Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Notes for the Maundy Thursday Message; March 28,2013

During the Holy Week, the community of Christ United Methodist Church will gather together with our sisters and brothers from First United Methodist Church for several joint services.

I am preaching the Maundy Thursday service (Thursday, March 28, 2013 @ 7 PM). As I am preparing the message, these are the Scriptures that I am looking at and thinking about.

John 13:1-17   //   John 15:9-17

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Today is known as Maundy Thursday. In this message we will look at the events that took place on Thursday of the last week of Jesus’ life. We know that tonight Jesus will be arrested. Tomorrow, early in the morning, he will be tried, brutally beaten and then he will be crucified. Although the timing of these events was not given, that information was revealed to the disciples throughout Jesus’ ministry. The last time Jesus talked about it was when he taught the multitudes on Tuesday, just two days ago. For the disciples this understanding was so incomprehensible that they could not bring themselves to accept it.

Jesus knew what was coming; the disciples were not willing or were too scared to face the truth.

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Today I want to talk about what happened at the Last Supper. The Gospel of John dedicates five chapters (chapters 13 through 17, over 150 verses) to the events and teachings of Jesus that evening. These teachings are known as the Farewell Discourse of Jesus. Matthew dedicates just 18 verses to these events (Matt 26:17-35); Mark dedicates 19 verses found in Mark 14:12-31 and Luke dedicates 31 verses (Luke 22:7 – 38).

Another interesting detail: in Matthew, Mark and Luke it is written that Jesus instituted the Holy Communion at this supper, while in the Gospel of John it is written that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.

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I want to begin by asking you a question. If you knew that tonight you were going to eat your last meal, and that tomorrow you would die, how would you spend your last evening? What would you say to your friends and family? What would you leave with them to remember you by? What lessons from your life would you want to share with them?

The Farewell Discourse is about what Jesus did and what Jesus shared with his disciples less than 24 hours before he died.

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The Farewell Discourse begins with Jesus washing the Disciples’ feet. It was the custom and a necessity of the time for people when they came off the street to wash their feet. So if the disciples had already washed their feet when they gathered for the Last Supper, why did Jesus wash their feet again?

Luke gives us a hint in Chapter 22:24-26. The disciples thought that the following day Jesus was going to declare himself the King. In Luke’s recollection they were arguing about which one of them was the most deserving to be a “Prime Minister” in the new Kingdom. I think that is what dominated their thoughts early in the evening and that is why they did not take time to wash their feet; they were angling for a better position and arguing about their personal status. Personal hygiene was far from their thoughts that evening.

Can’t you just see it? As the disciples argue about who is most deserving to be “Secretary of State”, Jesus takes a pitcher of water and a basin, lays down his coat and kneels to wash their feet.

And one by one, by washing their feet, Jesus taught his disciples that “the greatest among you should be like the youngest and the least significant, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22-26).

Peter even protested, “Jesus, you will never wash my feet” (John 13:8). But Jesus was not going to let go of this teaching moment. That is why he replied. “Unless I wash your feet, you have no part with me” (John 13:8).

When Jesus finished washing the disciples’ feet, he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). “Now that you know these things,” [and if you do what I taught you – he continued], then “you will be blessed [by] them” (John 13:17), you will find happiness and fulfillment in serving each other.

What Jesus taught his disciples that evening is exactly what therapists and psychologists teach today. When you are depressed, when you are frustrated, when you feel that life is passing you by, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to find ways to serve and to help someone else. When we do that, we take our eyes off ourselves and our own troubles and it helps us to deal with the problems that we are facing in our own lives.

God made us, God “wired” us, to help each other. When we do, we feel fulfilled and we find purpose in our lives. By serving others we find joy, and we bring joy to God. That is the first lesson that Jesus taught his disciples, knowing that he was going to die in less than 24 hours.

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The Farewell Discourse continues and there is more discussion. As a matter of fact, some of the most comforting teachings of Jesus happened that evening. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms…” These Scriptures are so comforting that we use them in the most stressful and painful times of our lives, times when we lose our loved ones…

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After these words of comfort, comes the second lesson that Jesus taught that evening. That lesson is found in John 14:15-18:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

The second lesson that Jesus taught that evening is that Jesus didn’t die so that we could go to heaven instead of hell. Jesus sacrificed himself to bring us into a UNION, into ONE-ness with God. Jesus died so that God could live, not only in heaven, but also in us. Jesus died so that God could be a part of our conscience and have a home in our hearts. The way God lives in us is through the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Allow me to say it in another way: if you want to see God, look into the eyes of your neighbor, hug your neighbor, shake hands with your neighbor.

That is why it is so important for us to gather together as a church. When we gather together, the Spirit of God mingles among us. The Psalmist said it best when he or she sang, “How wonderful, how beautiful, when sisters and brothers get along and worship together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1-3, The Message & NIV2010). There is synergy in our togetherness; our strengths and abilities combine with those of God and when we are with God all things are possible.

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The Farewell Discourse continues with the third lesson. It is found in John 15:1-5.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

This is a really important lesson. When we are connected to God, we bear fruit. When we disconnect from God, we lose our source of spiritual strength and balance. When we disconnect from God we lose our ability to bear fruit; that is when we feel out of balance and lost. In this lesson, Jesus teaches his disciples, and us, to stay connected to him. Jesus teaches his disciples to talk with him daily, to walk with him just like they had walked with him during the previous three years and to listen to his voice. By doing this, Jesus promises that they will find the strength to deal with life and life’s difficulties.

So how do we stay connected to Jesus when he is not physically with us, when we do not see him? How do we have a relationship with the living God that we cannot see?

The mechanics of this are exactly the same as staying in a relationship with people we can see. When I am out of town, I think of my wife every day, I pray for her, I text her, I send her e-mails, I read her facebook posts, I call her on the cell-phone. I think about her a lot, I think about how I can honor our marriage covenant and how I can honor her. We talk on the phone, and I listen to her voice…

That is exactly how it works in our relationship with Jesus. We talk to him and we listen to him in prayer. We read and meditate on the Bible and learn from God’s teachings. We think about the ways in which we can honor God and be the best Christian that we can be, how we can live abundant lives that honor God. That is how we stay connected to the vine and that is how we allow Jesus to work not only in us but also through us. That is how we find life in Jesus’ name.

All of our relationships are in the process of evolving. Our relationship with God is no different. Listen to what Jesus said about our evolving relationship with Him.

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you” (John 16:12-15).

That is the third lesson from the Farewell Discourse.

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We also know that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Communion that evening. Matthew, Mark and Luke are clear about it.

Holy Communion is one of the ways that we maintain our relationship with Jesus, it is a sacrament, it is something that makes the presence of Jesus real in our lives. Jesus taught that every day that we break bread or drink wine we are to commune with him, we are to remember him. We do it by saying a prayer before a meal: “Thank you Lord for this food, thank you for the hands that grew it and thank you for the hands that prepared it, bless this food to nourish my body as I am going about your business.” And by the way, I do not need to do anything special to say a prayer. Nobody needs to know that I am praying; God knows and God hears my prayers. God responds by providing opportunities to witness to my faith and by giving me strength and courage to deal with what I have to deal with, to accept what I have to accept and to adjust where I have to adjust in my daily life.

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On the final night of his earthly life, Jesus gave us the words of hope, of comfort and encouragement: “In my Father’s house there are many rooms and I am going to prepare one of those rooms for you… I am going ahead of you and one day we will be together again… ”

One the final night of his Earthly life, Jesus taught us that if we want to be blessed, we need to learn how to be a blessing to others. How do you bless your neighbors? What do you do to be a blessing to others?

On the final night of his Earthly life, Jesus taught us that the reason he chose to go to the cross is because he wanted to live among us. By dying on the Cross, Jesus released the Holy Spirit to make a home in our hearts and souls and to continually mold us on our lives’ journeys. How do you see God when you interact with each other and with your neighbors?

On the final night of his Earthly life, Jesus taught us to maintain our relationship with our God so that we stay connected and bear fruit in the God’s Kingdom. We do that through prayer, by being a part of the community, by taking the time to listen for God’s guidance, by reading the Bible, by being God’s hands and feet in this world. How did you grow in your relationship with God since last Easter? What about five Easters ago?

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