Monday, April 22, 2013

Here Is True Love; Here is True Humanness. A Homily for 4.28.13, the 5th Sunday of Easter, from JOHN 13:31-33A, 34-35

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Homily for 4.28.13
John 13:31-33A; 34-35 
Year C






Today, we celebrate the 5th Sunday of Easter, and we do so with the pericope that offers us the primary description and the must be statement of Christian discipleship.

What the Lectionary presents to us this morning is the beginnings of the upper room discourse, which of course must be viewed by us as sacred and holy ground. The time for Jesus to leave his own has come, what would the Master say to these men, his men, as he prepares them, and himself, for his own execution?

Can't you hear his words:
"My children, I will be with you only a little while longer,"
spoken with both the sigh of regret -- so much to do and so little time, and the concern for what his own will experience-- these men were not ready for what was coming. Even then, even before the coming onslaught of the garden agonies, Jesus' heart was clearly in conflict.

What could he say to them? What could he say that, at this late date, would make a difference? Nothing really. Jesus knows these men are ill-prepared for the crushing weight of the cross and its aftermath. He knows their hearts will be broken and their spirits will be scattered. So, instead of trying to talk them into readiness, he shows them the path. That is, Jesus demonstrates what this life he offers really means. 

How? What demonstration? 


Jesus washes their feet.
"I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another."
And just how had Jesus loved them? He took the place of the servant, and stooped to wash the dirty feet of the disciples! 

Believe me, there is no more powerful picture of the movement toward us of the one GOD who is there and who is not silent than to see this same GOD, fleshed out in this 1st century Jewish Rabbi, kneeling before those men who were his followers and washing their feet. Even the cross, which is clearly on Jesus' mind throughout this pericope, is majestic compared to the lowly movement downward that brought him to kneel before the disciples, and by extension before us.

I am often asked after the latest tragedy or the newest catastrophe, "Pastor, where is God?" 

"Where is GOD?" you ask. Where, indeed?! 

Hear this! GOD is here, present, kneeling! The kneeling GOD before us is on the ground, weeping, cleaning off the dirt and the blood, offering to us the example that is the only true way to be a human being, which I am convinced is how Jesus-discipleship must be pursued.

But, sadly, we are so long removed from the reality of this true humanness that this path seems to us the way of the chump or the deluded -- simply the naive echoes of quaint fairytales
"Love one another through humble service? Esteem others better than yourselves? Turn the other cheek? Forgive your enemies? C’mon, Pastor, get a grip! Your kidding, right?! That will never work; it just will not do at all! Why, we'll be run over; we’ll be a doormat. We'll be killed! We'll be thought of as, well, less than important!"
Yes, I guess that is true...

Yet, there it stands:
"As I have loved you, so you also should love one another."
I have often said, "This world could be such a great place if people would just do right." But, one day, I came to my senses and realized that the people I described that must do right must begin with me! I am the one who must do right. I am the one who must find the path to humble and sacrificial service. I am the one who must discover the Jesus-way to true humanness. And, until that occurs, I can expect little in the way of world-change. The key here is to do unto others as you want others to do unto you. This is how the world was always supposed to work.

But, you see, we are the problem; we have lived for self so long that we cannot even see that we have walked away from the path to true humanness. And, being precise, when I say "we," I mean Christian believers. 

For example, listen to our political dialogue! How often do we offer hate in our speech and trash anyone who disagrees with us. We doubt their motives, and their patriotism if they dare differ from our view of the world. Or, think of how we have treated those other Christians who happen to wear a different name! At best we consign them as second-class and at worst, well at worst we hurl words of contempt toward them which the watching world sees and uses as the rational to reject the truth that Jesus came from the Father (see: Jn.17:21). 

How can these things be, especially in the light of...
"This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” 
says Jesus, to our shame.

Somehow, we must discover or return to this most precious example of humanness found in the humble servant, Jesus, who is the Christ. We must see beyond our cultural constructs and our native world-views, so as to return to Jesus' example and allow it to daily shape our behavior, if it is not too late.

When Jesus says to his disciples:
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once..."
he is describing nothing less than his impending death on the Roman cross. We are here to understand that the humiliation and the cruelty of the cross, was for Christ the glorification of the Jesus-way of life!

Of course we know that, humanly speaking, Jesus is executed for the expediency of the religious and the political leaders. This was a political decision, made by those playing political hardball, with little concern for the innocence anyone, especially one they regarded as a rabble-rousing prophet. In other words, on one hand, Jesus' death was political business as usual.

But, clearly, the Gospel writers want us to know that there is more to the story than the political portion. No, something else is happening here. For, like the humiliation of washing the disciples feet, in the cross Jesus again offers us the path to a new way of being in the world, a way beyond political self-interest, ego self-aggrandizement, violence and hate.

Or, think about it this way. On the cross, Jesus faces-down the powers of empire, to be sure, but he also faces head-on the powers of darkness that surround the cross with their shrieks and abominations. That is, the political powers are being braced -- led and fed -- by the dark powers of pride-of-self, hate, greed and violence. 

Jesus, under the severe pressure of this onslaught from empire and evil -- which began in the garden with the bloody sweat and continued through the cry of dereliction: "Why have you forsaken me?!" -- offers us, in his humiliation and death, the foundational actions of forgiveness and reconciliation -- "Father, forgive them..." That is, what is offered is not only our personal salvation, but the genuine path to true humanness which is actually our discipleship.

Here, then, is the true description of the love that Jesus had for his followers:
"As I have loved you, so you also should love one another." 
which leads, as well, to the reality of our life together:
"As I have loved you, so you also should love one another."
This reminds me of the old Welsh Hymn "Here is Love," written by the 19th century preacher William Rees. We close with his beautiful words:

Here is love, vast as the ocean
loving kindness as the flood
when the Prince of life, our ransom
shed for us his precious blood

Who his love will not remember
who can cease to sing his praise
he will never be forgotten
throughout heaven’s eternal days

On the mount of crucifixion
fountains opened deep and wide
through the flood-gates of God’s mercy
flowed a vast and crimson tide

Grace and love, like mighty rivers
poured incessant from above
and heaven’s peace and perfect justice
kissed a guilty world in love

Here is love, vast as the ocean
loving kindness as the flood
when the Prince of life, our ransom
shed for us his precious blood.

_________________________

JOHN 13:31-33A, 34-35
When Judas had left them, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him,
God will also glorify him in himself,
and God will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”