With You A Little Longer

This sermon was originally preached on Sunday, May 19, 2019 at Kenai United Methodist Church and North Star United Methodist Church in Alaska.

John 13:31-35

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

We are entering what is called the Farewell Discourse in our liturgical season. We’re still in Easter, and we are still remembering the resurrection, and celebrating Christ, who has risen. And at the same time, Jesus is preparing his disciples for a new reality, when Jesus isn’t physically there anymore. Much of the reason he came back in the first place, showing himself and walking among us again, was to teach us what conquering really looks like. Jesus conquered death, and he also teaches us how we too can live like he did.

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This season in our liturgical calendar allows us as disciples to reorient our mission alongside the disciples in our stories, remembering and rediscovering what our true mission really is. Jesus is clear today, that this mission is love.

It’s easy to get really flowery about that, acting like love is this easy and perfect and effortless act. But the beginning of this passage teaches us that the kind of love Jesus is teaching us about, the kind of love that Jesus is, is far from effortless, and is far from perfect.

From the beginning, we see challenges with this love being fully manifested. ‘When he had gone out’ is language about the betrayal of Judas. Jesus is pointing to this, reminding the disciples and us that this betrayal can’t be forgotten. This betrayal also immediately starts the clock to Jesus’ glorification, this notion of being elevated or represented as special and set apart. Even when love is being commanded over and over again, Judas still betrays Jesus. This is an important reminder, as we too, don’t always get it right all the time, don’t always love like Christ all the time.

So after Jesus makes note of Judas, he begins this Farewell Discourse, telling them what is about to happen. The disciples don’t believe Jesus immediately, because what is about to happen is so unbelievable. We have to remember these disciples have really gone through the ringer. They saw God incarnate in front of their own eyes, and then he was tortured and killed, and then he rose from the dead, and now, he’s there to tell them he’s leaving again. Jesus has to tell them again, reiterate the reality so they can understand, without making them feel like they will be abandoned.

Jesus shows compassion, but Jesus is also truthful. He acknowledges the reality, that he will not be with them any longer in body. That the disciples will grieve and feel loss, perhaps similarly to when he died. And though this is true, Jesus continues to focus in on the fundamental reason he was there in the first place, love for one another. Jesus invites the disciples to continue seeking him, even after he is gone, to continue to look for and worship God in the moments they are living.

“I am with you only a little longer”, Jesus said. But the good news is that though his body is no longer with us, as it was in our stories, Christ is among us till the end of time, when we allow ourselves to search for Christ.

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I was on vacation last week with my family in Greece. They are just beginning their tourist season, so hotels and streets are crowded with people from different cultures, all there to explore like I was. With different cultures, we get different cultural norms. This became very clear to me as I tried to navigate my way through a jam-packed hotel lobby. People were everywhere; standing in the middle of the space, swinging their arms and suitcases without looking, taking up four chairs instead of one. I found myself growing increasingly anxious and annoyed. As I reflect on that moment now, I remember the call Jesus has given us, to love people, and to look for Christ in those around us. Remembering that in my moment of panic and annoyance at the hotel would have served me well, and I am reminded, that like Judas, we all have moments where we forget our mission to love and to see Christ.

One of the responsibilities of being disciples, of discipleship, is to look for imago dei, the image of God, in the people around us. In verse 33, Jesus says “you will look for me” to the disciples. He is reminding him of the value that Jesus has been to them, though he does so modestly. Once I am gone, Jesus says, my body is not going to be here, and because of that, things will change. You will look to go ack to what was, to the old ways of seeing things and doing things. But things are not going to be the same. And that is what I am here to teach you, Jesus says. You will have to redefine what it means to see me and to learn from me. You will need to challenge yourselves to see the world in new ways, ways that continue my legacy but are also truthful to what is going on, and where I am.

Perhaps the image of God that Jesus told the disciples they’d be looking for is each other. Perhaps, the way we can remember Jesus is to notice the ways God is working in the lives of our fellow human. Who is inspiring you? Who is doing the hard work every day without the credit they deserve? Who is making differences in the lives of the ‘other’? Who makes you laugh or feel happy, or makes you think about something in a new way? That is the image of God. And when is the last time you told them that?

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Each of us are marked with love, through newness, through change, through transition, through resurrection. Our oneness is that marking, the image of God that is within and among us all. That is what imago dei looks like. That is where Jesus lives and moves, still today. And that, Friends, is what we are called to look for and notice today.

So much of how we function as a society is laden with stress and fear and anxiety. There is unhealthy conflict radiating our beings, our media, our world. Human beings are at odds with each other, putting one another’s safety and humanity up for debate. People are getting killed. Churches are forgetting their mission. We talk too much about people rather than to them. It is easy to forget to see God, when we are bombarded with this every day.

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But the good news is that these are all things that Jesus himself directly fought against. He opposed systems of oppression, even when it meant he would be called names or looked at funny or gossiped about. He brought people together, amidst difference and even hatred sometimes. He challenged what has always been, and encouraged imagination, what can be in the future. And the root of all these things is love.

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

When we see God in someone, we are remembering Jesus’ call to love one another, because through God, we have love, and through God, we are love. May we remember that, as we leave today and go out in the world, a God-filled world full of people who show us what love looks like. May we challenge ourselves to lift up the voices of love in our lives, elevating the importance of Christ’s presence all around us. And may we too, remember the goodness that is Jesus, our teacher and savior whose body is no longer with us, but whose love remains through our siblings in Christ.

Let us pray:

God of love and resurrection, you have called us into this world to teach us, to inspire us, to grow us, and to live among those you have created. Like ourselves, each and every one of us were created out of love, vast and complex and restorative. Guide us closer and closer to your love, seeing you the people we meet. Help us to find solace in the reality that Jesus is still here, his presence vibrantly filling us with hope and wisdom. In your name we pray, Amen.

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