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Sermon for May 15, 2022 – Fifth Sunday in Easter

Speaking Of Life 4025 | No One Special, Just Chosen

Differences often become excuses for us to exclude and separate. We even do this unconsciously, based on someone’s appearance, language, or outfit. This Easter season, let us be reminded that Jesus invites us into his kingdom, no matter our differences. He came to restore all of humanity with his love and peace!

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 4025 | No One Special, Just Chosen
Cara Garrity

“Circle, circle, dot, dot, now I got my cootie shot. Circle, circle, square square, now I got them everywhere.” Is a common playground rhyme chanted to tease or exclude another kid.

As humans, it is easy for us to focus on what makes us different, or ostracize a person or group to create an in-crowd. We see a situation like this occur in the life of the early church, about how to welcome Gentiles—non-Jewish people—into the community of faith. This conversation seems especially foreign to us—a mostly Gentile audience, centuries removed. We must keep in mind that for generations keeping the law was the marker of the faithfulness of God’s chosen people of Israel. A big part of that law included dietary restrictions.

So Peter’s strange dream in Acts 11 tells us that God is doing something new:

I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me,
‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’
Acts 11:5-7 (ESV)

According to Jewish law and custom, the animals in Peter’s dream were considered unclean. Anything “unclean” was considered contagious and invoked experiences of separation from God and others. It was one thing that separated Jews from Gentiles. The invitation to Peter to rise, kill, and eat was an invitation to break down that separation and participate in a new way of being God’s people.

This was a revolutionary statement that wholeness and redemption are found in Jesus alone, not by external laws and customs. Inclusion of Gentile Christians then, was not conditional upon adopting the practices of Jewish law and custom but upon Christ. God’s chosen people were no longer marked by custom but by faith.

Sadly, we the Church, still lean toward separation as we struggle with questions of chosenness and inclusion. We sometimes rely upon a behavior or external indicator to prove our worth as a follower of Jesus. Or we use our understanding of normative Christian customs as criteria to dismiss or exclude someone else. This negates the inclusive message God gave to Peter. All are included and invited to participate in what God is doing – bringing many sons and daughters to glory.

This Easter season as we celebrate the newness of life found in our resurrected King, I invite you to participate in a new way of being God’s people. A new way that relies on Jesus alone as proof of our chosenness. A new way of radical inclusion in Christ. In Jesus, we are reconciled to God and one another, not by custom, but by his broken body raised to glorious life again.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 148:1-14 • Acts 11:1-18 • Revelation 21:1-6 • John 13:31-35

Our theme for this week is all hail King Jesus. Our call to worship Psalm gives us a picture of every creature – from those in the fathomless depths to those sitting on thrones – bowing the knee to the true King. Acts 11 gives us the story of the gospel going from the Hebrew people into all the world, exactly according to plan. Revelation 21 shows us the final picture of the New Jerusalem—the new heavens and earth—where Jesus reigns forever. Our sermon comes from John 13, where King Jesus shares with us the secret to living like his royal family: Love.

Jesus, A Candid Shot

John 13:31-35 ESV

Read, or have someone read John 13:31-35 ESV.

Muhammad Ali standing in triumph over Sonny Liston. Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out for the camera. Jackie Onassis standing regal in black next to her son as he saluted at JFK’s funeral.

These are some of the most famous pictures in recent history. They don’t just portray a person; they encapsulate a moment. These candid shots capture the personality, the ethos of the person by getting the context just right for just the right moment.

Ali’s braggadocio and twentieth century optimism. Einstein’s mad genius. Jackie’s proud stylishness even in her most tragic moment. Theses photographs capture who they are.

There are many moments like this in the life of Jesus, but one of the most poignant takes place in John 13. The opening of the chapter sets the scene:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. (John 13:1-4 ESV)

In this verbal crescendo so many things come together: Jesus’ death, Judas’s betrayal, and the enthronement of Christ. And the Lord’s reaction in this quantum moment is to wash feet. This act was the work of a slave, considered one of the lowliest duties.

In that culture, slaves were a common sight. They were part of daily life. They weren’t particularly loved or hated—they were just necessary. They were treated, for the most part, with consistent disregard. Slaves were essentially appliances.

And this is what Jesus chooses to do. This is the picture—like the boxer, the genius, the President’s wife—that encapsulates who he is.

Let’s look at this famous moment and see what we can learn:

  • The example
  • The command
  • The indicator

The example

On a spring day in 1981, a mentally disturbed young man attempted to assassinate then Pope John Paul II. He shot the Pope four times, with each bullet making contact, and the pontiff was critically wounded. The Pope made a slow but full recovery. Two years later, he visited the young man in prison to forgive him in a private conversation. One of the most famous pictures of his ministry was taken of him gently talking with his would-be killer. That’s the heart of someone who understands forgiveness, who learned from Jesus’ example here in John’s gospel and elsewhere.

To really explore the depths of John 13, we need to pay attention to the sequence of events. The disciples come together for the Passover meal. They eat together. Jesus gets up to wash feet and has the famous conversation with Peter, addressing the fisherman’s trademark enthusiasm.

Jesus then finishes the slave’s work of washing feet and reclines back at the table. It’s shortly after this that he dismisses Judas to do his dark work, and the narrative goes on.

Let’s pause right there – it’s easy to ignore that detail. Jesus washed Judas’s feet! Knowing what he was just about to do, knowing that Satan would enter Judas momentarily. Jesus knew this and didn’t hesitate for a moment to wash Judas’s feet. Those feet might have still been damp when Judas left to betray him.

Pull even further back, and you see how people sat at the table. Famously, John sat next to Jesus and rested his head on Jesus’ chest at the end of the meal. This would have been a common placement for a guest of honor at a meal. But look how Jesus signifies that Judas will be the one to betray him:

Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. (John 13:26 ESV)

Why was Judas right there to receive the morsel of bread? Because Judas was seated right next to Jesus! Whether he was placed there by someone else or took the place himself, we don’t know. But Jesus shared the table—right next to him—with the man he knew would betray him.

This is the example. This is that candid shot of who Jesus is: sharing a dish with his betrayer, washing the traitor’s feet. Jesus shares that example before he starts commenting on it at all. He speaks to the disoriented, uncomfortable disciples to say: “This. This right here. What I just did, this is what the kingdom is like.”

Then John punctuates this scene with his characteristic use of light and dark in describing Judas:

So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13:30 NRSV)

The command

“A new commandment I give you…” (John 13:34)

And with these words, Jesus unlocks all of human history and human potential. This is the hinge it all hangs upon: love, even before you are loved. Love, even when you don’t receive payment or reward, even when your love is unrequited. Love because loving is its own reward. Love for its own sake, just like Jesus did in washing feet, even those of Judas.

In the culture of the time, there was a steady exchange of honor. I honor you by getting you a gift, you honor me by getting me a gift. I honor you by showing you hospitality, and my honor profile is raised in the community, which means status and better connections and networking. There was a strong cultural exchange of quid pro quo.

And we see the same in our society as well. Giving gifts with the expectation of getting something back. Networking to make connections that will pay off in the future. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. Yet in ancient times and in our own, we all know there is something more. There is something better about giving freely, something that brings us joy and meaning and lightness of heart. Even when there’s no one there to applaud the action, we know that selfless giving brings us some of our greatest joy.

Jesus articulated what that “something more” is all about. He made sense of the human journey and the very human urge to give and told us: That’s the key. Giving before we are given to, participating in generosity: these urges to give are the only reason that humanity has survived, and they are the key to humanity thriving.

CS Lewis articulates it vividly:

Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside. The following Him is, of course, the essential point. (Lewis, the Weight of Glory)

To know Jesus, to follow the servant’s way of Jesus, is to walk through that cleft in the “pitiless walls of the world.” Instead of dog-eat-dog, instead of the brutal cycle of seeking and losing status, we’re invited to follow the Lord who scrubbed toes, who took the posture of dishonor because he knew it was his greatest glory. We’re called to be truly free to love.

The great irony of Jesus’ enthronement begins. The language and detail of Jesus’ crucifixion the next day portray his passion as his enthronement. He is given a purple robe (Mark 15); he is given a reed in his hand in a cruel imitation of a scepter (Matthew 27); and he is coronated with a crown of thorns. When this king is exalted, he is “lifted up” (John 12) onto the rough wood of a cross.

Jesus calls us along this royal path. He calls us not simply to love our neighbors as ourselves, but to love as he loves––without expectation, without caveat, without condition.

The indicator

Think about who is in the room when Jesus speaks these words:

  • Peter – a leather-neck hot-head
  • Simon the Zealot – a terrorist who fought Rome with violence
  • Matthew – a tax collector who made his money by selling out to Rome
  • Thomas – a self-protective skeptic
  • John–A young follower of John the Baptist who was likely half revolutionary and half confused mystic.

And several others who were all over the map in terms of loyalties, backgrounds, and character. These are the people to whom Jesus gives his great commandment and gives a workshop on how the commandment is to be lived out in daily life. He then gives the primary indicator of the people who follow Jesus:

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 ESV)

Jesus started with an intensely divided group to show what Christian unity would eventually look like. We have biblical records of infighting and one-upmanship in the ranks of the apostles, but Jesus knew this, and still chose them. He then gave them this dubious indicator of his presence: If you love each other, they’ll know you belong to me.

Two great theologians, John Wesley and George Whitefield, were huge influences in England’s Evangelical Revival in the 1700s. In a time without internet, television, or much media to speak of at all, these renowned orators would have been some of the biggest pop stars around. And these two were famous theological rivals. They wrote against each other and spoke against each other, holding differing views within the same faith. Their disagreement was as famous as their reputations.

At one point, one of Whitefield’s followers ventured the question, “We won’t see Wesley in heaven, will we?”
Whitefield replied, “No.”
The man then conjectured, “So you don’t think Wesley knows Jesus?”
Whitefield declared, “No! He will be so close to the throne of God and we so far away that we won’t be able to see him from where we sit!”

Years later, when Whitefield died, he requested that Wesley himself would speak at the funeral. So, great disagreement fomented between these two men, great differences in the theological details of their understanding of faith, but also great love.

That’s the indicator. That’s our first and last witness to the hope that is within us: love. For Jesus to bring together his group of twelve, and for us still to hold fellowship as the 2.5 billion Christ-followers in the world today, is the primary indicator that we are his disciples. Think of the love that works in a complicated relationship like that of Wesley and Whitefield, or those of differing political opinions, social classes, racial backgrounds, economic levels—this is the other-worldly love that Jesus is talking about, and it transforms everything it touches.

So, let’s look at what happened in that moment, in the upper room, over a clay basin of water, centuries ago:

The example – Judas’s feet were washed clean when he left to betray Jesus. Our Lord took the posture of a servant, even to his betrayer as an example of what his kingdom looks like. Where can we take the posture of a servant in our daily lives? Where can we take it as a church in our community?

The commandment – Jesus unlocks the key to the surviving and thriving of humanity: Loving, while expecting nothing in return. The only way our race will survive is if we learn to give and love without expecting to have our back scratched in return. To do this is the way of Jesus, and the secret to true freedom. Do we love first? Do we preemptively love others?

The indicator – “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” the old song goes. Wesley and Whitefield show us that even before we can have our theology hammered out to the last detail, we can still share love. The apostles – very different men from radically diverse backgrounds – eventually served, and some even died alongside each other because they had Christ’s world-stopping, self-sacrificial love for each other. How can we experience this harmony? How can we be an agent of healing in our church family?

The great theologian Francis Shaeffer called love and unity the “final apologetic.” We can argue the logic of the Christian story with eloquence and undeniable force, but the “final apologetic” that brings people to faith is not clever presentation; it is love.

This year’s theme in Grace Communion International is “Compelled by love.” His love compels us to listen to others, to honor each other’s opinions, to respect each other’s differences, to look at others as beloved children of God. His love compels us to reach out to neighbors and friends and share God’s love and life with them, telling them that they already belong to God, and we want them to know the one they belong to. We are compelled by love, because otherwise, as Paul said, and it still rings true, “If we have not love, we are nothing.”

Resurrection Fish Fry w/ Jeff McSwain W3

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May 15 – 5th Sunday of Easter
John 13:31-35 “The New Commandment”

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Program Transcript

Resurrection Fish Fry w/ Jeff McSwain W3

Anthony: Our next passage is John 13:31 – 35. It’s the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the 5th Sunday of Easter on May the 15th. And it reads:

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.” [NRSV]

Jesus didn’t say, you will know my disciples by their influence. He didn’t say, you will know my disciples by their pious stands and culture wars. He didn’t say, you’ll know my disciples by their admiration and use of strength in geopolitical scenes. Jesus said, you will know my disciples if they love one another.

Jeff, what do you want to say about this?

Jeff: Let’s start out with just the premise again: the Lord loves us, and we love the Lord. That’s the ontology of it. It also means that we love our neighbors, one to another. That love is also the ontology of it.

And all reconciliation then has to happen from reconciliation. It’s not a hypothetical. We start with reconciliation to move towards reconciliation. And so, when it comes to this idea of loving God and loving one another, we can start with that.

Jesus says later in John 15, that he dies for his friends. And in Romans 5, Paul talks about the fact Christ died for us while we were sinners and while we were enemies. So, are we friends or are we enemies of God? It says he dies for his friends. Another place says he dies for his enemies. Yes, doggone-it! He died for his friends because they turned into enemies, but they never have stopped being his friends.

And in this world, we’re enemies with one another in many ways. White people have been the enemy of black people in America. Full stop. And you wouldn’t blame any person of color for not trusting a white person in what they say or do. You wouldn’t blame them. Any time there’s a mutual relationship attested by both sides of friendship, then that’s the created and redeemed order manifesting.

But we have to also call out the many, many ways (macro and micro strands of the red) that we see that have kept us from that love that we have from one another and have destroyed a lot of—have been antithetical and anti-Christ actions and need to be repented and confessed in such a way that more of the indicative truth, the ontological truth of who we are in Christ, who we are with one another, can be manifested in this world in a way that brings hope and healing and can be the balm of Gilead on the wounds of so many that have been wounded by the “us versus them” economy of evil.

Anthony: Amen and amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon:

  • Can you think a candid shot (in news or movies or other media) that captured the essence of a person?
  • What do you think of Jesus’ relationship with Judas, especially in that last night? Even though Jesus knew he would end up the way he did, Jesus chose him. Why?
  • Talk about yourself for a minute. If someone was to take a candid shot that would encapsulate the best of you, what would you be doing?
  • We don’t have slaves in most of the world today. In our time, what’s the equivalent of washing feet? How do we serve in this way?

Questions for Speaking of Life

  • We talked about how the story of redemption—from the giving of the law to the resurrection of Jesus—is all one story. No mistakes, one grand narrative. Have you thought of it that way before? Is that a helpful perspective?
  • God’s people are marked out by faith and love, rather than customs and traditions. Are those things—faith and love—more difficult to practice than keeping certain customs?
  • Do you think of yourself as part of Jesus’ grand narrative of faith? How might that change our perspective?

Quote to ponder:

“Our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe or it does not fit into the structure or the verses in John 13 and John 17. And if the world does not observe this among true Christians, the world has a right to make two awful judgments which these verses indicate: that we are not Christians and that Christ was not sent by the Father.” ~Francis Schaefer, American theologian

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