This is my sermon for tomorrow – Thanks to everyone I stole from. I think I have given everyone credit for what I have taken. I’ve been waiting for a sermon in which I could use the Fred Craddock story about soup for some time, and this sermon feels about right for it. Special thanks to Tim Zingale and Charles Johnson. I also plan to use Bass Mitchell’s wonderful invitation to communion as a bridge from the word to table.
By the way, members of First United Methodist Church are forbidden from reading this until after tomorrow’s services. Yes, that means you, Jim Pennock : )
For all you others out there, any comments or corrections or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
All of which can be read here.
John, a disciple of Jesus, is in exile,
imprisoned on the island of Patmos.
He is an old man and no doubt is already looking forward to the life
that will come when he finally casts off his mortal body for one that
It is while here, on Patmos, at the end of his life,
that John has a vision, which we have come to call the book of Revelation.
Now while most of this book is filled with symbolism and can be
incredibly difficult to interpret and understand,
chapter 21 is almost crystal clear in giving us a picture of what God
has in store for his children.
For here John is given a vision of the new heaven, the new earth, and
a new Jerusalem,
and all these things are vastly different from the heaven, earth and
Jerusalem we have now.
Listen to his words:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband;
and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Behold, the dwelling of God is with mortals.
He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people,
and God himself will be with them;
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more,
for the former things have passed away.”
Now I don’t know about you,
but I can all but feel the joy and comfort that these verses exude.
I can almost picture the brilliance and glory of this scene,
and I find myself wanting, more than anything,
a world without death and sorrow and pain,
a world where these “former things” have passed away.
And I’ll bet that many of you feel the same way.
I am sure that John did.
One small phrase gives a clue to John’s feelings as he lives in
isolation upon that island.
Notice that he says “for the sea was no more!’
Robert Borgwardt, in the Augsburg Epistles series, writes:
John is saying something very significant in those few words.
He is speaking about separation,
he is speaking about the sea separating him from his friends, his
books, Christian fellowship, separation from the land where Jesus
walked and lived,
separation from all that made life bearable for John.
So John says very clearly that heaven will be a place where there will
be no more separation. There will be completeness, a togetherness, a
union of all things.
All of us live now with a bit or a lot of separation in our lives.
We can be separated from God through our sin,
separated from ourselves through the brokenness of this world.
We can be separated from each other through our unwillingness to love
others as we love ourselves.
As another (Tim Zingale) has stated:
John found in his vision a promise from God that through the power of
through the grace of Jesus Christ,
each person will experience a sense of closure, or completeness in life.
Unity will be restored,
people will be fully reconciled,
A trusting faith in Christ will be brought to its completion.
Healing will take place in all the broken areas ‘of life,
and perfect love will allow everyone to be a brother and sister to
each person and a perfect child to God, all this will happen in
heaven, in the new dwelling place.
But we don’t necessarily have to wait for the new heaven and new earth to appear for us to get a foretaste of what they will be like.
Jesus tells us in our lesson from John that one way we can begin to
experience the new heaven and new earth now, is to love one another.
He says: “A new commandment I give to you:
Love one another.
Just as I have loved you,
so you should also love one another.
By this all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love toward one another.”
John saw in his vision of the new heaven and the new earth of
completeness of love. And Jesus tells us in the gospel lesson that
loving one another is the most complete way to live.
Of course, this isn’t easy.
If anyone ever tells you that love is easy,
they are lying and the truth isn’t in them.
And though loving may become easier over time,
as we draw closer to Christ and his life,
it is never easy.
It is, however, essential for us as followers of Jesus.
Love is the only way to live completely in Christ.
But love can hurt you, you might say.
And I agree,
Love is one of the only emotions that can make you both miserable and
elated at the same time.
And though it does have, at times, some powerfully negative consequences,
we can say the same thing about not loving.
C. S. Lewis says this about love:
To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.
If you want to make sure of keeping it intact,
you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries;
avoid all entanglements;
lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change.
It will not be broken;
it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable….
The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all
the dangers of love … is Hell.
So okay, you say, all we need to do is love.
That’s simple enough.
But once we start to ponder the consequences of love,
all kinds of things start running through our minds:
Questions, doubts, wonderment, values, ideas, relationships, all come
Yes, this four letter word seems simple enough,
but in reality, it is the most, difficult thing,
the most difficult concept we can encounter.
Charles Johnson, a colleague of mine on the Preaching the Revised
Common Lectionary discussion group, put it this way:
“Listen up, now,” said Jesus, “I have a new commandment for you.”
“A new commandment!? All right!
This is what we’ve been waiting for!
The ultimate revelation from God, the secret to life, the key to everything!
The new word that will fulfill and place in proper perspective
everything we’ve ever been taught! The word that will make
everything clear that has been fuzzy!
The word that will drop the scales from our eyes and open up the
pathway to God’s future,
to the Kingdom of God.
This is what we’ve been waiting for!
Hit us with it, Jesus!”
“OK — here it is: love one another.”
“Love one another.”
“No, no, we meant, what is the new commandment, the secret to life,
the key to everything?”
“That’s it: Love one another.”
What kind of secret is that?
We’ve been following you for three years, and our people have been
laboring and suffering for hundreds of years, and this is the payoff:
“Love One Another”?!”
That’s all there is to it?
That is the ultimate revelation from God.”
The disciples were a little crestfallen.
“No offense, Jesus.
It just seems a little …. anti-climactic, after all the hype and everything.
We expected a new commandment that was, well,
a little NEWER, if you know what we mean.
This ‘new commandment’ one has been around for awhile.
And it’s not particularly original.
I mean, aren’t there even non-Judeo-Christian types who have said
something along this line?”
“Well, you’d expect the Key to Everything to be universally true,
Besides, although the commandment may not exactly be totally new in
it is new as a foundational command.
As the measure of every other concrete commandment — and thought and
action — it is new. Respect one another,
love one another,
care for one another,
always have one another’s best interests at heart –
not the way that people usually love either other,
but the way I have loved you.
“But it seems almost too … simple.”
“Too simple to be worthy of you?
Let me assure you that the principle is indeed simple and clear –
too simple and clear to sit well with many people who have made an
Olympic sport out of looking for loopholes.
But believe, me, applying it to all kinds of real-life situations
involving real and complex human beings will tax all the brain cells
And actually doing it will take all the faith and hope in the world –
and all the love.
Try to do it — try to forgive one of your enemies, for instance –
and you will soon find that you cannot –
unless you have totally surrendered yourself to God.
And that you can’t totally surrender yourself to God unless you
totally trust God.
And that you can’t totally trust God unless you love God with your
To love one another will take everything you’ve got and everything you are.
Believe me, this is not a kind of ‘Lite Commandment for Busy
Post-Modern People’ with a penchant for fuzzy sentimental
And now, as I’ve said, I’m off to … well, to where you can’t follow now.”
“Why can’t I follow you now?” Peter asked.
“I’m not afraid. I love you totally. I will even lay down my life for you.”
Don’t have any doubt about that, do you?
Well, Peter, you are about to get a crash course in this matter of loving.
In time, you will indeed follow me and lay down your life for me.
But not now — you’re not ready yet.
Truly I tell you, within the next 24 hours, you will discover how
simple loving seems –
and how difficult it is to actually do, especially when crunch-time comes.”
Did you know that Jesus gave only two commandments in the New Testament?
One about loving God and the other this one about loving each other.
The commandments are written in different versions in different places
in the New Testament, but essentially, they are alike.
He commands us to love.
But why, and why at that particular moment in time,
just hours before he will be betrayed?
And to that I say, “good question.”
Earlier this week I wrote on my blog that context, if not everything,
is extremely important.
Take this command to love in John’s gospel,
Much of its power comes from its context.
For one, it is part of Jesus’ last discourses with his disciples
before his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion.
And as such, these words have much in common with the words that a
dying person might speak to their loved ones who have gathered at the
deathbed, hoping to receive some final words of instruction or wisdom.
We also need to bear in mind the events that have transpired just
before Jesus gives his new commandment.
Two things stand out.
One, Jesus has just humbled himself to wash the disciples’ feet.
When he finished this task, over the initial rejection of Peter,
Jesus says, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example,
that you also should do just as I have done to you.
Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master,
nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
(John 13:13-17 ESV)”
The other important event that immediately precedes Jesus’ giving of a
new commandment is Judas leaving the fellowship of the disciples in
order to betray Jesus.
It is Judas’ leaving that prompts the gospel writer to say, “And it was night.”
And John isn’t just saying that the sun has gone down either.
This is as dark as it gets in the gospel.
This is the time when, in fact, darkness rules.
And so it is after Jesus has given an concrete example of servant
ministry and after Judas has left to carry out his evil work that
Jesus gives his disciples a new mandate:
to love one another as he has loved them.
Of course, in a few hours he will once again demonstrate his love for them.
When he is arrested in chapter 18,
Jesus will offer to peacefully go with those who arrest him in
exchange for them letting his disciples go free.
This is in addition, of course, to his subsequent sacrificial death for all.
“When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.”
Unlike many teachers and leaders in the history of humanity,
Jesus teaches and leads by example.
He never asks his followers to do anything that he himself would not
and does not do.
And that’s why he gives this new commandment when he does.
So that when he tells us to love each other as he has loved us,
we know exactly what such love entails.
And if that doesn’t make us feel just a tad uncomfortable,
then we still haven’t really wrapped our heads around what Jesus has
just asked us to do.
Because, you see, love will push us far outside any boundaries that we
set up for ourselves.
Love will go far beyond our comfort zones.
Love, true love, will shake us to our very core.
Just ask Peter.
In Acts 11 Peter tells us of a vision of his.
A vision that, on the one hand, seems to be all about what foods a
good Jew or Christian can or cannot eat,
but which, on the other hand,
tells us what kind of people we are called to love and share the gospel with.
Peter wasn’t at all comfortable even thinking about eating non-kosher food,
but the idea of visiting with and welcoming non-kosher people to
Christ’s table was even more repugnant.
So it took not one, or two, but three visions for Peter to get the message.
God had to do everything but hit Peter up side the head with a 2 by 4
board of love to get him to see things the way that God sees them.
To get him to see people the way that God sees them -
that everyone, regardless of who they are, where they are, what they are,
are worthy of God’s love and therefore worthy of our love.
And when we, like Peter, begin to see this and live out this truth in our lives,
then we will begin to have just a little foretaste of what John is
talking about in Revelation 21.
A world where death itself dies,
a world where there is no sorrow or pain,
a world where love has finally overcome hate.
That world will come one day in its fullness,
but may we begin to create such a world, as best we can, now.
Teilhard de Chardin, the great philosopher, once said,
“The day will come when, after harnessing the winds, the tides and gravitation,
we shall harness for God the energies of Love.
And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world,
man will have discovered fire.”
I don’t know about you,
but in this world and time we live in,
I’d be happy with a few sparks here or there.
Like the sparks Fred Craddock recalls in a story he tells of being in
Winnipeg late one fall when a terrible snowstorm caused the
cancellation of a lecture he was to give on Saturday morning.
He was totally unprepared for the snow.
In Tennessee where he grew up and in Atlanta where he lived,
it just didn’t snow like this in the fall.
Well, his host could not even get out to pick him up for breakfast,
but thank goodness,
there was a bus depot just a block or so from where Fred was staying,
and he walked in the deep snow to find a cup of coffee and maybe some pancakes.
When he entered the café in the bus station,
he said it looked like every stranded traveler in Canada was there.
He found a place to sit and asked for a menu.
“What do you want a menu for?” the waiter asked.
“All we have is soup.”
“What kinds of soup?” Fred asked.
“Soup,” came the answer.
“You want some soup?”
“That’s just what I was going to order,” Fred said.
It was a gray-looking, watery bowl of soup.
Tasted pretty bad, too.
Too bad for Fred to be able to eat it.
But he wrapped his hands around the warm bowl,
“bemoaning and beweeping,” he says “my outcast state.”
Just then the door opened, and a woman came in, clutching her coat.
She found a place to sit.
The waiter came up.
“What do you want?”
“Glass of water,” she said.
He brought it.
“Now what’ll you have?”
“Just the water,” she said.
“You have to order, lady.
I have customers that pay-What do you think this is, a church or something?
If you’re not going to order, you’ve got to leave!”
So she got up to leave.
But almost as if rehearsed,
everybody in that little café stood up and started toward the door.
And the man in the greasy apron said
“All right, all right, all right, she can stay.”
Everybody sat down,
and he brought her a bowl of soup.
Fred recounts what happened next.
“The place grew quiet, but I heard the sipping of the awful soup.
I said `I’m going to try that again.’
I put my spoon to the soup-
you know, it was not bad soup.
Everybody was eating this soup.
I stated eating the soup,
and it was pretty good soup.
I have no idea what kind of soup it was.
I don’t know what was in it,
but I do recall it had a familiar taste.
Because when I was eating it,
it tasted a little bit like bread and wine.
Just a little like bread and wine.”
Technorati tags: Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35, Sermons, Holy Communion, invitation, love, acceptance, Fred Craddock, Soup story