SERMON from 3-25-12: “Jesus’ Final Week: Maundy Thursday”

John 13.31-35

 

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come. ’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

Jesus’ Final Week: Maundy Thursday

 

I want to give you a glimpse into the life of a young pastor in seminary.

 

I attend United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.  It’s been in existence for over a century.  It is a United Methodist seminary, however the faculty and student body is made up of people from many faith traditions.  I have an instructor who is a Presbyterian.  The guy who taught my preaching class is a Catholic.  In that same class, I heard some of the best student preaching from a Seventh Day Adventist–one of a handful currently attaining their degrees.  His brother–also SDA–was just reunited with his wife and kids after their being trapped in the bureaucracy of a former Soviet stronghold.  And, one of the Old Testament professors is Jewish.  At United–and I assume many other seminaries–the tent is very large.

 

But it is still a United Methodist seminary supported by the United Methodist Church–to which a small portion of the tithes received by the denomination go to support.  So, thank you.  But, I digress…

 

To graduate from seminary for the purpose of becoming an Elder in the UMC, you must take a class on UM polity.  What’s that?  It’s a class that teaches you the ins and outs of the denominational structure, the Book of Discipline (our church’s law book, so to speak) and numerous other things.

 

My instructor for that class is John Fiedler, the pastor of First United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas.  He’s been around the block, and attempts to teach newbies like me “the ropes.”  His preferred method for instruction centers around skits which take place in the context of church leadership and administration.  Based upon the questions asked of us, we study the BOD and otherwise analyze the situation contained within the skit.  It seems hokey–I still think that–but it does get us studying what it means to be a leader and a United Methodist.

 

Here’s one of them:

 

“The Case of the Sensational Sending”

INT. ‐BISHOP’S OFFICE –MORNING
BISHOP THOMAS TAMDEN’S administrative assistant answers her intercom.

BISHOP
Alice, send in Rev. Davis please.

ALICE

You can go in now.

Your heart is racing. You promised yourself you wouldn’t be nervous… but you obviously are. The cabinet has been meeting every week for the past month and you are expecting an appointment.

They shake hands.

Motions to chair.

Pat sits down.

BISHOP Pat, how are you?

PAT
Pretty good, Bishop Tamden. How are you?

BISHOP
Well pretty good. We’ve been busy trying to get all the appointments done.

BISHOP
Go ahead, sit down, Pat. Sit down.

BISHOP
I wanted to meet with you today to talk to you about a missional opportunity.

PAT

Okay.
Have you ever heard of Bent Tree?

PAT Yes, sir.

BISHOP
Are you familiar with the church there?

PAT
Uh… well… isn’t that where they caught that guy uh…cheating on his wife?

BISHOP
Yes actually. Very bad business that. Bob’s in our re‐location program now helping him to find a new vocation.

PAT
Well, I’m sorry to hear about that. I knew Bob and he was pretty talented.

BISHOP
Yes, he had some talents. So what do you think?

The Bishop then just stares at Pat for about ten seconds making Pat very uncomfortable. Finally Pat cracks.

PAT
I’m sorry, Bishop. Did I miss something?

BISHOP
I said, “What do you think?”

PAT About what?

BISHOP About going to Bent Tree?

PAT
Uh… I’ve never even seen it.

BISHOP
Well trust me. It’s better than the church you’re serving now. This is a well‐ earned promotion for you.

PAT
But Bishop after the scandal they’ve had there, I would imagine that Bent Tree could be a difficult situation

(beat)
Plus… I don’t think that’s a four A school district. My oldest is in the marching band where we are. I’m not sure there would be a place for her.

BISHOP
Well, I can tell you, Pat, that the cabinet has already met and we believe that you are a good fit for Bent Tree.

PAT

Well, with all due respect, sir… I would rather stay where I am than go out to Bent Tree. I have a friend who once served that church and he said, “It’s not the end of the world but you can see it from there!”

BISHOP
You need to be careful about listening to the comments of others. I guarantee you if you will just go and love those people, they will love you in return.

PAT
But Bishop, my spouse is with BankOne. I’d like to check and make sure they have a branch there.

BISHOP What are you saying, Pat?

PAT
Only that I would like some time to talk this over with my spouse and get back to you. Can I call you tomorrow?

BISHOP
Pat, I think l owe you an apology. I seem to have given you the impression that you have a choice here ‐ that you can refuse this appointment. I want to remind you that your covenant states that you will go where you are sent …and right now the conference, the cabinet, and I need you to go to Bent Tree. Your consultation is over and your appointment is made.

(beat) Any questions?

PAT
Uh… I guess not. Thank you for your time.

 

This is not the typical process by which appointments are made in the church.  Actually, this skit was written to illustrate how not to run the appointment process.  However, it does feel like this to some people.  In fact, the appointment process is just one of things that makes the least sense to the people sitting in the pews–and causes them frustration or pain.  For example, we can ask things like this…

 

”Why did Pastor Nancy have to leave?”

 

“They have to be able to do better than Pastor John.”

 

“He’s gonna be our new pastor?  But he’s so young.”

 

The appointment process isn’t the only thing about being United Methodists–or any other denomination, for that matter–that can ruffle our feathers.  We can get frustrated by each other, right?  We say things like…

 

“How can you agree with Rob Bell and still be a Christian?”

 

“I don’t care what he said, don’t you mention John Shelby Spong to me again.”

 

“I think it was a brave thing that Amy DeLong* did.”

 

(*Amy DeLong is an elder in the UMC, who recently stood UMC trial for officiating at the wedding of a homosexual couple.  And who, herself, is an admitted lesbian.)

 

Now, everyone take a deep breath.  I am not going to take this opportunity to go on a screed about anything.  Honestly, I think those types of so-called “sermons” are more destructive than anything else.  My point is that we can get frustrated and angered at each other, even though we are all Christians–not that our frustrations are only reserved for those with whom we share a pew.

 

I mention Amy DeLong and our frustrations as Christians because it may begin to hit close to home.  In April, United Methodists from across the globe will meet in Tampa, Florida for General Conference.  This is the main governing body for the church, and it meets every four years.  Each Annual Conference sends a delegation made up of equal numbers of clergy and lay people to represent that conference.  The delegation from the Indiana Annual Conference is considering something that enjoys support elsewhere in the denomination–dividing the United Methodist Church.  Not totally based upon the issue of homosexuality, but not NOT based

 

Describing it as a family torn apart surrounding the death of grandma–from an actual Facebook post–the analogy went on to say that the two sides can continue fighting, but grandma is still dying.  The argument goes that the issues between those who do battle cannot be resolved, so it’s best to figure out how we can come to an amicable separation.

 

Just to put your mind at ease, this isn’t going to happen–not for a long time, anyway.  Basically, I bring this up to A) teach you a bit about UM polity and B) talk about just how deeply our frustrations can effect us, because they can.  Not only in the church–though it does seem as if our frustrations about the church can bring out our more passionate side–but our lives in general.  Those with who we disagree, or with whom are frustrated, are at once our friends and the object of our dissatisfaction.  Think about the last time you were in an argument with someone.  That heat that wells-up from your core and radiates throughout your body can be quite powerful.

 

That takes me back to grandma–or, actually, grandpa.  My childhood memories are full of the movies I watched, because I am a huge movie geek.  At the time, my favorite was Karate Kid II.  One of the minor plot lines in that movie is that Mr. Miyagi’s father is dying–and he must return to Okinawa, Japan to see him before he dies.  When he arrives, he sees an old friend–Sato.  However, Sato has been stewing over the fact that Mr. Miyagi–when they were still young men–stole the woman who was betrothed to him.  Mr. Miyagi fled Japan for American because of this, but he thought that time would have acted as a salve for the wounds.  It did not.

 

As they meet–and are picking up where they left off–they are called in to see the dying father.  They are fresh from an altercation that brought up all their old anger and hurt.  As he takes his last breaths, the eldest Miyagi grabs the hand of each of the men, pulls them together in an embrace, and dips his head to pass on.

 

It took me all of that to get to Jesus.  In his final week, Jesus grabs the hands of his followers and says, “love each other.”  Shortly after that, he died.

 

It sounds simplistic–and maybe it is–but truth is often just that simple.  “Love each other.”  Maybe it sounds too simplistic because we should be so used to hearing it.  It is littered throughout the ministry of Jesus–and is specifically designated by Jesus as the Greatest Commandment.  The only thing more important is our love for God.  How often do we complicate things beyond their necessity for complication.  We don’t need to make things so difficult.  “Love each other.”

 

Too often, we go off the negative end in difficult times.  We stop speaking to a friend about their bad wardrobe choices because trying to talk sense to them seems–to you–to be impossible.  I’ve learned “Heart and Soul” on the piano, but Chopin is too hard for me to even try.  My spouse and I argue so much that there’s no possible way I could love them like I used to.

 

Love is hard.  It’s hard to love a stranger, especially one you see disciplining their kids more harshly than you think you would.  It’s hard to love the coach fired for misconduct with students.  It’s hard to love another believer who doesn’t believe as obviously as I think they should.

 

Jesus announces the glory brought to him and his father, only after he enjoys his last supper with his disciples.  Though there were issues with Judas and Peter, Jesus says the meal they just shared has brought glory to them both.  What does that tell us about the importance of that communion?  Jesus was sharing a meal with those who were going to betray him, yet he said that meal–made up of all types of sinners, heretics and betrayers–brought glory to God.

 

How, then, does our continued love of those whom are difficult to love not still bring glory to God?  Why are we not more inclined to do that?  Not that we AREN’T inclined to do it, but maybe we need to be more so.

 

I realized something this week.  In fact, it was yesterday, when I was finishing this message.

 

I have always felt like I had to temper my advocacy of God’s love with the obligatory nod to the fact that the Bible also portrays God as a God of wrath.  I did that to appease those who felt that the church didn’t preach enough about wrath.  What I realized, is that God is a God of love–first and foremost–almost above everything else one can possibly imagine God being a god of.

 

Our lives as Christians, rather than being organized around appeasing a God we believe might smite us at any given moment, should be built around allowing God to transform us into the beings God desired us to be from the beginning.  Then happily and faithfully seeking God, day by day.

 

That transformation begins with and is nurtured along with love.  It’s the love which God first breathed into flesh.  It’s the love that brought God’s people out of the desert.  It’s the love that had God sending his son to earth.  It’s the love by which Jesus died upon the cross.

 

Lent can be a grueling slog through words like sin, repentance and forgiveness.  In many ways, that’s the way it should be.  But if Jesus took the opportunity–right before he would be sent to Golgotha–to tell us the glory that is brought to God by the mere command of love, shouldn’t we make that our everything?

 

Make love your everything–each and every day.

 

AMEN

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