Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter 5/17

          You may (or may not) have noticed that in the latter chapters of John’s gospel there are several rather mysterious and enigmatic references to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  There’s no mention of him throughout most of the gospel, but towards the end this unnamed disciple reclines with Jesus at the Last Supper wondering who it is who will betray him; he’s there near the cross with the women at Jesus’ crucifixion (remember all the other disciples had fled at that point); in John, other than Mary Magdalene he’s the first one to the empty tomb and he’s involved in a couple of the resurrection appearance stories at the end of the gospel.  All in all I think there are six mentions of this beloved disciple, the last one saying that he is the one who is writing all these things.

          Six mentions, but none of them really say who he is, and inquiring minds want to know.  Some are satisfied by that final reference that says the beloved disciple is the one who is writing all these things, so it must be John the apostle who traveled with Jesus.  That’s not beyond the realm of possibility but John’s gospel is thought to have been written around the year 95 or 100 so John, the son of Zebedee who was one of Jesus’ disciples would have to have been pretty old at that point which doesn’t eliminate him from consideration, but it does raise some questions about his possible authorship.

          I’m not here to argue that one way or the other or to speculate on any of the other figures who get suggested as possibilities for the beloved disciple other than to say that while there probably is a real person associated with him, we can’t know for sure who it is with any degree of certainty.  What we do know though, is that John’s gospel is loaded with symbolism, I’ve talked about this before, that with John there are always multiple layers of meaning that can be considered, seemingly simple things can have deep theological meaning.  So, the chances are pretty good, that even if the beloved disciple is some historic person connected to the events mentioned, we are also expected to understand him symbolically.

          What he seems to symbolize is the kind of disciple that each of us is called to be and is invited to be.  His closeness to Jesus is emphasized for one thing, and in all the areas that the other disciples, especially Peter, fail, this beloved disciple is a model of perfection; he doesn’t deny and abandon Jesus when the going gets tough and he believes in the resurrection based only on seeing the empty tomb and the grave clothes, he doesn’t share in the doubt and fear of the others.  This beloved disciple becomes a model for us, a model of faith.

But what he also becomes is a representative of all of us, a representative who shows us that we are invited into the same kind of loving, close relationship that he had with Jesus.  What the beloved disciple shows us…is that he is us, and we are him; that part of the mystery is solved.  If you hear nothing else this morning, please hear that; hear that you are Jesus’ beloved disciple.

There’s nothing about Jesus’ beloved disciple in today’s gospel.  This text isn’t one of the six mentions.  What we do get today is kind of a reprise of the new commandment of Maundy Thursday, the command to love one another as I have loved you.  What I want to focus on though is the “as I have loved you part,” because it’s that that tells each of us that we are the beloved disciple and, like I said, we need to hear that sometimes because our failure to do the “love one another” part on a regular basis can make us feel less than beloved.

I know that I don’t always love others as Jesus has loved me and I’ll bet I’m not the only one who, for example, quickly clicks to another channel when one of those ads comes on that asks you to send money to feed a starving child in a far off land.  Sometimes I just don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to see it; I don’t want to see the sad pictures.  I’ll bet I’m not the only one who without a second thought throws away a lot of the mail that comes asking for money for this or for that even though I know they’re good causes and we probably could afford to do more.  Sometimes I do better and read it before I throw it away, but to be honest with you, I don’t feel all that bad about it either because it really does get kind of annoying.  Mind you, I’m not proud of all this, I’m not bragging; I’m just telling the truth. 

So what I could do today is preach a sermon that beats me up and beats you up and lays a guilt trip on us for not doing all that we could, for not doing enough for not caring enough for not giving enough.  I could do a sermon that lays a bunch of shoulds on us; we should do more, we should care more, we should give more.  I could do that; sometimes I do.  In an advice to preachers thing I read though it said to be careful, because people don’t always want to be “should upon.”  I think that’s cute but it also makes a good point. 

Do you come to church to be should upon?  Maybe sometimes you do.  Maybe sometimes you should, because we all do need that once in awhile.  But a steady diet of it ceases to have much effect; you tune it out like after awhile players tune out a coach who yells all the time.  Sometimes, despite our inadequacies, despite the fact that we could and should do more but we don’t, despite all that, we need to hear that we are the disciple Jesus loves.  It’s true that a steady died of nothing but Jesus loves me can also stop having much effect, but it is important to be reminded of it on a pretty regular basis.

After all, the gospel is not a bunch of shoulds.  The gospel is about God’s love.  The gospel is about what God has done for us through Jesus Christ and before we get too hung up on any shoulds, we need to hear that.  If we know God’s love, if we experience God’s love, if we hear ourselves proclaimed as God’s beloved the shoulds stop being shoulds or maybe a better way to put it is that our faith stops being a guilt trip where we engage endlessly in a losing battle to try to satisfy an angry God. 

Instead our faith is a walk with Jesus who has already won the battle, Jesus who makes our identity as his beloved disciples possible.  Then, on that walk, knowing that Jesus loves us, we begin to see what he sees and we respond as he responds not because we should but because that’s who we are, that’s what the beloved disciple does.  We grow in Christ and Christ grows in us like the vine and branch imagery from last week’s gospel which immediately precedes today’s reading.  We are part of Christ and he is part of us as we are transformed by his love.  We experience this in a physical way every time we receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion.

The other thing about being should upon is that it can have the effect of sucking the joy out of life.  We probably all agree that a certain amount of guilt is healthy, but a constant barrage of how awful things are and how much more we should be doing can wind up having the unintended effect of making us angry and depressed, leading to despair.  We then wind up thinking that if things are that bad my little bit isn’t going to make any difference anyway so we change the channel and throw away the mail, spurred not to action, but inaction. 

The gospel and responding to the gospel are not supposed to suck out the joy.  Jesus said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”  My joy; your joy; the gospel is about joy, the kingdom Jesus preached about is about joy and taking joy in the smallest glimpses of God’s love.  The kingdom doesn’t arrive with a big bang, but is revealed in the small ways we respond to God’s love, loving as we have been loved as beloved disciples and there is joy when we know that and do that.  It doesn’t mean we’re going to respond positively to every appeal and every mailing; we really can’t, but maybe we begin to see them as opportunities rather than sources of annoyance and guilt and being should upon.  

In the meantime, I’ll leave it for the scholars to try and figure out who the beloved disciple is, because I know it’s you, and you really should hear that.
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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