The Sunday Sermon: February 14, 2021 – Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday
Scripture: John 13:31-35
Being Known to All
This week another leg of our journey together – a journey many of us have been on for as long as we remember – ends. Next week, Lent 2021 begins and we begin the next leg – an annual leg of the journey that leads to a table, a cross, a tomb on its way to new life, resurrected life. As we prepare for what lies ahead, we conclude what we’ve been engaging since January 3rd, the Sunday we celebrated Epiphany.
With our renewed awareness of what is within us because of Immanuel, we stepped into and out of the river of baptism, and with a deep trust in God found the proclamation of good news not only Jesus’ responsibility, but our own. As prayer itself we chose hope in our future. And today, we rediscover all we really need …
Pray with me …
After a quick sidestep into the Psalms last week, we’re back in the Gospels this morning. We’ve read and explored three of them so far this season. This morning our reading is from the Gospel of John. John is often the most confusing of the gospels for us, because it’s just not like the other three, in many ways. John, from the very first verses isn’t as interested in being sure things happen “according to Hebrew scripture” or “in order to fulfill what was written.” Indeed, the reality of Jesus was and is the fulfillment of all Hebrew scripture for John. His gospel arises out of the struggle and celebrations of an actual faith community at the end of the first century that is in crisis because of their new faith in Jesus of Nazareth, a human being, as the decisive revelation of God.
Like us, this early community has been born, or re-born as the gospel explains way back in chapter three (3:3), given the Spirit, and it is already trying to differentiate itself from its parent. The language used and the path prepared in the Gospel of John arises not from conflicts with the empires of the world (Rome, in this case), but in the struggles between two different groups of first-century Jews: the community to which this gospel was written, Christian Jews, and the authorities of the synagogues and traditional Judaism.
This is a gospel written using language spoken by one group of Jews to another. John is writing intensely and unapologetically within a new community, to a new community, and for a new community. Here’s who you are, here’s why you’re this and how you’re different, and here’s what you need to do because of your new identity!
It’s important to consider that John, or the other Gospel writers, weren’t trying to eliminate any other ways in which God is at work in the world, revealed in other faith traditions to other men and women of faith. Consider that their Way, the Way of Jesus the Christ, didn’t fully “encompass” God, but rather offered a new and unique revelation of God. John could not, and we cannot, faithfully confine God to Jesus. But for John’s community at the turn of the first century, and for us two thousand years later, we can define God through Jesus.
And there are few other verses that define the God of our faith and the Way of our Lord than the ones we read this morning. Listen for the Word of God. Read John 13:31-35. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
We are known as disciples … and God is known to others through us in the love we have for one another. (How wonderfully serendipitous for Valentine’s Day!)
John’s understanding of the life of the faith community that will become the church is expressed simply, succinctly, and concisely in Jesus’ commandment “to love one another as he loves us.” This is the decisive way in which everyone and anyone who has or ever will meet us will know that we are followers of Jesus: If we have love for one another.
Now as I’ve already mentioned, John is writing within, to, and for our particular community. He’s not writing to the rest of the world, he doesn’t have Jesus telling the world to love one another or to love themselves, and Jesus is not, here, specifically telling us to love the world. He’s telling us to love one another. And listen to this: This is the only commandment that Jesus explicitly gives to his disciples in the Gospel of John. Only one! That seems pretty easy compared to the all the things we are told we must do in the Sermon on the Mount or the Sermon on the Plain in Matthew and Luke.
We know of course, it’s no easy task … loving one another. So does John.
The placement of this scripture passage in his gospel lets us know this will be the case before we can even try to love. (Did you notice, anyone reading along?) This “new commandment” is placed right between the passage where Judas is identified as Jesus’ betrayer and the passage where Peter’s denial is predicted. I mean, that is so profound. Look it up in chapter thirteen. It is right smack, dab, in the midst of the betrayals and denials of his own community that Jesus commands them, commands us, to love one another, to love as fully as we have been loved, as fully as we are loved. To love one another so deeply and so dearly that this love may indeed find expression in the laying down of our lives for others.
Loving one another does not automatically translate into one believer’s death for another, nor does it necessarily mean denying yourself for others. I find comfort in the understanding that Jesus didn’t deny himself; he didn’t do what he did by denying himself, he did what he did for all of us by being himself; he lived his identity and his vocation fully. To love one another as Jesus loves us doesn’t mean we should deny ourselves either. It means we should allow ourselves to be who we were created to be, to love wastefully ourselves, to live a life shaped by a love that knows no limits, by a love whose expression brings us and those in our community closer into relationship with God and one another. It is to live a love that carries with it a whole new concept of the possibilities of community. Can we imagine?
This coming Wednesday we begin our Lenten journey, a journey that ends in the greatest example of all of the power of Love. If we heed Jesus’ command, when we love one another as we are loved, we too will be glorified and God will be glorified in us and everyone will know we are Disciples of Christ Jesus and children of the Living God.
Trust, hope, and Love. We’ll need them all for what lies ahead. And we possess them all, reinvigorated for our journey to the cross and far beyond it.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / February 14, 2021