Sermon at First Presbyterian Church Lockhart

John 13:31-35

August 8, 2010

by Cameron Allen




           In our passage of scripture this morning we find Jesus gathered with his disciples in the upper room.  It is their very last evening together.  They have already shared the bread and the cup.  Jesus has already washed each of the disciple’s feet.  One by one cleansing away grime and stench from their tired feet.  Judas of Iscariot, with clean feet, has just left the room to deliver Christ into the hands of those that will mock and beat him, and then nail him to a cross. 


So here, before the Passion of Christ, as the disciples lounge with full bellies and cleaned feet, Jesus begins to speak.  Once again he tries to tell his friends that he’s not going to be around much longer.  He will soon be crucified.     


And having warned them of his departure Jesus gives us a new commandment.  A commandment that marks the Church as Christ’s body.  He says, “love one another.”  You know if Jesus had just stopped it right there things would have been a lot easier.  The disciples could have said, “Suuuure Jesus, we love each other” and then given each other a slap on the back and gone about their business.  Maybe they could have gotten together once a year for dinner and a hug and that would be that.


But Jesus’ sharpens the commandment, he says, “love one another, just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  And so the burden of what it means to be the Church is laid upon us.  For we are called to love each other as Christ loves us. 


The significance of such great a calling, could easily be lost upon us.  Because in English we use the word love for any and everything.  I say I love my wife, I love my job, I love pumpkin pancakes, I love Prairie Home Companion. It just goes on and on, until love loses all its meaning. 


But the love or agape of Christ is impossible to misconstrue because we see it page after page of the gospels.  We see the love of Christ when he heals the sick, When he advocates for the poor and the imprisoned. When he calls Zacchaeus, a man that has spent his life stealing from his neighbors, a man no one can stand, much less love, and Jesus… calls him out of the tree and claims him as his own.  We see agape love when Jesus’ life is threatened again and again and yet he chooses peace.  And most of all we see the love of Christ in the cross:  When Christ gave his life for our sake, so that we might have life abundantly and eternally.  This is the love Christ commands in our text today: It’s total regard for the other.


And so after Jesus has given the new commandment, you would think the room went absolutely silent, as the disciples tried to comprehend the consequences of Jesus’ words.  But good ol Peter pipes up, and says, “So Jesus, where are you going again?”  You know, I love Peter’s response, it’s classic, he just doesn’t get what Jesus is saying.  He completely ignores the new commandment. I imagine that even Jesus might have rolled his eyes at Peter. 


Or maybe we are wrong?  Maybe Peter knows exactly what’s going on.  Maybe, just maybe Peter understands that the new commandment is completely tied to where Jesus is going.  So where is Jesus going?  Does agape love lead to fame and fortune?  To power and luxury? 


No it doesn’t, because unlike Peter we know how the story ends.  We know that Christ’s love leads to a road that goes outside of Jerusalem to a hill they called Golgotha.  Christ’s love leads to Calvary.  But thankfully, we know that our story doesn’t end on that hill, or even in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea, but ends in Christ’s victory on Easter morning.


But Jesus, never one to spoil the ending of a good story, avoids Peter’s question.  Jesus replies, “Peter, where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow me later.”  And it is in Peter’s reply that we know that Peter gets what Jesus is talking about.  Listen to Peter’s words in verse 37.   “Lord, why can I not follow you?  I will lay down my life for you.”  You see, Peter understands that the commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us necessarily leads us to giving away our life for something bigger than ourselves.  It leads to giving our lives over to God.


But Jesus, who knows Peter so well, who knows us so well, says, “Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”  And we are left standing with Peter, knowing that in our human sinfulness, we continually fall short of Christ’s commandment. 


 This story is one of the reasons I like the gospel of John so much.  Because we commanded by Jesus to love one another as Christ loves us.  And we know that means taking up the cross.  Yet this story is flanked by two stories about how we continually get it wrong.  Preceding this story we have Judas, betraying Jesus over to the authorities.  And directly following the new commandment story we have Peter denying Jesus. 


Isn’t that where we often find ourselves… Either betraying or denying the agape love of Christ?  You see, we betray Christ when seek our comfort and safety at the expense of others.  When we participate in systems of violence and oppression in order to create our own salvation.  So often we find ourselves in the cleaned feet of Judas, running to the world.


And other times we are more like Peter; denying that the love of Christ is relevant to the world, to politics or economics.  We tell ourselves that our faith is only for that upper room when we are surrounded by the disciples.  So we deny the Lordship of Christ and compartmentalize our faith to Sunday mornings. 


The good news of the gospel is that even though we continually betray and deny that agape love, Christ still claims us in our baptism.  Christ still loves us, no matter how much we sin.  And Christ still commands us: to love one another as he loves us.


You see our sinfulness doesn’t get us off the hook.  The new commandment stands whether we like it our not.  Christ is here calling us to love.  Calling us to give our lives away to his purpose.  But this does not mean we will be perfect.  We must have realistic expectations.  We won’t save the world or usher in the kingdom of God.  We will often fail.  We will get mad at one another.  However, we can be assured that through all of this Christ is with us.


It’s important to remember that Jesus does not direct his new commandment at only Peter, or at only the pastors, or only the session.  It is a commandment for the entire Church.  To love one another necessarily places us within community.  It draws us together.  And this is a good thing, because it is in community that we can wrestle with how best to be a faithful church.  To be a Church that shows the world what it is to live in love, and peace, and faith.