Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Lord is My Shepherd, I Have Life Abundant

Readings for this Sunday:  Acts4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:10-18
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….
He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me besides still waters.”

Sometimes it seems like the motto of America is “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  We live in a consumer culture, our very economy based on encouraging an ever-growing list of wants.  I shall not want?  When the media constantly is saying, “more, newer, better?”

Think of the psalmist writing in ancient Palestine.  A young man, a teen really, sitting on the hillside, thinking of how God provides for him as he provides for his sheep.  He looks at what God has given him and thinks “God provides everything I need.  I shall not want.”

He has very little compared to us.  Pre-technological, pre-industrial, just a simple shepherd, with few belongings, simple food, simple shelter.  And yet he can say, “I shall not want.

My internship congregation sent a group to Haiti the summer I started there. 
They kept a blog of their experiences.  One teen wrote, “They are so poor.  They have nothing – just a shack to live in, the clothes on their backs, little food.  And yet, they are so happy!  Their joy for life amazes me.”

The Psalmist knows, and the Haitians my young friend met know that it is not the material things of life that give us joy – although those things may bring us comfort and pleasure.  It’s knowing the love of God, the love of Christian brothers and sisters, the love of family and friends that brings joy. 

The Lord is my Shepherd – the God of abundance knows me and loves me and calls me and cares for me.  What more do I need?

Hear the voice of the Shepherd: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….
He restores my soul. He leads me in the right paths for his name’s sake.”

I wondered, what does it mean to “restore” someone’s soul?   So I looked at the Hebrew.  Turns out the word we translate “restore” means “to turn around, turn back, convert” – and I immediately thought of repentance.  See the Greek word we translate “repent” means “to turn around.”  All we like sheep have gone astray, and God seeks us out wherever we are, and gently leads us back. We are restored to God, to the flock, to the green pastures.

Restored to the flock, our Shepherd leads us along right paths.  The early Christians called following Jesus the Way.  It’s the same word – “path”, “way.”  Jesus showed us the way in his life and now we follow in his path.

Hear the voice of the Shepherd: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….Even though I pass through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

This is probably the part of the psalm that makes it so popular for funerals.  Valley of the shadow of death, valley of death, darkest valley – we interpret this to mean we should have no fear when we die, because God is with us.

But that really limits what the psalmist is saying here.  It’s the valley of the “death-like shadow,” of “deep darkness.”  We go through these valleys all the time – certainly when we die or a loved one dies, but also when we lose a job, or a relationship, or realize a cherished goal will never happen, or are sick, or have financial problems, or relationship problems or any time trouble or tragedy strikes.

We tremble at the darkness and shudder at the evil around us.  But then we remember the Shepherd is leading us even in this dark place.  His presence gives us comfort and strength, and hope.

Note that the psalmist has turned from addressing God in the third person: “The Lord is my shepherd,” “he leads.”  The language becomes much more personal here.  God is addressed directly:  “you are with me,” “your rod and staff.”   There is something about walking in the valley that brings us closer to our Shepherd.  We hear the voice of the shepherd more clearly in the valley and we grow to trust him more.   

Hear the voice of your Shepherd: “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

“Lord, you are my shepherd, I shall not want….You prepare at table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.”

The best way to wage war against a walled city was to set siege to it.  The city would ultimately surrender once it ran out of food and water.  Another popular battle tactic was to burn fields, commandeer or slaughter livestock, raid granaries.  An army passing through enemy countryside would leave no provisions for the inhabitants – nothing to eat and nothing to send to the defending army. 

Here, precisely in the time when one would expect to carefully ration provisions in expectation of the coming scarcity, God does the opposite:  a feast is prepared, the table is set and, although under siege from enemies, you are invited to recline and eat your fill. 

Anointing someone’s head was done for a variety of reasons:  to commission a king or a prophet or priest, to convey welcome and hospitality for visitors, as part of healing, and as personal care.  God welcomes us, marks us for divine purpose, heals our ills, cares for us.

The overflowing cup points to even more abundance:  superabundance, to be given so much that it cannot be contained.  So much that there is more than enough to share.

Hear the voice of your Shepherd: “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

“Lord, you are my shepherd, I shall not want….
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”

This is not goodness as in being good or moral.  This is goodness as in good things that promote wholeness, bring completeness, provide satisfaction and enhance welfare, - in other words that which brings shalom.  Mercy, God’s everlasting love, grace, faithfulness are all wrapped up in the Hebrew word hesed.  This is what is following you.

God’s goodness and everlasting love are not just following, not just ambling along behind – no, they are following with the intent to catch up, pursuing.  I like to talk about the grace of God – goodness and God’s everlasting love and mercy – constantly pursuing, constantly enticing us.  I love the image of God as Lover of our souls courting us, bringing us back into relationship.  God’s love and grace follows us, catches us, and returns us to our true home, which we discover is the place where God dwells. 

Hear the voice of your Shepherd: “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Psalm 23, which we so often read at funerals, is a psalm of life.  It promises the care of the Good Shepherd throughout all life’s ups and downs.  This psalm bursts with God’s love and paints a picture of what life abundant is like. 

You are my shepherd Lord, in you I have all that I need

 Hear the voice of your Shepherd: “I am the good shepherd. I have laid down my life for you and I have taken it up again for you.  I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Third Sunday after Easter: Peace be with you...

Readings for this Sunday:  Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36-48

The peace of the Lord be with you all…

Peace of the Lord. 

God’s peace.


What does peace mean to you?

I’m going to show my age here, but when I think of “peace,” I get images of tie-dye and VW vans, and hippies in rose colored glasses and bell bottoms, and smiley faces and peace signs and the Coca-Cola ad wanting to teach the world to sing.

Peace (make peace sign with hand).

I can’t help it.  I’m a child of the 60’s and 70’s.  To me, peace is harmony, and the absence of war.

Peace be with you…

Our gospel reading today starts off decidedly un-peace-filled.  It’s Easter evening.  Jesus’ followers are in the upper room.  The door is locked because they are afraid that the chief priests and Pilate aren’t satisfied with Jesus’ death and will hunt them down and kill them as well.  They are hiding.

Just this morning – Easter morning - Mary Magdalene and the other women burst in the room, breathless and told everyone that Jesus’ body was gone.  Peter and John went to the tomb and confirmed the women’s story.  Who would have dared to take Jesus’ body, desecrating his final resting place?  They are outraged.

The women said an angel told them Jesus had risen.  John saw the empty tomb and believes Jesus really is risen.  How could anyone who was murdered in such a violent way come back to life?  They simply can’t believe it.

Mary says she saw Jesus in the garden.  Peter says Jesus appeared to him.  And now Cleopas and his wife have returned from Emmaus, ran all the way back to Jerusalem to share the astonishing news that they also have seen Jesus, walked with him, talked with him and shared a meal with him.  They are overwhelmed.

The conversation swirls back and forth, between despair and hope, between that which they know and that which they cannot believe.

Suddenly Jesus stands in the middle of the room and everyone falls silent.

“Peace be with you.”


Jesus speaks peace to them, speaks shalom over them.

Jesus blesses them with God’s peace.

What is this peace Jesus speaks to them?  It’s more than harmony, absence of conflict, tranquility or all those other things peace means to us. 

We say the Hebrew word “shalom” means “peace.”  And it does.  But peace only scratches the surface of shalom.

Shalom means:

·        peace,

·        wholeness,

·        wellness,

·        completeness,

·        sufficiency,

·        satisfaction,

·        kindness,

·        salvation,

all of these - at the same time.

Jesus stands in the midst of the terrified disciples and declares shalom.


In one little word, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God is here.  

Yes, the kingdom of God, which Jesus has been preaching for the past three years, is summed up in shalom.  Listen to the definition of shalom again:

Peace – healing of all brokenness between families, and neighbors, and nations;

Wholeness, wellness – healing for body, mind and soul;

Completeness, Sufficiency, satisfaction – having all that one needs for life, for life lived abundantly;

Kindness – mercy, grace, God’s ever-lasting love;

Salvation - restoration of the relationship between God and humans beings, repentance and forgiveness of sins. 

That’s exactly what the kingdom of God is all about.

Jesus shows up in the middle of terror and confusion and doubts and hopes and says “The peace of God be with you – it’s Easter and God’s promises are being fulfilled before your very eyes.  God is bringing shalom - restoring the relationship between you and God and you and your neighbor, re-creating creation to bring healing and wholeness to all creation, providing the manna that nourishes mind, body, and soul, pouring out God’s everlasting love and mercy poured always, bringing you to repentance and forgiving sins.  

“Easter proves that God’s shalom kingdom is here now, not in some future time but right here and now.  Look at my hands and feet.  Join me in a meal.  I am no spirit, no ghost.  God has triumphed over death and the grave!  I am flesh and blood, the first in the new creation that God is bringing to the world.

“Hey guys – you know everything I taught you, everything I promised, well, I’m here to tell you it’s all true, it’s all happening here right now, just as God has planned.”

Then he begins to teach them –

-      going through the story of God’s work to bring all of creation back into perfect relationship,

-       how the Law God gave to Moses and the Word of God spoken through the prophets show how God has been working all along through Israel’s story to prepare for the coming of the Messiah into the world,

-      a Messiah sent

o    not to conquer the world through power and violence,

o   but to bring repentance and forgiveness of sins,

o   to usher in the kingdom of God.

To bring shalom.

After teaching them, Jesus tells them that they are God’s witnesses to the world.  And those terrified disciples begin to live into the Easter promise, begin to figure out what living as shalom people of God means.  

And it’s so awesome, so amazing that they can’t help but be witnesses.

The promise of shalom, the peace Jesus breathed on the disciples that evening made such an impact on those terrified disciples that they do go as Jesus sent them, bearing witness to all the God has done and is doing to reconcile all of creation and bring shalom to the world.

Those disciples spoke peace and forgiveness of sins to those around them.  God’s shalom changed their lives also, and they became witnesses. And so on, and on, and on…throughout the centuries to today.

It’s what we preach and teach.

Think about how many times we say “peace” in worship. 

It’s all over Lutheran worship.  “The peace of the Lord be with you.”  I say and you respond “and also with you.”  We say it in the beginning, and in our prayers – praying in peace, asking for shalom, affirming the promise of Easter. 

When we share the peace with one another, we’re not just saying “Good morning, glad to see you.”  We’re speaking Jesus’ words, “May shalom fill your life.  May Easter bring restored relationship between you and God and you and your neighbor, re-creation that brings healing and wholeness to all creation, provision of the manna that nourishes mind, body, and soul, God’s everlasting love and mercy poured out always, not in some future time but right here and now.”

And finally, we dismiss with “Go in peace.”  Go and take that which you have seen and heard and experienced, God’s shalom, into the world around you.  Go, be a witness to all that God has done and to all that God is doing in the world around you.


May the peace of the Lord be with you all.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Second Sunday of Easter: What does it take?

Scripture readings for the Second Sunday of Easter:  Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

What does it take to believe something is real?

We all have our own litmus test – what we need to experience to prove something to us.

For example, I am a spring skeptic.  Summer has to pretty much be here in full before I believe spring has really come.

You see, winter releases its grasp slowly in northeast Indiana, where I grew up.  The coming of spring is an epic battle between the raw wintry days and the warmer spring breezes. 

The early blooming crocus, the green sprouts of daffodils and tulips hint at the end of winter.  For some people, that is enough – the fragile green poking up out of the ground is all the sign of spring they need.  

Same for the grass getting greener.  Grass is a fickle sign – a tiny bit of warm weather in January and it greens right up just in time for the next Artic Clipper to dump snow on it.

So warm sunny days in March or early April don’t fool me – I know that there could be snow just a few days later.  I don’t really believe that spring is here – truly here – until I see the evidence in the trees.  Not the budding of the trees, but the soft green fringe of tiny new leaves.  Only then do I relax and put away the winter coats and boots.

This year, even the budding trees don’t convince me that spring has banished winter.  I’m still holding my breath, waiting for winter to rage back in with an elaborate April Fool’s joke – I’m sure we still have to pay for all these beautiful warm days we’ve had the past few weeks by enduring another snow storm.

As I said, I am a spring skeptic.

So I can empathize with Thomas.  He’s been dubbed “doubting Thomas,” somewhat unfairly,
I think.  Thomas’ story is not about doubt.  Thomas’ story is about believing or not believing. 

It’s about what it takes to know what is real.

Thomas needed proof.  After all, Jesus was dead and buried.  They all knew it, had seen it.  And dead people stayed dead.  Well, there was that thing with Lazarus, but Jesus did that.  And Jesus was dead now.  Who else among them had the power to raise the dead – no one that’s who! 

The news Easter morning seemed too good to be true – Jesus raised from the dead!  Jesus talking to Mary in the garden – who could believe it!

Then Easter evening, Jesus appeared to the disciples in the room which they gathered. 

He just appeared in the room, even though the door was locked. 

Jesus stood right there in the middle of the room and talked to them.  Jesus came to them and stretched out his hands and revealed the wound in his side.

Jesus gave those disciples huddled in that room exactly what they needed to know that the spring of resurrection is really here.  

Now they all believed. 

Everyone, that is, but Thomas. 

He was not there when Jesus appeared.

And despite the excited reports and the joy of the other disciples, he was unconvinced.

He needed proof - he needed to see for himself.  And so we say he doubted.

Really though, Thomas was not different from any of the other disciples – they all had to experience the reality of the resurrection personally in a way that proved to them that this was real – that resurrection was happening here and now: 

-      For John, it was the empty tomb,

-      For Mary, it was meeting Jesus in the garden. 

-      For Peter and the others, it was Jesus’ presence in the upper room.

-      For the two travelers on the road to Emmaus, it was the breaking of the bread. 

They all believed once they encountered the risen Christ.

Thomas wanted that encounter with the risen Christ – just the same as the other disciples had.  He needed that experience, to see Jesus, to feel his wounded hands and touch his wounded side to prove to him that resurrection was happening here and now.

Jesus doesn’t leave Thomas hanging.  Jesus doesn’t leave Thomas in his unbelief.  Jesus comes to Thomas.

Jesus shows up, invites Thomas to gather the evidence he said he needed, invites Thomas to touch him. 

And Thomas discovered that he didn’t really need that much proof.  Just the encounter with the resurrected Jesus was enough for Thomas to exclaim, “My Lord and My God!” – The strongest affirmation of who Jesus is in the entire gospel of John.

You know, none of us is really all that different from Thomas.  We all have those moments where it’s hard to believe, where our faith is stretched thin.  We have those times in our lives where our hopes hang on a cross and we huddle in fear in a locked room.  Those times when words of resurrection ring hollow in our ears and we need to touch the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and stick our hands in his side in order to remember what is real and true.

Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging.  Jesus doesn’t leave us in our unbelief.  Jesus comes to us.

Jesus shows up, invites us to gather the evidence we needed, shows us the wounds he bore for us and invites us to touch him. 

Jesus shows up in the waters of baptism, washing away our sin in his blood. 

Jesus comes to us in the bread and the wine, his body and blood nourishing us, strengthening us and keeping us in his grace. 

Jesus is the Word spoken and the word proclaimed that meets us in the space between faith and unfaith and transforms our hearts. 

Jesus comes to us and loves us and we cry out, “My Lord and my God.”

Jesus is present where two or three of us gather to share our life together – to comfort each other, share each other’s joys, to pray together, to share a meal, to enjoy each other’s company.

Jesus stands right there in the middle of the gathered community of believers and speaks peace to us, breaths the Holy Spirit into us and sends us out  - sends us out as his hands and feet to be the presence of the risen Christ in the world.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Sunday: To Be Continued....

Readings for Easter Sunday:  Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 12-24; I Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

They said nothing. 

To no one. 

They were afraid…

That’s it. 

That’s how Mark ends his gospel. 

It’s abrupt.  It’s an unsatisfying.  

Resurrection with no body.  Instructions to go and tell and meet, but the women only go.

Mark literally ends in the middle of a sentence.  Ends with a preposition.

The story seems unfinished.

In fact, Mark’s ending seems so strange that later writers attempt to finish it for him.  Scholars agree that Mark 16:9-20, the longer ending of Mark, with Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene, the disciples, two followers on the road, commissioning and ascension, was a later addition.  Someone wanted to finish the story, to give it a happy ending – Jesus is met, the gospel is proclaimed.

Then there’s the ‘shorter ending’ of Mark.  This ending lives in limbo somewhere between verse 8 and verse 9, sometimes hiding in the footnotes of our study bibles, and sometimes not even included.  It reads:  And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter.  And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.  Not a bad ending.  It neatly finishes the story, but scholars agree that the writing is not Mark.  It’s merely another attempt to give the story closure.

What are we to make of this odd little (the shortest of all the gospels) resurrection story? 

First, notice the fear in this story.  When I first read the story, I thought – wait we’ve been talking about fear all thought Lent.  This is Easter – we should be done with fear!

The women are worried – how will they roll away the stone.

Their worry turns to alarm, when they find the stone is already rolled away and a messenger from God waiting for them instead of Jesus’ body.

This messenger tells them to not be alarmed, that Jesus is risen and to go and tell his disciples and Peter to meet him in Galilee, as Jesus had told them before he died.

So the women go – actually they don’t just go, they run for their lives. 

But they don’t tell.

They say nothing. 

They are terrified, because….

Mark doesn’t tell us why. 

We could guess though.

Maybe they think the disciples won’t believe them.  Maybe they are worried that Peter will laugh at them.  In fact, that is what happens – in the other gospels, the women go and tell and the disciples dismiss their report as female hysteria and wishful thinking.

Maybe they are just so afraid of the supernatural signs – the large heavy stone rolled away without human intervention, the glowing young man who begins his words to them with the typical angelic greeting, “do not be afraid”, the obvious fact that Jesus is not there.  The miracle shakes them to their core and they can’t say anything until they’ve had time to think about it.

Maybe it’s not the stone rolled away and the empty tomb at all that terrifies them.  Maybe the truly terrifying thought is what Jesus’ resurrection means. 

After all, he predicted his death three times – each time ending the predictions with “and in three days will rise again.”  It’s clear the women didn’t really believe Jesus on this point – they came that morning of the third day to care for Jesus’ DEAD body, not to greet their LIVING Lord.

Suddenly they are standing there in an empty tomb, with no corpse to anoint, hearing the angels say “He is risen – round up the troops and have everyone go to Galilee to the meeting place Jesus told you about.”

And just as suddenly, it becomes clear to them – Jesus knew what he was talking about.

Jesus knew what he was talking about.

That means Jesus was serious.

He was completely serious when
Ø  he taught about the Kingdom of God,
Ø  when he forgave sins,
Ø  when he said love your enemy,
Ø  when he said the greatest will be servant,
Ø  and the first will be last,
Ø  when he said that you have to lose your life to gain it
Ø  and to take up your cross and follow him

Those weren’t just guidelines, great goals to try to attain. Not just pleasant dreams – oh, how wonderful the world would be if everyone would live that way.  Nope.

Jesus was completely serious. 

The Kingdom of God IS here – now.  The empty tomb proves it.  The future suddenly is wide open – there is another way – Jesus’ way. 

All the rules of how the world works were crushed under the stone that was rolled away. 

The women were there to follow tradition, to do things in the proscribed manner – the way it’s always been done.  They don’t know how to act when the body that they should anoint walks out of the tomb.  They don’t know how to live in this kingdom that Jesus has spent the last three years proclaiming.

It’s scary stuff. 

And Mark leaves us right there with the shocked terrified women. 

Mark leaves the story for us to finish.

We know that the women did tell.

We know that Jesus was met – in the garden, on the road, in the upper room, at the seashore.

We know that the disciples did go, and tell, and teach and preach and spread the good news everywhere.

Mark knows this too, but the women telling and the disciples preaching is not Mark’s concern.

And that brings me to the second point – Mark wants his readers to know that Easter is just the beginning.  At the end of the story that has no ending, Mark sends us to Galilee, back to the place where we met Jesus for the first time. 

Mark sends us to the beginning, to hear again how the gospel begins, to understand that the Jesus we find in Mark’s gospel is exactly who the resurrected Jesus is
        one who teaches with authority,
        heals the sick, calms the storm,
        feeds the multitudes,
        forgives sins,
        stands up against unjust systems and oppression,
        calls us to follow him
        and sends us to prepare the way of the Lord.

This story doesn’t end – ever.

If we live because Jesus lives, if we are baptized into his death and his resurrection, if we are his body, the story continues – through us.

Mark sets out, not to tell the whole story, but to tell the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.  Mark knows that he can’t tell the whole story, he can only tell the beginning of the good news.  This good news of Jesus Christ doesn’t end with the resurrection.  It doesn’t end with Jesus appearing to his followers. It doesn’t end with Jesus returning to heaven. 

Easter is not the end of the story.

Easter is just the beginning. 

And that’s enough to leave anyone speechless.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Readings for Maundy Thursday:  Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; 1Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
The teacher kneels at the student’s feet and begins to wash. 

It’s his last night with his friends.  His last chance to teach them, his last chance to give them the guidance and encouragement they will need for the trials ahead

Sure, they will be together again.   He knows this, but they don’t.  He’s tried and tried to tell them, but they do not understand.  He knows his arrest, trial and crucifixion will come as a surprise to them.  He knows the uncertainty and fear the next three days will hold for them.  He knows that what he says and what he does, tonight, is important.  It must count – he must reach them.

Jesus, knowing all this, chooses to start by washing his disciples’ feet.

The teacher kneels at the student’s feet and begins to wash. 

They neglected to wash their feet before coming to dinner – a breach of first century etiquette.  Perhaps, they were in a hurry to eat, much like a small child runs in from playing and neglects to wash up before dinner.  Or perhaps, they are too busy thinking of their own honor.  Foot washing falls to the lowest ranking person (usually the lowest ranking slave in the household) – so no one wanted to stoop to do this menial task. 

As the water pours over their feet and their beloved teacher wipes them clean, Jesus shows them in a tangible way that there is NOTHING he will not do for them.  He will always love them; love them to the end and beyond.  He will always love them and out of that love, he will serve them, even when that service requires his death on the cross.

He once taught that he gives living water, water that will become a never-ending spring of life in them.  As he pours the water over their feet, he wonders if they understand that the living water is love – God’s love, his love, the love he will  commands them to show one another.

The teacher kneels at the student’s feet and begins to wash. 

Do they understand what he is doing?  Do they understand the example he is showing? Have they been listening, really listening these last three years?

The rules have changed.  They lived in the kingdom of the world, the kingdom of Rome.  He has brought them into the kingdom of God.  The rules have changed.  Love your enemy, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile.  God shows up precisely where least expected:  in a secret, nighttime conversation; under the noon sun by a well; on a hillside full of hungry people; walking across a stormy sea; at the table with tax-collectors and prostitutes; at the grave of a beloved friend.  The most unlikely place of all – the hated Roman cross, a sign of weakness and contempt – will be the place where God is most fully revealed.

God is with us, God is for us.  The world is turned upside down.  God takes on human form.  The Messiah is not conquering king, but humble servant.  The innocent dies for the guilty.  Death does not win but becomes a path to true victory.

The new rule is love.  Love breaks through all the old rules, all the old ways of doing things. The hungry are fed, the mourners are comforted, the poor are cared for, the oppressed are championed.  If they follow his example, they too will bring others into the kingdom of God.  They will love and serve.   

The teacher kneels at the student’s feet and begins to wash. 

Now it’s Peter’s turn.  Peter, headstrong, stubborn Peter, refuses.  He is uncomfortable with this turning of the tables.  He knows that he should be the one washing Jesus’ feet.  Patiently, Jesus tells him that this washing marks Peter as one of Jesus’ own.  Impetuous Peter now surrenders not only his feet, but his head and hands.  “Peter, Peter, I only need to wash your feet to make you clean, to mark you as mine.”

This is more than just washing the feet before dinner.  They don’t understand it yet, but this washing makes them part of Jesus, gives them a part in the saving work of the cross.  This washing cleans their feet, and unites them in the once-and-for-all cleansing from sin Jesus’ suffering and death will bring. 

This washing is a baptism, as the water pours over their feet, they are claimed as Jesus’ own.  They are marked by the cross of Christ.  As one of Jesus’ own, as members of the kingdom of God, they are his example of love to the world – sent to give their lives away in love and humble service.

The teacher kneels at the student’s feet and begins to wash. 

He comes to Judas’ feet.  Notice that Judas does not leave until after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.  Jesus knows that Judas will betray him, and yet he washes the betrayer’s feet.  Will the rest understand?  Will they realize later that by doing so, he is telling them that his love, God’s love is for everyone?  That this love is unconditional – all are welcome, all are loved, even the one who will shortly become an enemy. 

The teacher kneels at your feet and begins to wash. 

What does it mean to be washed by Jesus to have Jesus poured over us in the waters of baptism?  We are cleansed from sin.  We are marked as one of Jesus’ own, marked with the sign of the cross forever.  Named and claimed as a child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit, we have become citizens of the Kingdom of God.

As one of Jesus’ own, as members of the kingdom of God, we are his living example of love in the world – sent to give our lives away in love and humble service.

The teacher kneels at your feet and begins to wash. 

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other as I have loved you.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  (John 13:34-35 NLT) 

Love extravagantly.  Love with humility.  Love your neighbors, your friends, your enemies.  Love those I love and remember I love the whole world, enough to give my life away for all.  Follow me, do what I do – even if it is difficult, even if it makes no sense, even if the world thinks it strange, even if you can’t see what good it will do.  Love with my heart, walk with my feet, serve with my hands.

Love as I have loved you.

The teacher kneels at your feet and begins to wash.