Maundy Thursday 4/13/17 John 13:1-17, 31b-35

It seems our political discourse of late has caused a fraction in God’s kingdom here on Earth. Voters are now being identified more and more by their religious affiliations. The news often speaks of “evangelicals” versus just “Christians.” And while there are some churches that are wondering where to build their next 10,000 seat capacity sanctuary, or what to call their Saturday night “contemporary-yet also traditional-yet also family centered while being friend towards singles-yet also the spiritual but not religious” service, other churches struggle to keep the doors open. And so often as self-proclaimed Christians allow divisions to become deeper, problems to become impossible obstacles, and continue to gaze inward, I wonder if Christ doesn’t think “y’all, I didn’t die for this!”

In this familiar scene that we hear every Maundy Thursday, Christ lays out for his disciples, and for us, what it means to call ourselves “disciples,” or what it means to call ourselves Christians. It means appreciating (maybe even celebrating) the extraordinary purpose in ordinary things and service to one another. That’s it.

We aren’t told where this dinner gathering happened. I think many of us like to picture it in a church of some kind. But, the truth it, this gathering could have happened in the middle of a field, in the middle of a town square, even in the middle of a bar! Do you know why the location isn’t mentioned? Because it doesn’t matter. Jesus has not yet once allowed location to dictate his ministry–why would he start now? Whenever Jesus saw the opportunity to engage in ministry, he took it. And let us not forget that Christ ministered to the disciples. They needed love and care, too. Just because they were part of Christ’s “inner circle” didn’t make them immune from needing love and forgiveness. Heck, Jesus didn’t even wait for dinner to be over before jumping into service. Verses 2-3 say “and during supper…” Jesus doesn’t wait for a “so-called right time” because the “right time” is right now!

Then, Jesus takes ordinary objects and uses them for extraordinary purposes. The towel he tied around himself wasn’t the nice, plush, high-thread-count, Martha Stewart style towel. This was probably a worn and tattered piece of cloth, well hew, ragged edges, previously used towel. In so many pictures and artwork, we see it as this nice, neat, white towel. When, in reality, it probably looked more like that ratty old college t-shirt you couldn’t bear to throw away and now it’s a dust rag. We are told that he then poured water into a basin. We aren’t told how. Does he go to a well to draw water? Does he take a pitcher off the table? Is it a fancy porcelain pitcher and basin? Who knows, really. But the chances are good that it most likely was a plain clay pitcher and a plain clay bowl. Nothing special. But again, Jesus takes ordinary things and does extraordinary ministry with them.

Of course, he pours water into the bowl. This isn’t the first time that Jesus is going to do amazing things with water. We have the ability to hear that Jesus poured water and conjure up images of baptism. We have the ability to know previous scripture stories that speak of ritual cleansing. And, really, when Jesus is involved, nothing is ordinary. And all the while, the question that gets asked of the disciples, and the question that should stay with us until Easter morning is “do you know what I have done to you?” Why gather, brothers and sisters, why gather to mark these three days if we can’t answer this question. What has Jesus done to us? He has taught us how to love one another. And it looks nothing like we thought. It looks ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.

All of Jesus’ actions up to this point were done out of love. Jesus’ actions after this dinner were done in love. All of Jesus’ ministry was about one thing: love. And all along the way, Jesus took ordinary people, ordinary situations, ordinary objects, and used them all for extraordinary purposes: to show his love. We hear in the Corinthians reading, Jesus takes simple items: bread and wine, and turns them into extraordinary love. Jesus takes water and turns it into extraordinary love. Jesus took old tree branches and turned them into extraordinary love in the form of a cross. Jesus took on 3 ordinary nails, piercing his skin all the way through, into extraordinary love. And, on the third day, Jesus turned an ordinary tomb into further proof of extraordinary love. The commandment that he gives to his disciples and us this evening is to love one another as he loved us.

But, hearing of all of Jesus’ extraordinary actions can leave us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or even a little put out. Loving one another as Jesus loved us? It almost seems impossible. Jesus seemed to go the extra mile all the time. There are days we may not even be willing to go the extra foot. Jesus’ love was amazing. Jesus loved through humble service towards those around him. God was glorified through his actions. What might humble service look like for us? A friendly phone call? A visit to someone no longer able to make it to church? Maybe allowing someone to go ahead of you in the grocery store line. How might the world react if we took ordinary moments and used them for extraordinary ministry? See, Jesus doesn’t care about the size of your wallet, the size of your house, the size of your garage, the size of your behind, even the size of this congregation. Jesus only cares about the size of your heart. Jesus doesn’t care if you call yourself a “Christian” or an “evangelical” or even a Lutheran. What Jesus does care about is if you love other people.

We can’t say we love Jesus while watching Syrian refugees gasp for air. We can’t say we love Jesus while our black brothers and sisters get treated as if their lives mean less. We can’t say we love Jesus while building walls. We can’t say we love Jesus while limiting the health care that the world so desperately needs. We can’t say we love Jesus while advocating for the death penalty. We can’t say we love Jesus while wanting to limit what love looks like and while wanting to limit who does and does not deserve it. Because the truth is, brothers and sisters, no one deserves the love that God has to give us through Jesus Christ. But, the audacious truth is, somehow, someway, a world full of sinners receives it daily.

Don’t get overwhelmed, friends. In a world hungry for love, it can be overwhelming to think about trying to love the entire world. But see, through the power of the Holy Spirit, fed by bread and wine, you are able to take your ordinary love and turn it into extraordinary things. This world is hurting. Even the smallest bit of ordinary love can seem like an extraordinary thing. Soon, we too will gather around this table, hearing the words once again that are so so ordinary, but do you understand what he did for you? The body of Christ given for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you. Extraordinary love from an extraordinary Savior.

Sermon for 3/25/16 Good Friday Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Iniquity

I can barely see

My own sin hanging in front of me

 

A crown on his head

He’ll bleed til he’s dead

And no one will stop this tragic mess

So thousands of years later we can misuse the word “blessed”

 

They said he was crushed.

Friend that ain’t no game

With the amount that they fussed

You think someone would take the blame

 

But there he hung

Nails in his hands

Like some criminal thug

Shouts grew louder, like big game fans

 

Iniquity

My sin before me hangs

This ain’t the way it’s supposed to be

A mob gathers round, an angry gang

 

They pierce his side

They laugh and taunt

“King of the Jews” they chide

What more do they want?

 

They steal his clothes and auction them off

Sour wine on a sponge is the drink of choice

I’d be told this is how my sins were bought

I’d refuse to hear it. I wasn’t there! I had no voice

 

Like a lamb led to slaughter

His fate he knew well

Without this act our options would be hotter

Without this cross I’d be destined for hell

 

A crown of thorns? That’s not a king!

So he healed a few, cured a few, and hung out with sinners?

His reputation doesn’t deserve this ding

A king isn’t always surrounded by winners

 

Iniquity

I don’t want to see

My own sin hanging in front of me

 

He’s bruised and he’s beaten

Is this part of the plan?

Death he ain’t cheatin’

My sins paid by just one man?

 

The nails take their toll

His skin starts to break

Blood pours out from each hole

All this for our sake

 

Wounded for our transgressions

Where did justice go wrong?

Now who will hear my confession?

My sins are many, the list is long.

 

Like sheep wandering astray

We find a path and walk not led by him

Not believing in truth but in hearsay

He gasps again. It’s looking dim.

 

He ate with us, he cured our sick.

He told us parables and stories

Why did it never click?

We weren’t expecting to see perverted glory.

 

Iniquity

I refuse to see

My own sin hanging in front of me

 

How can this be God’s will, we cry

An innocent man

Sent to die

What kind of God has that kind of plan?

 

How much time has passed?

It seems like forever.

No one expected that he’d last

I guess never say never

Hanging there, the cross takes its strain

Sweat and blood mixed

He’s in so much pain

His destiny seems to be fixed

 

This is the way I need to see creation

Through this one Holy act

No matter if it causes me great frustration

Christ died for all, and that’s a fact

 

When I start to think I’m the authority

And when I start to condemn

Lord remind me of my inferiority

Remind me of my own sin

 

He prays and calls on God

The curtain tears

His head in a downward nod

He was crushed. Were our sins more than he could bear?

 

And just like that, the masses leave

Our savior still on the cross

Still emptying out what’s left to bleed

It occurs to no one to grieve this loss

 

A few remove him from the torture tool

They’ll put him in a cave

You’d have to label me a fool

If I’m to believe this is how I’m saved

 

A darkness falls over that place

Those who loved him have all up and gone

Grief doesn’t register on the face

Especially Judas, who was in the wrong

 

But the blame doesn’t rest with him alone

Look in the mirror and what do I see?

The sinner for who Christ did atone

The convictor of Christ, you see, was me

 

See I think I know the best way

So I chase false prophets and Gods

Sin tempts me and I stray

I attempt perfection and am beautifully flawed

 

He died for me and he died for you

We cannot avoid

This terrible truth

 

Iniquity

I’m finally starting to see

My own sin hanging in front of me

 

This scene is finally finished

He’s been buried, he’s gone, he’s dead

All hope is diminished

Many things are left unsaid

 

Who knew my sin had that power?

To crucify an innocent man

It causes me to cower

If I would have known, I could have ran.

 

This changes everything, don’t you see?

Maybe it’s too early to say

Maybe we should just let it be

Maybe it’s us who should pray.

 

Pray we don’t do this again

To Jesus or to any one

Including our fellow man

It doesn’t have to be a cross. It can be a gun

 

For us to commit tragedy

In the name of justice and rule

Is to forget his majesty

And make Jesus look a fool.

 

Before you go pointing fingers again

Remember this day, Christ on the cross

Who died for everyone’s sin

So that we may not know loss

 

We are all loved in God’s eyes

The transgressing sinners we continue to be

God sees through our lies

And still loves you and me

 

The cross is now bare

The task is complete

The smell of death in the air

Lingers with the sound of defeat

 

Sermon for 3/24/16 Maundy Thursday John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

I have been really surprised by one almost universal thing as I sit with families after their loved one dies. I usually ask the same question “how did your loved one show their love?” And more times than not, the answer I get is “we weren’t a real huggy-kissy kind of family….” Or “I think my mom/dad only told me they loved me about twice in my life….” And the underlying idea is that this loved one, your mom, dad, grandma or grandpa or whoever did love you, but they just never said it. More than once I’ve heard grieving families say to me “there is no doubt that he or she loved me.” I am trying to figure out if it was a generational thing or a geographical thing or what. My family and I are very huggy-kissy. It’s also part of our heritage. Italians often greet one another with kisses on the cheek.

I also think about the families that tell me, if I had just one more moment with my loved one, I would tell them how much I love them. For me, no encounter, meeting, or phone call goes by with my friends and family without me telling them how much I love them. I refuse to live with regret. We are told within the first sentence of this reading that not only does Jesus know very clearly what is going to happen to him. It says “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.” The crucifixion was not a surprise. Jesus’ death wasn’t a surprise. This didn’t come out of nowhere. He had been telling his disciples for some time that he was a marked man. Granted, they didn’t want to believe him, but Jesus knew. He knew all along. And because he knew he was about to leave this world, he wanted to make sure his disciples knew one thing: how much he loved all of them.

Jesus was known as a man of action. He did more than tell the disciples he loved them, he showed them. While foot washing may seem a little strange to us, it was very common in Jesus’ time. Usually when one would enter into a home (especially for dinner) it was expected that you would wash your hands, face, and feet. But, usually it was the household slave that met you at the door with water and towel. It was also this household slave that would help to wash the feet of visitors. Maybe you can understand why the disciples were a little disturbed that Jesus would then do something that was traditionally meant for a slave. When Jesus finished, he asked the disciples “do you know what I have done to you?” I have to imagine that Jesus was more than just a bit frustrated when the disciples probably just looked at him, befuddled.

Jesus is setting an example, he tells them. Do to others what I have done to you. Jesus is encouraging his disciples, and us, really, to be of service to one another. Servants, slaves, are no greater than their masters and messengers aren’t greater than the ones who sent them. Jesus is reinforcing the idea that anyone can be of service to anyone else. ANYONE. And then, out of all of the things he could have told his disciples, he made sure they understood this act of love by telling them to love one another.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a very controversial idea. After all, we have come to know through our faith that we serve a God of love and that God showed that love through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is love. Jesus is God’s love letter to us. Maybe we’re just used to the idea that Jesus loves us. Maybe what we’re not so used to, however, is the idea that Jesus loves those around us as much as he loves us. Remember, Jesus is preparing for his death. As he is ripped away from his friends and made to carry his own execution tool, the thing he wants everyone around him to remember is that he loves them.

Friends, if you think being a Christian is an easy task, that it just comes to you by nature, then I want you to think very carefully about this commandment that Jesus is giving us. First, let’s focus on the idea that this is indeed a commandment, not a suggestion. We don’t have an option. Maybe you have no problem understanding or accepting the idea that Jesus loves you. But that’s not enough. What Jesus calls us to do is difficult to do because our sin always gets in the way. How easy this commandment would be if Jesus said “accept the love I give to you and then judge if others deserve the same love.” We seem to have this down pretty good. The call to love one another is in complete and total contradiction to almost everything we have heard this election season. Sure, there have been some bright spots, but we have seemed to enter an age in this country where we’ve forgotten this commandment.

I know most of you aren’t Christian because it’s easy. Let us not let the cross be in vain. If you are going to profess that Jesus is your savior, you must also profess that you love your neighbor. Those two things cannot be independent of one another. Being a follower of Jesus means we love people society doesn’t. Being a follower of Jesus means we love people society says we shouldn’t. Being a follower of Jesus means loving people we may disagree with. There’s a great t-shirt I’ve seen floating around the internet. On the front it says “love thy neighbor.” On the back it says “thy homeless neighbor, thy Muslim neighbor, thy Black neighbor, thy White neighbor, thy Jewish neighbor, thy Christian neighbor, thy Atheist neighbor, thy racist neighbor, thy disabled neighbor, thy addicted neighbor, thy gay neighbor, thy abusive neighbor…” I could go on and on but I think you get the point.

See, we can’t claim the cross as our salvation if we don’t claim all of it. That means loving our neighbors and admitting our sin when we can’t. It means being willing to be misunderstood and maybe even chastised. Our reward isn’t going to be felt on this earth. If we’re going to claim the title of “Christian” or “disciples” then it’s clear that we must make our motto one of love. It’s one thing to call yourself a Christian, but it’s another to act it. The challenge has been set before us, brothers and sisters. Love one another. Start with yourself. Then, be willing to have the Holy Spirit open your minds and hearts, and love one another. Love one another not expecting anything in return. Love one another without abandon. Love one another because it’s what Christ commands. Just….damn it! Love one another.

Sermon for 4/5/15 Easter Sunday Mark 16:1-8

I am grateful that you all showed up today. I know that may sound trite and silly, but I mean it. And you may wonder “why wouldn’t I show up today, Pastor? It is Easter after all and I have something new to wear, so I might as well.” But by you showing up, you have said to the world, to the doubters, to one another, and to Christ: yes. Yes, I believe. But showing up today you have made a very bold statement. Did you know that? I bet you had no idea coming to church would lead to such things. But by showing up today you have said to the world, to one another, and Christ hears you proclaiming this: death will not win.

We have every reason to believe that everything we have experienced over the last 40 days isn’t real. We have every reason to believe that everything over the last 3 days isn’t real. We have every reason to believe that the tomb was never empty, that the stone was never rolled away, and that Jesus, despite everything he ever said, never rose again. I’m about to get a little political, so I want to give you fair warning. It’s easy for us to not believe that Jesus rose from the dead because about 14.7 million children live in poverty in the us and 49.1 million Americans live in households that are deemed “food insecure” meaning that they don’t know where their next meal will come from. But it’s super important to find out what emails Hillary erased.

It’s easy for us to not believe that Jesus rose again from the dead when 147 people in Nairobi, Kenya died on a college campus just this past week. But instead, the news has focused on whether or not Indiana will join the 21st century. ISIS/ISIL continues to slaughter innocent people day after day, week after week. We now have Americans attempting to leave this country to join the terror war that ISIS is waging. But let’s not focus on that. Instead, let’s focus on whether or not the deal that President Obama made with Iran in regards to their nuclear program is a good idea or not. It’s easy for us to not believe that Jesus rose from the dead when 1 in every 3 African American males can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. But that’s not important; let’s talk about who got voted off Dancing with the Stars this past week. And with all of the bad news in the world; and with people seeming to lose focus on really crucial and important things, it would be very easy for us to not show up, to not declare an empty tomb, to not declare to a hurting and hungry world that indeed, Alleluia, Jesus is risen.

But no, we didn’t do that. You showed up. You said yes. Yes, we believe that a man can rise from the dead. Yes, we believe that Jesus did just as he said he would all those times. He died, was buried, and was resurrected. And we continue to say yes. We show up week after week saying “yes.” Or we read our Bibles saying “yes.” Or we wear statements of faith (either jewelry or other signs of faith) that say “yes.” Yes, I know there are a lot of places where Christ and Christ’s intervention here and now. This is why we continue to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are beseeching the risen Christ to come among us, to turn our world upside down, to make the broken whole, to make the words “justice” and “peace” not only mean something but to put them into action.

When that tomb was empty, people who had been saying “yes” all along were proven wrong. The Roman empire was proven wrong; their yes turned into a no. The disciples were proven wrong; their misbelief turned into belief. Those who watched Jesus perform miracles finally saw that he was who he said he was. And of course people were terrified. Everything they thought was going to be normal or the status quo was just turned upside down by an empty tomb. Yes, death no longer has the final word.

And here you are, saying yes. And maybe you are here week after week, in the same pew because you keep saying yes even though everything else in the news, in the media, and maybe even your family and friends tell you that “no” is the more logical answer. Or maybe you took the risk of coming here today; having been gone for a while (maybe since last Easter) you may be unsure if you would be received as a prodigal son or daughter or treated more like Judas. Nonetheless, you took the risk to say “yes” I am going to see for myself about this risen Christ. I am not going to let anyone or anything else stop me.

We continue to say “yes” over and over and over. There is too much suffering in this world; we keep saying yes because the “no’s” will never win or have the last word. God has made God’s love known through the suffering of one man, through the death of one man, and through the resurrection of one man. And no matter how many times you think God has said no because society, your family or friends, or the negative voices that scream at you have told you that you are forgotten, that God sees you as a “no” that empty tomb answers back with a very resounding, “yes.”

It is our turn, brothers and sisters, to say “yes.” Let’s say yes to a hurting world. Let’s say yes to feeding hungry people. Let’s say yes to clothing the naked. Let’s say yes to those behind bars that society has forgotten. Let’s say yes to those who have been deemed lost or not worth saving. God said “yes” and we say “yes” in return to serving in God’s name. I want to share this with you. It’s a poem from Edwina Gateley entitled “Called to Say Yes”

“We are called to say yes.

That the kingdom might break through

To renew and to transform

Our dark and groping world.

We stutter and we stammer

To the lone God who calls

And pleads a New Jerusalem

In the bloodied Sinai Straights.

We are called to say yes

That honeysuckle may twine

And twist its smelling leaves

Over the graves of nuclear arms.

We are called to say yes

That children might play

On the soil of Vietnam where the tanks

Belched blood and death.

We are called to say yes

That black may sing with white

And pledge peace and healing

For the hatred of the past.

We are called to say yes

So that nations might gather

And dance one great movement

For the joy of humankind.

We are called to say yes

So that rich and poor embrace

And become equal in their poverty

Through the silent tears that fall.

We are called to say yes

That the whisper of our God

Might be heard through our sirens

And the screams of our bombs.

We are called to say yes

To a God who still holds fast

To the vision of the Kingdom

For a trembling world of pain.

We are called to say yes

To this God who reaches out

And asks us to share

His crazy dream of love.”

Sermon for 4/3/15 Good Friday Isaiah 52:13-53:12

For all of my experience, for all of my education, for all of my reading and research, I still find death to be a confounding and confusing thing. I find the way we speak about death to be fascinating. We use euphemisms to attempt in softening the blow of what has really happened: someone we care for or love is no longer living. Breath has ceased to exist in their lungs. Their heart has stopped beating. But, we use phrases like “passed on, entered the heavenly kingdom” or the very well meaning but theologically inappropriate “God needed another angel” phrases. And no matter how hard we try and sugar coat it, death is death. When someone dies, they no longer exist in our physical presence. Part of my training to become a pastor included Clinical Pastoral Education (or CPE) where I was a hospital chaplain for a summer. We often had to be the ones to share the sad and unfortunate news with loved ones arriving at the hospital that their family member had died. And we were instructed to use that language exactly “say they died” we were told. “We don’t want there to be any confusion over what happened.”

That did lead to confusion at times, no matter how hard we tried. Like when I went to visit a patient and was told “he went home” and I had to clarify “did he actually go home or did he die?” I have found that we talk about death the way we do because we really are unclear what happens. And I often have said “we really don’t know on this side of heaven” what happens after death. Scientists have been attempting to research this for years, but I doubt we are any closer to an answer than we were before. I think we also talk about death the way we do because it can be a scary or just plain unpleasant.

But we should not kid ourselves, brothers and sisters, about what happened that day on the cross. Jesus died. It was not some kind of euphemism. He was tortured via crucifixion and died. The air left his very human lungs. His human heart stopped beating. His brain stopped functioning. And those who loved him grieved. Even the temple curtain was torn open as he took his last gasping breath. There should be no question as to whether or not Jesus’ death was real because there is no question that his resurrection was real.

Those who have trouble believing in the resurrection struggle with this idea. And I get it, I really do. It’s hard to believe that a man who has been dead for three days would actually rise again. So some who question this idea might soften up the idea of Jesus’ death. They may say things like “he wasn’t really dead or didn’t really die” or maybe “he was just in a comatose state.” Friends, Jesus died. There’s no way around this, he died. He’s dead. And it would be easy, all too easy, for us to look away from the cross, to shield our eyes, to focus instead on the ground, or the sky, or anything else but our suffering savior.

“Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” This is not language used to describe someone who maybe didn’t die. He carried our diseases, was struck down, afflicted, wounded, crushed, and bruised. And if that’s not bad enough we hear this “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The “we” here, brothers and sisters, is us. We have gone astray. Sure, we may not have meant to go astray, but it happened. We lost focus of what is important in life. We wanted more, more, more. We took from people who have less. We stepped on those beneath us just to get ahead. We have shown little to no mercy and now we pay the price of watching a man be tortured for us.

It hardly seems fair. We are the ones who have gone astray. We are the ones who have sinned. We are the one with infirmities and diseases. Yet, here is this man; struggling, one foot after another, to carry a cross that would be where he would spend his final moments of life. And for us, it means so much more. It means that when we talk about death, we talk about it in very real and very tangible ways. But in the death of Jesus, we somehow are given life. It is one of the only times I can think of when something so tragic turns into something so beautiful. In the cross we are given freedom. In the cross we are granted forgiveness. In the cross we have someone who proclaims to love us even during the times when the world or the voices in our heads tell us differently.

On the cross, Jesus didn’t say much. But how many times can you tell a person that you love them. He had to show us love instead. It was offensive. It didn’t make sense. It’s not how a king and messiah would or should die. Some may wonder what makes a day like this so “good.” How can something good come out of something so horrible? The same way that life comes out of death. It’s the same way that green blades pop out of brown land every year. What makes Good Friday so good, is death. A for real, all the way dead, death. Never has there been more of an outpouring of love than this.

Sermon for 4/2/15 Maundy Thursday; John 13:1-7, 31-35

In my short time being a pastor, I have been around more than my fair share of people preparing for death. And when you think about it, we all, in one way or another, are preparing for death. I’ve seen people who know they are going to die (like with a diagnosis of one kind or another) and prepare one way versus those of us who know we’re going to die eventually and just like to have things in order (like wills, estates, etc…). Not once have I yet to meet someone who was preparing to die and chose to prepare by being of service towards his or her friends. And yet, that is the Jesus we get a glimpse of today.

We could have the Jesus who gives us long lectures reinforcing all the things we should know about life. Or, we could have the Jesus who just wants to be left alone (the introspective Jesus). Or, we could have the Jesus who wants to throw a big party because he wants to go out in style. But instead, we get the Jesus who has always been with us; the humble, unassuming Jesus, who just wants to serve his friends. And so he does what must seem very logical to Jesus but quite strange to us and even to those seated around the table: he rises, humbles himself, and kneels before his friends, washing their feet. And he did it for one simple reason: he wanted to show them that he loves them.

If you are married, have been married, or just have someone special in your life, you know that it’s not all rainbows and sunshine all the time. Hollywood is good to portray relationships as wonderful and amazing and never difficult. But, we all know the truth. When I started to think about love, the first person I thought of was Chris. He has seen me at my utmost worst and has seen me at my ultimate best. He has cared for me in ways that are very loving and nurturing and he has cared for me in ways that I find embarrassing (but only because I am horrible at asking for help). No matter how he cares for me, he does so out of immense love for me and out of respect for our marriage. I pray that all of you have a relationship like this no matter what you call it: friendship, marriage, etc…

Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine what the disciples must have felt that evening. They had just finished a very large Passover meal, most likely lamb, and they had come to that part of the evening where everyone leans back and sighs in satisfaction. If this were a Thanksgiving meal, naps would soon follow or at least the loosening of the belt notches. Jesus had tried to tell them several times that he would be departing from them and they don’t listen. And he knows it is almost time for his arrest, trial, and execution. Instead of being scared, as I would be, Jesus takes this opportunity to show and speak love to those around him. And I wondered if I would be able to ever do the same.

I’ve read this reading many times before and so often the focus is on the foot washing. And as I read through it again preparing for today I almost missed a wonderful sentence that gave me hope, it gave me peace, it gave me rest. Verse 3 (which could easily be overlooked) says “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God….” When we talk about the peace of God that passes all understanding, I think this is it. Jesus came from God and knew he was going to God. I once met a woman while on a trip to Milwaukee who had a son that chose a few wrong paths in life and at the time was locked up in a state penitentiary. She was sad at his choices, but her language caught me a bit off guard. “I’m just doing the best with what God gave me” she said. “That’s the way I look at it. God gave me my son to borrow, and eventually, I will give him back. He belongs to God.” It was a powerful reminder that none of us are in charge of our own lives.

Jesus knew the that his time had come. And Jesus could have said a lot of things, and he could have done a lot of things, but what he did was wash the feet of his friends. And he left them with this thought: love one another. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” It would have been easy to impart to them any other message or life lesson. But the Christ that loves us, and the Christ that loved the disciples, his friends, wants to leave them with just that one thought: I love you. Because I love you, you should love each other. As he prepares to be arrested, as he prepares for a trial he shouldn’t even have to endure, as he prepares for a gruesome death, he could have said many things. But instead, Jesus tells his disciples and us this: I love you. And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus tells them this “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another.”

Love one another. I don’t know about you, but this seems to be the simplest and yet most complicated commandment that Jesus gives us. I’ve had more than one occasion where I’ve said “I love you but I don’t like you right now.” Love is one of those words that often gets thrown around in our society but we really don’t know what it means. It has lost it’s punch. I love Chris. But I also love cheeseburgers. But I also love the Wizard of Oz. But none of that love can compare to the love that Jesus has for me and for you. In a time where flowers, chocolate, jewelry, cars, etc…can show someone you love them, our sign of love is a cross. It’s not fancy. It’s not flashy. It doesn’t sparkle. It certainly doesn’t come in a velvet box. But, I cannot think of anything else that has given me more life and freedom than the cross.

When I look at the cross, I see the pain and suffering of Jesus. When I look at the cross, I see the marks my sin inflicted on his hands and side. When I look at the cross, I see him crying out in pain and thirst. When I look at the cross, I hear the mocking of the bystanders knowing full well I would have been one to mock this labeled “king of the Jews.” When I look at the cross, I have to look inward at the ways I have been unloving, uncaring, uncompassionate, and quite un-Christ-like. That lack of love is my sin and it is what separates me and you from God. Jesus died on the cross because there was no other way for the disciples, for the Romans, for the emperor, and for us to see what love looks like. Jesus death showed us just how far love can go. Jesus death showed us that the law that he spoke of all those times was the law of love.

So when I’m asked “were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I usually respond with “yes.” While I wasn’t physically there, my lack of love crucifies him over and over again. Was I there? Yes. And while Jesus was the one who died; I ended up the one with life.