The lord be with you. Let us pray. O Lord God, you teach us that without love, our actions gain nothing. Pour into our hearts your most excellent gift of love, that, made alive by your Spirit, we may know goodness and peace, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
After washing the disciples’ feet, predicting his betrayal, and then revealing his betrayer, Jesus speaks of his glorification on the cross. This deep complicated love of Jesus, even to death on the cross, will be the distinctive mark of Jesus’ community. John 13 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you 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.”
Last week I said it was about location, location, location. This week it’s about context, context, context. Let’s start here. What has four letters, sometimes has nine but never has five. You could respond, I give up, what’s the answer? The answer to what? The riddle? What riddle? I simply told you, What has four letters, sometimes has nine but never has five. The difference falls to context between question and statement and as you can see, without taking the correct context into account, it’s very confusing. At our pastor’s spirituality retreat a bunch of us got to go on a dolphin watching expedition. The guide was very knowledgeable about the dolphins, manatees, other wildlife, Estero Bay itself and the prehistoric inhabitants of the small keys there. I finally learned the difference between an Island and a key for instance. A key has no fresh water source of its own. There’s a pipeline to Key West! I was thoroughly enjoying all the facts, trivia, dolphins and nature. I was next to the captain and guide and got to ask a few questions and we had paused and were just floating and taking it all in for a while and I realized that almost all of the components for a joke that I knew were present. I was supposed to be there for relaxation and enjoyment, and my enjoyment was going to be maximized with this rare opportunity, so I tailored the joke to the situation. The joke ends with an actual law, but the words are close but incorrect and it’s filled with puns. The captain looked at me sort of bewildered and told me that he had not heard of that law. I had asked him multiple science related questions and without warning, I had changed contexts. I shifted to joke mode. I thought the fact that it involved a pride of lions in ancient Florida was a give away, but the context flip muddied the water. He just thought I was misinformed. Joke failure. I wanted to swim back to shore. I had needed to signal my context change. He was interested in learning something new, and I had learned so many new things that I was wanting to have a laugh. What is it they say? Like two ships passing in the night? Last week I remarked about the fact that the chosen lectionary reading concerned Jesus at a Hanukkah Celebration at the temple while we are in the season of Easter. I wonder how addressing that Gospel in the time appropriate season would have affected my study or conclusions or focus? Reading the texts contextually makes a difference and we can examine God’s word through different lenses to learn different things, after all, pastors have been preaching sermons for well over a thousand years and the fact there are different preachers and contexts offers something unique each time. We call ourselves Living Faith and our faith is alive because we follow a living word. So on its surface this week’s gospel seems pretty simple. Actually, to be truthful, while on the retreat, some of us acknowledged that the restful retreat was going to have a stress bubble around it because it shortened our sermon prep and study time for the week. So, we took a moment to peek at the lessons. There was already a little stress pit in my stomach and seeing the lessons didn’t make it any better. It was short for one, seemingly straightforward and simple. That seems great when you’re reading a text, but not so helpful when you are expected to say something engaging about it. But that’s the thing. The Gospel is not just words on a page. There are many things to take into account in what they are saying to us in our current, (hold on, here comes a seminary phrase), sitz im leben, or situation in life. In Biblical criticism, Sitz im Leben is a German phrase roughly translating to “setting in life”. It stands for the context in which a text, or object, has been created, and its function and purpose at that time. The Sitz im Leben is also used to refer to the social, ethnic and cultural setting of a site at a particular era. When interpreting a text, object, or region, the Sitz im Leben has to be taken into consideration in order to allow a proper contextual interpretation. There you go, getting my money’s worth from my seminary education one nickel at a time. The interesting thing about this week’s reading is that it too is oddly timed. This week’s gospel provides a flashback to the week running up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Here we are on the fifth Sunday of Easter and we are back to where Judas has just walked out the door and I am sure the disciples are all wondering what on earth is going on. So let’s look at it now in a post resurrection context. Jesus knows that betrayal is in process. Jesus knows what is coming, all the heartache, pain, suffering and abandonment and he chooses to talk about the love of God and one another anyway. I saw a great podcast, Sermon Brainwave from Working Preacher out of Luther Seminary. To me it seemed that the three biblical scholars were asking in reference to the resurrection, the 1980’s Tina Turner question, What’s love got to do with it? Matt Skinner points out that the very ethic of the resurrection is loving one another. The lectionary has taken us back in time to view Jesus’ statement in the light of the resurrection. In the podcast, Joy J. Moore struck a chord that really grabbed me and gave the context of this passage real meaning for my life. She said, “The context of Maundy Thursday where we’re talking about this moment of betrayal and and the weight of what comes next, this focus on God AFTER what was supposed to be a nice dinner among folks that we knew you know at this what we know with hindsight is, at the end, that they don’t fully comprehend but not to get ahead of that so that we can really feel the betrayal, so that we can really feel the weight of that moment. But now post-resurrection the glory is the capacity after being completely facing death, of being betrayed, of complete loss of absolute devastation of the complete removal of control and the resurrection demonstrates that our hope, is in a God who overcomes that and so I can love the one who betrayed me, I can love my enemies, I can demonstrate this embodiment of divine love because I’m not doing it on my own, I’m doing it filled with the presence of God that filled Jesus which makes us capable of being christ-like. So I think the resurrection is the very demonstration of what I’ve often said, “if God can raise Jesus from the dead then God can handle my stuff.” When you face death and disease and destruction you need something greater than just the idea of love and I think the resurrection demonstrates that I can put my hope in this God because if God can handle this then maybe God can handle all of my “this”.” It’s really neat that after 53 years of life and 25 years of ordained ministry I am still experiencing new and exciting engagements with the Good News. Joys articulation really struck me and challenged me. Jesus so desires that we share a sustaining love with one another so that we may experience his presence in his absence. Our context is during the difficult but not yet. We walk our days on that Maundy Thursday with a foretaste of resurrection day, like seeing in that mirror dimly, but our faith reminds us, the love of others reminds us, the love we give reminds us that one day we will see face to face and all of our tears will be wiped away and mourning and death will be no more. Our call for now though, our mission is to be propelled by the Easter ethic to, one find comfort, consolation, healing and hope for ourselves but secondly be propelled by the joy of the resurrection and Christ’s unfailing love for us to share that love with others, even those who have betrayed us, walked out on us or who have done us harm so that all may know the love of Christ.