Sunday, May 19, Sermon by Rev. Steve Hayward
Easter 5, 2019
“Love one another as I have loved you.” John 13
In this Easter season we are back at the table of the Last Supper this morning, and Jesus is delivering his Last Will and Testament – the New Commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. ”But the central figure in this story is not necessarily Jesus. It isn’t the Beloved Disciples who sits at the Lord’s right hand. It isn’t Peter. Instead, the focus of the story is Judas, the Betrayer.
Here sits Judas – perhaps at Jesus’ left hand – nervously folding and refolding his napkin, furtively looking around the room at his brother disciples, watching as Jesus circles the room, crouching at each disciple’s feet, now carefully washing Judas’ own feet, and then Jesus stands and announces that the betrayer of them all is sitting at their very table. Judas turns a whiter shade of pale….
Astonished, Peter whispered to the Beloved Disciple, who was seated next to Jesus, the one who would shortly be asked to adopt Mary as his own mother and care for her in the years to come, the one of whom it is said “Jesus loved” – Peter asks the Beloved John to find out who Jesus is talking about. Jesus replies, “It is the one to whom I will give this bit of bread.” It is, in St John’s mystical language, “the Bread of Life”, and Judas will be the first to receive it. Judas will be the first to receive the Body and Blood of Christ at that First Eucharist.
But Judas can barely choke down that bit of bread before he scrambles to his feet and rushes out the door into the cold, dark and bitter, night.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” Sounds easy enough, unless you know the story – unless you know just who it is that Jesus loved and gave his life to save – Judas, the Betrayer; Judas, to whom the treasury had been entrusted; Judas, one of the original 12 companions; Judas, whose feet Jesus had just washed; Judas, whom Jesus had just fed by his own hand.
Now here’s a great Bible quiz: who else, in biblical history, had been fed by the hand of another? Who was it that offered the food? And if you’re thinking, “Why, that would be Boaz!”, then you would be right! And, of course, we all know that the person to whom he offered food was the most faithful people of all, Ruth. Feeding another as Boaz did, and as Jesus did, is not only a sign of intimacy, but it is also a sign of gratefulness for a person’s loyalty and faithfulness. Judas would not seem to be a candidate for such an honor. But that is the point, isn’t it? Jesus honors Judas, honors us all, by continuing to feed us, to offer himself, no matter who or what.
And that explains why this lesson is a new commandment and not just an addendum to the old commandments. It isn’t enough to simply love those who love us, or to love those who believe the same things we do, or who vote the way we vote. It isn’t like going to a gathering where everybody agrees on the same principles. This is about the difficult love of caring about those who hate what we stand for. It’s about offering honor and support to those who wish us harm, who mistreat us, who have no respect for the things most important to us. This is about Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi falling in love with one another, respecting the others ideals, listening with respect and dignity. This is hard.
You will note that Jesus didn’t offer this new commandment simply as a nice idea. He knew it would be way too hard if he simply suggested that we love just as deeply, as often and as completely as he did. Jesus made it the new commandment. He made it the new commandment, because otherwise it would have gotten forgotten as soon as that door banged shut behind Judas as he rushed out the door.
That is how the writer of the Gospel of John remembers that evening when Jesus sat with his devoted disciples for the last time. He remembers that Jesus spent a good amount of time telling his disciples how they were to treat Judas – or any Judas.
“Lord, who is it that will betray you? ‘It is the one to whom I give this bit of bread.’….Then he took it and gave it to Judas son of Simon….As soon as Judas received it Satan entered him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you have to do.’ As soon as Judas had received the bread he went out. It was night.”
Judas couldn’t stand it any longer. His anger, his anxiety, his disappointment all bubbled up as Jesus continued to love him, worry about him, perhaps pity him. He had a complete spiritual breakdown that allowed Satan, allowed evil to take over his life. Faced with his own treachery and the love of God sitting right across the table, Judas stumbled out into the dark of night.
Some years later Peter must have remembered this night when, in a dream, he finally understood that Jewish and Gentile Christians were empowered by the same Spirit. At the Council of Jerusalem around 50 AD, the first formal gathering of the leaders of the early church, Peter stood up to face St James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem Church to proclaim that all Christians were loved by God, and to try to differentiate between the two was a hopeless waste of time.
In the world today we spend a lot of time and a lot of words denigrating other children of God – people who believe things a little differently than we do, who think different thoughts than we do, who may have a different shade to their skin or a different primary relationship than we’re used to. It is stunning that we, an American people, who have been the most fortunate of any people who have ever lived on this earth, have such difficulty living with grace and love for our fellow human beings. Instead, we seem to have become an angry, tight-fisted, stone-faced nation. We have not been faithful to the graciousness of God. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. Instead, we spend much of our time resenting that neighbor who is just as valuable to God as we are. The unbelievable truth is that God loves us all – even Judas, and even every single one of us, no exceptions.
At the Last Supper Jesus made the Christian life a whole lot harder. With just one last commandment, he changed all the rules. We are commanded to love the one who looks most like Judas. We’re asked to wash his feet, give him the first morsel from our plate, bind up her wounds, offer her our life. And when we do, maybe then we will understand just how much God loves you and me.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, May 12, Sermon by Rev. Steve Hayward
MOTHER BEARS AND THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Mothers’ Day, the 4th Sunday of Easter, 2019
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” — John 10
I’m not sure whether it was simply a coincidence or whether somebody planned it, but it happens that Mothers’ Day often falls on Good Shepherd Sunday, and so it is often easy to link the two celebrations if you happened to have had a mother such as mine. Rosemary Barber Hayward came out of the hills of Ogden, Utah where she was born in 1911. She brought with her a strong arm, a strong faith, and an unrelenting love for her family – especially her four boys.
But this story really begins with her mother-in-law, Sally Hunter, because it was the Hunter family farm – later Hayward Farms – on which I did most of my growing up. Sally Hunter was born a generation earlier – in the 1880’s. The Hunter farm had been given to her uncle who served in the US Army during the now infamous Indian Wars – since the United States couldn’t afford to pay their soldiers. Instead, they handed over a section of land about 10 miles off the Mississippi River that was little more than swamp at the time. It wasn’t until the 1920’s the Army Corps of engineers built levees along that stretch of the mighty river and drained most of the soggy land around. In the meantime, the Hunters and the Haywards and the Moores and the Byrds all learned to live on the land. They were a tough bunch, and it took some handling from the likes of my mother and grandmother to civilize a rather difficult crowd of relatives – especially when the Haywards from Kentucky joined up.
But one of the tools that both matriarchs brought to fight was a strong Christian faith – strong, but very different. Sally was a stanch Roman Catholic, and their were rules that one better abide, or there would be trouble – big trouble! My mother, however, brought a very different voice – no less powerful, but it was one that knew the love of God and not just the demanding rule of Law. But another thing they shared was a very scary Mother Bear persona. One had better not mess with their boys, or they were going to regret it. More than once we cringed when we saw our Mother Bear heading for the principal’s office to defend her mistreated cubs!
I think my brothers and I got a good look at what the Good Shepherd is really like. He is not always the meek and mild Jesus that we see cuddling a cute little lamb. The Good Shepherd is also the one who has to fend off the wolves, track down the sheep when they’ve gotten themselves entangled in a mess, lost or hungry in the wilderness. You never know what you might run into in the wilderness – it’s not a nice place. There are jackals and tarantulas and not much to live on. But the Good Shepherd tracks us down even there. “I give them eternal life…and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Sounds like the Mother Bear to me.
Another thing the Mother Bear and the Good Shepherd have in common is this: our relationship to either one is not dependent upon what we do. It is not possible to make either Mother Bear or God to love us. Neither is going to say, “Work hard and maybe I’ll love you.” What the Good Shepherd says is, “You belong to me, and no one can take you from me.” Good parenting isn’t dependent upon having “good” children. Good parenting is like being the Good Shepherd – loving the sheep no matter what.
Today along stretches of the Mississippi River there is historic flooding. Many of the dams and levees have been overrun by spring thaw and heavy rains. Winter wheat crops are flooded and spring planting will be late. The Chinese, one of the major trading partners for wheat, corn, and soybeans are not in the picture. Prices for those commodities are headed for rock bottom. Farm families that are carrying heavy mortgages on land and equipment are wondering if they’ll still be on the land this winter. Even here in Maine we have learned that the state lost more than 400 farms in 2017 and more in the past year. It’s a difficult life not knowing from one year to the next what to expect to support a family. It takes a strong constitution, a strong Mother Bear, and a strong faith to constantly remind oneself that the Good Shepherd never abandons us – no matter how bleak the wilderness. Still, God’s promise is not just for a moment, not just for a season, a time, a span of a generation or so. It is not a promise given just in good times or in difficult days. It is a promise for always and forever. Some of us are lucky enough to have had a Mother Bear in this life, but all of us have a Good Shepherd for eternity. And there is nothing we can do about it. The Good Shepherd will never let us go, never leave us, never turn his head even for a moment.
Twenty or thirty years before St John wrote his Gospel, St Paul wrote these words to the church at Rome: “Who can separate from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, nakedness, peril, or the sword? ….No, …. (nothing) in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You know, I tried once – not to escape the Good Shepherd , but the Mother Bear. I’ve told you this before, I think. I tried to run away from the Mother Bear when I was about 8 years old. And I was pretty fast for an 8 year old. But I got about half was down our driveway before I got caught in her large, but surprisingly gentle, paws. I gave up – never tried again. It was completely useless. The Good Shepherd is even more tenacious.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
March 17, 2019 The Second Sunday of LENT
March 10, 2019 The First Sunday of LENT
March 6, 2019 Ash Wednesday
Claudia’s Final Sunday at St. Francis Maarch 3, 2019