Friday, April 10, 2009

Audio from April 9, Maundy Thursday

Audio came out a bit garbled, but still audible. Pity cause it was a good one! :) From John 13, read below if you don't want to fight the audio problems.

Sermon from Thursday, April 9

“Know thyself.” This is a Greek saying , as old as the hills, and yet it still maintains a bit of a hold on us today. The idea is that the most foundational thing a person can do is to understand themselves, that key to all other callings in life is a calling to self-understanding. If you don’t know yourself, how can you possibly know how to live life in the way God called you to live it? Of course the task is much easier said than done. In reality, it’s very hard to know who we are, because we can’t see ourselves objectively. Robert Burns wrote in a famous line, “O would some power the giftie gie us/to see ourselves as others see us.” We know perfectly well who other people are, and we are very capable of drawing judgments about whether another person’s actions are appropriate or not; but we can’t see ourselves clearly. To our own eyes, we ourselves look like a twisted mess of contradictory motives, some good and some evil; a maze of appetites, some holy, some primal; a knot of impulses, some right and some wrong. A person who has some sense of who they really are is a person who is well-equipped to serve God in the world because they have started to demonstrate some self-mastery.
Self-knowledge is at the heart of this passage that we have read tonight. Look at verses 3-5, some of my favorite verses in the whole Bible because I think they speak powerfully to the human condition in the modern world. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” Do you see how Jesus knew himself and how that knowledge impacted his ability to serve? He knew that the Father had given all things into his hands—he knew the power that God had given to him as the Messiah. And then there’s this majestic phrase, that he knew “that he had come from God and was going to God.” He knew where he came from and he knew where he was going. You know, there’s great comfort in that, isn’t there? God uses anybody, anytime—you don’t have to have a great home life—when John gave his testimony on Thursday it was very touching to hear about his difficult years growing up. But at the same time, I appreciate the home I had growing up, a home where my parents were Christians, where they encouraged me to go to school, to study for the ministry if I felt called. I know that was my home and I know that I can go there anytime and be accepted, whether I’ve made a mistake or whatever, I will find love there. It’s great to know where you came from. And it’s also great to know where you’re going—when Jesus touches your heart and reassures you that your true life rests in him, you can face even death without being afraid. It’s an important piece of self-knowledge, to know where you’ve come from and to know where you’re going.
And Jesus did—he knew that he came from God, and he knew that he was going to God, and look what it empowered him to do. Look how he served! Look at how the King of the Universe acted like a servant—he got up from the table. Royalty sits and eats; servants get up and serve. He took off his outer robe, a way of stripping off any pretense and power. Then he ties a towel around himself, certainly a way of laying down any authority at all. And he pours water into a basin, deals with the common items of the house instead of the gilded goblets which he deserves. And then he reaches down and he takes the disciples’ dirty feet in his hands and washes them clean; and then, to top it all off, the cherry on top, he wipes the disciples’ feet off on the towel he’s wearing. It’s a progression; he starts the meal like the master, reclined at table, but gets progressively more and more servant-like. In this way, it’s like an object lesson—the Master becomes more and more like the servant; just as He condescended to come from heaven to earth, and take on flesh to become like us, he becomes more and more like his disciples. The master serves.
See how he humbles himself! Man, I want to be like that. Don’t you? I know we can’t be like Jesus completely, but I want to live like that. And this text implies that it is that self-knowledge that helped that to happen; he knew where he was from, and he knew where he was going, and he knew the power God had given him, and that knowledge had given him the power to serve.
I think the reason I love this passage is because it ties together knowledge and service. I define myself as a compulsive student, someone who loves going to school, someone who seeks truth and who loves the world of ideas. One thing I’ve noticed is that often people see the world of ideas and the world of service as two totally separate areas that never meet. There are people who sit up in the ivory towers and contemplate, and there are people who get their hands dirty and do the hard work of service in the world. And each side kind of looks down on each other. But here in Jesus, we see how his ideas led straight to action. Because he understood the truth, because he understood who he really was, he then was able to live out his calling completely while the whole world watched. This is why I talk so much about ideas and about seeking the truth; it is why, truth be told, I am not an activist; because it is only when we understand who we are that we become capable of living out our calling.
So who are we? What can we understand about ourselves? Like I said before, self-knowledge is really a very difficult task. Who among us can say we know ourselves? It is a lifelong task requiring discipline and humility. But I think this text tonight gives us a starting point. What can we know about ourselves just from this passage tonight? Let me give you two words that you can take to the bank about who you are.
The first thing which we must see when we look at this passage is that we are loved. The love of Jesus positively drips through this passage. Think of what it means that the Creator of the Universe considered his disciples to be of such importance, such utmost value, that he first of all came to earth, but then once he came to earth he laid aside all comforts to become a servant. Think of what it means that the one who invented and fashioned feet got down on his knees and gently washed those feet clean. Think of what it means that God laid aside all manner of privilege just to lavish this extravagant sort of love on his disciples. And then consider what it means that you are just as much a disciple as Peter and John; if you had been born then instead of now, he would have washed your feet as well. Such is the love that God has for you; you are loved!
For some people, this news is simply too good to accept. Peter is one of these people; he says, in essence, “Jesus, get away from me! This is wrong; you can’t wash my feet…this is just…wrong!” And Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Translation: Unless you let me love you, unless you accept how loved you are, you can not ever truly be one of my followers. And some of us are like Peter today and cannot stand to be loved like Jesus wants to love us. We want him to love us on our terms; we cannot accept a free gift of love because we wonder what the catch is or because we feel guilty about it. Some of us can’t accept the free gift of God’s love for us because we don’t want to be religious fanatics. But to be a Christian, Jesus says, to truly share in Christ, is to allow yourself to know the complete and deep love that Jesus has for you.
How would we live differently if we knew we were God’s beloved? I mean, you know it, but what if you really knew it? How would your life be different? What if you were forced to confess that the truest thing in the world, the thing that is the most real in the world, more real than your job or your home or your family or this life each of us constructs for ourselves, the most real thing in the world is the love of Christ for you? How would that change you? I have a guess. I think that, just like Jesus’ self-knowledge empowered him for service, I think you would live your life out of that reality too. If we really knew we were the beloved of the Creator of the Universe, our whole lives would be worship. Each day, each hour, each second would be lived as an act of worship: worshiping when in church, worshiping sitting at the family dinner table, worshiping in the car between meetings, worshiping with each breath in and each breath out. If we would simply confess that before anything else we were beloved of God, it would revolutionize our lives.
But that is not all that the text says we are; very plainly the text also says that we are servants. Starting in v. 13, we read, “You call me teacher and Lord, and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” If I, your teacher, have not clung to authority over you but become your servant, then why would you think you should seek authority over each other? If I, your teacher, have rejected earthly authority—and not only that, but revealed earthly authority to be an illusion because I will demonstrate real authority in my death and resurrection—why should you exercise earthly authority over each other?
Perhaps this is the real reason we are reluctant to accept Jesus’ love for us—because it would mean extending Jesus’ love to others, which is a costly process. Who really wants to be a slave when they can be a master? Who really wants to be a benchwarmer when they can be a star? Who really wants to interrupt a nice meal with good friends to get down on your knees and scrub dirty feet before wiping them on the clothes you’re wearing? Even though Jesus reveals earthly power to be an illusion, it still is extraordinarily tempting to us—so tempting, in fact, that we often choose to chase what we know to be an illusion rather than accept the eternal, boundless love of the God of the universe.
But this is a day of new beginnings, new opportunities. Today again is an invitation to remember who you truly are. Today again, Jesus the Master washes your feet and as he does so you know instantly who you are. You look into his eyes and you know at once that you are loved; and all at once you also know that your life must be about serving and loving other people, that true life is to be found in swimming in the deep end of God’s love and inviting other people to know that love too. Today is an invitation to remember again the truth of who you really are, that you are at once beloved and servant, and to let that truth seep into you until you naturally begin to live it out among others.
And we do that here at this table, nourished by God himself. Here at this table, Jesus is the host, and Jesus is the feast. Let us eat and drink together to be nourished to recognize who we are; and when we know who we are, to live out our calling in the world, even as he did.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sermon from Sunday, April 5

Bruce Reid reads John 12:12-19.