Jesus” is “symbolized in his washing of the disciples’ feet” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 2, Trygve David Johnson, p. 275).  For “in the washing . . . Jesus chooses to empty himself rather that to promote himself” (Ibid.).  He shows that the path of love is serving another.  Willingly fulfilling all God intends.  . . .  This is the night the church sees in full what it means to be the church, the body of Christ for the world.  The body of Christ willing to stoop in humility to do what others don’t want to do.  To feed those who hunger, visit those who are sick, loose that which is unjust in this world because from a position at his disciples’ feet; this is what our Lord shows us to do.  . . .  Priest and profound author Barbara Brown Taylor writes this about the night Jesus gathered one last time with his friends.  She writes:  “With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, (Jesus) did not give them something to think about together when he was gone.  Instead, he gave them concrete things to do – specific ways of being together in their bodies – that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.  . . .  “Do this,” he said, not believe this but do this – “in remembrance of me.’” (An Altar in the World, pp. 43-44).  Taylor insists Christ did so because “the last thing any of us needs is more information about God.  We need the practice of incarnation,” she writes, “by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned as dry as dust, who have run frighteningly low on the bread of life, who are dying to know more God in their bodies.  Not more about God.  More God” (Ibid., p. 45).  Through practices like washing feet.  And taking bread in order to sit down together for a feast of fellowship.  . . .  Christians all over the world tonight are gathering.  In elaborate cathedrals, simple huts, and sanctuaries much like this.  We are seeing the new command given by Christ while he was at table with his disciples the night before his end.  After we partake of the bread and drink of the fruit of the vine, the question remains:  will we go to do likewise?

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

5 October 2014 sermon — Matt. 10:1-4, 27:55-56

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!
RevJule
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A Sermon for World Communion Sunday

5 October 2014

Click here to read the scripture first: Matthew 10:1-4 (NRS)
Matthew 27:55-56 (NRS)

With everything we’ve been up to around here these last few days; I flipped the week and was off at the beginning of it, rather than at the end. It worked out perfectly, actually, because it turned out that I was contacted a few weeks ago about attending a class offered at Montreat in North Carolina. If you’ve never been to Montreat, then you may not know about this gem of our denomination. It’s one of the PCUSA’s camp and conference centers and we’re blessed that it’s located just 300 miles from us. Nearly 200 years ago, a Presbyterian man had the foresight to get several other Presbyterians to buy land up there in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. For years; it’s been a place of beauty for rest, refreshment, and religious learning too. Workshops and conferences are scheduled year-round – in fact, I brought back cards of their line-up for 2015, which you can find out in the narthex. And the newly renovated Assembly Inn has become a very comfortable spot, with its massive stone staircase and halls filled with photos from two hundred years of Presbyterians at worship, service, study, and play.

Peak season’s still several days away up there in those mountains, but it’s starting. Hints of red dotted the view of Montreat’s Look Out Mountain. Hues of golden yellow were in the mix. It’s been a long time since I’ve used a 96-piece box of crayons, but as I sat outside for lunch one day, it occurred to me that greens come in so very many different shades. There’s that deep evergreen. Then a shade just a tad lighter. The green that looks like vibrant life. There’s some that appear as if a master painter had swirled in lots of yellow on the pallet to come up with a shade that was much lighter than the rest. It was beautiful. In some ways even more so as everything was on the verge of what we know will be a glorious transformation!

The scene came back to me yesterday and Friday here. Wherever I looked in the Fellowship Hall, in the conference room, out in the yard: one was bagging ice. One was making signs. One was sweeping the floor. One was blowing leaves off the driveway for that added touch of welcome at the entrance to the fair. One was organizing. One had the big picture vision in mind. One was communicating tasks that needed to be done. Several had arrived with baked goods. One was handling money. A few of you had created pickles and jams and children’s crafts. And someone had known how to put up that great big tent. I even saw two of you sitting together, just talking about what was going on in each of your lives. At the Presbytery meeting in Franklin yesterday morning, I saw a few of us sitting for to listen and discern directions for our more collective ministry. And I happen to know two of you offered kind hospitality to our CAT interpreter who has traveled from out of town to be among us today. These are just a bit of all the amazing gifts on array among us this weekend. Like that glorious sight from Montreat’s Assembly Inn: the reds and yellows and multitude of greens were on magnificent display!

It’s exactly how it is with the folks Jesus calls to come follow. We don’t know huge amounts of personal information about all of Jesus’ named disciples; but we know they each were unique. From the boldness of Peter to the curiosity of Andrew. The enthusiasm of young John and the willingness of Matthew, the one who had been a tax collector. Thomas who needed a first-hand experience to believe. And Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee: the women who had the courage to watch the agonizing crucifixion of one who they supported in his mission to change the world. . . . So often we forget that it takes every kind in order to be about what God’s up to through faithful followers of Christ. Every single one of us has at least one gift – one ability – one talent like none other which is needed in God’s kingdom work.

A little skit is out there, which also is capture in a children’s book as African folklore. It’s the story of five actors trying to get a sixth into place. Two of the five actors are ears. Two are eyes. One is a mouth. And the sixth that feels unneeded by the rest of them is a nose. Somehow or another, the nose got it into her head that she wasn’t as important as the rest of the face’s characters. She had decided she no longer was needed. She couldn’t hear beautiful sounds like the two ears could. She wasn’t able to bring amazing visions into the body as the two eyes could. She couldn’t string words together like the mouth – who also could do everything from eat to sing to smile. Nose was convinced she wasn’t needed. She couldn’t do any of these other wonderful things that Ears and Eyes and Mouth could. In all honesty, Ears and Eyes and Mouth wondered if Nose was of any use. Sometimes they weren’t as considerate about her purpose as they should have been. Until one day; allergy season came round. Can you guess what happened? Ears and Eyes and Mouth and Nose all learned that without Nose, they weren’t able to sneeze. It was awful – painful as the pressure mounted. Messing up all the others so that they couldn’t work right either. The gift alone that Nose could bring desperately was needed. Finally, they all got into place and convinced Nose of her worth. The skit ends as, in one accord, at last there comes a great big “A-CHU!” . . . Let those who have ears to hear, listen, right?

Because it takes each one. . . . The Apostle Paul tried desperately to teach that in his writings to the early church. There are varieties of gifts and services and activities. And each one is a manifestation of Spirit, Paul writes, for the common good (1 Cor. 12:4-7). In other words, we’ve got to have all sorts of colors for our glorious autumn view. We’ve got to have ears and eyes and mouths and noses if we’re going to be about the purpose for which God created us as a church. Right before our eyes this fall and in front of us each day in the mirror, God gives us this most important lesson.

On the Lord’s Table today we have breads representing children of God from around this world. Because we’ve got to have followers of Christ in India, Greece, Mexico, and Israel if the work of God’s kingdom is to be brought to fruition. It shouldn’t take a World Communion Sunday celebration to bring us together to an appreciation of our brothers and sisters around the world, but we can give great thanks for the early efforts of Presbyterians who called all Christians to unite in an act at the Table the first Sunday of every October. Today we uniquely are reminded that each of us is precious to our God. Loved by our God. And sustained by our God to be about the way of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . As we prepare ourselves to come to this great feast – the meal of our Lord that is celebrated around the world this day – let us ponder the gift we alone bring.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2014  (All rights reserved.)