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the sermon for

Maundy Thursday

13 April 2017

John 13:1-17 , John 13: 31b-35
As we are loved, so we love!

04132017It's been just thirty-eight days – not counting Sundays – since we were gathered here on the evening of Ash Wednesday. Thirty-eight days since the season of Lent began. And you might remember, at that time, I said I was disappointed that we didn't pick some other gospel reading. What we heard has anything but! It was piety. It was duty. It was religion. But good news? No. Giving alms. Saying prayers. Fasting. Those might make up the discipline of Lent. But in and of themselves, they have no redeeming value. They change nothing. They save no one. And I wondered aloud whether or not there could have been a better passage. A passage better than the one we we're given. But it was what it was. We read it and moved on. The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Now we are at the other end of the season. Only two days remain. And things have changed! Changed radically! And changed dramatically! Back then, it was all about us! What we had to do! How we had to do it! Not one word was spoken about Jesus! Not once was another person even mentioned! But tonight... tonight it's nothing but! Nothing but Jesus! Nothing but others! Suffered, was crucified, died, was buried, descended! It's all Jesus! Start to finish! Beginning to end! About Jesus and about Jesus' love! Tonight, we get the gospel, the good news, we missed on Ash Wednesday! The story doesn't begin with us! Our actions! Our attitudes! Lent isn't something we give up! It's not something we take on! It's Jesus! Period! Exclamation mark! End of sentence!

I read a devotion, just the other day, based on something Paul wrote: "To set the mind on the flesh is death; but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace!" "To set the mind on the flesh is death; but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace!" The author explained that setting the mind on the spirit meant reading your bible, and saying your prayers, and thinking about it all. They're all things we can do, things we're doing, alone... by ourselves... without anyone else... including Jesus! But that's not what setting the mind on the spirit means, at all! Maybe on Ash Wednesday, but not here, on this night! Setting the mind on the spirit is Jesus! Jesus and his grace for each and every! Jesus and his mercy for one and for all!

If this night – Maundy Thursday – is about anything, it's about Jesus! If it's about nothing else, it's about that love! There's no bread in John's story. No wine. All that is from the other three. Matthew, Mark, Luke. John is all about the commandment, that new commandment that Jesus gives! That's what gives this night its name! Maundy! Mandate! Commandment!

Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around his waist. He pours water into a basin, gets down on his knees, and begins to wash the feet of his friends. One... after another... after another... And when he's done, he puts his robe back on, returns to the table, and says, "That! That is love! Now you go and do the same! Loving others JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU!"

It's all Jesus! It's all love! In fact, the two are bound together forever! Jesus and love! Love and Jesus! And that new commandment? It's just the same! Jesus and love! Love and Jesus! Both together. Never one... or the other... The commandment isn't, simply, go and love! That's been our problem from the beginning! We haven't loved god with our whole heart! We haven't loved our neighbors as ourselves. Truth be told, we, probably, don't even do a good job loving just ourselves! That's what's held us captive! What's kept us bound! We don't... we can't... we won't... But Jesus comes to love us! To show us how it's done! And that frees us! Frees us to love the people around us! Faith – believing – isn't, merely, loving Jesus, foremost and first! It's being loved by Jesus! It's, first of all, being loved by Jesus! And then – and only then – loving others! Loving others because god, first, loved us!

It's a chain reaction! Like that row of marbles hanging on some desks.. Newton's Cradle, I think they're called. Pull out the marble on the end, let it go, and it swings back and hits the next marble in line, which hits the next, and the next, and the next, on down the line. Until the marble on the other end flies up! Jesus loves us, we love others! Jesus loves us, we love others! Jesus loves us, we love others! We don't choose to do it! We don't want to do it! We, simply, do it because that's the way it works! Naturally! Automatically! Jesus loves us and we love others!

Nothing Jesus does, this week, Jesus does for himself. There are no ulterior motives. Jesus isn't washing our feet so we can, then, was his. Jesus isn't loving us so that we will love him in return. He's doing it all for us! He's doing it all for us so that, finally, we can do the same thing for the people around us! It's nothing more than a long line of marbles, infinite, eternal, that Jesus sets in motion. And it starts this weekend! Jesus loves us not simply so that we will be loved. It doesn't end there. Jesus loves us so that we, in turn, will love! Jesus doesn't forgive us just so that we will be forgiven. Jesus forgives us so that we, too, can become forgiving! Jesus doesn't save us, merely, so that we will be saved. Jesus saves us so that we, too, may save others! We do the same for others that Jesus did for us! We're one more marble in the chain!

Faith, on a night like this, is more than a destination. Pearly gates. Streets of gold. Faith is a way of and a reason for living! It's a purpose, a reason! Jesus loves us, we love others! We're not here, finally, to see god face to face. We're here to turn our backs on god, taking it all for granted, trusting that god has our back, and facing the world god so loves! Living for creation the same way – the exact same way – god lives for creation! We don't have a destination. We have a mission! To love just like Jesus!

So, my friends, it's been just thirty-eight days since this all began. Yet so much is different. So much has changed! Now, it no longer matters if our left hand knows what our right hand is doing! It's not important if we go into our room and shut the door to pray... or not! And putting oil on our heads and washing our faces while we fast? That, for us, is pointless. Tonight, there is only Jesus and love! There is only Jesus and love! There is only Jesus and love! And that has become, for us, the rhythm, the heartbeat of believing!

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the sermon for

the Sunday of the Passion

09 April 2017

the Prayer of the Day
What god does, god does for everything...
or for nothing, at all!

04092017It must be over six months ago, now – back toward the middle or end of last Summer – when one of the members of the caregivers support group came up to me and said someone should nominate Anneliese Hyde to be one of the fifty-two faces in the newspaper! (Anneliese is the unofficial director of our caregiver's afternoon off ministry and "Fifty-Two Faces" is a page in Monday's edition that "recognizes Midland's unsung heroes and volunteers.") I agreed. Someone should. Well, a couple weeks later, the person looked me up, again, and clarified his comment. I should nominate her! So, I did.

In the process, I became Anneliese's proofreader! Apparently, the paper sends out a questionnaire to everyone chosen that serves as the basis for the article. And there was one response that caught my attention. It was a quote by a man Ms. Hyde describes as her hero... Albert Schweitzer! "What we call love," he said, "in its essence is reverence for life." "What we call love in its essence is reverence for life." Now there was nothing about the quote, in and of itself, that piqued my interest. But it did get me thinking. I knew a little about Dr. Schweitzer. He'd written a book that was mentioned in seminary. In Search of the Historical Jesus. Bible scholar. Organist. Philosopher. Nobel Prize winner. Medical doctor. Missionary. And what I hadn't known, Lutheran pastor. But I'd never read anything he wrote. So, I ordered a book and read it. And the more I read it, the more I saw what Anneliese admired. And a few weeks ago, when I read through the prayer of the day for Palm Sunday – the Sunday of the Passion – my thoughts turned, immediately, to the good doctor!

"Everlasting God," we prayed,
"in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ..."

Dr. Schweitzer would have had a problem with that prayer. Not with the endless love part. After all, he was a Lutheran! But he would have had a problem with the human race part. That kind of love would have been too small for him to accept. Too narrow. Too focused. You see, Schweitzer believed that what god did in Jesus, god didn't do just for the human race. But what god did, god did for the whole world, for the entire cosmos, for all creation! For every one and for every thing!

We, as believers, are so fixated on people! We're so obsessed with the human race! So much so, we limit god's love! Our dreams, here, in this place, are of a world populated only by human beings! By human beings and by angels who look, very much, like us! But Dr. Schweitzer says, "No!" We're wrong! That understanding of love is incomplete! Inadequate! God loves it all! The planet! The galaxy! The universe! And when Jesus rescues, when he redeems, he rescues and redeems it all! Not just people, not merely homo sapiens, but all of it!

"Everlasting God," we prayed,
"in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ..."

For us, we're the only thing that matters! The only thing that's important! And we could care less about all the rest! Disposable! Throw away! Nonrefundable! The popular vision of the end time is heaven and earth rolling up like one of those old-timey, spring-loaded window shades! Everything nonhuman vanishing into thin air! No. The story we read, a few moments ago, is a story just about people! Peter, James, John! Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate! No stars, no moon, in the sky! No clouds floating! No birds flying! No breeze in the grass or the trees! No crickets chirping! No dogs barking! It's just people! Only people!

It's like one of those modern dramas performed on an empty stage. No sets. No backdrop. Everything left up to the imagination. But reading the little bit of Dr. Schweitzer that I did, I know there's more to it than that! Not simply people, but creation itself! Creation – like us – waits just as eagerly, just as longingly! Creation, too, yearns to be set free! It groans! It hopes! It, even, believes! But, of course, every preschooler knows that! When they ask if their fish... or their dog... or their hermit crab... will go to heaven! They want to know that even the lowest, the least, really, truly matter to god! That even the lowest and the least, will not be forgotten! The prayer for the day says no. Or at the least, it says nothing. God is concerned with people. Only with people.

Dr. Schweitzer, though, says, "Yes! Of course! Absolutely!" God made it all! Jesus died for it all! God loves it all! From the smallest atom to the largest star! From here to Andromeda and beyond! What we're about to see played out, again, these next few days... It's because god loves it all! Everyone! Everything! The rocks and rills! The woods! The templed hills! The purple mountain's majesty! The amber waves of grain! It's not just us god is saving! It's not just people that are being salvaged! It's everything!

"All things came into being through him!" That's how John puts it! "All things came into being through him, and without him nothing came into being!" That's the way it was in the beginning! And that's the way it is, the way it will be! It's all or it's nothing! Life surrounds us! In the firmament! On the dry land! The sun, moon, stars! The swarms of living creatures... in the air, the sea! When Jesus suffered, he suffered for all that! He died, was buried, descended, rose! For all creation! From the largest to the smallest! The nearest to the most distant! Creation matters! It's important! It means something! And it's worth the sacrifice of god's own Son!

Creation isn't something to be used up and tossed aside like a paper cup. It's something to be saved! To be redeemed! To be delivered! For it, for it all, as much as for us, Christ suffered and broke and bled and died! And that prayer we offered doesn't say nearly enough! "Everlasting God, in your endless love not just for the human race,... But in your endless love for it all! For the land and the sky! For the mountains and the plains! For the grass and the flowers and the trees! For the oceans and the lakes, the rivers and streams! Even for the palm trees and the peach trees and the lilies! In you endless love for all creation, you sent our Lord Jesus Christ to suffer death on the cross!"

And this... this is the week! This is the day! This is the hour! So, my friends, don't bow your heads and, definitely, don't close your eyes! Instead, hold them up and take a look – a good, long look – around! This, ALL of this, is the reason! For god so loved it all! That endless love? That is good news! For the human race? That is better news! For all creation? That is the best news of all! And that is a prayer for which, even Dr. Schweitzer, could say, "Amen!"

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