Here is the sermon I preached this evening at an ecumenical Holy Week service here in Stanton.
Love One Another
A Sermon Preached at Grace Fellowship Church – Stanton, KY (PCMA Holy Week Maundy Thursday Service)
Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos
April 13, 2017
John 13:1-7, 12-17, 31-35 (NLT)
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.[a] 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas,[b] son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.
31 As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man[a] to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son,[b] he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once. 33 Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
There is an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw, way, way up, a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards it. The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down. It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb up again. After many more falls and efforts and failures, he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around a table. “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas,” Jesus said. “We couldn’t begin till you came.”.
On the traditional church calendar, today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday is where the church traditionally remembers the last supper in the Upper Room just before Jesus was betrayed by Judas. In addition, we remember that Jesus came not to be served but to serve. He demonstrated this by humbling himself and washing the feet of his best friends. In doing this, Jesus demonstrated what it means to truly show someone love. It was after he washed their feet that he revealed that it was by the way we love one another and how we love the entire world that people will know that we are his disciples. Love is the first and most visible fruit that a Christian can and should display.
Last night at Shiloh we concluded a study of a book called Final Words From the Cross by a pastor and theologian named Adam Hamilton. During last night’s lesson, we discussed metaphors and how much metaphorical language was used in Jesus’ teaching and ministry. A metaphor is a figure of speech. If you were to look at me and say, “He’s as big as an ox!” Well, I am big but I’m not as big as an ox. I don’t think my wife, Jessica, would allow oxen in her bed. But my point is, to compare me to an ox is a metaphor for my perceived large size.
A lot of what is contained in scripture is metaphorical in nature but not all of it. I’m a student at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore and there is a coffee shop just off campus called Solomon’s Porch. I go there between my morning and afternoon classes. Being in Wilmore, there is almost always a discussion about the Bible going on. One day I overheard two people talking and one of them made a statement like this: “I think everything in the bible should be taken literally, just as it was written.” The other person said, “Well what about where Jesus said to love everyone, including our enemies?” The first party thought for a moment and said, “Well, I think that was just a metaphor. Jesus couldn’t have possibly meant to love everyone.” I couldn’t help but laugh. It seems funny that people feel this way. They believe everything in the bible and believe it should be followed to the letter… Until they come to a part they either don’t like or don’t agree with, suddenly it’s open to interpretation. Yes, some things are metaphorical in nature and are there to illustrate a point, but the overall message of scripture is sound.
Either you believe that the message of the whole Bible is true, or you don’t. You either believe the entire spectrum of the teachings of Christ or you don’t. And put your steel toes on because now I might step on your toes: This includes the teachings that you don’t particularly like. Did Jesus often use metaphors in his teaching? Of course. But when he says things like “they will know you are my disciples by your love,” he meant just that, full stop.
I happen to believe that one of those things that is far from being a metaphor and that is part of the very message of the gospel is contained right here in John 13. Jesus made it clear to me that we, as Christians, are to love one another and to love all of the beloved of God – hint: It’s everyone! – and that is far from being a metaphor. Jesus said himself after he washed the feet of the twelve: “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” The example that Jesus gave is one of ultimate sacrifice on the part of putting aside our pride and even casting aside what society considers to be normal in order to truly love someone. Just as Jesus humbled himself, we are expected to do likewise.
Now, for us, showing love to someone may not actually include washing someone’s feet. Don’t touch mine, believe me, you don’t want to anyway. But what Jesus did was put on a seminar about how to wash feet but he demonstrated the kind of love that we are to show to all people and by not only saying that we are willing to do this, but by actually doing it, we are proclaiming His love to a world that no longer knows how to love with true sacrifice. The kind of Jesus that Jesus demonstrates and wants us to show to others does involve sacrifice, being willing to show a radical form of hospitality even to a stranger. In order to fully understand this, it may be helpful to know the significance of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
In the New Testament times, there were no planes, trains, or automobiles. The only way to get from one place to another was to either beat feet or to get there by donkey or camel. There were no paved roads back then, either. The roads were dusty, dirty, and even had animal droppings on them. And if you stepped in it, well, you just stepped in it. It was because of these dusty conditions that it was expected hospitality for a host to provide water so that a guest could wash their feet off. Actually loosening a person’s sandals and personally washing their feet was considered the work of servants, or submissive wives or children. In other words, it was something that was not done by proper people if you will. Jesus actually wrapping a towel around himself and bending down to wash the feet of his disciples was a big deal because this just was not done. It was a scandal in Jerusalem for him to serve the people who respected him the most. This was a big deal because Jesus was actually foreshadowing the nature of his coming death: He was the suffering servant.
Even those of us who think ourselves to be above certain things should remember that as disciples of Jesus Christ we are to count ourselves as servants first. Jesus laid out the example of how we should treat others by being willing to humble ourselves and show people the most powerful love that we can muster. Jesus being so willing to humble himself is an example for us to follow. Can you show someone love so radical that it could even harm your reputation? Such would have done that in Jesus’ day because social rank was important and a person of high stature just did not wash someone’s feet. And yet, Jesus did. What does this tell us?
Here’s something else to chew on: Jesus did not give us a choice this matter. It is not optional for a Christian to love someone. Let me say that again: It is not optional for a true Christian, a committed follower, and disciple, to love others. It is a must. Jesus reinforced this by using such strong language in verse 34 when he said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” The usage of the word “commandment” gave his words all the much more authority. The Greek word that is translated “commandment” can also mean “orders.” Jesus has given us our orders and those orders from the table at the last supper are to go love as I have loved you and that is how people will know that you are my disciples. It’s not by who you vote for, by what bumper stickers you have on your car, how much of the Bible you can quote, or even by how much you pray. Jesus has said, “your orders are to love. Love is your mark, your signature stance as a Christian.”
I mentioned a few minutes ago that in the traditional church practice, today is known as Maundy Thursday. That seems like a very funny word and for a long time, I had absolutely no idea what it meant. I always thought it was just a funny name that some Pope or bishop or monk gave to this day hundreds of years ago because he must have liked that word for some reason. But, given the context of what we remember on this day in Holy Week, there is a very good reason why today is called Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum.” Let me say that word again: “mandatum.” If that word sounds a little familiar, that’s because mandatum is where we get our English word “mandatory.” Mandatory refers to something that is absolutely required, like a mandatory meeting or a mandatory assignment in school. Here’s where the Latin plays into what this day is called: It’s taken from the Latin translation of verse 34 which begins with the word “mandatum.”
James said, “Faith without works is dead.” To put it in the context of Jesus’ words in John: Faith without love is dead!
For a Christian to love is not optional, it’s not something nice to do, it’s not even just a good idea. For Christians, to love as Christ loves us is mandatory! And to make the choice to not love others for any reason is
or a Christian to love is not optional, it’s not something nice to do, it’s not even just a good idea. For Christians, to love as Christ loves us is mandatory! And to make the choice to not love others for any reason is a sin. If we have hate in our heart and we are not willing to love, then we have some problems that only repentance – asking forgiveness and turning away from the desire to hate – and embracing the mandate to love will solve.
Do you have hate towards anyone? Whether their family, people who were once friends of yours… People who are different than you… Christ requires us to love them sacrificially and intentionally. Just as Judas would be welcomed back to the table as in the story I told at the beginning, so we must welcome all people to our table, no matter what, period, full stop. If we want revival to sweep across our land, and I think we all do, then it starts with us taking this new mandatory commandment that Christ has given us seriously. We don’t have a choice. We must love. Let’s pray.