Thursday, April 05, 2012

Sermon: John 13:1-38 Love one another

Throughout this week, we’ve been listening as the Saviour speaks in those last days of that first Holy Week. We heard as Jesus described his death - the hour has come; how Jesus declares that he is the way to God; and as Jesus gives instructions to the disciples on how to follow him when Jesus is no longer with us physically on earth. Last night, we looked at the instruction to ‘abide in me.’

Tonight we come back to John 13, to the upper room, where Jesus gives the new commandment: love one another. We find that in verse 34. Jesus tells his disciples - and therefore tells us - to love one another.

This isn’t just the under pressure mum (or dad) in the supermarket with the kids having a tantrum and fighting in the middle of the shop - an angry behave! Nor is it left to us to work out what Jesus means. Rather, the events in that upper room on that first Maundy Thursday evening were so shocking, so surprising, that the meaning is crystal clear.

You see, Jesus goes on in verse 34 to ground our love in his: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ So let’s look at how Jesus has loved the disciples, which is the basis for our love for one another.

As we’ve seen throughout this week, the disciples didn’t know about what was going to happen. The arrest and crucifixion of Jesus was a shock - even though Jesus had told them in advance. But Jesus knows - he knows that his hour has come to go to the Father (via the cross); he also knows that the Father has given him all things. And so, on his last night on earth, Jesus loves his own to the end. Another version says that he showed them the full extent of his love.

It appears that there was just Jesus and the twelve disciples in this upper room. And one very important custom had been neglected. Just as we would make sure to wash our hands before a meal, in these days it was important to wash your feet. With sandals on your feet, and dusty roads, not to mention animal droppings, the feet quickly got dirty, mucky. Hospitality involved having your feet washed - this was done by the lowest slave; after all, it was a dirty, disgusting job.

They’ve started the meal, though, and their feet are unwashed. We’re told in other gospels that the disciples had an argument about which of them was the greatest - or in other words, I’m too important and grand to be doing the dirty job of washing feet. Their importance knew no bounds.

At that very moment, Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his robe, and ties a towel around him. Taking on the role and place of a servant, a slave. Jesus washes their feet. Jesus does the dirty job that no one else wanted to do. There’s a stunned silence, except for the splash of the water.

Then Peter protests: ‘Lord, as you going to wash my feet?’ ‘You will never wash my feet.’ He is outraged at what is happening, but Jesus explains that it must be so - Peter must be served by Jesus, in order to be with him. Peter then characteristically swings the other way, and wants his head and hands washed as well! But Jesus says that when you have been washed, made clean, then you only need to have your feet washed. [As we come to Jesus, we are made clean, but we still continue to sin, and need to be cleansed of those things, forgiven our ongoing sin as we battle against it]

After the action, Jesus gives the explanation. ‘You call me Teacher and Lord - and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also out to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’

Jesus loves the disciples by serving them - in washing their feet, and in dying on the cross for them. If this is what the Lord has done, then he calls us to follow him, by loving one another by serving one another. It’s the put the other person’s needs and preferences ahead of your own; to give yourself for them; to put yourself out for them. It’s not just in the action of washing feet, though, it’s in lots of different ways, as we demonstrate our love, not just saying that we love.

And it’s not just loving the lovely; doing things for the people we like - it’s loving the unlovely too; giving ourselves for the lowest and the least and the lost. The whole way through the chapter there are reminders of just who it is Jesus is pouring out his love for - Judas, the one who has already decided to betray Jesus (just as Scripture has predicted, led astray by the devil); Peter, who despite his claims of bravado will deny Jesus three times - at the questions of servant girls; and the other ten who were unsure if it was going to be them who betrayed Jesus; who will also flee as Jesus is arrested. It’s this ragtag bunch of failures that Jesus loves and serves - people just like us.

As we reflect on our Christian life, we’re no better than the disciples. We too can be inflated by our own sense of self-importance; that those menial jobs are beneath us; we fail the Lord in so many ways; we flee from him, ashamed to be known as a Christian; we seek our welfare and good and ignore the needs of others.

The Lord Jesus demonstrates his love for us as he takes on the place of the servant, as he took off, not just his outer robe but his glorious splendour; as he took the form of a servant; as he loved and served by giving his life and dying for us - even the death of a cross!

As we receive his love, Jesus calls us to take up the towel, to follow his example, to give yourself in love and service. In this way, Jesus says, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.’ The watching world will see and be struck by the demonstration of love within the church, among Christians - real, genuine love expressed as we serve each other. As we welcome visitors, as they struck by our love? Do they see the Saviour as we serve?

This call to love one another isn’t just a suggestion; it isn’t something you might want to get around to doing eventually if you ever have a spare moment or two; this is a new commandment - what Jesus commands. It’s not optional, it’s compulsory - which means that we are either obeying the Lord, or disobeying his command.

May God give each of us the grace to give, and love, and serve as we follow the example of the Master, who loved us so much that he gave up everything for us.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

This sermon was preached at the Maundy Thursday service in Holy Week in Aghavea Parish Church on Thursday 5th April 2012.

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