The Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Pastor Robert Moore

April 28, 2013
Robert G. Moore, Senior Pastor
Christ the King Lutheran Church
Houston, Texas

The Readings (New Revised Standard Version) and Psalm (ELW) for the Day:
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Psalm 148 The splendor of the LORD is over earth and heaven. (Ps. 148:13)
Revelation 21:1–6
John 13:31–35

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We have heard the word this morning in the marvelous readings of sacred scripture. That is, of course, why we have gathered, to hear the voice of God addressing us, just the way we yearn to hear a parent speak to us lovingly with the words, “my son, my daughter” or simply “Bobby” or “Kay.”

I grew up in a time that perhaps is past but perhaps is not completely behind us. In our society for some reason it was difficult to deal with the words, “I love you.” The boys in my family simply accepted that. So we did not hear such things from our parents. Why was it so difficult?
Actions are another matter. We knew that we were loved. We had good lives of material things, fun at play, good food, and proper clothes. Later on when we had the courage to discuss these things, my father would grow defensive, insisting that he loved us children.

Well, the five brothers in our family accepted these conditions, but the two sisters who arrived late in the game would not accept it. Long after we boys had left the nest, my sisters put a full court press on my father to say, “I love you.” According to them, my father grew timid, rather than intimidated. He finally relented under pressure and would answer their declarations of love to their father with those simple words, “I love you.”

Well, this brought benefits to the brothers. Daddy would call us wherever we lived. We would end our conversation, but suddenly Daddy was saying with a light but clear voice, “l love you.” Then there were other gifts. On the night that my mother died, one of the most important events of my life occurred when my older brother walked over to me– Mother’s struggle having ended–and said to me, “I love you.”

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus says,

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. . . I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:33a-34-35)
Even in the church, founded upon the grace and love of God, we find it difficult to say those words, “I love you.” Perhaps it is because we do not understand what we are pledging by those words to people we actually do not know so well.

Jesus speaks to us addressing us as “little children.” He declares his love for his disciples. The disciples do not understand. They think that to be loved by Jesus is to gain power and standing in this world. Jesus has taught them otherwise. He speaks through his actions. He wraps a towel around his waist, takes a basin of water, and washes the disciples’ feet. Their leader Simon Peter rejects Jesus’ declaration of love. The implications are clear that love is the declaration and action of Christ.

Jesus gives a new commandment, to love one another. The disciples do not know what that means. They do not know how to receive the commandment. They will soon realize that all that will take care of its self as Jesus prepares to give the greatest sign of his love, the giving of his life. As we pray often at the Lord’s table,

He is the one who, handed over to a death he freely accepted, in order to destroy death. (Eucharistic Prayer XI, ELW)

Jesus willingly takes on the life of service. He is also willing to give away his life. He speaks his love to his own children. They do not understand that Jesus’ love includes the difficulty of his “going away,” in order that the Spirit of God may come to renew the world on the Eighth Day of Creation. And that is what happens. Jesus gives away his life on the cross. The disciples struggle from nearby and from far away as they realize that their hopes and dreams were crumbling before them.

The disciples, who had only argued among themselves who was the greatest, were transformed by the witness of Jesus, the great Revealer. Mary Magdalene, Peter and the Beloved Disciple had seen the Lord. They suddenly could see the “pattern in the seed.”

Jesus answered them, “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. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. (John 12:26)

Out of the death of Jesus rose something new. Not a new commandment. That had always been there, as our reading from Leviticus declares. What we have now is a new condition revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

The writer of the Book of Revelation says it this way.

“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4-5)

Now instead of arguing over who is the greatest, the disciples are empowered to take up the towel and basin and to say to one another, “I love you.”