Friday, April 18, 2014

Loving Like Jesus: Maundy Thursday Sermon

    I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone say, “If we could just love one another, everything would be great.”

    It’s a great thought.  It’s a happy thought.  But let’s think about this for just a minute.  Let’s think about why we love another person.  Let’s think about why we love something in general.

    If I were to ask most folks, “Why do you love your spouse?”, how do you think they would respond? 

    At first, you might hear some qualities they appreciate in their spouse.  You might hear about how the person is trustworthy, honest, compassionate, caring, and so on and so forth.  But as the conversation progresses, you will also hear a few more things.  “I love how I feel when I am with my spouse.”  “I love how my spouse takes care of me.”  “I love how my spouse is always there for me.”  “I love how my spouse seems to complete me.”  Stop and think about those responses for just a moment as we turn to our reasons for loving certain activities.

    Why do you love watching sports?  Why do you love hunting and fishing?  Why do you love driving fast in your car?  Why do you love taking care of animals?  Why do you love traveling and going on vacation?  “Because I like how I feel when I am doing these things.  I like how I can get away from everything.  I like how I feel in control and in charge.  I like how an animal responds when I care for it.  I like the endorphin rush I get when I buy something.  I like to savor the thrill of victory.  I like how I feel when I help someone out.  Stop and think about those responses as well.

    Do you notice what they all have in common?  Do you notice what is striking about many of the reasons we give for loving a person or engaging in an activity?  Because of how things make “ME” feel.  I love someone because of how they make “ME” feel.  Who is really the object of love here?  Who is really the one who is getting something out of the relationship?  Me.  I am. 

    If we could just love each other, everything would be great.  Right.  How can this be possible when the reality of love is that we generally love only when we are getting something out of the relationship?  The reality of love is that we generally only love another person or another thing when we feel good about it–when we feel like we are being made happy by another person or an activity we engage in.  If we could just love each other, everything would be great.  Sure, I agree with you, but how will you love someone when that other person is acting unlovable?  How will you love another person when that other person keeps taking and taking and taking but never gives anything in return?  How will you love when someone looks at you and says, “I hate you!” even though that person knows absolutely nothing about you.  Can you really, truly love everybody?  Can you?  And if you can’t what makes you think that “All the world needs now is love sweet love?” to quote that song sung long ago?  What makes you or anyone else say, “If we could just love everyone, everything would be o.k.”  Maybe, just maybe, if we were being honest with ourselves, we would change what we said.  Maybe, just maybe, if we were truly dealing with the reality of this world, we would say, “If everyone was just like me and loved me, then everything would be o.k.”

    But everyone isn’t just like us.  Everyone doesn’t love us.  This world is made up of people of all shapes and sizes and beliefs.  This world is made up of people who hold conflicting beliefs and act according to those beliefs.  How is it possible to love someone who is different than you; who believes differently than you; who acts differently from you; and who holds you in contempt for the way you believe and act?

    In the night He was betrayed, Jesus stood up in front of His disciples.  He took off His outer robe and He knelt before them.  He took a basin of water, and He began washing their feet.  He washed the feet of James and John who asked if they could sit at Jesus’ right and left hand.  These two wanted to be in the positions of power in Jesus’ kingdom over and above the rest of the disciples in that room.  Do you think that made them popular?  Not at all.  Jesus knelt before Matthew, a tax collector, a person of wealth and means who in all probability got that way by cheating others.  Jesus washed his feet despite Matthew’s past.  Jesus knelt at the feet of Peter.  Dear Peter who Jesus once had to say, “Get behind me Satan.”  Dear Peter who even at the moment said, “You will never wash my feet.”  Dear Peter who had a big head who denied that he would deny Jesus but went ahead and did so anyway.  Jesus washed Peter’s feet.  To each and every disciple with each and every personality trait and flaw. Doubting Thomas was washed.  Andrew was washed.  Nathaniel who remarked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was washed.  And then Jesus knelt at the feet of Judas–the same Judas who would betray Him for 30 pieces of silver.  And Jesus washed his feet as well.  All of these flawed men, Jesus washed.  All of these flawed men were embraced by Jesus’ act of humility. 

    “Do you know what I have done to you?” Jesus said.  “13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

    Jesus wasn’t done with the instruction.  Jesus pushed it even further.  “34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    But how?!  How Jesus?!  Sure, you can kneel in front of a tax collector, a denier, a betrayer, those who want power and prestige, you can wash their feet, but how can I do such a thing?  How can I love with this kind of love?  How can I love someone who does such a thing to me?  How can I love someone who doesn’t love me in the same way?  How can I love someone who is unlovable?

    I can’t.

    I just can’t.

    It’s too hard.  It’s too difficult.  If we could just love one another...but we can’t.

    But then Jesus says, “I can.  I can love them.  I can love you.  And here is how I will change your heart.  Here is how I will change your mind.  Here is where I will change you so that you can love with the love that I have.”

    And Jesus stretched out His arms and died loving the unlovable you and the unlovable me and forgiving us for not being able to love one another.

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him.

    And God said, “Your salvation doesn’t hinge on your being able to love everyone, but on Jesus’ ability to love everyone.  Your salvation doesn’t hinge on your being able to serve everyone, but on Jesus being able to serve everyone.  The way I love you does not depend upon your being able to love everyone around you, but it depends upon the way Jesus loves you.  You can’t attain your own salvation.  You can’t be righteous enough, but Jesus can.”

    And it is Jesus act of wondrous love that penetrates us to our very core.  Knowing He died for us when we were unforgiving, uncaring, unloving, and full of ourselves, changes us.  It humbles us.  It helps me know that I am not the center.  Jesus is.  And when Jesus is the center, a well of love springs forth from deep within.  When Jesus is the center a well of love gushes over and oozes out of our every pore.  When Jesus is the center of our hearts and our lives, we look at others differently.  We see them as fellow children of God; not as enemies; not as people we can get something from, but as people who God loves just as much as He loves us.  They are our brothers–our sisters.  The wondrous love of grace changes us and helps us love as Jesus loved.  Amen.

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