SERMON - John 13:31-35, Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 15, 2022 by Peeka Trenkle, MDiv
In the name of our loving, liberating and life-giving God, immanent, transcendent and everlasting. Amen
Our Gospel reading this morning takes place at the moment of transition from Jesus’s public ministry to his farewell discourses. The first 12 chapters of the Gospel of John span a time frame of 2-3 years while chapters 13-19 describe a single day and all the many details. Immediately before this passage, after the foot-washing, Jesus makes clear who it is who is going to betray him.
Jesus knows what is about to happen. He knows that the time is now. The hour has come, there is no turning back. Jesus says to Judas, “Do quickly what you are going to do”. None of this comes as a surprise to him. Yet Jesus is not afraid. In the three synoptic gospels, when Jesus goes into the garden he asks God “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me - yet not what I want but what you want, not my will but your will”
In a way, showing he is afraid - a moment of his very humanness
But in John’s gospel he doesn’t say this. He goes to the garden and there he is arrested and the whole ordeal begins. John portrays Jesus as completely un-ambivalent, already glorified…
Judas leaves and immediately Jesus begins to talk about the glorification of God. The word ‘glorified’ is used 5 times in the first two verses of this short passage. As soon as Judas is gone, Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once”
John’s Gospel does this a lot: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” or “abide in me as I abide in you”. John’s Gospel was written partly to make very clear that Jesus was both divine and human - both earthly and heavenly - sarx and pneuma - body and spirit. Because at that time in the late first century the gnostic Christian Jews were claiming that Jesus was entirely divine and that his body was merely an apparition. John adamantly states over and over - beginning with the first verses: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without hm not one thing came into being”
All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being.
This understanding that God is immanent in the world - is the Creator and Sustainer of all life - is present in the physicalness of the earth and all creatures.
Julian of Norwich writes: Nature and Grace are in harmony with each other. For Grace is God and Nature is God. Neither Nature nor Grace works without the other. They may never be separated… That Goodness that is Nature is God. God is in the Ground, the substance, the same that is Naturehood. God is the true Father and Mother of Nature.
The word glorification is defined as: the final dimension of Christian salvation which includes eternal life in heaven and the eternal glorifying of God. Our future reality when Heaven and Earth are one. And we see this echoed in our reading from The Book of Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea was no more”
Some Christian groups interpret the Book of Revelation as a prophecy - that it is predicting that Jesus will come again in glory and restore everything with no help from us…as if by magic. But this idea denies the fact that God is here with us now - even in this troubled time and that we are meant to live into God’s glory by how we participate with each other and with God and with God’s creation.
A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to teach about God and Creation to a few teenagers who were about to be confirmed. When I arrived at the church they had already been there for a few hours and I could see they wanted to just be done with this already. I talked with them a little about transcendence and immanence and how before the advent of printing, nature was seen as a revelation of God - and that after books began to be published Scripture was seen as the primary revelation of God.
I could kind of see their eyes glaze over.
But then we went outside and I took them around the church grounds and pointed out violets and chickweed and speedwell and plantain and garlic mustard and onion grass and white clover. And I talked to them about how these plants grow according to the needs of the soil and the needs of the creatures - including us - who need them - that they grow spontaneously as gifts from God.
I think that sparked their curiosity - I hope so…
Jesus says to his disciples
I am with you only a little while longer. You will look for me.
He speaks tenderly, lovingly
Where I am going you cannot come.
This will not feel like glorification to the disciples. They are likely confused - they are expecting an outcome of triumphant victory and are getting an inkling that that isn’t how this is going to go. They listen - maybe not understanding, perhaps afraid knowing that Judas was off to do something nefarious. Not knowing yet about - the cross - death - and the resurrection
Jesus knows he won’t be with them much longer
And when we are with someone who knows they are nearing death this is a very sacred time - A time to say all of the important things. The tone of things changes and the love gets really strong.
Jesus gives them a new commandment
The command to love one another is not new. In Leviticus 19:18 it says clearly: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”
The difference here - the new thing - is that Jesus says that the new commandment is to love one another - just as I have loved you. An agape love.
The perfect love that God has for us - a sacrificial love, a sacred love
Love, not as feeling but as virtue - something that must be practiced
A love that deepens our spirituality
An all-inclusive love that leads to Koinonia - fellowship, community, the body of Christ
Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples
The new commandment is not about what we believe but about how we live. It is about relationship and spiritual friendship
This love is a way of life - not sentimental or prettied up - but a way of life that changes us. We cannot receive it in full unless we give it fully to others - especially those we have ‘othered’ or those who have injured us. Who are we for and who are we against? Who is in and who is out? It is so easy to hate Judas - but without the betrayer there would be no crucifixion and without the crucifixion there would be no resurrection. And Jesus washes the feet of all of the disciples - including Judas - in a radical act of love
As I have loved you - love one another
As Jesus loved Judas - love those who are difficult to love, listen to those who believe differently, be curious about where our opposing viewpoints can meet in dialogue to bring forward a new communal truth - a truth with agape love at its center - a truth that praises God and God’s creation as our Psalm does today.
Praise the Lord. All created things are called to praise God.
And the act of praise is beneficial for the one praising just as the practice of love benefits the lover. Religion is partly about engaging in practices that change us.
When we see something beautiful in nature - in God’s Creation - a wild animal, a rare or beautiful plant, a constellation, a cloud formation, a sunrise, wind on water, the ocean, we slow down, we give thanks, we praise - we resonate in the beauty and wonder of these things.
A Jewish preacher and poet in the 11th century Rabbi Meir ben Yitzhak Nehorai wrote about Praise: “If all the heavens were parchment, if all the trees were pens, if all the seas were ink, and if every creature were a scribe, they would not suffice to expound the greatness of God”
It is odd that in this morning’s gospel the focus is on the last supper since we are in the midst of Eastertide
In the early weeks of the easter season we have stories of the resurrected Jesus and now we are returning to the last supper - a moment that anticipates the crucifixion. We are five weeks into the Easter Season - a time that Catholics call the mystagogia. It is the time that the disciples walked with Jesus after the resurrection until the time of the ascension and then awaited the descent of the Holy Spirit. This is also a time of anticipation.
We too can engage in the mystical practice of this time and grow in our discipleship.
Rowan Williams writes that “To grow as a disciple is to take the journey from understanding into faith, from memory into hope and from will into love”.
These practices, these ways of walking in love, in faith, in hope, with praise and thanksgiving, seeing each other as brother and sister, caring for God’s Creation with reverence and joy - these are the keys to the new heaven and the new earth.
I will end with a quote from Walter Bruegemann:
He writes,“This is an invitation to tilt our life toward the powerful reality of God. It is our life’s work to so tilt our life…. Our lives belong to God and exist for God’s wondrous purposes. That is the good news. Our task of faith is to find ways to lose our life in joy and obedience, in praise and prayer and to find what life gives us beyond our best hope”.
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George C. Wong
is the Rector