5th Sunday of Easter
April 24, 2016
John13: 31-35 You can click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser.
Prince died this week. He was 57 years old. I still think of him as the kid who seemed so weird, but who could sing a song that you couldn’t get out of your head. We lost Merle Haggard, too. And David Bowie. Alan Rickman – Professor Snavely. He didn’t seem old enough, either. We lost Ron Davis and John Say this week, too. And some of us have unexpectedly lost fathers, brothers, friends recently. It hurts. It takes a long time to really understand that we will not see those people that we have loved in this life. Not in this life. I still want to pick up the phone to call my Mom every time something good happens to me. It’s been 13 years.
And so in our Gospel reading today we meet Jesus, who is trying to prepare his disciples and friends for a life without him. The story comes from Jesus’ time with his disciples at their last dinner together. Chapter 13 of John’s Gospel begins, “ 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.” He sits down to dinner with the one who has already sold him to the authorities who will arrest him, interrogate him, and crucify him. There is no lecture on betrayal, or pronouncement of hell coming to this one; instead, Jesus feeds him. He kneels down and washes the feet of all that are gathered, including his betrayer, and Peter who will deny him over and over again. He tells them that even though he is their Master, he is giving them a lesson on what leadership looks like – “servants are not greater than their master.”
“Little children, I am with you only a little longer, where I am going you cannot come.” “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus will show them and us God’s great love by giving up his life. If you ever want to know how much God cares about you and what your life is like, you can look at Jesus’ death. If you ever want to know whether God cares about what happens in the world, you can see Jesus stand up for compassion in the face of the rigid rules of religion and the political expediency of his day. This is the legacy of love that he leaves for us, and the face of God that is turned toward the suffering and hurts of this world.
And so, in the readings we have this morning, we begin to see what that means. How are Jesus’ disciples supposed to live after he is gone? How will his teaching and his example inform the way they live now? Will the Spirit that he promised really teach them what they need to know? Will the power of God revealed in Jesus’ resurrection be enough for them to overcome their fear, their cluelessness? I have the same questions, as I live in between the time of Jesus resurrection and departure from earth and his coming again? Do these stories have anything to say to me as I live with loss and change and my own cluelessness?
We have a clue in the amazing story of Peter’s vision of clean and unclean animals being offered against all the rules that have defined his religious life. The information in his vision prepares him for the astonishing reality that the Holy Spirit could also fall on Pagans – Gentiles could be believers too. This was the answer to the biggest controversy in the early church. Who can be part of our fellowship? Do you have to be Jewish first and follow all the complicated rules of that tradition before you can be a follower of Jesus. The answer becomes crystal clear, but that doesn’t always make it easy for people who’d been concerned with the purity rules of their faith tradition to live side by side with people who have disgusting, filthy habits. How do you live in the meantime, between Jesus departure and his promised return? “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.”
Knowing that he would not be around to love and support the work of the disciples he was sending out to complete his mission, he gave them to each other. Discipleship is not a solo act; it is lived in community. You can do your part to help at the food bank or run the food bank; you can do your part to be a good citizen or serve on the City Council or County Commission, but you cannot fix the world’s sorrows and shortcomings by yourself. You can pray your way through every day confronting your own fears and inadequacies, but you cannot see your own gifts to the world unless they are reflected back to you from those you serve and those who serve with you. And so we are commanded to love each other as we work side by side to continue Jesus’ work in the world.
It’s tough, because we don’t agree about too many things. Some of us want to measure everything religious by how well it conforms to the rules we think we are to follow. We can get so caught up in the rules that we push people away from God’s love. Some of us get so inclusive in our love for humanity that we forget to share our connection to God through Jesus, leaving people in the dark about a relationship that has changed our life and could change theirs. Can we forgive each other as we have been forgiven? Can we love each other as we have been loved? Can we come here on Sunday mornings and let go of our self-righteousness and ask for restoration? Can we use this time in Scripture and in prayer and singing to let the Holy Spirit open our hearts anew to the love that makes it possible for us to really love each other? We can’t do it alone. We need God’s love to save and claim us. We need each other to pray for strength and courage to answer God’s call to our work in the world. This is where you will find Jesus in the meantime, right here among your fellow disciples who struggle to be faithful in the same ways you do. And you will find Jesus out there in the people who have not yet become part of God’s fellowship, but who yearn for the strength and peace and love we have found.
And our final promise is found in the Revelation story – of the new world God is waiting to bring down to us. “The home of God is among mortals, God will dwell with them, death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more….See I am making all things new.” In the meantime, we live day to day, relying on the promises that give us hope and loving each other the best we can. Amen.