Sermons

VicarSharonRichterSermon for Maundy Thursday, Holy Week 2017

We are called to love and serve
By Vicar Sharon Richter -

 

Let us pray. God of our salvation, we thank you today for the gifts you give us. Help us to love each other as you have called us to do. Amen.
 

 What do you think it is like for someone who is about to become a martyr? A lot depends, I suppose, on how their death will happen. The more than 40 Coptic Christians in Egypt this week never saw it coming. Mothers, fathers, children, babies . . . they were perhaps on their knees praying, or singing praise to God, or waving their palm fronds, or taking communion. And suddenly they were gone. Forever. Martyred for their Christian faith. The same was true for the nine worshippers in Charleston who were killed by Dylann Roof.  God bless all martyrs and their families.
 

 But what about someone who intentionally becomes a martyr for their faith . . . how is it for them? They have time to prepare. Are they terrified? Are they at peace? I think about these things.
 

 What must it have been like for Jesus at the Last Supper?  He knew what was about to happen. He knew he would shortly be tortured to death. If we believe he was both fully human and fully divine—and we do—we have to think about what this would be like for him.  What would it have been like for any one of us?  Could we do it?
 

 We know that after the last supper, Jesus prayed in the garden at Gethsemane. His prayer tells us that he was, indeed, afraid, even to the point of asking God to remove what was to come.  “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
 

 But at table that night, on Jesus’ last night with his disciples—on his last mortal night on this earth—Jesus apparently spent no time thinking of himself.  Instead he thought only of his disciples, which by extension means he thought only of us. 
 

He thought of you. He thought of me. He thought of us.
 

In this time of impending terror and doom, Jesus used all his emotional and spiritual energy to give us three great gifts. It is hard to know which gift is the greatest.
 

First, Jesus gave us the gift of communion, by which we share in his very body and blood—the mortal stuff of life made immortal in his resurrection. It is here on our table, right now.
Communion is the promise of eternal life made tangible for us. By partaking of it as often as possible, we not only remember Jesus, but we also participate with him in his resurrection. Communion truly is a foretaste of the feast to come.
 

Second, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and told them, and us, to go and do likewise.  He modeled for them, as Mary the sister of Lazarus had done for him just days before, how to be what would soon be called a Christian.  We are called to be true disciples, to metaphorically wash each other’s feet.  This means we must uphold each other in good times and in bad, through times of sin and falling away, in times of cultural change and strife, and even in times when the church fractures. 
 

These actions—first the communion and then the foot washing—show us the directional arrows in God’s kingdom. As Pastor Shafer said last week, this is Lutheranism 101: We don’t do good works to earn God’s grace. Rather, God’s gifts of grace and forgiveness come to us first, and then in gratitude and love we go out and be disciples to all.
 

Jesus’ third gift to us is what we call “The Greatest Commandment.” In John’s gospel, Jesus says it this way: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. “ 
 

It is love that ties everything together. We receive God’s grace--God’s gift of love comes first. We then return that love to God in discipleship.  We love one another, passing the gift of grace along—From God to me, from me to you, from you to someone else. Love always comes from God first and returns to God in every cycle.
 

We often turn to Paul’s letter to the Romans, or his letter to the Galatians to understand this cycle. But Paul didn’t pluck it out of nowhere. Jesus lays it out for us right here, right now, on Maundy Thursday.
 

Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  What does that mean?  Does it mean we are only to love other disciples? I think not.
 

We are not anyone’s judge.  That’s for God alone to do. We love and serve—as we are able—not only each other, but also all those other Christians—the Christians who live apart from society, so as not to be tainted by it, or who endure society while they await a spiritual union with God. The Christians who segregate themselves from other Christians, thinking only their way is the pure way.  We love them, too.  Or, in contrast, we also love the Christians who seem to cave too easily to cultural shifts, so that some think they are abandoning Christian values.  We love the Christians who bend the truth, or who make mistakes, or even commit crimes. We love the Christians who struggle over belief and unbelief.  We love the Christians who work every day to improve this world. 
 

We are called to love and serve the Christians who leave our denomination in disgust over social issues no less than the Christians who are newly welcome in our churches.  We are called to love and serve Republican Christians, Democratic Christians, poor Christians, rich Christians, fallen-away Christians, sinners, tax collectors, criminals, and prostitutes. 
 

And here’s the kicker. I believe we are also called to love and serve those of other faiths and of no faith.  They are all God’s children, even if they sometimes may not see it that way. They are all part of “one another.”
 

We wash their feet, metaphorically or actually. This is how everyone will know that we are the disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus said so. So come. Let us be servants of one another. Let us wash one another’s feet.
 
Amen.
 
 
 
 
 

Vicar Sharon Richter
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
April 13th, 2017

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