One time I tried this out in a confirmation class. One of the young people stood as the defendant, accused of being a Christian. Another was the prosecuting attorney, whose job it is to prove that the defendant is guilty of being a Christian. Then there was the attorney for the defense, whose job was to contradict all the evidence that the defendant is a Christian.
Attorney for the prosecution would say, “Well, he goes to church.” Attorney for the defense says “Yes, but he only goes to church because his parents make him.” “Look, she’s wearing crosses for earrings.” “Yes, but she would take them off if her friends made fun of her for it.”
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus states the true evidence that we are Christian. He says “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. This is how people will know if you are my disciples. If you have love for one another.”
That’s kind of a nice idea. Love one another.
Back in the Middle Ages when I was ten years old, I would be laying on the couch in our living room watching TV. We had a wonderful couch for laying on, big and cushy. And a Coca Cola ad would come on. It pictured a grassy, sunlit field in Italy with many very good looking young people in it, men and women, dressed in the clothes of many cultures, many different skin colors from different ethnic backgrounds. They were singing, “I’d like to buy the world a coke, and furnish it with love, grow apple trees and honey bees and snow white turtle doves.”
I’d sit there and say “Ah, what a nice idea.” Then my sister would come in and sit down right next to my feet, almost touching my feet, and I’d say, “move, I was here first.” “But you can’t take up the whole couch.” “Yes I can, I was here first.” Shove! Ow! “MOM!”
“I’d like to teach the world to sing. . .”
Now, I’m not dissing the Coke commercial. Far be it from me to dis the Coke commercial. For one thing, singing happily together is a wonderful thing. It is powerful to share a drink of Coke or Pepsi or beer with someone, to laugh together.
Also, by the way, a singing group called The New Seekers made an actual song out the Coke commercial without mentioning Coke in 1972, it became a big hit. Coca Cola got $80,000 out of it, which they donated to United Nations Children’s Education Fund. It’s all right.
I’m just saying, if we are to keep our families together, if we as a church are to show the world what God is like, if we as a species are to survive, we need a love that continues even when the laughter dies; that persists even when we have hurt each other, that keeps on even when we have killed each other. We need a love that reaches beyond death. because death has a strangle hold on us all.
We need Jesus’s love.
Jesus gives this new commandment during his last meal with his disciples. He knows that very night he is going to be unjustly tried, and in a few days, crucified. In the verses immediately before the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus gets up from this supper, takes a basin of water and a towel, and starts washing his disciples’ feet.
I need to take a moment to tell you about this. If you were here Maundy Thursday you may have heard already. When you went to someone’s house to eat in Jesus’ day, you would probably walk, in sandals, along dirt roads, among many other travelers, as well as all the goats and donkeys and cows and sheep that they were driving back and forth to market. , leaving smelly tokens of their presence behind.
With the result that the dust from your road would get on your feet, and mud, if it had rained. Mixed in with the dust and mud you would see, and smell plenty of the tokens from the goats and donkeys and cows and sheep.
So when you arrived at the person’s house, if they had very much wealth at all, a slave would be waiting for you at the door, with a bowl of water and a towel. The slave would wash the dust and mud and smelly tokens off your feet. It was a nasty job, the sort of thing you would have a slave do.
Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. He does the work of slaves for his disciples. He makes a big deal out of washing Peter’s feet, insists, even though he knows that very night, Peter will deny him three times, will pretend he doesn’t even know Jesus. Jesus washes Judas’s feet. Even though he knows what Judas is about to do, again, that very night.
Then Jesus turns around and says “I want you to wash each other’s feet.” Jesus calls us to wash each other’s feet.
These last few weeks, I have seen some foot washing going on around here. We have had Bible studies, first on how to use the Bible to discern what God wants us to do, then on marriage in the Bible and then on same sex marriage and the Bible.
Over time, people have begun to voice their thoughts more, and even their feelings. People have asked questions. Very good questions. Sometimes tough questions.
Folks all have listened to each other. That can be hard, when we feel strongly about an issue, to listen to someone who disagrees. It can hurt. But it is a step on the journey of the cross.
I think, if someone from outside the congregation were to sit in on those Bible studies, they would see Jesus.
I can assure you regarding two things about this discernment process. First, we will get it wrong. We will either make the wrong decision, or we will make the right decision in the wrong way, or we will implement it wrongly or we will communicate too much about it, or too little. We will get it wrong. So let’s just relax about that.
Second, I can assure you that Jesus is in the house. Jesus loves all of us. Jesus gets mad at us sometimes but he still loves us, without exception: rich or poor, young or old, gay or straight, male or female. Jesus still washes our feet. Jesus washes our souls.
Jesus loves you. I’m sorry if you don’t believe that or if you don’t feel it. It is still true. Jesus loves every fiber of your being, without exception, absolutely.
If you want to be a part of a love that is deeper than the Coke song. If you want to be part of a song that runs deeper than the awful hurt and danger of this world, a song within which we can meet the desperate dangers, a song that reaches beyond death, a song in which even the people who have died sing with us, even the people we have killed. . .
If you want to bring forth evidence, not just that you are Christian—people can think what they want about that—but also evidence that God exists, that Jesus is real, then hear the words of Jesus:
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”