Sermon Maundy Thursday 2012

April 5, 2012 at 10:19 am Leave a comment

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS

Maundy Thursday

St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Loganton PA – Sugar Valley Ministerium

1 Cor. 15:1-11; John 13:1-17, 31-35

April 5, 2012

 

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

 

The last words my mother ever heard her father speak

were not addressed to her.

As they left the nursing home on a summer Sunday afternoon twelve years ago,

her father looked at my father and said,

‘Take care of my daughter.’

A command if ever there was one,

and a word of love for my mother

from a man who, in his life, could be sparing with his expressions of love.

 

It can happen that way, can’t it?

A mother lies dying in a hospital room somewhere,

and two or three siblings who are at odds gather around her,

and with her final words,

she implores them, commands them, to be the loving family they were created to be.

In the shadow of death, life, real life, life in community,

becomes that much more precious.

Life is so fragile,

and the words that are so hard to say

because they bring up so much conflict

have to be said, because there is so little time.

So little time to see life and community restored.

 

The word ‘Maundy’ is the English rendering

of the Latin ‘mandatum,’ for ‘commandment.’

On the night before he died, with so little time,

Jesus did not indulge

in maudlin remembrances of times past

neither did he impart nuggets of wisdom for a happy life.

Instead, he gave his disciples two commands:

‘Do this in remembrance of me:’ and,

‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

 

A command most often is given

when nature itself is not sufficient to see that something is done.

For example, very rarely is a command given to eat a good meal.

However, a command, either from oneself or someone else,

is necessary if one is on a diet.

‘Eat this, not that!’ or ‘Don’t eat that!’

If it came simply to us, there would be no need to command.

 

Jesus commands that after he is crucified and raised,

that we are to love one another as he has loved us,

to take his place not as chief but as servant of all,

to gather in a circle with no one taking higher rank or low,

but to acknowledge him risen in our presence in the Lord’s Supper.

He must command this because our sinful nature will not do this on its own accord.

It simply does not occur to us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

We refuse to see that we cannot go to a higher authority to mediate our disputes,

but that the Spirit of Jesus must be present within us

so that we can be honest and forthright with each other

in a spirit of humility and gentleness.

 

My friends, as an interim pastor,

I also am among you a little while longer,

however long that time may be.

So I may be direct,

because there is so little time.

Much has been made of why the churches are in decline,

and why participating in church brings stress for so many rather than peace.

The older people blame the younger people.

The younger people blame the older people.

The pastors blame the people.

The people blame the pastors.

The economy, the government, the President, the culture is at fault.

The big churches with lots of programs are stealing everyone.

We need more exciting worship, a bigger building, more money.

We’re getting old. It’s not like it was in the old days.

We blame others, we blame each other, we blame God.

And all the while the basin and the towel sit there,

while the members of the Church stand there pointing the finger

waiting for their feet to be washed,

waiting to be catered to by someone who ought to be serving them.

 

In my childhood I was a camper at Camp Nawakwa,

and then in my early adulthood a counselor,

nestled among the apple orchards of Adams County.

We sang that great folk song, taken from our Gospel passage for today:

“They will know we are Christians by our love.”

For many that song is a mockery.

Clergy, church staff, church volunteers, children and youth,

go to church expecting to find God’s presence,

and instead they experience gossip, secrecy, backbiting, public humiliation,

shaming, manipulative behavior, dishonesty, judgment,

indifference or outright contempt for the Word of God,

the lust for power, the refusal to forgive:

the spirit of the evil one

who put it in the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus.

 

Brothers and sisters, I name these not because I can point to them among you.

I don’t know half of you,

and the half of you I do know I don’t know half as well as I wish!

I have indeed experienced among you the love of God, the peace of Christ.

I am not attacking you as people of this congregation or of this area,

nor am I naming anyone in particular.

My attack is on the spirit of dissension

that attacks the Church everywhere,

that attacks the Church in my life,

the spirit of dissension that obscures Christ’s love

and makes our witness weak and unfruitful.

 

Certainly societal factors play a part in the decline of the churches.

But we are much too quick to blame them

when we have so spectacularly failed to keep our Lord’s command.

I have seen too many clergy and their families

with their zeal for ministry nearly destroyed

by those who wouldn’t be satisfied if St. Paul himself were their pastor.

(Come to think of it, not many of his congregations supported him either!)

 

But we clergy bear our responsibility as well.

In his book Life Together,

the German pastor and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this,

‘Pastors should not complain about their congregation,

certainly never to other people, but also not to God.

Congregations have not been entrusted to them in order

that they should become accusers of their congregations

before God and their fellow human beings.’

Uh-oh.

 

Bonhoeffer also says,

‘If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian community

in which we are placed,

even when there are no great experiences,

no noticeable riches, but much weakness, difficulty, and little faith –

and if, on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God

that everything is so miserable and so insignificant

and does not at all live up to our expectations –

then we hinder God from letting our community grow

according to the measure and riches that are there for us in Jesus Christ.

Only those who give thanks for little things receive the great things as well.’

 

We recognize that there is a problem, the lack of love.

Is there any hope?

What then is the solution?

Not to turn away from the Church because it is dead,

but to believe that at its center

dwells the living Christ, who died because of its sins

and is risen by God’s power.

To give thanks for the little things so that we might receive the great things as well.

To allow ourselves to be filled with Christ’s love

and serve those with whom we are in community.

To believe that by God’s immeasurable mercy,

Christ himself died on the cross for our sins and for theirs.

 

We believe that when Christ said, ‘Love one another as I have loved you,’

he was speaking not only to those in the Upper Room,

but that he was speaking to us as well,

for we face the same temptations and need the same deliverance as they.

We are tempted to fear, blame and judgment,

and Christ himself must deliver us from our self-justifying ways.

And he can, and he will.

 

We believe that when Jesus said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’

he left a tangible sign of his presence on earth

so that when he is enthroned in heaven,

we might still recognize him

reigning among us in the Church as Lord,

so that among us there is no struggle for power

but only a desire to know the living Lord’s will.

He lives among us,

forgiving our sins, binding us together,

making whole what otherwise would be broken.

 

My brothers and sisters,

on this night we hear our Lord’s command and call to love,

we come before him confessing our brokenness,

and experience the intimacy of community with him and with each other

in the Holy Communion.

Tomorrow we will behold again the cost of Jesus’ faithfulness,

his endurance of the whole world’s hatred.

But on Easter, yes, on Easter,

we will again hear the message that sin, death, and evil

could not destroy him,

that he lives forever to be our champion,

to fill us with his Spirit that forgives, restores, and cleanses us.

Let us enter with humility and with awe

on the journey of these three days.

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