Here is the text of the sermon I preached on Maundy Thursday. The scripture was John 13: 1-17, 31b-35.
Let’s set the scene here…Jesus is sitting with the disciples, the one’s he called, his closest friends. It’s been a long week for all of them. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, cleansed the temple of moneychangers, preached, healed, taught, the disciples had doubts, the people of Jerusalem had gone from praise and worship to fear and anger. Jesus knew his time had come. He took a moment and gathered is confidants, his trusted friends, his support system one more time.
In the midst of dinner, Jesus takes off his robe and washes the feet of his much protesting disciples. This story is not an unfamiliar one, especially around this time of the year. We are reminded to be servants rather than be served, we are reminded that we aren’t always in control; we are reminded that we must sometimes move out of our comfort zone. We are reminded to follow the example of Jesus.
Honestly…That’s not the example I want to follow, the example I want to follow goes something like this…they have a nice dinner and Jesus stands up and starts to wash the feet of the disciples, Peter protests and when Jesus says “not all of you are clean” he grabs Judas by the collar, throws him to the floor, smacks him a couple of times, and throws him down the stairs…or something like that. Ok…maybe smacking him and throwing him down the stairs would be a little overboard, but Jesus could at least expose Judas for what he is, make him feel guilty, and maybe Judas would even agree that he was wrong to betray Jesus. He could say to Judas what my grandfather would always say to me, “STRAIGHTEN UP AND FLY RIGHT!” Then everyone could feel like they were right and the “bad guy” changed his heart or at least the disciples could bask in their own moral superiority. Jesus knows that he will be betrayed and by whom. Why wouldn’t he expose his betrayer, show him the treatment he deserved?
Once again, God, Jesus goes against what is expected, God who could have chosen any form to make God’s presence known on earth, instead of something super powerful and awesome…like a dragon, or even a conquering king, came as an vulnerable infant. Jesus who could have stormed the gates of Jerusalem with his power entered the city on a donkey, Christ who could have withered the man who was to send him the cross like the fig tree, instead washed his feet.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
That’s a pretty difficult example to follow. If you knew someone was going to betray you, turn their back on you, be dishonest towards you, would you let them? I don’t think I would or could. I’d call them out, or be passive aggressive towards them, or maybe even do it to them before they could do it to me…you know like a preemptive strike. I certainly wouldn’t welcome them into my home, certainly would serve them as an equal. That’s what Jesus is doing here.
The more I think about this the more it makes me crazy. Why doesn’t Jesus just fix it, fix Judas, fix the situation. It would be so easy…he’s Almighty God Incarnate can’t he just make it right. That would be justice right? He has the power to fix it so he should right?
This always bring me back to that statement…just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
When I started thinking about this story two stories came to mind, one that I heard and one that I lived.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. became a figurehead in the civil right movement he began to get a lot of death threats. Because of those death threats he had an armed security detail around him at all times. This seemed like a pretty reasonable response to death threats. He had to protect himself and his family; no one would fault this non-violent leader for caring for his own safety…right? It was what he COULD do to protect himself.
One day, King and his security detail were in a house in Alabama talking about their plans for the next phase of the civil rights campaign when all of a sudden there was a noise outside, a loud crash. All the members of the security detail ran outside guns drawn. In the yard, a little girl playing with several guns now pointed at her ready to fire. From that day forward Martin Luther King, Jr. would not allow guns around him, even as those closest to him protested. He recognized that while his enemies would certainly have guns and would be willing to use them, the risk of harm to one of his friends was too great. He knew that he could have armed guards but decided that he shouldn’t.
I believe that King’s ministry, his witness was made significantly more meaningful be his unwillingness to resort to violence even in the face of violence. He was willing to die for what he believed in, too live the life the way he was called even when all those around him thought he should live differently.
When I was about 15, and living in Dallas, Texas my parents and I were driving to church on Sunday morning when we passed a grocery store parking lot, the same parking lot we passed every Sunday and most other days of the week, but this day was different. Today there was an old car sitting with the hood open. There was a women sitting with some kids near the rear of the car and a man standing with his head under the hood. There appeared to be car parts all around the car and a cardboard sign that said, “Trying to get to Oklahoma.” My dad glanced over and pulled into the parking lot. I remember saying, and I’m not sure why I said it, but I said, “Dad this is a scam!” My dad drove up to the man handed him a $20 and said blessings.
I was so mad. It was a scam I knew and I told my dad so, until finally he said. “Greg, I felt like those people needed the money, and whatever they do with it is between them and God. I know I did the right thing.” I think I probably said something intelligent like, “whatever dad!”
A few weeks later, we were driving home from church and decided to stop off at a restaurant for lunch in a different part of town. As we were leaving the restaurant I spotted them. The same car, the same woman, the same kids, the same sign, the same car parts, different parking lot; I looked at my dad and said, “See I told you! It was a scam!” My dad didn’t get angry, he didn’t whip the car around to yell at those people or demand they give him his money back, He calmly said, “Greg, I felt like those people needed the money, and whatever they do with it is between them and God. I know I did the right thing.” I didn’t get it at the time, and that story has stuck with me. My dad could have gone back to those people demanding an explanation, instead my dad continued to respond in the way he felt called.
I probably would have thought my dad was cool for telling that guy off, or standing up for himself. Instead I KNOW that I respect my dad because he responded the way he felt called even with his teenage son in the back of the car pestering him about how wrong he was and knowing that on some level he had been deceived.
It takes a lot to stand by your convictions when you know that means you will have to give up some power, to give up control, to risk your reputation. I believe that’s what Christ is calling us to do when he says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Steven said last Sunday, that Jesus chose the power of love over the love of power. In our society that’s hard. It means loving people who hurt you, it means loving people who are unlovable, it means giving up opportunities in order for others to have them, it means thinking about things you SHOULD do as opposed to things you COULD do.
I wish it was simple as me or Steven, or Jesus telling us in plain English the things we should do, but it’s not that simple. We are constantly met with opportunities, questions, situations that challenge us to respond to love one another the way Christ loved us.
When Jesus left the upper room his disciples fell asleep, betrayed him, denied him, they ran in fear because they knew the COULD hide from what they had been called to do and yet Jesus still loved them. When we share this feast, when we go out into the world I want you to remember that God continues to love us in ways that defy logic, God continues to speak to us through God’s word, through God’s people, through God’s creation. God continues to help us understand the difference between what we could do and what we should do.
God will always love you, just as you are, no strings attached.