When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 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.’ 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 13:31-35

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 19, 2019) on John 13:31-35. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So I don’t really know a lot about geese and most of my experience with them has been pretty superficial. I usually engage them at a distance, watching as they flying overhead in the shape of a giant V or by stepping gingerly over and around the little...digested gifts they leave on sidewalks and on soccer fields. If close contact between me and them can’t be avoided, I know I need to be careful. A goose who sees me coming near, always assumes I’m either a threat that needs to be honked at or that I work in a bakery and my pockets are full of bread. Geese, like all of God’s creatures, are beautiful in their own way. But I’m not always thrilled to see them waddling around here at church. So far, the church has seen hordes of new geese making a seasonal stop on our property since we’re right next to the reservoir. Every one of these large groups of gooses has done all the things geese usually do. They ate. They honked. And they digested. Geese are always just themselves and feels as if they’re everywhere.

Yet this year, the giant invasion of geese has been a little different because no large group has decided to make CLC part of their extended stay in the neighborhood. Instead, they come for a quick bite before flying or waddling down to the reservoir. The geese flying through Northern New Jersey this year has made CLC a minor pit stop on their journey - except for two. Over the last few weeks, every time I pulled into the church parking lot, I stumbled onto the same two gooses. They were there, walking along Pascack Road, hanging out by Joe’s shed, chatting with our groundhogs by the picnic tables and bbq, and even paying their respects to all who rest in our memorial garden. Instead of a bazillion grease calling CLC home - we, at this moment, have only two. Now, they’re still geese. They’re still eating, honking, and doing their best to digest whatever they can. Nothing they’re doing, on the surface, feels weird. Except our expectations are undone because the bazillion geese we promised ourselves would be here is now reduced to two. Their presence here feels as if we’re watching something new. The fact they chose to eat, hang out, and help each other makes what we were witnessing feel special. I have no idea if these geese are mates, siblings, or just good friends who met each other during one of their routine flying trips. All I know is that they are here being who they are - and I find myself experiencing them in a new way.

Today’s reading from the gospel according to John are four verses from a story we heard a little more than five weeks ago on Maundy Thursday. In John’s version of the last supper, Jesus gathered his friends together in a room to eat, talk, and do all the things we expect at a great dinner party. I imagine there was plenty of food, comfortable seating, and that the room was filled with conversation looking forward to the upcoming festival of Passover and wondering what Jesus might do next. Jesus’ friends, I think, had no problem dreaming up what they thought Jesus’ next actions should be. Yet their dreaming about the future usually caused them to miss seeing what Jesus was already doing in the here and now. In the gospel according to John, Jesus is the only one who knew what the next part of his story would be. So while his friends talked, drank, and ate, Jesus stood up and hung a dish towel from his belt. He then chose to take on the role reserved for a slave, washing the dirty and dusty feet of all who ate. Jesus, their teacher, went to each of the disciples, his students, and washed their feet. Peter, realizing what Jesus was doing, tried to stop him from embracing the role reserved for a servant or a slave. Yet Jesus still knelt - and he, the Savior of the World, washed their feet. The disciples’ expectations for Jesus were running head-first into their actual experience of Jesus. Yet Jesus was always just himself. And the disciples found themselves experiencing Jesus in a new way - and discovering, once again, what God means when it comes to love.

The word love, as we see in verse 34, is preceded by the word “new.” Which forces us to ask what’s actually new with what Jesus said? On one level, the commandment Jesus gave here was not really new at all. Those same words appear in the book of Leviticus and the call to love is one that’s found throughout all of Scripture. The commandment Jesus gave was something the disciples already knew as something they were called to do. So that command to love wasn’t new. But maybe the experience of that love and how we see it - is what makes Jesus’ words brand new.

Because the commandment to love is not defined by what we think love is. Rather, the love Jesus points to is the love God gives. In the words of Rev. David Lose, “[Jesus says this] just hours before [he] will be handed over, tried, beaten, and crucified…all for us. Not as payment against some wicked debt God holds against us. Not to make a just and angry God satisfied or happy. Not because this was the only way to satisfy God’s wrath and make it possible for God to forgive us. Rather, Jesus goes to the cross to show us just how much God loves us. Jesus has been extending God’s forgiveness and love throughout the Gospel.. ‘And having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’ (13:1).”

Like seeing two gooses instead of fifty, sometimes the only way we can see the new thing God is doing in our lives is by letting go of our expectations for God. When we, overtly or subconsciously, make our experiences of God the limit of what’s possible with God, we miss all the signs of love, mercy, and forgiveness God gifts us each and every day. Your encounter with God is not the limit to what is possible with God for yourself and for those around you. Rather, Jesus is in the business of “...reminding us ... how much he loves us… so… that we might be empowered to love others, extending God’s love through word and deed, and in this way love others as Jesus ... loved us.” These reminders might appear to us in a form that will match our expectations. But they can also be so subtle, so unique, and so odd - that we find ourselves surprised to know that such love, for us, is truly possible. Jesus’ love for you is already present in your life. And it’s up to all of us to help one another discover what that love can actually do.