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Love or Lose

Thursday evening we gathered for Maundy Thursday worship, the first of the Three Days of Holy Week. This is the message I shared with those who gathered at Bethel Lutheran Church, Portville, NY. The scripture text is John 13:1-17, 31b-35.

Today is Holy Thursday or as it is also called, Maundy Thursday. Maundy means commandment or mandate. Tonight, we celebrate Jesus commandment to his disciples to love each other as He loved them. Just how did Jesus love?

First of all, Jesus loved scandalously. He turned the roles of master and slave upside down as he washed his disciples’ feet. Jesus acts out for us a drama of what his followers are to be and do. 

          The washing of the feet of a guest is an issue of hospitality. It was a way of welcoming one’s guests. Normally, the guests were given a basin and towel to wash their own feet. Sometimes it was work that a household slave would do. But it certainly would not be something that would be done in the middle of a meal nor by the master of the house or a prominent teacher.

          Jesus identifies himself as the disciples’ “Lord and Teacher” (v. 14). It would not have been so unusual to a pupil to wash a teacher’s feet, but here the roles are reversed. Jesus’ action subverts the regular hierarchy of the social structure of that time. He has undermined the accepted patterns of authority of his day. Actually, Jesus has redefined authority in new and vivid images of a basin and a towel. 

          “The world demands a pecking order in which everyone knows his or her place and in which power is carefully protected” (Charles B. Cousar, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year A, 245). Jesus’ actions challenge the disciples to reject the structure of the pecking order and replace it with a community where such reversals of roles are the norm rather than the exception. 

          Jesus did not love people from a distance He got up close and personal and loved intimately. Foot washing removes the possibility of distance between Jesus and his followers and “brings them face to face with the love of God…” (Gail R. O’Day, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Volume IX, 727). 

We have a choice to make. Either we can love as Jesus loved or we can lose out. I A few days ago I heard a story about someone that had stopped going to a church she had been a part of for many years. When asked why she had changed churches, the woman replied that it had to do with the class of people that go to the church she had left. There were too many common people.

I was struck by the woman’s response, especially in light of tonight’s gospel reading. It got me thinking about the class of people Jesus spent most of his time with. His disciples were a mixture of fishermen, tax collectors and a few political freedom fighters to boot. They were not from the upper crust of society, but were decidedly blue collar or lower status workers. After all, Jesus tended to get into trouble when he spent time with the religious and social elite.

          What is Jesus telling us here at Bethel and how should we respond to our community? Jesus is telling us that our doors should be open to everyone whether they are white collar, blue collar, pink collar or whether they have a dirty collar. When we start to snub out nose at those who enter our door, then it is time to close our door. 

When we don’t love others, we become inwardly focused—being more concerned about the survival of the institution than the opportunities to love each person God brings our way. If we don’t love as Jesus loved, we cannot have Jesus’ perspective of people. 

Jesus calls his disciples and us to love as he did. But that call cannot be separated from the call to participate with Jesus as he cleanses us. Experiencing Jesus’ loving service enables us to embody such love and service to others.

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