People Are Watching but What Do They See?; John 13:31-35

Sermon preached by Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley, May 15, 2022

On this fifth Sunday of Eastertide, the composers of the lectionary make a jump back to a Story that occurred before the Easer events. They give us a flashback to the night Jesus was gathered with his disciples in the upper room the night he was betrayed. Why did they do this?

Have you ever heard someone tell you a joke and at the end, you give them this doggie head tilt and say, “I just didn’t get it!” It’s at this point the joke teller rolls her eyes and tells you the punchline a second time to make sure you got it. It’s then you say, “Ohhh, now I get what you’re trying to say!” You’re able to connect the dots and get it.

Well, the composers of the lectionary seem to want to make sure you and I get the point of the Jesus Story and transport us back again to Maundy Thursday, the night Jesus was betrayed. The lectionary composers appear to want to tell us the punch line one more time to make sure we get it and connect the dots. We are reading from John 13:31-35.  Hear the Word of the Lord!

John 13:31-35

31 When he 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.” [1]

The great Drama that began with Jesus on Christmas morning moves deliberately to the Drama and crisis of Jesus on Good Friday. We think the Jesus Story ends abruptly but then the new life of Easter happens. The Story doesn’t end with death but is continued through resurrection life and hope through the work of the Church. Today’s scripture from John is the punch line of the Jesus Story which is this: God became a human being like us in every way from having friends who turn and betray him as well as to experiencing the joys of sitting around a table with dear friends enjoying food, wine, and stimulating conversation. God in Christ even experienced the fears of dying and death itself. But the Story doesn’t end there; Jesus is risen conquering death and the grave and commissions the Church to go out into the world and demonstrate what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ expressing the greatest commandment which is what? Love.

The disciples were obtuse; they just could not connect all the dots of what Jesus was saying and doing during the previous three years of his ministry. The old-time religious leaders clung to the letter of the Law. To be a good Jew, to be beloved by God, then you must both know and then follow the Jewish Law. The whole point of the Christmas Story is God’s active way of showing those religious leaders, and you and me, how to live out the Law.

All the Stories, all the parables, and all the healings on the Sabbath Jesus did was God’s way of showing us to change our understanding of what it means to be the beloved of God. Following God, and glorifying God, isn’t about both knowing and following rules. Jesus’ life and ministry culminating in the sacrifice of his life is physically, literally, showing us that giving glory to God and gaining Lord’s favor is to look and live through the lens of sacrifice and loving others. That’s the punch line we are supposed to remember.

One of the Church’s great confessional statements is from the Larger Catechism from the mid-1600s. The English House of Commons and the Anglican church began wrestling with issues of who should rule the church? Who should rule the state and government? What power does the King have over all of this? They convened an Assembly of 151 people who were to meet in Westminster Abbey and figure it all out. Finally, after six years of contentious and heated debate with over almost 1,200 meetings, the Westminster Assembly finally completed the “The Form of Presbyterian Church Government.”  A portion of that document was the development of the Larger Catechism. A catechism is a set of questions and answers a person had to memorize before they could join the church. The very first question asked of a candidate for membership was this, “What is the chief end (purpose) of men and women?” The answer is this: A person’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. So beloved, how do we do that? 

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know you are my disciples if you love one another.”

God loves us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to express his passionate love for the people and world he created by being handed over to evil and crucified. The Good News is that even the shackles of death and hell could not keep Love from prevailing. Out of love for you and me, Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again. And Jesus is telling us the punch line one more time: My new commandment to you is to love one another as I have loved you. Jesus emptied himself for the sake of others. In our text today, we are reminded he is asking us to do the very same thing.

Friends, it’s all pretty simple. Actively, sacrificially love God as God has loved you. That’s the kernel of what it means to follow Jesus. This text gives the Church and her disciples like you and me a commission that like Jesus, we are to love each other actively, sacrificially as God has loved us.

Sadly, however, the world looks at Jesus’ disciples in the church and they see bickering, fighting, and splitting over what are really nothing but issues revolving around who and how we are to love others. They see us growling about who is in and who should be out; they observe us arguing how this biblical verse should be interpreted, or who is qualified to lead and teach in a church. Churches split over these, and other similar issues and the world watches us.  They see the disciples of Jesus fighting amongst themselves. Where’s the love in that? Instead of coming together under one tent and is this what Jesus wants? Biblical theologian Dale Bruner notes, “It is noteworthy that Jesus does not say that the world will know we are Christians by our love for God or for his Christ; rather…(the world) will know we are Christians by our loyal and affectionate churchmanship (with one another)  –  (they will know Jesus) by our heart for the Church.”[2]

So, beloved, what does the world see when they look at us? Do they see us collectively as Church and individually as disciples that we love each other? If so, we glorify God and will enjoy him forever. Amen.

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012), 797.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
This entry was posted in Sermon and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s