A SERMON FOR EASTERTIDE
Our text this morning comes from the Upper Room, on the night that Jesus was betrayed. He is speaking to His apostles, gathered for the Passover meal, gathered for the last time.
Jesus has washed their feet, Judas has gone out into the night, and Jesus is telling them that He is about to leave them. In a real sense, this is like the final address to the troops given by a commanding general on the night before a great battle, or more like the farewell address given to a general who is either leaving or surrendering.
I’ve read or heard recordings of several of those addresses. Some of the greatest quotes, the most memorable sayings, of great men have come from those final words.
Dwight David Eisenhower, the beloved “Ike” whom everyone liked, issued a warning about the growth of the military industrial complex when he left the office of President, where he had truly been Commander in Chief. I saw that one on television, in his final state of the Union message.
Douglas McArthur uttered those memorable words, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” I listened to that one on the radio, and they played it over and over again.
It was a long speech, and ended with these words:
I am closing 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned many times since I took the oath at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have all since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die, they just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. ]
In the midst of his even longer address as he left public office, our first president, George Washington, said:
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and it can be that…it will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and that at no distant period, a great nation, to give mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas, is it rendered impossible by its vices?
In his farewell, Robert E. Lee told his men,
You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.
And Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you: that you love one another, as I have loved you.”
Jesus gave us direction. Jesus gave us an order. Jesus gave us a commandment.
It is so simple, really. All we have to do is love the way that Jesus loved.
It is so difficult, really. All we have to do is love the way that Jesus loved.
We have to love enough to forgive those who ridicule us, who abuse us, who defy and defile us, and nail us to a cross. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Remember that Jesus taught us to pray saying, forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us. So that if we do not forgive those who have sinned against us, how can we ask for God’s forgiveness for our sins?
And yet we are told that in Jesus Christ all our sins are fully and freely forgiven.
To love enough to forgive freely and fully is to love one another as Jesus loved us.
But it goes beyond that. Jesus told us in the text that I preached about a couple of weeks ago, that He was the Good Shepherd, and that the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
Who do you love enough to die for? Jesus loved us enough to die for us.
Who would you die for? Your parents? Your children? Your spouse?
Jesus told us that no one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for a friend.
Jesus loved us that much; he laid down His life for us.
Now maybe some of us have friends we’d be willing to die for. Maybe all of us have friends we’d be willing to die for. Most of us would be willing to die for Jesus.
Confronted with the kind of decision the early Christians faced at the hands of the Romans, to deny Christ or face death, death on a cross, death in the Coliseum, death by burning as a torch to light a Roman road, I would like to hope that we would have the faith, the strength, the courage to die for Jesus.
But I have thought about something else. Yes, Jesus loved us enough to forgive us. Yes, Jesus loved us enough to die for us. But Jesus also loved us enough to live for us. To live among us, full of grace and truth. To set us an example of how to live.
I’m not sure that it doesn’t take more faith, more strength, more courage, to live for Jesus, to live like Jesus, than it does to die for Jesus.
Jesus loved us enough to leave heaven, and to suffer the indignity of a human birth, in the poorest of surroundings, to some of the humblest of people.
Jesus loved us enough to live the early years of his life as a refugee, a fugitive, an illegal immigrant in a foreign country.
And then when He came home, it was to an obscure village in a backwards province of a tiny country that had been the toy and the pawn of every empire in the history of the world, and was presently under the oppression of the cruelest and most taxing regime in history to that time.
He suffered the frailties and the temptations of the flesh. He who was God in human flesh probably got blisters on his feet when he walked too far in a day in those crude sandals. He probably got sun-burned by the Galilean sun. He didn’t seem to get seasick on the storm-tossed sea, but He did get tired enough to fall asleep and sleep through a storm. And, of course, when He hung on the cross, He said, “I thirst.”
But you see, He didn’t have to live that life. He could have stayed in Heaven. He could have stayed with the Father and the Spirit. He said that He chose this life, and that He could lay it down and that He could pick it up again, and He did.
He chose to live for us. And He allows us to choose to live for Him.
And our new commandment, our marching order is simply this: Love one another as I have loved you.