Getting Ready for Sunday by The Rev. John Thorpe

5 Easter, Year C

John 13:31-35 (ESV)

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 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 that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This reading takes place in the shadow of Judas Iscariot. Judas has just left the Last Supper, and it suddenly seems that the palpable insider vs. outsider dynamic, full of uncertainty, that has permeated this unusual Passover can now be dispensed with. Jesus announces his and the Father’s glory to the eleven insiders only after the ultimate outsider has been driven away. The end of the story is the glory – but he will not say that while Judas is around.

Jesus already knows the timeline of the next few days: he had told it plainly to the disciples. He will be betrayed to the chief priests and scribes; unjustly condemned; beaten; crucified; three days later to rise again and ascend to the Father and be glorified. It is true what Paul says: For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame. Jesus kept his eyes on the glorification to come, not on the humility in his immediate future.

Then, just as the eleven were getting used to feeling like insiders, Jesus gives them the same vague answer about his itinerary that he gave to the opposition: where I go, you cannot come. They may be insiders, but Jesus must do this task alone. What emotional confusion the disciples must have experienced! Are we in or out? Are we with you or not?

Then comes a new commandment – one which sounds suspiciously similar to existing commandments. Is this new love commandment just a rehash of Jesus’ own summary of the Law? No, it is more focused. Though Jesus certainly wanted his followers to fulfill he general obligations to love God and love neighbor, now he gets really specific: love one another, the insiders, the faithful, the Church with the same selfless, sacrificial love that Jesus knows he is about to display on the cross. This is not a general obligation, but a very specific and pointed command that his disciples of Jesus should love like Jesus, especially in-house. So important is this internal organizational value that Jesus restates it: it should be the one defining characteristic of all Christians that no matter what else is going on, they love each other with a sacrificial love.

Seventeen hundred years later, preachers George Whitfield and John Wesley, once dear friends, had become theological opponents and occasionally exchanged sharp words. Nevertheless, they respected each other. Charles Spurgeon told this story of the two: “Mr. Whitefield was one day asked by a partisan, ‘Do you think that we, when we get to Heaven, shall see John Wesley there?’ ‘No,’ said George Whitefield, ‘I do not think we shall.’ The questioner was very delighted with that answer, but Mr. Whitefield added, ‘I believe that Mr. John Wesley will have a place so near the Throne of God and that such poor creatures as you and I will be so far off as to be hardly able to see him!"’ (Spurgeon Sermon no. 2936)

Churches sometimes excel at chewing up and spitting out our own. Church splits, theological differences, even the color of the tablecloths in the parish hall can set off a flurry of demonization, fight-or-flight responses, and all-around bad behavior. In a time of political, cultural, and theological polarization in America, in Dallas, and in the Episcopal Church, what would it look like if the Christians of the Diocese of Dallas all considered that their brothers- and sisters-in-Christ might, like Wesley, be closer to Christ than they themselves? Can internal, Christian-to-Christian love become our one distinguishing characteristic?

The Rev. John Thorpe is chaplain for St. John's Episcopal School

Posted by The Rev. John Thorpe with

Getting Ready for Sunday by the Rev. Andrew Van Kirk

Sunday’s gospel passage (John 10:22-30), as it always is on the Fourth Sunday from Easter, is from John, chapter 10. Over the course of the three-year lectionary cycle, the bulk of Jesus’ discussion of himself as the “Good Shepherd” in chapter 10 is read – roughly 1/3 of it per year. For this reason, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is often called Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s also the reason you’ll hear Psalm 23 at worship.

This year we get final third of the cycle, and what you need to know for Sunday is that Jesus’ conversation partners in all this, the Jewish leaders gathered at the Temple, were sick and tired of all this Shepherd talk. Less metaphor, more answers. They just wanted know: Was Jesus the Messiah, or was he not the Messiah? Quit dancing around the subject, they demanded, and just say “yes” or “no.”

To this Jesus begins his reply, “I already told you.”

Can’t you imagine the smoke rising out of their ears with this answer? They asked a very clear, direct question, and they got a rather opaque, indirect answer. It’s not unlike the time Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33)—there too Jesus simply refused to answer the question with “yes” or “no.”

It reminds me of a category of phone call I get with some regularity. The person who calls, after a curt greeting, inquires, “Do you do weddings?” This is a “yes” or “no” question, to which I always answer, “Well…”

Of course I “do weddings,” but not the sort of weddings that people going through the phone book looking for someone to do a wedding are talking about. There is a confusion between “weddings” and “weddings,” and I can’t just answer the question if someone doesn’t understand what they are asking. In this I think our Lord would sympathize. Is Jesus the Christ? Sure. But not what the Jewish leaders meant by “Christ.” Is Jesus a king? Of course. But not what Pilate meant by “king.” The gospel records the confusion between “Christ” and “Christ”, between “king” and “king.”

At the end of his lengthy, indirect answer, Jesus concludes, “I and the Father are one.” That’s what Jesus meant by Christ – and it’s something far different (and greater) than that the people who asked the question had in mind.

And so the people decide to stone him.

Here’s the thing: allowing Jesus to define the terms of our salvation is hard. If we’re honest with ourselves, and honest with the gospel, we cannot do it by ourselves. It’s only God that can bring us to see Jesus for who he is. The Father “has given” the sheep of Jesus’ flock over to his care. They are “my sheep,” Jesus says, by virtue of God’s call.

But even for us whom God has called, it can be difficult to really listen to Jesus. We want to Jesus to listen to what we think we need, but we need to listen to what Jesus wants to offer us: “I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

So as you get ready for Sunday this week, is there some place in your life where you are demanding of God a “yes” or “no” answer? Is there any place where you might need to let him redefine the terms of what his work might look like in your life?

The Rev. Andrew Van Kirk is the Associate Rector at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, McKinney.

Posted by The Rev. Andrew Van Kirk with

12...22232425262728293031 ... 3233

This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.