Maundy Thursday Sermon on Loving One Another and Why That Can Sting

2014 Maundy Thurs NBW Hfass Podcast – 41814, 8.06 AM<—-click here to listen along.

In our Gospel reading for today, which, oddly, you will hear AFTER the sermon, Jesus had his final meal, his last supper with his friends, then he washed their feet and said Little children, I am with you only a little longer. I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

So, I’ve been tempted all week to start this sermon, my last before leaving for sabbatical, by saying “Little children, I am with you only a little longer”.

At first I kind of laughed when I read that verse thinking how ironic…but then it started make me a little sad.

Because while I am excited and totally ready for this sabbatical, and while I feel totally confident that House for All Sinners and Saints is not going to fall apart without me, and while I totally trust Pastor Brian and the Housekeepers and all of you as leaders, there is something that will be hard for me about being away. Of course I will miss the liturgy here, the singing, the retreat, the blessing of the bicycles etc.  But honestly, what I will miss most is seeing your faces. Because I love you. I do. It’s kinda weird, actually.

This is what I told a friend recently – that it feels weird that I would love all the people here so much – not because you aren’t awesome, but because I don’t feel like I have the right size heart for that kind of thing. It’s like the geometry of it doesn’t add up. And yet, I still love you.  But it’s not because I have decided to love you, or because I have just tried really hard, or because I figured out how to be an awesome, loving disciple. No, its more as though God has done that Grinch thing with my heart making it bigger and bigger, not so that I will be some super-duper awesome Christian but because God desires for God’s people to be loved by their pastor.

I used to think that being a naturally loving forgiving grace-filled person was a pre-requisite for being Jesus’ disciples. Now I think it is the result of being Jesus’ disciples.  I have seen over and over again the ways in which encountering the disruptive love and grace of Jesus creates in us the ability to love one another.

Not that loving one another is easy. But the love Jesus commands us to share is not greeting card love. It is Agape Love. (which I’ll get to in a minute) Agape one another, Jesus said.  Not try and manage a deep fondness for the irritating.   Not try and create warm feelings toward the unlikable, the socially awkward, the unlovely.  Jesus knew better than to imply that if his followers could only muster up enough niceness they would be up to the task of following him.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples: if you have Agape for one another. You don’t have to be a Bible expert to know that before this night there had been other commandments to love the neighbor. But what’s new is that this love is the love of the Father for the son.  Agape love is not romance or even friendship – it is the self-giving love of God which formed the foundations of the earth then came and walked on that same earth. This is love that spoke through the prophets then spoke a little to long to a Samaratin woman at a well. This is love that freed and then fed slaves in the wilderness then was abandoned by his friends before his death and fed grilled fish to his friends after his resurrection.

This love we are commanded to share has a source, and thankfully, that is not us.

Agape love is the kind of love that God creates in us, stretching our stony hearts to contain it,  because God desires for God’s people to be loved. That kind of love has little to do with propensity and has everything to do with provision.

Jesus provides for us his disciples the love that we are to give. It’s only when we rely instead on our personalities or our egos or the results of Strengths Finder that we mess things up.

But I suspect you guys know this. And the reason I suspect you know this is that I am priviledged to witness so many small acts of love in this community.  Strangers welcomed, meals provided, hugs offered.

But as I was thinking about love this week I couldn’t help and reflect on how when I hear Jesus say people will know we are his disciples if we have love for one another, I always default to that meaning we should give give give love.   Yes, to be a disciple of Jesus is to give love. But if God creates Agape love between us because God desires God’s people to be loved, then maybe we have a responsibility not only to give it but also to receive it!

I mean, acts of love are a joy to offer.  What can hurt like hell, is to receive them.

To be loved is just harder somehow.

Two weeks ago I received a gift from Bobbie Jo. She is a masterful leather worker and had made me a journal to use on my sabbatical. On the cover of that hand bound leather book, she had tooled the image from St Alban’s Psalter of Mary Magdalen announcing the resurrection to the disciples….  This image is the single most important piece of art in the world to me. And that journal was perfect gift of love.

I was stunned by it.

Later I became curious about my own reaction to receiving such an incredible gift. I felt loved. No question.  But feeling loved sometimes comes with some interesting company. Like also feeling unworthy.

I think the discomfort of receiving love is linked to the ways in which love causes us to reflect on how we have failed the person, or reflect on the things we could have done differently, or reflect on any other inelegant truths about ourselves.

We come by this distorted relationship to receiving love quite honestly though.  Because there always seems to be conditions we must meet in order to be truly lovable.  We must be good people, obviously.. and only think kind thoughts, and always have pure motives, and be selfless and well groomed and funny and not have embarrassing habits and this goes without saying – obviously also be totally free of cellulite.  Then we are worthy of love.

So sometimes receiving love, or grace for that matter, reminds us of all the conditions we have not met in order to consider ourselves worthy of that love.

But the thing is: meeting the conditions of being worthy of love is our formula.  Not God’s.  What makes you worthy of both giving AND receiving love is that Jesus desires it for you. Were it not true he wouldn’t have made such a big deal about wanting us to love one another. And by one another he means he wants you to both love and be loved.  It may sting at first but it’s like any medicine – eventually you will be healed by it.

This is what I have experienced among you, Jesus disciples at House for All Sinners and Saints. Not only has God done that Grinch thing with my heart – stretching it beyond it’s natural size so that you might be loved be me.  But slowly God seems to be making that heart able to receive your love as well.

I recently have told several friends that all I did a year and a half ago was post a link to a grant program for clergy sabbaticals and that within a week 10 of you were meeting on a regular basis and that you wrote a 26 page grant proposal so that I could have 3 months of renewal and adventure and anonymity.  And my friends didn’t say said “wow. You’re so lucky to get a sabbatical, they said “wow, you’re so lucky. your church really loves you” at first I struggled with thinking of all the mistakes I’d made and the things I could have done better and the ways I could have loved you more. But then I stopped myself with this reminder: God desires for us to be loved.

And I love you back. Thank you.  Amen.

The original image from the St Alban’s Psalter (12th century) – and my tattoo.

 

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org