Perspective - Maundy Thursday 2023
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Perspective – 04.06.2023
[Psalm 116:1-19 and John 13:31b-35]
There’s another story about a man who lived in Budapest, and he went to see a Priest. He said, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?” The priest answered, “Go buy a goat, and keep it in the room with you.” The man was baffled, but the priest insisted. “Do as I say, and come back in a week.” A week later the man came back looking even worse than before. He said, “We can’t stand it, that goat is filthy to keep in the room with us.” The priest then told him, “Go home and let the goat out, leave it outside, come back next week.” A week later the man came around the corner with a big ol’ smile on his face. “Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat – only the nine of us.” Tonight I want to take a few moments to search the scriptures and talk about perspective. See most of us here tonight, we know the story. Jesus came, he was born to the virgin Mary (we celebrate that at Christmas), he lived, he died, and in a couple days he rose again (which is what we celebrate at Easter). Did you know that the two highest attended services in most churches are Christmas and Easter? People love to celebrate the beginning and the end of the story. But you are here tonight for the rest of the story. Truth is the ending loses its power, loses its meaning without all the stuff in the middle. We are here to set the stage, to tell the rest of the story. To get a little perspective.
We get started in our scripture lesson that comes from Psalm, and I know it’s longer than our usual scripture reading, but what we find is a blueprint for salvation. This text outlines our response to the grace of God. [read v.3-4]. This is the start of our story. This is the darkness, and it’s written in vague detail on purpose. This is a cry that is universal to the human condition. No matter what stage of life you happen to be in now, we have all experienced distress and anguish at one point or another. There are peaks and valleys to every life, and when we are down there – when we are in the midst of the darkness and the valleys and things are falling apart and things are not going well, sometimes it feels like it will never end. Even though we know God is good and that the darkness in life will end, and that there is still light in the world – it is so easy to forget the promises of God and slip into complete despair. But then we read [read v.5-7]. And it keeps going [read 8-9]. This is the moment of redemption. The light breaks through and we suddenly remember all the promises God has given us. Or maybe we are hearing about them for the very first time. We look back at the valley we were just in and it seems a bit silly, how much we worried, now that we are out of the pit, and we walk in the sunlight, perfect and untouched, if even just for a moment. And then we come to verse 12 [read12-14]. When we find out about God’s salvation, about the gift of grace that is available to us. Forgiveness from the almighty – restoration , a second chance, a new life. After the darkness comes our response. What shall I offer the Lord for all he has done for me? Verse 13 talks about lifting the cup of salvation and calling on God’s name. Think about that visual for a second - when I think of lifting a cup and calling on a name – it reminds me of a toast at a wedding. Where we honor someone, or celebrate them. I think that’s the visual we’re supposed to have. We raise a glass to honor what God did for us. Celebrate and recognize God’s place in our life. And this is our blueprint. There is a moment in every life when we look around and wonder if this is all there is. Is the way of the world the only way? All the lies, broken relationships, greed, mistrust, betrayal that we have gone through. We hear about political strife and indictments, we watch school shootings and international wars on TV. We deal with bank failures and bail-outs. We watch our children struggle to develop basic interpersonal skills, and struggle with emotional fragility because the primary form of communication involves a keyboard. Every day that goes by we try desperately to convince ourselves that we are the epitome of progress, that as a society we are better now than we have ever been before, all while nursing the secret fear that our society as a whole has been slowly circling the drain for some time now. I don’t have to go on. I don’t have to convince you of the darkness of the world. And then we hear about the promises of God. That moment when we realize that this garbage the world offers is not the only option in front of us. There is a better way, there is a savior who calls us home. He calls us to lay down the burdens of the world and follow him. And then we respond. We are grateful and we honor the name of God, raise a glass for all he has done. It says, I will pay my vows to the Lord.
And so we switch over to our scripture lesson in John to look closer at our response to God’s forgiveness. Now, personally, I thought these verses were very confusing, I thought the wording was hard to understanding - so let’s try to walk through them slowly. [read verse 31]. So, there’s something coming in Jesus’ life, and it will bring glory to God. Of course, we all know what’s coming tomorrow - Jesus is about to die. So the glory he’s talking about is his death. His sacrifice, his way of loving - that’s the glory he’s headed towards. And that sacrifice will bring glory to God. People will look at what Jesus is about to do, and they will say, “Wow, God is a really amazing God.” Now let me ask you a question. Do people look at the way you live your life, at your Christian behavior and think, “wow, God is a really amazing God”? Does our life glorify God’s name? But it keeps going, [read verse 34-35]. I just have one question – why does Jesus say “new”? Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment – that you love one another.” How is that new? They’ve been talking about loving God and loving neighbors for hundreds of years, all the way back in Leviticus – that shows up, so what is new about this? The old line is “love the Lord Your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” But Jesus says, in verse 34 [read it]. There it is. Just as I have loved you. The key difference here is that Jesus sets himself up as the example. Love as I have loved. So the next question is – what does that mean? What does that look like?
Probably the most common thing I say from the pulpit is the phrase, “God loves you.” And I mean it, God really does love you – but what does that look like? What did that take? If we’re going to love like Jesus’ loved, we’re going to need to look closely at what he did. What did he go through? Let’s just start with Maundy Thursday and go from there. Set the stage, imagine this with me. 12 disciples and Jesus, getting ready for a festival meal, getting ready for the Passover. And the disciples start arguing over who is the best, who is the most important disciple. So Jesus takes his robe off and puts on the robe of a slave, gets down on his hands and knees and washes the disciple’s feet – mud and filth flows off their dirty feet and into the bowl. Then they sit down to eat, and he looks around the table, and starts talking about sacrifice - talks about giving up his body and blood for the sins of the world, so that we could be washed clean – using the food on the table to help them remember what he is about to do. Then he and his friends get up from the table and go to the garden. Jesus goes to pray, he knows what is coming tomorrow – the shadow of the cross has fallen on his heart. He asks his friends to support him, to stay awake while he goes to pray. And he goes off by himself and begins to pray, and he is just so overcome with the task in front of him. He knows what he has to do, but he begs God for another way. He starts to sweat, and he says Take this cup from me, please take this cup from me” but He stays obedient, “Your will, not mine.” He is so stressed and upset and overcome that his sweat becomes like drops of blood. And after he finishes praying, he goes to find the disciples have fallen asleep. Exhausted from their sorrow – they could not stay awake to comfort Jesus on the worst night of his life. Then Judas shows up. A friend, who has travelled with Jesus every day for years – a brother. He kisses Jesus on the cheek and then the soldiers come. One disciple tries to defend Jesus half-heartedly, the rest scatter like a flock of spooked chickens. His greatest friends in all the world abandon him. The soldiers beat him, blindfold him, mock him, spit on him, question him, they twist a length of thorns into a circle, and place it on his head like a crown. The thorns digging into his scalp, more blood, more pain. There’s more to the story, but every time we tell it, it ends the same way. With this innocent man nailed to the cross. What’s crazy is that he’s innocent, he didn’t do anything wrong. What’s really crazy is that he stays on that cross voluntarily. He goes through this entire exercise, willingly. All the power of the almighty God in heaven at his fingertips and he chooses to stay on that cross. It was not nails that kept him up there, it was because he loved you. Our names, our sins, our brokenness is what kept him on that cross. If we hadn’t sinned, if we had lived a perfect life – we wouldn’t have needed saving. We didn’t deserve saving. But Christ died while we were still sinners – that proves his love for us. He saw things through to the end, for you – to redeem the sins of the world, so that you could have a second chance. So that God could be both full of justice and full of forgiveness. Do you begin to see what I mean when I say God loves you? Do you begin to see what it took for you to be redeemed? The price Jesus paid for your life? We may not like to dwell on the details, but this story shows just how far God is willing to go to save his children. It’s easy to use metaphors to talk about light driving out the darkness. But do you see the cost of that darkness? Do you see the depth of God’s love for you?
The realization of how far God is willing to go for love should help us to realize the value of those who do not yet know Jesus. When I say that God loves you, and we think back over all the pieces of what that simple phrase actually means – the betrayal, stress, loss, torture, death of Jesus Christ – all done with love in his heart. Do you realize how valuable that makes you? They say that something is worth only as much as someone is willing to pay for it. The omnipotent, omniscient, all powerful God stepped out of heaven and suffered for you. God suffered for you – because of how much he loves you. You have been bought with a price. This price. [take the paint and smear it on the cross]. The blood of Jesus was offered as payment for the sins of the entire world. And it’s not just you and me. It’s the entire world. This incredible gift of forgiveness, this path out of the darkness is offered to every single human being who is alive. So, it shows not just how valuable you are, but also how valuable they are as well. There are many rooms in God’s house. There’s room for all the broken to be healed, for the betrayed to find trust, for the abandoned to find love. God offers the world this good news. I think you know what comes next.
Jesus says, I give you a new commandment. Love one another, as I have loved you. We must love as Jesus loved. Three pieces to this. First, if your love costs nothing, then it accomplishes nothing. You cannot love from a distance. Sending down blessings from heaven wasn’t enough, Jesus came into our world. He met with people, he ate with sinners. When’s the last time you ate with sinners? I mean, yeah – we’re all sinners. But when’s the last time you sat down with someone who was living a way you knew was wrong and tried to speak the truth with love into their life. Heard their story, tried to understand where they are coming from and where they are heading. Tried to show them that they are loved and that there is a better path to follow. When was the last time you invested in the broken people around you? If your love costs nothing, it accomplishes nothing. Second, to love as Jesus loved we have to remember that God suffered for us. So we need to suffer for those around us. Now, obviously, we don’t have to deal with the physical pain or death – but our world is filled with an entirely different sort of suffering. It’s called vulnerability. It’s called social awkwardness. We are more connected than ever, and yet there has never been more space between humans in history. Some of us are introverts, some of us are uncomfortable bringing up certain topics. For some, the idea of asking about a sensitive area in someone’s life is worse than actual physical torture. The idea of going up to someone and saying, “Hey, how’s everything with your marriage?” Or “Hey, how are you really doing?” – that idea scares the snot of us. But Jesus suffered for us, and he shows us how valuable humanity is to the creator in heaven, and so we must push through the pain and fear and reach out to love those around us.
Finally, the third piece to loving as Jesus loved is that it needs to be visible and obvious. Verse 35 tells us [read it]. There’s an old story about King Frederick William III of Prussia. He had been fighting a few wars while trying to build a country and it had been extremely costly, so he was seriously short on finances. So he decided to ask the women of Prussia to bring their jewelry of gold and silver to be melted down for their country. For each piece received, he gave a decoration of iron that was inscribed, “I gave gold for iron, 1813” The response was overwhelming, and the women prized their gifts of iron from the king more highly than their former jewelry. The decorations became proof that they had sacrificed for their king. In fact, it was so common that it became unfashionable to wear jewelry – because it meant you didn’t turn it in. Imagine if it was so obvious who the Christians were in a culture – because it was so obvious from the way they loved. We don’t have to brag, or shove it in people’s faces – but just from the way we carry ourselves in our culture – we love as Jesus loved.
What we find in most situations is that perception is everything. You live with a goat for a week, suddenly 9 people in a room doesn’t seem so bad. When we see what Jesus did for us, the task in front of us doesn’t seem so bad. God suffered for us, because God loves you. This is our perspective. If ever the idea of loving the people around you seems too hard, or if living life according to the guidelines of scripture seems too inconvenient – I want you to remember what kept him on that cross. Your name kept him on that cross. Jesus is the son of God, with all the authority and power of the angels at his command. He could have stepped off that cross and into glory at any moment, but he stayed for you. He suffered for you. He died for you. So what I’d like to do now, to end the sermon – I want to invite you to put your name on this cross. There’s paper and pencils and nails here, and paint here. You can put your fingerprint, your name, or just a smear. Remember what Jesus did for you, keep that perspective in mind. Amen.