Sermon on John 13:31–35 for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 16 & 19, 2019
- Many times in the Bible God is connected with love. The most famous verse in the Bible begins “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). The apostle John writes in his first letter “God is love” (1 John 4:16). There are many places where the word love doesn’t even appear, but the passage is all about God’s love. Think of the theme of last Sunday’s worship. “The Lord is my shepherd.” The word love or mercy appears at the end of the psalm, but we’ve been reading about a Shepherd’s loving care all along: he feeds me in green pastures, he leads me by the quiet waters, he restores my soul. In the original languages of Scripture, there are many different words for love, and each adds a different flavor. In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, there’s the word chesed which can mean love. It can mean mercy. It can mean steadfast love or unfailing love. In the Greek of the New Testament, there’s the word agape which means a love that always gives without expecting anything in return. That’s the word for love in John 3:16. It’s also the love we strive to imitate in 1 Corinthians 13. Then there are all the words that are close in meaning to love, each with its own flavor: grace, mercy, compassion, pity, fellowship. God’s love is glorious—so glorious it’s hard to describe it. There are so many aspects of God’s love, we see it on nearly every page of Scripture, and each mention reveals something new and different.
- Jesus talked at length about love in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday. Listen to what Jesus says about what was going to happen on Friday: “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify the Son in himself and will glorify him at once.” What would the disciples see later that night—and those that didn’t run away, what would they see on Friday? They would see an arrest. They would see Jesus taken away. There was abuse, mockery, striking, whipping, blood, pain and death. By anyone’s definition, that is not glory. That’s shame. That’s humiliation. Why would Jesus say, the Son of Man is glorified.”? Palm Sunday was glorious. The crowds following Jesus, hanging on Jesus’ every word was glorious. The feeding of the 5,000, that was a glorious display of love. Giving people things, that would be glorious. Suffering isn’t glorious.
- Neither is washing feet. Jesus taught his disciples an object lesson about love by washing his disciples’ feet when nobody else wanted to. What happened the next day was also an object lesson in love, much deeper and richer than washing feet. Later Jesus would say, “No one has greater love than this: that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And St. Paul reflects on this in Romans: “It is rare indeed that someone will die for a righteous person. Perhaps someone might actually go so far as to die for a person who has been good to him. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8).
- Jesus calls his suffering “glory” because it revealed the glory of his love in a deeper way than cranking out bread and fish all day, or setting up a glorious kingdom. He took care of the real problem. He took away the sin of the world. He displayed love and grace and mercy and pity and faithful love, steadfast love, unfailing love—even when it meant his own risk, his own loss. And the love becomes even deeper when we consider the objects of his love. One of our Lenten hymns says, “Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be” (CW 110:1). Love to the loveless.
- That’s a huge problem in our world—and part of the problem is the way we use the word “love.” We see it in TV commercials. What has McDonald’s slogan been for the last 16 years? “I’m lovin’ it.” Loving what? A burger and fries? McDonald’s is not alone. I did a search and found “You’re gonna love Gambino’s Pizza” and “You’re gonna love Mia’s Pizza.” If love means that you give your all for someone or something, it doesn’t quite fit. “I’m lovin’ McDonald’s” or “I’m lovin’ pizza” really means “I like this because it benefits or pleases me,” and that changes the definition of love from a giving action to a taking action—from serving others to serving self. When we love people for what they can do for us, it’s really love of self. What happens when the person doesn’t benefit you anymore? Love disappears. That’s not really love at all.
- Jesus’ disciples knew all about self-love. On the way up to the Upper Room, they were arguing about which one of them was the greatest. Jesus, the greatest, picked up a towel and a bowl of water and started washing their feet. He also taught them about love in simple words: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also you are to love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” “As I have loved you…” That means washing feet—humbling yourself to serve others. It also means following Jesus in what he would do on Good Friday. Love by taking a risk. Love by giving yourself. Love by taking a loss for someone.
- Jesus calls us, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you.” First, his love has overcome our lovelessness. Our sin and selfishness could not overcome his love and his grace—instead his love and grace overcome our sin and selfishness. We deserve grief, shame, death and hell—and all that Jesus took in our place. And while the grief, shame, death and hell were happening all around him, what did he do? What did he say? “Father, forgive them.” “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” “Son, behold your mother. Mother, behold your son.” He took away the sin of the world—this is what he covers us with, his own holy, selfless love. This is the glory of love he displays in the most gory circumstances. Jesus calls us to love when people aren’t lovable. He empowers us for this kind of love, because we really don’t have this kind of love in us. By nature, we’ll always go back to self-love, selfish motivations. Jesus calls and empowers us to love as he has loved us. He calls us to love even when it’s tough. He also calls us to love and to seek a person’s good when they are not seeking their own good. That requires toughness, especially when you have to correct someone you love. It would be completely loveless to see someone on the path of self-destruction and say, “I accept your choice.” “Good for you.” It is love, maybe even love that appears hidden on the surface, to say, “I love you. Repent. Return. God has a better plan for you than this.” That is loving as Christ loved us, as the Good Shepherd who restored our souls.
- Someone might say, “Where is this love from God? Where is this love of Jesus? I want some of this love. I want my prayers answered. I want blessing.” You are already receiving it. Just as Jesus talked about his own display of love and the glory of the love was hidden, the glory of God’s love may be hidden for you, too. But it’s still there. When we have to suffer, does that mean that God’s love is gone? No. Sometimes it means the opposite—that this is where you will see God’s love the most. Jesus has promised, “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). We also read, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” So that must mean, “Surely I am with you always” in the hospital room. “Surely I am with you always” when the doctor brings bad news. “Never will I leave you” when a friend gets angry, says you are the worst and then cuts off all communication. “Never will I forsake you” when you lose a job, or a job offer falls through, or you have some great failure and it really is your fault. Yes, all these things mean disappointment, heartbreak, sometimes pain, sometimes a complete shifting of gears in your life, feelings of loneliness and helplessness. God loves in all of these. He does his work through all of these (Romans 8:28ff). Last week we heard that the Good Shepherd walks with us through the dark valley. He doesn’t promise to take us out of it—not right away. He doesn’t promise to light it up. He’s there with us. He knows. He’s been through it all himself—for you. He calls you to follow—through the dark valley, loving, and giving.
John 13:31–35 (EHV)
31After Judas left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify the Son in himself and will glorify him at once.” 33“Dear children, I am going to be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also you are to love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
 In the hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” I was always confused by the line, “Yet though despised and gory,” I was always confused until I looked more closely at how “gory” was spelled. It’s “gory,” which means gruesome, bloody, horrible.