Sermons

Sermon for Maundy Thursday, Year B

Sermon for Maundy Thursday, Year B

Apr 01, 2021

Passage:John 13:1-7

Preacher: The Rev. E. Courtney Jones

Series: Holy Week

Detail:

 
 
 
There's a children's song that I learned growing up, and maybe you recognize it too:
They will know we are Christians by our love?
 
The song goes:
 
"They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love."  
 
By the way, if you want to hear a deacon who can actually sing well, do NOT miss out on the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night.  Deacon Dede's exultet is the highlight of my whole liturgical year.  
 
But like, y'all know the song I'm talking about, right?
 
 
Okay, good.  Now that some of you are tracking with me, let me tell you that I also grew up with a whole series of parodies of this song.  
 
Some of you know my brother.  My brother was not exactly the most  . . . deferential?  . . . church-goer growing up.  
 
And that's where the parodies of this song would come in.
 
 
I think it all started on a family trip to San Francisco.  We were walking around town, and there were some street preachers on a street corner holding up the sorts of signs that you might imagine.  
 
So these fellas are holding the sorts of signs street preachers hold, and they're preaching the sorts of things through a bullhorn that  . . . get preached through a bullhorn.  
 
I'll offer this as commentary:  Kurt Vonnegut once said:  "It is a tragedy, perhaps, that human beings can get so much energy and enthusiasm from hate."
 
 
Anyway, 
 
as we walk by these guys, my brother starts singing "They will know we are Christians by our signs, by our signs, yes they know that we are Christians by our signs."
 
 
The moment was iconic to me, because the signs and the preaching had little to nothing to do with the love of God.  In that way, the song was an irreverant protest. I doubt he'd describe it this way, but, in retrospect, it was my younger brother's prophetic critique of something that he saw that was rotten in Christian culture.  
 
 
Ever since then, no superficial trapping of Christian pop culture has been safe from the lens of this song: 
 
"They will know that we are Christians by our shirts, by our shirts..."
 
 
 "They will know that we are Christians by our posts, by our posts."
 
 
"They will know that we are Christians by our intellectual assent to certain doctrinal and political positions . . ."
 
Admittedly, that last one is a little hard to sing.  
 
 
 
They will know that we are Christians by our love.
 
You may have already realized that the original of this song was inspired by today's Gospel.  
 
Jesus says, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
 
Maundy Thursday actually gets it's name from this verse of Scripture.  Maundy comes from the Latin mandatem  -- mandate  or commandment.  Because Jesus is charging his disciples (and us!) with the commandment to be known by our love.
 
 
It's another one of those things that sounds really simple, but is actually super hard to do.  Because, as I've mentioned before, to love as Jesus would have us love is to love recklessly.  Not counting the cost.  Not hedging our bets against hardship.  Not protecting ourselves from not being loved back.  
 
 
Difficult though it may be, I would wager that we can all think of someone who is known for their love.  Don't give me a Sunday school answer and say "It's Jesus!"
 
Yes, of course it's Jesus.  But who else?  Who in your life has made God's love manifest for you?  
 
Who do you know by their love?
 
 
Right this moment, I'm thinking of a woman that I knew in Austin that ran a dog rescue.  Every time I spent time around her, I felt refreshed and inspired.  She's the kind of person that I still look at to this day and say "I want to be more like that when I grow up."
 
 
 
Wouldn't it be wonderful if that's what Christians were predominantly known for?  Just, being contagiously loving?  Wouldn't it be fabulous to be known for consistently exposing people to the unconditional love of God?  
 
What do you want to be known for?
 
That whole line of questioning is, of course, rhetorical.  Of course that would be great.  Of course we would love to be known by our radical love.  
 
 
But like, how do we get to there?
 
 
Tonight our liturgy will make visible the way of love for us.
 
The two hallmarks of the Maundy Thursday service are
footwashing and eucharist.  
 
 
Service and thanksgiving.  
 
Maundy Thursday marks when Jesus washed his disciples feet, and when Jesus had his last supper with them.
 
Foot washing and institution of the Eucharist - the great thanksgiving.  
 
This is a little reductive, but at their essence two are symbolic of
 
Service.
 
and
 
Thanksgiving.  
 
Servant leadership
 
and
 
Gratitude.
 
 
 
If we want to become more loving people - people known for our love this is how we get there.
 
 
 
By prioritizing the needs of others
and by living lives marked with gratefulness for what God has done for us.  
 
Service and thanksgiving.
Servant leadership and gratitude.
 
Tonight Jesus models a life of love for us.  
 
Jesus, knowing that his time with his disciples is coming to an end
 
Does not make demands
Does not assert his authority
Does not rail about his freedom to do as he pleases
But instead, picks up a towel and stoops to wash feet.  
 
Tonight  marks the time when Jesus, knowing it is his last meal
Takes bread.
Gives thanks.
Breaks the bread.
And gives of it freely, to his imperfect disciples
 . . . even to the one who he knows will betray him.
 
Service.
 
Thanksgiving.
 
Radical Love.  
 
 
Jesus models these all the way to the Cross.  
 
 
 
Jesus said: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
 
 
Yes, they will know we are Christians by our love.
 
 
AMEN.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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