Good morning. I’m so glad to be here with you all today. My name is Terra McDaniel and I’m a spiritual director and pastor of New Table. We’re a justice focused liturgical and contemplative house church community here in Austin.
Today is the fifth Sunday of Easter. We’re exploring what resurrection means in this season. Our text is from John 13. It’s the story of when Jesus gathered with his closest friends to prepare them for what was about to happen and give them instructions for after he was gone. He tells them he’s giving them a new commandment. And it’s to love one another.
Julian of Norwich had a series of visions in the 14th century. She wrote, “[God] showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball…I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.”
So, it sounds like love is pretty important.
But here’s the thing—I’ve got to be honest with you—I’m not sure I’m the most qualified person here to talk about love. Not because I’m secretly an ax murderer or anything. But I have this tendency to overthink things and to be cynical and safe, thinking it makes me smart. Believing it will keep me from getting hurt. Anyone with me?
Let me give you an example. My husband and I are high school sweethearts—we’ll celebrate 30 years in August. We got to know each other in our church youth group. After we’d gone out on maybe one or two dates, I let him read some poetry I’d written. And in the interest of disclosure, I’ll tell you it was bad. But Kyle read the poetry and he thought it was great because he thought I was great. And for him, that was it. He knew in his bones that I was the one. And he had to tell me. It was the middle of the night, but it didn’t matter. He put on his shoes and ran across our small town to my house. He tiptoed across my yard and knocked on my window. And I stumbled over to the window and saw it was him. I was confused but I opened the window. And he poured his heart out. He explained he knew hadn’t been dating long but that he knew. He told me loved me. He was sure. I was shocked. Here was this great guy. He was kind and handsome and smart and strong. So, I did the only thing I could do. I told him— “No, you don’t. We can’t know that yet.” I’m a true romantic, y’all. Poor Kyle. Not the response he was hoping for. I guess what I’m saying is, there is no one who needs to hear what Jesus has to say about love more than me.
And, I want to pause and say that if you’re single here this morning, marriage and romantic love are wonderful, but you don’t have to be married to experience real love. Pretty sure Jesus and Paul are with me on that.
Ok, here’s our text:
“31 When he [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31-35).
A feedback loop of glory between God and the Son of Man
This is the night before Jesus’ arrest. He’s just washed their feet. My community had a beautiful Maundy Thursday service this year and I believe you had one here as well. It’s powerful to wash feet because it’s so human and real and raw. It’s humbling to do and it’s humbling to receive. And Jesus washed the feet of everyone there that night. Including those who would betray him. Judas, who would hand him over to those who wanted him dead. And Peter, who would deny he’d ever even met Jesus 3 times before dawn.
Judas has gone out into the night. The disciples think it’s because he’s getting ready for the Passover or giving a gift to the poor. But Jesus knows what he’s up to. So now he can reveal something really important: The Son of Man has glorified God and now God will glorify him and it’s all going to happen fast. Just one question, though. Who in the world is the Son of Man? Ok, a little backstory. The Son of Man shows up in the book of Daniel. Daniel worked for foreign kings after he and his friends were taken to Babylon as slaves. You might remember his friends Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego from the story of the fiery furnace. And Daniel’s the guy from the lion’s den, right? Daniel saw this series of visions and in one of the them he saw a being called the Ancient of Days on a throne. The Ancient of Days was calling for judgment against arrogance and oppression. The kind associated with power hungry political leaders.
Here’s where the Son of Man comes in. He’s going to put the Ancient of Days’ plan into motion. The son of man comes from heaven, but he looks human. And he’s given authority and power and glory and the worship of people everywhere. He’s given an eternal kingdom. All this sounds a little like God the Father and Jesus as God in the flesh, doesn’t it?
The Son of Man was actually Jesus’ favorite way to describe himself. Sometimes people thought it was just a weird way of saying “me.” But it actually had more to do with distancing himself from common expectations of the Messiah as someone who would revive the Davidic kingdom and make Israel great again.
And now Jesus is saying that the Son of Man has been glorified and God glorified in him. And this has already happened and also, it’s going to happen. It’s this chain reaction, this feedback loop of glory. I love the way the Message puts it:
“Now the Son of Man is seen for who he is, and God seen for who he is in him. The moment God is seen in him, God’s glory will be on display. In glorifying him, he himself is glorified—glory all around!” (John 13:31-32, the Message).
But God and the Son of Man wouldn’t be glorified by marble palaces or golden crowns or by the traditional trappings of power. They weren’t famous for the 1st century versions of things like the tallest stacks of cash or the most success or the coolest friends or the biggest platform or the most followers on Twitter or the most Instagram-worthy vacation. The Son of Man came to serve. He came to eat with outcasts. He’d been given the kind of authority that belongs to God to forgive and restore and offer rest. This is the kind of glory Jesus and his Father shared with each other. It’s the glory Jesus had demonstrated by washing their feet and that would be embodied in his submission to a humiliating death on an instrument of state-sponsored torture. Because, like he’d just said , “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23–24).
He’s leaving beloved friends
Jesus knows his time is short. And he’s anything but cold and above messy emotions. He’ll be asking a few of his closest friends to sit up with him while he sweats it out with God later on. Because he doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t want to suffer. But right now, in this moment, what he’s most concerned about is how they’re going to go on without him there. He wants to prepare them for life without him.
And so he tells them:
33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’
Jesus was constantly pointing to children as ideal members of God’s family, telling us to learn from them. But “little children” is a term of endearment here. Kyle and I refer our daughter and son in law as ‘the kids’ not because we think they’re immature. It says something about how precious they are to us. And Jesus is speaking tenderly to his disciples here. Because he knows these are his last moments with them. He knows he’s about to return to the Father (for now at least). He knows he’s going to be separated from them.
And he knows it’s not going to feel anything like glory in the moment for any of them.
Earlier this month, Christian author and speaker Rachel Held Evans died. She was only 37 years old. Her children are 3 and 1. She was fine and healthy one day and then she came down with the flu. An everyday illness. But she had a horrible reaction to the medicine she was prescribed and had to be hospitalized. She died surrounded by her husband and friends who were left shocked and heartbroken. One of her friends remembered her saying in one of her last sermons, “There are times we hold our faith and times our faith holds us.” Her friend wrote, “what I want to be able to say is that Rachel's faith is finally holding her. But it is just too sad that she is gone…What will we do without her?” A friend from seminary wrote, “All I can think…is that heaven must be one amazing place, otherwise [if it were me] I'd be begging every day to come home to my babies.”
Jesus knows his friends are going to be hurting. He knows they’ll be confused. He knows they’ll feel like orphans. But unlike Rachel’s, his death didn’t come out of nowhere. In this moment, Jesus is more like a man who’s entered hospice. He knows his time is short. Every moment is precious. Each word is carefully chosen.
What he wants them to know when he’s gone
And this is what he chooses to tell them:
34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
These are his instructions for when he’s gone. For those who knew him best. But not just for them. He’s speaking to us, too. Because, he also said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14). But what’s new about this command? Because loving one another is implied in commands like not stealing, killing, or being envious of others, right? And Jesus had taught that the greatest command was loving God wholeheartedly. And that just behind that one was loving our neighbor as ourselves. He’d taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44b).
Enemy love is so important at this moment in history, isn’t it?
The truth is, Jesus’ command was BOTH new AND not new at the same time.
In this moment, Jesus is telling them how essential it is to love each other. Because they’re going to need each other. Like we need each other. And the reality is that it’s hard to love close up. It’s hard to love over time. It’s hard to love people who don’t think like us, talk like us, live like us. But that’s what He wants for them—and for us.
He wants us to love ‘just as he’d loved them.’ And that’s a huge part of what’s new about this command.
So we have to ask: How had he loved them?
He’d loved sacrificially. He’d left heaven and lived as a poor teacher without a home of his own. He’d loved as a servant—washing feet and hanging out with outcasts. He’d loved with actions and he’d loved by speaking with honesty and truth. He’d loved without partiality—he didn’t play favorites with the rich or powerful, but they were welcome, too. He loved the least, the poor, women and children, Samaritans and Greeks and Romans. He didn’t just love people who looked or worshipped like he did. And, this is important, he was willing to receive love as well as give it. He was willing to ask for help. Mary and Martha’s house was his home base. He let them care for him. Wealthy women sustained his ministry. John was a soul friend. And he let a woman with a bad reputation anoint his feet. He didn’t keep himself detached or play it safe.
What if we loved each other like that? What would it look like to practice his kind of love with our closest friends? With our families? Even the crazy ones? I’m not talking about enabling bad behavior, by the way. James Baldwin said, “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” Like Ephesians 4:15 says, we’re to speak truth in love. And sometimes it can be safer for all if we love from a distance. Even so, we’re to LOVE.
What would it be like to practice LOVE with fundamentalists and with liberals? With those who voted for a candidate whose policies and politics we despise? What if we started with LOVE for those who are affirming AND those who aren’t? With those who have different perspectives on gender or abortion or climate change or anything else we care about passionately? Here’s my question for you: Who is the hardest for you love? Is there a face that you see in your mind? Is there a group that you’re thinking of? Where is God inviting you to enter the work of loving more fully? What could you do about that this week? What could you do in the future?
What if we practiced love with those who call themselves Christians (or anything else) but practice hate?
A woman named Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in Westboro Baptist Church—that’s the church known for picketing things like veterans’ funerals holding signs about God’s wrath and vengeance. She took part in her first protests when she was only 5 years old. She was convinced she and her family were on the side of God and righteousness. She joined Twitter to take Westboro’s message to the digital world. And a crazy thing happened. Most people were just as awful as she expected. But some began to actually talk with her. And some of those conversations spilled over into real life. Over time, lifelong enemies became beloved friends. Friends who helped her see how toxic her world was. Which ultimately gave her the courage to leave it. Megan says, “they approached me as a human being, and that was more transformative than two full decades of outrage, disdain and violence.” This was love in action and it changed her life.
Because love is powerful.
The next time you’re with someone that’s hard for you to love because of your history together or because they annoy you or because they’re different in a way that makes it hard to be with them or because it’s past lunchtime and you’re hangry, try pausing and taking a breath and remember our invitation to LOVE. Love is how we interact with beings who are precious and delightful. That reflect God’s goodness and glory. It might help to picture how you’d treat an adorable baby who’s just learning to smile or a cute kitten or a fluffy dog.
This is Edie. Don’t you wish she was here so you could pet her? Every time I take her for a walk, I know we’re going to make someone’s day better. People on the trail stop to pet her. City of Austin workers driving past slow down to get a better look and then drive off with huge grins on their faces. If Edie were here, you wouldn’t hurt her and you wouldn’t let anyone else hurt her, either. You wouldn’t be harsh or impatient with her. You definitely wouldn’t ignore her. If Edie were here, you would speak kindly to her. You’d be gentle with her. You’d want to give her treats but not too many because you’d want her to stay healthy. You’d take care of her and let her take care of you. That’s love. My point is, there’s a part of us that knows instinctively what love looks like.
But, let’s be really, really clear. Love is not easy. It’s hard work. It’s hard to love close up. It’s hard to love over time. But it’s worth it. I wasn’t wrong to be hesitant back when Kyle knocked on my window all those years ago. Not because of anything about either of us that isn’t true of every human. But I had good reasons, even as a 16-year-old, to be cautious. I already knew that love can hurt and disappoint and worse. Because love is always risky. It’s always vulnerable. Civil rights lawyer and activist Valarie Kaur speaks of love like childbirth. She says, “…love is more than a rush of feeling that happens to us if we’re lucky. Love is sweet labor. Fierce. Bloody. Imperfect. Life-giving. A choice we make over and over again…In this era of enormous rage, when the fires are burning all around us, I believe that revolutionary love is the call of our times.”
Love is always an invitation to life, a chance to resist playing it safe, a chance to get our hands dirty for the good of those we live life with. Which ultimately overflows into goodness for us and around us, too.
And all of that shines a light on what Jesus came to accomplish. On what resurrection is meant for.
In some of Jesus’ last words for his friends, glory and suffering and loss and love are all wrapped up together. Just the way they are in real life. But I believe it’s love that has the last word. Now and for all eternity.
You praised work more than words,
Foundations more than fashion.
May we find our foundation
In the work of Love;
True and human and holy.
Because Love is the only foundation worth building on.
(Day 12 prayer from Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community)
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