Last Words

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Sermon Preached on Confirmation Sunday.

JOHN 13:31-35

31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33Little 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.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Last words are important, especially on days of big transitions, when something is coming to an end and a new thing is beginning.  Sometimes people regret the last thing they have said to a person and they wish they had a second chance to get it right.  They hope that their actions have spoken louder than their words.   My mom has shared a funny story about the last words her parents said to her on her wedding night.  My mom was a young bride, only 21, and after my parents got married and had the reception in the basement of the Lutheran church, they all came back to the house so my mom could change and get her luggage before heading off to a weekend in Chicago for their honeymoon.  As they were leaving and hugging and saying goodbye, her dad  said, “sometime you and Joe will get in argument, whenever that happens, whatever you do, don’t come home.”  Then, her mom, my grandmother, a short, round-faced Swedish lady from whom I get my height pulled on her sleeve and said, “Whatever you do, don’t forget to clean the top of the refrigerator”  – And then they were off on the their honeymoon. Fifty-two years later, my mom never came home and top of her refrigerator is amazing.

I remember the day I moved into my college dorm. I was the oldest and  there was a lot of nervous energy in the air.  Everything was about to change.  After we had moved in and the bed was made, we road down the elevator and walked out to the parking lot.  My dad gave me a hug and said, “Good luck.  Remember, where ever you go, whatever you do, there will always be someone I know watching you.”

And then they got in the car and drove away.

The last words we say to each other are important.

This morning’s small passage are Jesus’ last words before his arrest and death.  They should be very familiar to us, we have heard Jesus say this many times that the greatest commandment is to love another and that people will know, that people will recognize his disciples by how they show that love.  – everyone, he says, will know you are my disciples.  Standing on it’s own this text is meaningful, but if  expand out from this scene, we see that the bigger scene happening here is far more serious. Talk about nervous energy.  Jesus has just been betrayed by one of his own and is about face an arrest, trial and death.  These are his last words before being taken down death row, at the hands of someone he loved, and in this setting he says these words, 3Little 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.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

He says, people will know you are my disciples not by what you say, by you do. “Watch what people do,” said family systems guru Murray Bowen again and again, “not what they say.”

Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” There is nothing more fundamental to what it means to be a Christian then this sentence.

Karen Armstrong is a former Catholic nun who has become a world-renowned scholar of many religions. Armstrong says that in most religious traditions, faith is not about belief but practice. Religion, Armstrong writes, is not about having to believe or accept certain difficult propositions; instead, religion is “about doing things that change you” (Karen Armstrong, The Spiritual Staircase, p. 270)

So when Jesus gives his parting words to his disciples, he wants them to do something that changes them,  that in return changes others, and that change is the manifestation of agape love.

Today is Confirmation Sunday – It’s a day we ask 14 -year-olds to say what they believe about God and the church.  It’s a rite of passage.  It’s day when they the testify to what they believe and we have asked them to testify to those beliefs by using words.   We’ve asked them to put words around their faith.  This exercise is really something we should all do every decade of our lives, if we are fortunate enough to live another decade. -To see how our faith has changed and been shaped by life circumstances. 

I was in confirmation in the 80’s which was the last great boom of the church.  We had a huge confirmation class of about 35 kids and I remember it was taught by two dads in the church.  I remember very little about the class except that I drew a picture of what God looked like.  On the day that we were examined by the session,  e chose one representative from the class to answer all of the questions for all of us. – I never had to answer a question.  So we nominated a kid named Dak Drake to be our spokesperson.  They asked him about John Calvin and John Knox, and the reformed tradition.  Dak did a great job, and I got approved to be confirmed in the church. – It was a win-win.  My point is, I knew very little scripture, very little church history or theology when I professed my faith and joined the church, the only thing I knew, or felt, or believed was love of God.  And I knew this through the action of others.   I knew the adults in the church were Christian by their love, and I wanted to be someone who loved others like they did. It just seemed really freeing to love people the way they did.  They set an example of being the church and I wanted to be a part of it.

Those are really the best parting words to give our confirmands today, isn’t it? To tell them  and assure them that we love them as Christ loves them.    Confirmands if you remember anything about your confirmation day, when you are older and on your own, I hope you remember that in this place you are loved. Not because of what you do, or how you look, or what you have, or what you create, but because you are a child of God.  I hope you find that compelling. I hope you are intrigued by this belief that you are loved and that it motivates you to love others in that same way.  I hope you know that deep down on your hardest day, when you break up with your significant other, when you fail a test, when you  don’t get the award, when you are anxious and when you are sad, my prayer is that there is a little light in you that swims all around you, like a marble in a pinball machine and that light covers you in love.

I hope some day you want to learn more.    I hope you find yourself wanting to study the Word of God, or read the wisdom of past theologians. I hope you are compelled to live out the commandment Jesus gives today.

If you find yourself in a place where someone questions your Christianity, or if you question someone else’s motivation – your litmus test is this:  Is the action out of love for another human being? If’ it’s not spoken or done out of love, it’s spoken or done out of something other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

You know, I didn’t tell you the whole story about the day my family dropped me off for college.  My dad did say that no matter where I was there would be someone watching me, in other words, whatever I did would get back to him.  He then laughed and  gave me one more big hug, and said no matter where you go or what you do, I will always love you no matter what..  And then they got in the car and drove away.

The last words  are important.

They will know we are Christian by our love, by our love, yes they know we are Christian by our love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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