John: Farewell Discourse
June 5, 2016 Series: John: Gospel of Light and Life
Passage: John 13:3–13:17, John 14:1–14:3, John 14:15–14:19, John 14:25–14:27, John 15:1–15:11, John 15:12–15:17
Let’s just name it and get it out in the open from the start. Did I really just show a clip from Star Wars in church? Yes. Yes I did. And now wait, am I really going to double-down on the Star Wars by using it as the intro to my sermon? Yes. Yes I am. This will either be the absolute best or absolute worst five minutes of the service for some of you.
But that’s an epic scene from an epic movie. And I promise it connects in with our Scripture from this morning. And not just because we are going to read Jesus saying “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
But if you’ve seen the movie you know that Obi Won is training and mentoring Luke Skywalker in how to become a Jedi. But Luke’s training is not complete at this point, in fact it has really just begun. There are many lessons Luke still needs to learn. And there are central questions that Obi Won or the movie has raised that have yet to be answered. For Luke, Obi Won’s death is crushing because he is losing a mentor who has so much more to teach him. For the audience Obi Won’s death is crushing because we know he holds the answers to so many questions we have.
Both Luke and the audience wish we had more time with Obi Won, or at least one final chance to receive guidance, ask questions, get answers, and be trained. In Star Wars we don’t get that chance. And in many stories and books and movies we don’t get that final scene, that final speech. In John’s Gospel, we do. So how I made that work?!
In John’s Gospel we get a final speech from Jesus to his disciples, a final scene between Jesus and his disciples, where they can receive their last words of wisdom, ask their final questions, and receive their final training. This takes place during the Last Supper. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke that Last Supper is a matter of a chapter at most. In John, the Last Supper takes up a quarter of John’s entire Gospel, five chapters. Here Jesus is giving his final teachings to his disciples. And in the midst of those teachings, there are four words I want to lift up to you. Well, four words and then a whole lot of other words around them.
The first word that I want to lift up from the farewell discourse is Blessed. But how we get to talking about being blessed might be surprising.
John 13: 3-17
Before Jesus goes through the arrest and trial and crucifixion, he wants to leave his disciples with a new understanding of what it means to be blessed. But I have to go and do it again, I have to go back to the Greek. The word that Jesus uses here could also be translated as happiness. And I mention that because in our culture we use blessed a lot to mean a lot of different things. And we use happy a lot to mean a lot of different things. But if you combine the two, I think you get close to what Jesus meant.
Oftentimes when we talk about being blessed in today’s culture what we really mean is lucky. Fortunate. We got a good parking spot. Blessed. We won a contest. Likewise when we use happy we usually talk about some momentary feeling. I hit all green lights on the way to church. Happy.
I don’t mean for my examples to be small and trivial, but when we talk about blessing and happiness often we are talking about something that will go away at some point. I am happy when I am on vacation, but soon I will be back to work and not as happy. I am blessed to get the good parking spot but sometimes I’m not blessed and have to walk much further.
But when the Bible talks about blessing and happiness, its talking about an ultimate state, something that never goes away. The best example I can give for this is being a parent. Now I want to bring the kids back into this. Kids, and I’m sorry to be vulgar here, but where are we supposed to go potty?
Well, a week or so ago I got a text from my wife that said, “I took Patrick’s pull-up off and told him to meet me in the bathroom. He ran into our room, tinkled on the floor and then jumped in the puddle.” I apologize for such a vulgar story in church. When you have to deal with something like that as a parent, you aren’t in the realm of happiness or blessing as our society usually defines the two. And yet, being a parent is a blessed state, it’s a state of happiness, that never goes away. And its that latter sense of happiness and blessing that is what Jesus gets at in the first part of the farewell speech.
And that’s the key to getting this story. Because washing feet is gross. It really is. It was the job of the lowest servant. And typically if the servant wasn’t there, someone would step up and do it or you’d take turns washing others feet. Except the disciples didn’t. Can’t you see them standing around looking at one another, an ancient game of chicken? So on some level, we understand this story. We know that true love looks like a rabbi, a teacher, a master washing the feet of his servants. We know that true love looks like a mother cleaning up a puddle of tinkle.
But there are two things I want to point out. Remember we are in John’s Gospel. And in John’s Gospel we get the strongest most consistent picture of Jesus as Divine out of all the Gospels. Remember the opening words, the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were made through him. We get huge miracles, like raising the dead, and we get a Jesus who performs these miracles with swagger. And we have I AM statements that are clearly a nod towards God. And then we have a story about footwashing. And the point is this, my friends, what we see in this episode is nothing less than the God of the universe, the creator of all there is, the all-powerful Lord of Hosts washing feet. Our God washes feet.
And then Jesus says that anyone who does as he has done will be blessed. The world will tell you that you are blessed if you have the ability to pay people to do undesirable jobs. The world will tell you that you are blessed if you don’t have to stoop low, if you don’t have to risk your pride. The world will tell you that you are blessed if you can rise up the class ladder, if you can become rich and powerful and important. But God says that you are blessed if you serve others. God says you are blessed if you reach out in love. God says you are blessed if you don’t think of anyone as lesser than you. God says you’re blessed if you wash feet.
Which turns everything upside down. And that’s why we need the church. We need the church to call us to service. We need the church to call us to go on mission trips. We need the church to ask us to serve the poorest in our communities through Bread and Fishes a couple times a year or like how one of our small groups serves at the Hilda Barg center. We need the church to call us to give and to sacrifice some of our money so that others can benefit through the ministries of the church. Because without the church calling out to us, reminding us that blessing and happiness come, not through accumulating wealth and status, but from divesting, the voice of the world will drown us out.
But when the church calls us to sacrifice, to service, when the church calls us to empty ourselves we are put into a vulnerable place. When you give away 2%, 5%, 10% of your income you aren’t able to save as much. When you go to a foreign country you become vulnerable. When you serve the poor you are brought face to face with the awkward truth that there are have nots in our world as we have more than enough. So the natural inclination is to not want to go to those places. Which is where the second word comes in.
John 14: 1-3
In the Common English Bible, which was put out to make you buy more Bibles, the first verse is translated, “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me.” I think I like that word Trust there more than Believe. Nothing against belief. But in our post-Enlightenment world, belief becomes much more intellectual, cerebral, and ethereal, not unlike my sermons. Trust is much more experiential. And what I mean by that is trust is something that gained or lost or earned through experience. Trust in God comes from going through situations where you needed God and finding that God shows up and is faithful. Trust is born out of the crucible of lived experience, its gained after a life of walking the road of discipleship.
Put another way, who here has jumped into a swimming pool? Let me back up, who here is so happy that the pools are open? We have had Patrick in swim classes the past few months to get him used to being in the water. Now I want to see from the kids, who here is old enough to jump in by themselves? And that’s so much fun, isn’t it? Well my son, he’s only 2, so he’s not old enough to go in by himself. And he would actually be scared to go in by himself. So he stands at the edge of the pool and jumps to me. Do any of you remember doing that?
The first time he did that, he was really unsure. He didn’t know if he wanted to get in that way. At swim class they’d have us sit them on the edge of the water and we’d sing humpty dumpty and when we got to the line “had a great fall,” well predictably they’d jump in. The first time, Patrick just sat there for a few minutes. But eventually he jumped in. And I caught him. And he realized I would catch him if he jumped in. And every time after that, we wouldn’t have to wait to say “fall” before he’d already be in the water.
Jesus says we need to trust God. And what we need to trust in is the fact that God will always have us covered. God will always catch us. In life, in death, in life beyond death we are God’s. One way of reading these verses based on ancient architecture (ask me after service if you’re interested in the details) is that we are part of God’s family, God’s household, and that nothing can ever change that. Another read is that in heaven we will have a home in God’s community. Combine the two and there’s nothing that can happen that will ever separate us from God. And trusting in that will free us up to be blessed.
You see the church will ask you to do hard things as part of discipleship, Jesus will ask you to do hard things if you follow him, God will call you to hard things. Being a Christian isn’t easy. Washing feet isn’t easy. You have to lower yourself, you have to make yourself vulnerable. You have to turn the other cheek. You have to forgive. You have to offer grace and mercy. You have to love. Which means sometimes in this life it doesn’t appear that we win.
But no matter what, no matter what happens in this world, in this life, in this culture, we are part of God’s family. We are God’s. When we trust in that, when we believe in that, we are able to do the hard things, we are able to risk, we are able to put ourselves into uncomfortable places in the name of God knowing that nothing can take away the place we have in God’s house.
John 14: 15-19, 25-27
Kids, I want you to be really honest with me for a second. Do you ever, whether at home or in school, have you ever needed to be reminded of the rules? Ya know, sometimes we get playing, we get so excited and we just forget the rules. I see it happen in my house all the time. Does that ever happen to you?
Well God knows us. God understands who we are. God made us this way. And God knows that sometimes we can forget some things. Sometimes we forget the rules. Sometimes we forget to trust God. Sometimes we forget that we are part of God’s family and have the freedom to do the things that make us blessed. It’s not always that we are being malicious. It’s not always that we want to break the rules. Just sometimes we forget. So God, knowing us, decided to send us a companion. I like that word, companion. Someone to play with us. Someone to hang out with us. And someone to gently remind us of the things we need to know.
Once again, the world is gonna tell you some things. The world is gonna tell you things about what makes you successful and what makes you a failure. The world is gonna tell you things you need to fear. The world will tell you that these people are dangerous, that if you do this you’ll get hurt, or you need eleventy billion dollars to retire. And if the world tells you that enough times, you’ll start to believe that you can’t wash feet. Because of what will happen to you if you wash feet.
It is then that our companion steps in. To tell us that we are in God’s family. We are in God’s household. We are God’s. And we can trust that. To tell us of times that God has had our back before. And to remind us of what it means to be blessed and to be happy in this life.
John 15: 1-11
Who here has seen Frozen? Yeah that’s what I thought. Who here loves Olaf? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Olaf sings a song in the movie, who remembers what that song is? In Summer. And that song is silly and funny because Olaf keeps talking about how great it would be when summer came back. But what happens to snowmen in summer?
Our last word today is Abide. Jesus says that we are to abide in him or to remain in his love. Jesus talks about vines and branches which is helpful to farmers and people who live around grape vines and olive trees. But for us, who lived through the mass craze that was Frozen, perhaps a better example is Olaf.
For Olaf to remain a snowman he must remain in winter. He must abide in cold. If he goes into summertime, he will melt. The same thing is true of us as Christians. If we remain in Christ’s love, if we surround ourselves in the love of Christ, then we can thrive. If our Companion can keep reminding us to Trust in God, to Trust that we are part of God’s household and family, then we can remember the we are Blessed. And we remember that even when we have to do hard things, like forgive or love or wash feet, that we are blessed.
John 15: 12-17
I want to end with the final command Jesus gives his followers. So many times in so many epic stories we don’t get the final words of advice from mentor to would-be hero. I was going to write a list of examples here, but that seemed really spoiler-y. So imagine your own list.
But here we get Jesus’ final words. “Love each other.” Seems so simple, right? But we have seen from the first scene in this act that love for Jesus is costly for us. What does it look like to love? Earlier it meant washing feet. Soon it’s going to mean dying for them, which Jesus alludes to in this section. And that type of love, the love that Jesus calls us to, the love Jesus commands of us, is really, really hard. It’s hard for us to do. It’s hard for us to show. And yet, it’s expected of us.
As you go from this place, Jesus is issuing a command to you: love one another. Love one another as Jesus loves. Wash feet. Sacrifice. View others as infinitely more important than yourself. And as you go from this place to attempt to love like that, remember it is only in loving others the way that Jesus does that we can be blessed and happy in this life. That even though it’s hard, even though it’s risky, even though it makes you vulnerable, trust that God will take care of you. You might forget that last part, but you have a companion to remind you. And it is only possible if you abide in Christ’s love.