A New Commandment

A New Commandment

April 18, 2019*

Maundy Thursday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Whether or not you grew up in the church, you are likely to have heard of the ten commandments and depending on where and when you grew up, there’s a decent chance that you might even have memorized those ten commandments in Sunday school or in confirmation classes at some point.  The ten commandments were the fundamental building blocks of the law for the Jews, for Christians, and ultimately, for much of our Western legal system.  The ten commandments are those basic instructions that summarize how the followers of God are to treat one another but with the coming of Jesus, other uses of the word “command” begin to enter scripture.

Most of the time, the commands of Jesus don’t rise to the level of a “commandment” because it isn’t something that applies to everyone.  Instead, the word “command” is used as emphasis to indicate the strength and intensity of an instruction.  Many times, the commands of Jesus are directed at individuals such as when Jesus instructed the leper he had healed to “Go and show yourself to the priests.”  Other times, Jesus commanded the elements such as when he demanded that the wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee to “be still.”  And still other times, Jesus gave instructions to a small group.  We recall that several times Jesus commanded his disciples that they should not yet tell anyone what they had seen.

But at the conclusion of the Passover feast, Jesus says something that he intends to be a lasting instruction, an enduring command, a “commandment” if you will, that applied not only to the disciples, but everyone who would ever claim the name of Jesus for all time.  We join the story of Passover in John 13:1-17, 31b-35 where we hear these words:

13:1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Here we skip a few verses where Jesus sends Judas to do what he had already planned to do and then…

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

In one of his last opportunities to teach his disciples, Jesus begins, as he often had, by modelling something new.  One of the profound lessons of leadership that I learned both in church and in the Army was that you should never ask others to do what you are unwilling to do yourself.  If your platoon sergeant demands that you go dig a ditch, that can be construed to be a punishment, but if she goes and digs a ditch with you, that’s just duty.  Everyone was more willing to follow the instructions of leaders who were willing to get their hands dirty and do the work that we did, even if they didn’t do it as often.  And this is exactly what Jesus does.  Jesus doesn’t simply demand that his followers wash one another’s feet, Jesus washes their feet and then tells them that they need to do the same.  Jesus demonstrates humility, and then explains that living the Christian life is all about the humility of putting the needs of others first.

And then, after Judas has left, Jesus acknowledges that his time is short and, although the disciples still don’t understand, Jesus knows that his death is fast approaching.  And so, in these last few minutes together, Jesus issues a new command, not for one person, and not for a small group, but a command that applies to all of us: Love one another.  Just as Jesus has loved them, just as Jesus was about to show all of us that he loves us more than he loved his own life, we are to love one another.  All of us.  Our love for one another, and our love for others, should be so great that the whole world will notice.  Our love for one another should be so great that this becomes our reputation in our community and in our world.  Jesus doesn’t just call us to love, but to love so extravagantly that when people see us, they will know that we are Christians simply because people know that Christians are the only people who ever love that much.

Pastor and author Francis Chan calls this, “Crazy Love” and he’s not wrong.  If the followers of Jesus Christ begin to take this new commandment seriously, if we love others so extravagantly that love becomes the thing for which we are known, then “crazy” is almost certainly the word that the world will use to describe it.  There’s love, there’s abundant love, even extravagant love, but all those things have been accomplished by people outside the church.  For us to do as Jesus has commanded, for us to be known by the people in our communities and around the world simply because of our love, then we need to love others so much that people think that we’ve gone crazy.

Obeying this commandment of Jesus could be costly.

It could cost us money.  It could cost us our reputations.

But are you willing to be humble enough to surrender what you have to Jesus?

And become known as someone who has…

…crazy love?

 

 

 

Reading #1

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.

Reading #2

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.

Reading #3

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

 

UYou have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Risk and Return

“Risk and Return”
October 11, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture: Job 23:1-9, 16-17                    Hebrews 4:12-16                         Mark 10:17-31

Have you ever taken a risk?

Almost certainly you have. Life is all about risk.

Every time we get out of bed, there is a risk that the effort of waking up will cause a heart attack or a stroke.

Every time we get in a car, there is a risk that we will be in an accident.

Every time we take a bath or a shower, there is a risk that we will slip and fall.

Every time we eat fresh produce, or other foods, from the grocery store or prepared meals from a restaurant, there is a risk that something has gone wrong somewhere along the line, and there is a risk of serious illness.

We make choices, and take risks, all day, everyday.

The choices that we make cannot eliminate risk; all that we can do is to make choices that limit our risk to a level where we feel comfortable.

Some of us feel safer staying at home, while others are perfectly comfortable skydiving or SCUBA diving.

But our ability to risk, our comfort level with risk, is also a key factor in the way that we invest and prepare for the future. Investment advisers make a living helping others to make wise choices, based in-part on how comfortable they are with risk, in how they invest and prepare for retirement and other future events.

And our understanding of risk also plays a big part in how we understand the choices that we make about what happens after our lives end. We must decide what happens when this life is over and what preparations we can or should make for what comes next.

We begin again this morning in the book of Job (Job 23:1-9, 16-17), where Job wrestles with his suffering which he perceives as being sent by God unfairly.

Then Job replied:
2 “Even today my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.
3 If only I knew where to find him;
if only I could go to his dwelling!
4 I would state my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
5 I would find out what he would answer me,
and consider what he would say to me.
6 Would he vigorously oppose me?
No, he would not press charges against me.
7 There the upright can establish their innocence before him,
and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.

8 “But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.
9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.

16 God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me.
17 Yet I am not silenced by the darkness,
by the thick darkness that covers my face.

Job wants to confront God and demand answers for the injustice that he feels. He knows that God is fair but God seems to be missing and Job cannot find him. Job is accustomed to talking to God and to feeling his presence but suddenly he cannot and this, combined with the terrible things that have happened to him, make Job afraid. But even in the face of injustice, even in the face of fear, even in the face of death, Job perseveres and presses on. As Job evaluates risk, even in the face of all that he has endured, Job will not give up, and he will not give up on God.

But even if we are enough like Job to hold on to God in times of trouble (and it isn’t always easy), we still worry that God’s standards are too hard. We worry that we aren’t good enough, that we don’t trust enough, or have enough faith. We worry that God’s judgement will be too harsh when our lives are finally weighed in the balance. And it isn’t just paranoia that feeds this kind of worry. There are well-known stories in scripture, stories about Jesus which can feed our fear if they are understood incompletely. One of those stories is found in Mark 10:17-31, where a man wants to follow Jesus, but finds that he cannot because Jesus’ standards are just too high.

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

This man, known as the rich, young ruler, claims that he has followed all of the commandments of God (Jesus only listed six) but when asked to give away his money he cannot. Most of us, even if were asked by Jesus himself, would hesitate to give up everything that we own, but the rich, young ruler believed that he kept all of God’s commands. He walks away not because Jesus condemns him, but because Jesus’ question reveals his sin. He loved money more than God. He coveted money and has made money into an idol. That’s at least three commandments that he couldn’t keep.

And he is not the only one who is worried about Jesus’ reply. The disciples themselves worry that this standard is so high that none of them would be good enough. But Jesus’ answer to them is one of comfort as well as mathematics. Jesus tells the disciples that God keeps accounts. God keeps track. God knows what we do and how we live our lives. God knows the risks we take and he knows what we give up to serve him. God knows what you have given up in terms of money, family, time, pride, prestige and popularity to follow him. And Jesus promises that your return on investment will be 10,000 percent. As we evaluate the risk of investing in a future that lies on the other side of the chasm of death, we recognize that there is risk, but the reward is so significant, so amazing, that even a small amount invested will result in enormous returns.

But the best wrinkle in this story of risk is shared with us by the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:12-16) who reassures us about the fairness of God’s judgment where he says:

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Simply put: God is not dead.

The word of God slices into us, even in the darkest corners of our soul, and reveals our sin. God’s word shines the light of judgement on our actions, thoughts and attitudes. But even though our innermost thoughts are revealed before the judgement seat of Jesus, we have no need to fear. Our high priest, Jesus, who sits in on the throne of God, was a human being just like us. He knows exactly what it means to be afraid. He knows how it feels to take risks. He understands us better than we do ourselves and it was his sacrifice that rescues us from our sins.

Even though it is frightening to know that God keeps an accounting of every moment of our lives, God’s accounting of the followers of Jesus Christ is not intended to condemn or destroy us. Instead, because Jesus knows us and understands what it is to be human, and because we have put our faith and confidence in him, we can approach the throne of God with confidence instead of fear. When we are weighed in the balance, the penalty for our sins has already been paid.

On the day that we approach the throne of judgement, instead of finding condemnation, we will instead find a place of mercy and grace.

There is no risk in trusting God.

There is no risk in following Jesus.

There is only reward.

There are only two real risks that we need to worry about.

First, there is the huge risk of failing to put our trust in Jesus.

And the second is in failing to invest in the life we have with him both now and forever.