Sermon for the fifth Sunday after Easter 2021
Year B in the Lectionary Cycle
Giving AND . . . the missing dimension
‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me . . .’ John 13:8
The flood waters were rising around the man’s house. Being a very good and pious Christian he of course prayed that God would save him from the deluge. Sooner had the words lft his mouth than a fireman waded past his window and offered to carry his to safety. “No worries” the man called to him smiling broadly, “God will save me!”.
The waters continued to rise and he retreated to the upper floor of his house from where he cried out to God to save him. Momentarily, a boat drifted by. Those on board called out to him ‘jump in!’ but the man said “I’m fine!” God will save me . . .’
It was but a few hours later when night began to fall that he retreated to the roof. And there as the good and pious Christian that he was, he prayed most earnestly that God would show himself and thus witness to His Goodness and save him tha tall these heathens might believe. The words were barely out of his mouth when suddenly a bright light appeared in the night sky! God was coming to save him! But No! it was the search light of a rescue helicopter. “Let us winch you up!”.
“It’s fine, I’m Ok, I’m good. God will come and save me.”
Night fell, the waters rose, the man was swept off the roof and drowned. Wakening to his new reality God stood before him, and the man said ‘Why didn’t you save me?’ To which God replied, What do you mean? I sent a fireman, a boat and even a helicopter . . .’
Well of course we laugh and it is ridiculous, but perhaps it is closer to home than we like to think. Perhaps we are all to a certain extent that foolish man . . . allow me to explain.
What was it that killed the man? The early church would have named it straight away. Fundamentally the deadliest of diseases, Pride . . . He was unable to allow anyone to help him. Only GOD would do for Him. At heart he was far too important to be helped by mere mortals . . . of course the light in the sky had raised his hopes, but . . . I wonder if that deadly worm keeps us from being saved by Jesus in the guise of those around us? Of being healed? Of being made whole, or if we just wait for ‘heaven’, or ‘when Jesus returns’, when everything shall be put right and “We shall be saved! We shall be healed!” Or if our healing and salvation is closer to us than we realise. Put another way and to reer back obliquely to John’s letter last week, who can be healed by a Jesus whom they have not seen, who will not open their lives to the healing of their brothers and sisters whom they can see? As Jesus disarmingly or perhaps threateningly asks the paralysed man, ‘do you want to be well? Do you want to be healed, do you want to be saved? Do you want to come from the darkness of death into the Light of the Life of God? Now?’
Thursday is Ascension Day – we shall have a Eucharist here at 7pm to mark this important day in the church’s calendar, a day which often gets missed along with its message. It is the day when these words of Jesus from John 16 find their full expression ‘I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’
Jesus has passed through death to Life – showing us the way. Like the Good Shepherd he hasn’t driven his sheep but gone ahead of them. We are now in that brief window of the Easter Season when Jesus prepares his disciples for what lies ahead, when the Risen Christ reminds his disciples of all he has said, so we listen again to the earlier chapters of John’s gospel. ‘I am going to the Father . . . And it is for your good that I am going away’
Jesus is calling them away from infantile dependency to a new relationship, a new way of being. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. They are no longer childish servants, those who wait to be told what to do because they have no idea what their masters business is, rather, they are his friends. He will send the Spirit that they can live as his Friends, that they can live as he lives. Jesus says to them – You will have everything you need – You will know all that you have to know. Jesus has established his business. The church has all it needs to get along without him being there. Indeed perhaps it doesn’t even need leaders – after all leaders create the same childish dependency that Jesus is calling us away from. It calls us to live as mature adults sharing the one life of Jesus . . . A community of people who together know the business of the Father and can all speak with equal authority into the life of the church. A community of those who have entered the maturity and joy of utter vulnerability with one another.
They no love as Jesus loved by being utterly vulnerable – laying down his life – opening his wounds to them so they too, if they obey his command and live in that way will find that they have all that they need.
Yet we have a problem. A problem exacerbated by various highly misguided forms of Christian piety and practise, which keep us as infants and prevent us growing to maturity in Christ. Quite simply this, the idea of a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’. I have a personal relationship with Jesus whom I cannot see, to avoid the way of Jesus that is vulnerability before those whom I can see . . . Put another way a voice quietly whispers, In the last analysis, I do not need other Christians. If other Christians aren’t in my view very Christian, it’s ok. Because I have as Johnny Cash witheringly sang, ‘my own personal Jesus’. If I can’t find the right church for me, if My church gets changed so its no longer the safe space I knew, the place where Jesus and me, we were just like this . . . I, I, I my own . . .
Of course these walls don’t have to be immediately invisible – we can cut ourselves off from others by our feverish activity. It is a more subtle way of saying to tohers keep out. ‘This is my job, and this, and yhis and this – there is so much to do and no one will help, oh and this is my job also – get out of my space . . . Walls of feverish acitivity – being busy for Jesus, or turning personal into private faith – living ‘private lives’ like J Alfred Prufrock, carefully measuring out our life in teaspoons . . .
The voice that quietly judges all those around you, those whom God has sent to save you and heal you – I know that the other members of your church aren’t up to much, btu don’t worry, you know me and I know you, and that’s all that really matters . . . Do we nurture this voice? Or do we tell it to GO to Hell where he belongs . . .
Jesus calls Lazarus out from the cave, from death to life, but even within the church and perhaps within each one of us, there is part of us that wants to be safe and wants to stay in our safe place . . . spiritually dead After all, there’s no risk in being dead
Love one another as I have loved you, says Jesus. Loving – Oh we may well think we understand that = but in reality as John tells us – by this we know love, that we were first loved. You only know love if you are loved. You cannot love another if you will not open up to love yourself . . . and ok the stories we tell ourselves, tucked away from one another. ‘I’m fine’ . . . You must never wash my feet . . .
To a certain extent we have heard the message of footwashing means. We must be ready to get on our knees and humbly serve one another . . . one another. We all know that part. – some of us pat ourselves on the back, because ‘by golly we serve others. . .’ others feel guilty every time it is mentioned – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You see without the corollary the second part we miss the point. There is no flow of lovein the community if we are both giving and receiving “Christianity, it’s all about loving others . . . but first there is a missing element.
The church is the vessel of the Life of Jesus, which he breathes upon his own body, the disciples. That Life, that Love is now set free amongst them . . . which means that church is the place where we love . . . and are loved. We give, and receive from one another. It is the one love. It has to flow to be Alive. Which means that we are to give – we have heard that so very often, BUT and perhaps more difficult, perhaps far far more difficult, we are to be like Jesus, Vulnerable. We have to receive.
Peter, Proud Peter. Poor Peter, the fall guy who shows us who we all are. Brave for Jesus one moment, fleeing the next. Peter who in his pride cannot let Jesus minister to him . . . Jesus names the outcome – if you do not let me wash you, you have no part with me . . . Unless I love you, we are not connected. I don’t know you if you will not let me serve you . . . But who will save Peter now that Jesus is going?? I have set you an example says Jesus, that you must wash one another’s feet. There are no longer amongst you those who wash and whose who are washed, no, now you all give, AND receive . . .
We are SO wired to serve – to give – to work hard for Jesus – yet we do not know him if we cannot allow ourselves to be served, and in equal measure. When service for example becomes a place for grumbling – it isn’t the service of one who is also receiving . . . and perhaps doesn’t want to receive, doesn’t want to admit that they too need help. The quick “Oh, I’m fine!’ The false smile . . .
How powerful are the stories – those who ‘pour themselves out’, those who minister and those who are ministered to . . . and the quiet desperate voice which won’t admit its need – for “of course it doesn’t matter that I am not ministered to for Jesus himself minsters to me”. . . And how’s that working for you? Jesus has gone to the Father – he only to any of us in the person of the one who sits next to you or in front of you . . . apart from mutual ministry one to another we are separated from Christ.
Jesus’ body is this body, His Spirit is in this church. If we pray Jesus to help, we must accept whoever comes to us . . .
You know those moments at a dinner – the host leans over – Some more trifle perhaps? ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly . . .’ but if you insist . . .
How are you . . . All of us are wounded. All of us have needs which Jesus would meet if we would let him near us in the shape of his body, the friends of Jesus. Only deadly pride gets in our way. ‘I am one who serves’ I am fine . . . I’m good . . . the happy smile which covers so much pain – abandonment, bullying, abuse, or just the day to day knocks which wear us out . . and add up and up and up . . . but it’s ok because Jesus is coming to save me . I’m ok, I’m good, I’m . . . oh the lies we tell
St Paul tells us that it is in bearing one another’s burdens that we fulfil the law of Christ – but if we never allow anyone close enough?
Last week I gently suggested that we are to be a colony of heaven = the place of healing and rest. Look around a moment – whatever burden you have bourne, for however long you have born it, the friends of Jesus who are in on his life and work are here in one or probably more of those people who sit around you this morning. They are here to Save and to heal. God has heard your prayer and his friends have shown up. Now is the day of Salvation. Now is the day of healing . . . learn from the mistakes of Proud Peter – let others wash your feet . . . Amen