Plymouth United Church of Christ

Sermon, Year A Maundy Thursday, April 21, 2011
Plymouth United Church of Christ , Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber, 2011

Focus Scripture: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (Jesus washes the disciplesí feet)

During our Wednesday Soup and Scripture nights this year, we looked at gifts that were given to Jesus: the Magi and their gold, frankincense, and myrrh; the woman at the well and her gift of a drink of water, as well as gift of belief and evangelism; the boy who gave Jesus some loaves and fishes which Jesus then turned into enough for 5,000 people; Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, who anointed Jesusí feet with oil; and Joseph of Arimathea, who offered his newly hewn and unused tomb to house Jesusí body. We had some fantastic conversations, including some disagreements, with a lot of possibilities raised. Great imagination was being used, and many excellent questions. Reading scripture and talking about faith needs that imagination and ability to ask questions.

We heard that some of these gifts were quite kingly. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh Ė not cheap. The Gospel writer tells us that Maryís oil was worth a yearís wages. Josephís tomb was certainly expensive to make, to hew out of the hillside, but also a gift that could have cost Joseph of Arimathea a lot more than money. He could have lost his reputation, his seat on the council, maybe his life or at least his livelihood for supporting Jesus. And generous also as a sign of his respect for, dedication to, and trust in Jesus. To offer someone a place in the family tomb is, in effect, to adopt that person as your own, into your family.

Other gifts were more humble, but also amazing: a Samaritan woman uses her bucket to give water to a thirsty Jew. A drink that costs her nothing financially, but costs her a lot possibly socially. Giving a drink to an outsider, to risk being seen alone with a man. That drink could have cost her a lot. And then after she speaks with Jesus, she runs back to town to tell everyone about this man who knows everything about her. Simple, but also possibly costly. The people might have laughed her down, ignored her, hurled insults at her. What do you fear that keeps you from telling people about your encounter with Jesus? She risks that. It is a simple gift, but potentially a costly one.

The boy offers a couple loaves and fishes. Maybe his parents gave him money to get dinner, and he was just innocently passing through. Or he became caught up in listening to some guy who attracted a huge crowd. Or maybe that food represented the last of his familyís money until his dad can find another day of work. Maybe the whole family were there. Maybe they were wealthy enough to take time to spend the day there, and the loaves and fishes were for their own meals. We donít know, but we can imagine. The boy gives his food to Jesus, and the unimaginable happens. It feeds thousands! And it produces more leftovers that there was new material. A gift of a few loaves and fishes to Jesus, and Jesus turns it into a feast to feed thousands. To feed everyone there.

And thatís who Jesus came to serve and to save: EVERYONE. Isnít that something? Jesus takes simple things of this world and turns them into a generous feast of abundant life. Jesus didnít say to go feed only those who profess belief in everything he has been teaching. He didnít say to dole it out only to those who appear to truly need it, or who ask for it or beg for it. He didnít say to be careful with portion sizes. No. He looked around, saw a lot of hungry people, and said, ďWe must feed them!Ē Simple as that. And he did. And tonight, he feeds us. His gift to us.

We talked of gifts given, and gifts we can give, and tonight and this week, it is Jesusí gifts to us that we remember. The gift of unconditional love, infinite grace, and new life in Jesus Christ, symbolized in the feast that is the center of Maundy Thursday Ė maundy meaning mandate or command Ė the command to celebrate the bread and wine, and to know and remember that Jesus feeds us at this table and gives us the gift of grace. And he gives that gift before we offer him anything, and he offers it even if we donít offer anything back.

Our task is not to act first, because Jesus acted first. Our task is to act second, to respond to that love by sharing it and spreading it around, by giving our gifts, our talents, passions, and resources to Jesus.

But tonightóand tomorrow, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, and Easter, my Maundy Thursday command, or suggestion, to you is to take these days and not think of how you can respond or act. Let Jesus act, and let yourself receive. Let Jesus be the act-er here, as he was 2,000 years ago. Allow yourself to feel the mystery of his actions. Be an open and willing receptacle for his story of unstoppable love. Let this story of Godís love offering be a feast that nourishes you with bread, that quenches your thirst with water and wine, anoints your feet, hearts, and minds with holiness, the gold, frankincense, and myrrh laid at your bedside to sustain your life. Let Godís love offering fill your tomb or tombs, then leave them empty.

Allow yourself to do that without reservation, vulnerable to Godís grace trying to find its way into your heart. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give Jesus is the gift of full attention and willingness to be transformed by his love. Amen.

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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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