The Rev. Canon Leonard Hamlin: Jesus Lives Here
If you would pray with me for just a moment. God, we come to you on this day, in this week, and now on this night. We ask once again that you would hold us, cover us, keep us, and fill us for the places you are sending us. This we ask in your wonderful name. Amen. You may be seated.
It is on this Thursday evening, Maundy Thursday, that I find myself once again arrested by the witness of our savior Jesus Christ. Jesus, who is as the author of the letter to the church at Philippi would say later, “Took on the form of a servant and humbled himself.” Jesus, who did not have to give up his glory in heavenly places, humbled himself that he might be a witness of obedience even to the point of death. He did it for you and he did it for me. The words of Jesus are often remembered by us, but we struggle when the full ministry of Jesus is to be taken up by us.
The opening lines of a poem written by Edgar A. Guest, put it this way:
“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day. I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way. The eyes are better pupil and more willing than the ear. Fine counsel is confusing, but examples always clear. And the best of all preachers are the men who live their creeds. For to see good put into action is what everybody needs.”
It has been an eventful week since the celebration of Palm Sunday. We have arrived at this Thursday evening witnessing an example. And we see Jesus modeling the words that he had preached. In the world and society in which we find ourselves today, we are once again invited to call, and called in like same manor, to humble ourselves and take on the form of a servant. On this side of Palm Sunday, the waving of palms, the cries of Hosanna, the processional participants have once again returned to lives, being occupied with daily chores. Lives directed by the demands and obligations of life. How quickly we forget the processional, how quickly we put away the cries, how quickly we forget who is right there with us all the way. Since Palm Sunday, days have gone by, one after the next, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. And for some who are marginalized by circumstances, set aside because of systems, or those who are living on the margins, struggling to make ends meet, suffering from inadequate shelter, or grieving from the pains of sickness felt in their bones and radiating through their spirit. For them time has passed, perhaps even second by second.
The words and actions of Jesus on this Thursday night provoke the disciples, and they provoke us, into wondering and speculating about the future and what it holds for each and every one of us. The tensions and the tension fill the atmosphere. All of the political posturing, the religious traditions, the hopeful visualizations of the future, were all meeting up on a Thursday evening. And they’re meeting up for us on this night once again. Jesus speaks to us tonight through John’s gospel. Even as the very few verses of this 13th chapter that were read in our hearing, reach up and grab us if we are listening intently. Jesus knew that the hour had come to depart, to depart from this world and go to the Father having loved his own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. The devil had already put in the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him. And during supper, Jesus knowing that the father had given all things into his hand and that he had come from God was going to God.
Those words have an air of finality. They present us a picture that’s challenging to our faith. We are invited into this Thursday evening’s events, having to face that the time had come for Jesus to depart. In this text we are provided divine truth, though that should speak to our faith. John tells us that Jesus had come from God and was going to God. For those of us and for many who would be reading all the way through John’s gospel, you recognize that you heard, if you go back to the beginning that, “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning and through him all things were made. Without him nothing was made. In him was life and that life was the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” But we are invited into this nighttime, perhaps dark moment. This place and this moment when the gathering that took place in a sacred space we know as the Upper Room and here we are in this sacred space, on this sacred night in this sacred place.
And it is here in this sacred space as we look at them that a shift takes place for the disciples. For those who have read and are familiar with this biblical passage, you know this is a rich and full night where there was a reinterpretation of the Passover meal. Where the Last Supper, Communion, the Eucharist was shared with the disciples and even where the betrayal of Jesus was revealed and initiated.
But before all of this took place, the disciples are caught off guard by Jesus. As Jesus got up from the table because he loved them, he took off his outer robe, tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water in a basin and began to wash the disciple’s feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. The disciples wanted to be like Jesus, and connected with Jesus as they follow Jesus, listen to the preaching and teaching of Jesus, and even witnessed the miracles of Jesus. They had witnessed the healing of the lame, the providing of cures for the sick, the feeding of the hungry, the stilling of the storms, and even the raising of the dead.
These had all been monumental moments in their process and preparation for their impending divine assignments. On this night, they came prepared for a meal, but their expectations had been disrupted by a moment that revealed even more about Jesus. This evening, this moment, and this passage convicts me just as it did the disciples and should convict every one of us who has gathered on this night or who is joining us online, as we are witnesses of Jesus’s authenticity. As you think of days gone by the ministry of Jesus, the days we know are ahead of us. There is a desire by many of us to be like Jesus, to have the authority and power promised by Jesus. The people that followed Jesus, they followed him because Jesus did not speak as the rabbis and the Pharisees spoke. He moved as one with power and authority, unlike the religious authorities or self-appointed protectors of the faith in that day. They found him to be different and unique. There was something special about Jesus and now on this night, they are not just listening to Jesus. They are seeing the authenticity of Jesus, not through the wonders performed by Jesus, but through the humble serving of Jesus.
We are living in a moment when we are looking for what is genuinely real. Talk to most who you know and they are struggling to find something real. We’re living in a time where truth is not truth. Living in a time when everybody wants to know if you are who you say you are. We are living in a moment of embellished resumes. We are living in a moment where people are fashioning who they are. And on this night there are many who are watching those who are gathered here tonight, watching us who claim to be followers of Jesus and what they want to know is, are we authentically who we say we are?
I don’t watch regularly, but every now and then while I’m flipping stations, I have to stop and watch the public television program called Antiques Roadshow. What interests me and fascinates me and even excites me, has nothing to do with the physical antiques. What I love seeing is the excitement of those sitting around the table when there is an identification that what they’re holding is authentic. What they have held onto is real. I’d love to see the excitement not only in the one doing the appraising, but the one who needs the news that this is not a carbon copy. This is not some fake imitation. This is not something painted up, dressed up, tied up, zipped up, zippered up, coming out on a special day so that folk would lift me up. But in this moment they are excited because it’s authentic. They can hardly keep their seat with the joy because the item has been declared to be the real deal.
There are those who are watching tonight, those who have gathered tonight. You’ve come not because you are looking for a carbon copy, you’re not looking for a fake imitation, but tonight I need to know that our gathering and our witness is the real deal. The challenge we have tonight and in the days to come as individuals and as the church, is whether we will be found to be the real deal as disciples of Jesus Christ, through our serving of our brothers and sisters. In a publication written years ago entitled, Will He Find Faith? the author put it this way, “In its essence, our religion is tested in the realm of human contacts. How I treat my brother, how I regard him in his need, how I relate myself to his experience.” These are the problems with which Jesus dealt in his teaching. He taught that the way of life in human contacts is the way of love. It was on this night after humbling himself, washing feet, sharing the table, even with his betrayer, that Jesus told the disciples, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another just as I loved you. You should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” In this day of religious questioning and spiritual exploration, what was true then is still true today. Transformation in our lives, transformation in community, transformation in this world is possible when our faith is felt through serving one another. Not just speaking but acting.
I leave you by putting it this way, in a story that was told to me years ago. About a certain preacher who in the days gone by, was riding along in his buggy and stopped in front of an old cottage. Walking to the door, he knocked on the door. A woman answered the door and he said, “Does Jesus live here?” She didn’t know what to make of the question. She didn’t know how to respond. She stood there looking at him, so he asked again, “Does Jesus live here?” Being so caught off guard, she stood and didn’t know what to say, so the preacher just got in his buggy and drove away. She immediately ran into the backyard where her husband was chopping wood and she said to him, “A stranger came to the door and asked me if Jesus lived here.” Her husband responded while looking at her. “Of course, you told him that we belong to the church down the road, that we attend regularly, that we are among the best contributors.” She looked back at him and said, “Oh no. He didn’t ask me that. He asked me, did Jesus live here?” That’s the question that’s in all of our hearts. In the next few days, and for the rest of our life, that we can answer, because we are the real deal, that Jesus lives here. Amen.