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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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