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the sermon for

Maundy Thursday

29 March, 2018

John 13:1-17 , John 13:31-35
We love, because god first loved us!

03252018Back in the late-Seventies and Eighties, M. Scott Peck, M.D. was a kind of guru. American psychiatrist. Pop-psychologist. Best-selling author. His first book – The Road Less Taken – sold over ten million copies! His unique blend of religion and psychology and his focus on community was just what the country needed, back then. In the years after Vietnam, Watergate. And looking back, I guess you could say, I was a disciple. At least, I bought a couple of his books. Still have them on a shelf in my office. I tried to get through them. I wish I could say I did. But I didn't. Truth is, I probably read just enough to make me dangerous. But there was one book...

Dr. Peck's fourth or fifth. The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, copyright 1987. "A Spiritual Journey," the cover says, "Toward Self-Acceptance, True Belonging, and New Hope for the World." Sounds like something from the Eighties, doesn't it! My bookmark says I made it halfway through. I don't remember anything, if I did! But I do remember the little story he told in the Prologue. And I would bet, across the country, tonight, there are hundreds of pastors basing their sermons on it! It's called "The Rabbi's Gift."

To make a short story shorter, a monastery has fallen on hard times. The order inside is all but gone. Only a handful of monks remain. Most old, gray. And in the woods surrounding the monastery, there lives a rabbi. The rabbi and the abbot get together. To commiserate, to kibitz. Because unfortunately, the synagogue is having struggles of their own. The story doesn't explain why, but one day, out of the blue, the rabbi tells the abbot that the messiah is one of them. The abbot returns to the monastery, shares with the remaining monks what the rabbi had told him. And miracles or miracles, they live happily ever after! In the weeks and months that follow, they begin to treat one another as if they might, actually, be Jesus! And the monastery changes! It becomes popular, prosperous, once again! "Thanks to the rabbi's gift," Dr. Peck writes, "the monastery had once again become a thriving order and a vibrant center of light and spirituality!" The Gospel of the Lord! Thanks be to Christ!

And to a church that had, also, fallen on hard times, to a church shrinking, turning gray, that story offered hope! It still does! And it was this story that came to mind, one more time, as I was getting ready for this evening. I read about Jesus, getting up from the table, taking off his outer robe, tying on an apron, and with a basin and pitcher, kneeling at the feet of his friends and washing their feet. One. After another. After another. And each time that basin was slid to the next, I would hear the rabbi words. "The messiah is one of you." "The messiah is one of you."

But this year, this time, it, finally, dawned on me. Peck was wrong. And the rabbi's gift was a total, complete, absolute contradiction of what this night is all about. A total, complete, and absolute reversal of why we are here.

This is Maundy Thursday. Commandment, Mandate Thursday. Rather than commemorating the institution of the Lord's Supper as do Matthew and Mark and Luke, John celebrates the giving of the new commandment. A commandment that – instead of loving others just like we love god – directs us to love each other just like god loves us! Instead of loving each other like we love god, we are commanded to love each other like god loves us! And that is a very, very different thing!

We began the service, this evening, by saying that we believed we were captive to sin and couldn't free ourselves. That we've sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what we've done and by what we haven't done. That we haven't loved god with our whole heart! That we haven't loved god the way we should, the way we ought! And Dr. Peck advises us to love each other the same way? Lukewarmly? Lackadaisically? That's why not much has changed! In the last thirty years! In the last two thousand! We don't do it! We can't do it! We don't want to do it! We believe we are captive, in bondage, to sin and cannot free ourselves!

And so, on this night, this night in which he was betrayed, in which he was abandoned and denied, Jesus doesn't tell his dearest and nearest to treat each other like they're about to treat him. But to treat one another just like he treats them! To love just like he loves! The one begins with us and stays with us. The other begins with god and comes to us and through us to the people around us!

This world isn't changed when we treat each other like we treat god. That's the problem, not the solution! We DO treat each other the way we treat god! The same way we treat Jesus! The exact same way! But this world is redeemed, it's delivered, as we treat each other the way god treats us! With kindness and respect! With gentleness and devotion! With patience and commitment and forgiveness and, of course, with love! We change the world when we deny ourselves... just like Jesus! When we pick up our cross... just like Jesus! When we suffer and die and are buried and descend... just like Jesus!

Love doesn't being with a dream or a decision or a desire, to love. It begins, first and foremost, by being loved! Only by, first, being loved! We forgive only when we are forgiven! We gift only when we are gifted! Bless only when we are blessed! Our love is always nothing more – and nothing less – than an echo, than a reflection, of our, first, being loved! Faith isn't loving god and loving others and changing the world. Faith, for us, is being loved by god – god loving us – and then, then and only then, us loving those around us! There's no tricks, no techniques. Only god...

God turning the other! God going the extra! God doing unto! And then, then us going and doing the same! Turning and going and doing! Loving just as we have been loved! Loving just as we are loved! Deeply! Passionately! With all our heart and all our mind and all our being! Because that's how god loved – how god loves – us! Nothing works! Nothing changes! Not until all we do is a reaction, a response, to what god has first done! When that happens, everything changes! Everything's different! Everything's new! God first loves us and, then, we go and do the same! Loving one another just like Jesus!

This! This cross is the true gift of the rabbi! It's the rabbi's innocent suffering and dying! It's the rabbi's holy, precious blood! It's the love that shines on the good and the evil! The love that falls on the righteous and the "un-." "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another!" "Just as I," says Jesus, "so, also, you!" So, also, you...

 
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the sermon for

the Sunday of the Passion

25 March, 2018

Mark 14:1-15:47
Jesus didn't die to get us into heaven,
but to get us onto the cross... just like him!

03252018It's impossible to live in this part of the country for any length of time and not see this image at one time or another. Printed on the back of a t-shirt. Stuck on the rear window of a pickup. Hanging on a fence post on the other side of a bar ditch. The silhouette of a cowboy kneeling at the foot of a cross. Or some variation of the theme. Sometimes it's a cowboy; other times a cowgirl. One time with a horse; another without. Hat on; hat off. The one thing I've never seen, though, is Jesus hanging on the cross! I've never seen that cowboy kneeling before a crucifix. Always nothing more than a plain, old, empty cross. So this morning, since it's the Sunday of the Passion, I took a little artistic license and PhotoShopped him in! But either way, with Jesus or without, for most of us, this is what faith looks like! This is believing! Quietly humbling ourselves beneath the mighty hand of god! Getting down off our high horse, taking off our hats, bowing our heads, and taking a knee. Respectful. Reverent. Adoring. Just like when Old Glory passes by. Something like the twenty-four elders in the book of the Revelation who fall on their faces and throw their crowns before the throne of god.

Chances are, this is what we have in mind when we come here, on any given Sunday morning. Lost in wonder, love, and praise. Thoughtful. Somber. Restrained. And it feels strange when we shuffle the pews around and the cross isn't there, right in front of our eyes. Worship seems much more genuine, more authentic, when we – just like that cowboy – can face the cross hanging on the wall. Hats off. Heads bowed. All the while kneeling, whether we're standing or sitting.

And since this is the Sunday of the Passion, since this is the first day of the week in which Jesus will suffer and be crucified and die and be buried and descend to the dead, this image has special significance. Rather than, simply, taking a knee, we read the story! The entire story! Beginning to end! Start to finish! All one hundred nineteen verses! All two thousand five hundred or so words! And even though you were sitting, I know – in your hearts – you were kneeling. This morning, especially, we get off our horse and take a knee or two. And we pay our respects to the cross! To the cross and to the crucified! However... I know you were waiting for that word! However, if this is all there is... If this is all we see... us kneeling... us bowing... before the cross. We know only half of the story. We understand only part of what believing is all about.

Truth is, the story of the cross, the story of the passion, of the suffering, isn't, just, Jesus' story! It's our story, as well! This week, this holy week, isn't, simply, about what happened to Christ. It's what happens, also, to us! To god's people! To the church! The cross isn't something we, merely, adore. It's something we adorn! We don't just kneel before it. We hang on it! Hang on it just like Jesus!

That's what Christ was talking about when he said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me!" That's what he meant when he said, "Those who want to save their life will lose it and those who loe their life will save it!" What Dr. Bonhoeffer had in mind when he wrote, "When god calls, god bids us die!" Jesus didn't die to get us through the pearly gates! He didn't die to get us into heaven. He died to get us onto the cross!

It's that cross that shows us that love comes only at a cost! Love has a price that must be paid. And unfortunately, most of us – me included – aren't willing, able, to pay it. But that price, that cost, isn't in the getting; it's in the giving! Love doesn't cost the one being loved anything. But it costs the one loving, it costs the lover, everything. Grace, to the one who receives it, is cheap! It's free! That's what makes it grace! But that same charity, that same love, required, demanded, of Jesus his very life! His last ounce! His last drop! His last breath!

That's why we bow down before the cross! That's why we take a knee! It's out of gratitude, out of appreciation! But that cross, then, changes us! It makes us different! New! It sets us free to go and do the same! We're not here to kneel at the foot of the cross. We're not, even, here to worship god! Or love Jesus the way Jesus loves us! We're not here to read our bibles or say our prayers or sing our songs. We're here to love the people Jesus loves! We're here to die for them just like Jesus did! Just like Jesus does! No one can love without paying a price! When Jesus loves, he carries our cross! When we love, we carry theirs! No one can love any other way. When we turn the other, we hang on a cross. When we go the extra, we hang on a cross. When we do unto and forgive not just seven times but seventy-seven times, we hang on a cross! Just like Jesus! It's expensive! It's costly! But we'd have it no other way! After all, that's the only way love exists! At least here in the church!

So, there are two sides to the cross. On the one side is Jesus. But on the other side, on the dark side, hidden there among the shadows, there's us! There's us! Back-to-back with Jesus! Hanging on the same cross! Suffering under the same Pilate! Dying! Being buried! Descending! And of course, rising! Always rising! God so loved the world that god gave the Son! And god so loves the world that god gives us, as well! In Christ, on the cross, a new age began. And my friends, in us, on that same cross, that new age continues!

 
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