the one with a new commandment
March 25, 2016, 9:00 AM

Maundy Thursday Sermon from 3/24/2016

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, as I mentioned on Sunday, we continue with this big long worship experience that is Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we got to hear all of the story of Jesus’ life before his death on the cross. During this week – and beginning today on the first day of the Triduum – the Holy Three Days – we get to dive in a little deeper to certain parts of this wonderful story.

This evening we read the Gospel of John’s account of the last supper. Except – there really isn’t a whole lot of eating going on, nor do we hear the traditional language that we have come to expect from this story. There isn’t any real focus on bread or wine. There’s no mention of – do this in remembrance of me. All the things that we expect to hear because of our own celebration of communion in remembrance of this night don’t appear in John’s telling of this last night with Jesus and his disciples.

This particular version of Jesus’ supper with his disciples focuses a bit more on things that are more active and for others.

Throughout my life – especially as I have been on this path of ministry, leadership, and being a pastor – I’m usually asked a few things. First; why? My response? I don’t know. Because I feel called. For those outside the faith or nominally connected to the faith of the church that just seems like a really poor answer. But, it’s all I can give.

The other question – the deeper question – is usually, “Well – how do you know you’re following God? How do you know you are a disciple of Christ? How will others know you’re for real?”

Now, there are many ways to approach that question and there have been countless individuals and theologians who have tackled it in our collective search to know the true workings of God in the world and in us.

Some people will say – “We know because this is what we believe.” Normally what people say they believe is usually a list of what others believe that they themselves don’t.

We do this a lot – I’ve done this before – plenty of times.

An example – someone asks you, “What’s a Lutheran?” Our response at times – Well, it’s kind of like being a Catholic, but not quite. Or – well you see those people on the TV that talk about Christianity and stuff, the ones that seem mean and a little crazy? We’re pretty much not like them. We’re different.

How many of y’all have identified yourself in that way before? I know I have. Sometimes it is hard to put into words what we actually are without first stating what we are not. It is a problem that a lot of organizations that strive for the same ‘goals,’ but by different means have.

Other times in responding by ‘this is what we believe’ they’ll use ‘inside baseball language’ full of doctrine and theological ideas and tenants. Using phrases, words, and ‘marketing’ bullet points to tell others who we are.

We are Lutherans. We believe in justification by grace through faith. We are simul justus et peccator.

For those outside the faith and tradition – those words don’t mean anything – especially the Latin which means ‘simultaneously righteous and sinner.’

Yet, this evening we hear a story from Jesus that gives us not only language, but also action into how others might know who we are.

Agape. Love.

Now, love in our modern day and in our woefully ineloquent English language has a few hang-ups. Whenever we say ‘love’ we don’t know what love we actually mean. The love between spouses? Our love of food? Do we love someone or do we love-love someone?

Unlike some other languages – in particular Greek – we have to do a lot of deciphering to figure out what kind of love we are talking about.

In our gospel reading this evening Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved y’all. By this everyone will know who y’all are if y’all have love for one another.”

Because of English and it’s inadequacies we don’t know what exactly that kind of love is. Thankfully, the Greek language that this gospel was originally written in can help us out.

This love is not epithumia – desire or lust. It is not eros – romance and where we get erotic from. It is not storge – which is general affection. It is not phile – friendship.

No, it is agape. Selfless, giving love.

The love that Jesus commands of us is a love that is selfless and bountiful to others.

This love is not passive. It does not sit at a distance. Agape love – the love that Jesus has for us and in which we have for one another and for those around us is an active love. It is a verb. It is an action

It is an action rooted in the goodness and grace from the one who has given it to us.

We love those around us.

Every so often I ask my young friends during the children’s sermon time – how do you know you are loved? Is it only because someone tells you?

Children know they are loved because they are held, they are involved, they are cared for, they are listened to, they are supported, they are provided for. They know they are loved because they are hugged, kissed, clothed, fed, sheltered, given medicine, taught.

They know they are loved because others share their lives with them. Not to get anything from them. Not to hold something over them in the future. They are loved because others selflessly give of themselves to be with them fully.

Just as God has selflessly given Godself in Jesus to be with each of us.

We celebrate that this week as we look forward to the meal shared this evening, the sacrifice tomorrow evening, the victory over death on Saturday, and the empty tomb on Sunday.

Our new commandment from God is to love one another. To give ourselves in service to those around us.

Sometimes that giving puts us in awkward and difficult positions. Like stooping to our knees to wash the feet of those that others would think should be ‘beneath’ us. By sacrificing the life we live so that others might live more fully in God.

It might mean caring for, listening to, and knowing the person across the proverbial and literal street, aisle, and ‘life.’

It might mean doing things that we thought we’d never do or others would steer us from.

And that can be downright scary – just as anxious as those gathered around Jesus in the upper room might have been as they witnessed and experienced Jesus washing their feet and sharing himself with them.

Yet, the grace and comfort we have from God is that we do not do this alone. Jesus does not send out the disciples this night to go off as lone ‘love wanderers’ upon the dust of the earth. No. We do this in community, we do this in God’s love for us. We do this with Christ living within us. We do this in faith and hope.

Martin Lutheran in his work, An Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans he describes it this way:

Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace.

In that faith and trust we are able to love and share.

This night we hear from Jesus a new commandment – to love as he has loved us. We love in faith that God is leading us, feeding us, filling us, living in us, and sending us in that love for the world and everyone in it. Amen.

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