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A New Commandment

Stories
Contents
“A New Commandment” by Keith Hewitt
“Leftovers” by C. David McKirachan
“No Wonder God Doesn’t Talk More” by C. David McKirachan


A New Commandment

by Keith Hewitt
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

From the room where they had supped to the Mount of Olives was about a mile, but on this night when the city’s population had swelled to twice its normal size with thousands of pilgrim families there for Passover — plus the usual complement of grifters, pickpockets, and strongarm thieves that one might expect with that kind of crowd — the two might as well have been separated by a hundred miles, or a thousand. The dozen men making the journey were strung out in groups of two or three, so as not to look suspicious.

With Roman soldiers patrolling the streets on a heightened state of alert, nobody wanted to look suspicious, as that just seemed like a shortcut to a beating, or worse.

Two men walked at the rear of the procession. As though by mutual agreement, they had been silent since leaving the upper room, each sunk in a reverie of their own design. When the city walls lay behind them and there was no one else within earshot, one of them cleared his throat and looked around in the darkness to confirm they were alone. Then he looked at the man next to him and said softly, “That was weird, right?”

There was a short silence, measured by the soft slap-slap-slap of their sandals on the pavement stones, then the other man grunted. “Weird, because our teacher washed our feet? Because the Messiah — the man who has been promised to us as a savior and redeemer — just treated us the way a slave would treat his master?” The man fell silent, grunted again, and murmured, “Yeah, that was weird.”

The first man nodded in the darkness. “Okay — I just wanted to make sure I was reading it right.” More silence, then…slap-slap-slap-slap… “What do you think he was trying to tell us? I mean, he can be pretty — uh — hard to understand, sometimes.”

“You mean because you ask him if he thinks it’s going to rain tomorrow, and he answers with a parable about a Samaritan and a lost sheep?” The other man chuckled at his own answer. “My friend, the longer I listen to him, the more I understand that Jesus is here to change the world — by changing us. It’s like he’s taking everything we thought we understood from the law, turning it on its head, and trying to make us see how it looks in this new world he’s trying to bring about.”

“A world where the master is the slave, and the slave is the master? What kind of world is that? There is a natural order, but what he’s saying — what I think he’s saying — is that the order is not what we thought it was.” Pause. “It makes my head hurt.”

The second man sighed, remembering their rabbi’s words: “servants are not greater than the master, nor messengers greater than the one who sent them.” And yet he had washed their feet in a show of humility and service that was hardly reserved for a teacher and his students, humbled himself like the lowest sort of slave.

Only…maybe…the idea was that the lowest slave and greatest master somehow occupied the same plane of privilege and responsibility.

He shook his head. “Maybe the master was trying to say that neither is greater than the other. Or that when we live by his new commandment, to love one another, that love is reflected in a willingness — a desire — to serve others. As a teacher, I may be greater than my student in wisdom or social rank, but it is still appropriate that I might serve him in the most humble ways.”

“Maybe,” the first man said doubtfully. “But that hardly seems like the way a Messiah would behave.”

The second man shrugged. “Is there anything about Jesus that seems like the Messiah we expected? Is he a priest, a general, a king? Or is he a low-born man from Galilee whose only weapons are God’s word and God’s love?” He fell silent for a few yards. “Maybe what he brought aren’t weapons at all — just the law and the love that’s at the heart of it, because those are sufficient to redeem the world.”

“And he does that by washing our feet?”

“What better way to show that one can be a master and a servant?”

“Maybe,” the first man repeated.

“Think about it. Jesus sent us out to heal the sick and preach to the lost, remember? How did you feel when you were doing that?”

“Well — honestly, I was scared, but I also felt pretty important. Like I’d been chosen to do a special mission.”

“Smarter than everyone else?” When the first man didn’t answer right away, his friend pressed him. “Maybe just a little? Like you had a secret they needed to hear?”

The first man smiled faintly. “A little. When I spoke, I was the teacher, they were the students.”

“Do you think your message got through to most of the people you talked to?”

It was his turn to shrug, now. “Maybe. I think they were more interested in what healing I could do.”

“And maybe that’s it. You were preaching the loudest when you were serving — serving by healing or casting out demons. When you were showing love. Tonight, he did that by washing away the dirt from our feet — washing away the accumulated dirt of our journeys through this world, now that I think of it.”

The first man sighed. “Maybe. But if that’s it, then how is he going to redeem us all? He can’t very well bathe the world.”

There was a very long silence, then, as both men looked up the road, to the Mount of Olives and the garden there. Finally, the second man said, “I don’t know. But I’m sure he has a plan, and we’ll find out eventually how he’s going to show love for the world, the same as he’s shown for us.”

The first man nodded and fell silent while he thought.

Neither man could have known they would have their answer by the end of the long weekend ahead.

* * *

Leftovers
by C. David McKirachan
Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10) 11-14

I grew up in a family that was always ‘entertaining’ guests. Those guests included all kinds of people. College and seminary presidents, missionaries on leave, people without a home, school mates from college to grade school, members of session, and quite a few others. Preparing meals for a constantly changing cast of characters was an adventure for my mother. My father and her kids brought them home, she fed them. Her philosophy included: ‘It’s better to have a surplus than run out’ and ‘Always be ready to stretch a meal.’ Somehow it worked. But there were leftovers at almost every meal.

Leftovers always meant hospitality and good stewardship to me. The Bible makes them against the holy law. Why?

The law was giving a framework to these people, escaped slaves who God was calling to become the people of God.  This law was there to help them be different than the cultures around them. It was to remind them of their roots and God’s call. So, even how they were to entertain guests needed to be different. It needed to remind them that they had come from revolutionary roots. As a nation, they were born on the road where they had to pack light because they couldn’t carry much. And it was to remind them that when they ate, it was enough for each day.  No keeping manna until the next day. They had no chance to be ostentatious for guests. Humility was the rule of any family that followed the Lord that had brought them out of Egypt and made a nation of them.

On Maundy Thursday we who call Jesus Lord remember Jesus’ gift to his disciples, and thus to us. We are taught to share a meal. But we are not given stringent guidelines for our feasts. Our Lord did not create a nation, though he preached of the kingdom of God.  Our Lord’s law was to follow him, which required a radical self-giving love, giving without counting the cost.

So where do leftovers fit into this law of love?

I would posit, in one major way. “Do this, remembering me.” Everything done at his table is to be done remembering him. We are to remember him each time we gather to share with our own family or with guests, whether it be lobster or chili, or left overs. There should be respect for the homeless or the millionaire. All are children of God. Jesus gave himself for all. So, any and all are welcome at our table, because it is his.

My grandfather was a farmer. Anyone who was at the farm, be it family, hired hands, migrant workers, people on the road, anyone staying on the farm or passing through were to be welcomed at the family’s table.  That required two things: One, there had to be enough food for who might be around. And second, a table to seat a lot of people. So, the dining room table was big, bigger than seemed necessary for the size of Grandpa’s family. (That was before there were seven children.) Even on holidays, when in-laws and cousins came to call, there was extra room at the table. He always made it clear in the devotions before all meals that we were gathered in Jesus’ name, and he asked that this table would be a table of communion, remembering our Lord.

Our law may not be stringent or detailed, but love does cover a lot of territory. We may be given a lot more wiggle room to move around in. Maybe leftovers are OK. But love requires us to remember the author of our law at every meal, every time we gather, we gather remembering him.

This is my body broken for you.
Do this remembering me.


* * *

No Wonder God Doesn’t Talk More
by C. David McKirachan
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Years ago, I went to a Rotary Club breakfast. It’s context and purpose are lost in the cobwebs of my memory. But I remember the older gentleman I sat next to clearly. I had no knowledge of him previously and I don’t remember what our conversation centered on. But I remember clearly how I felt during our time together and when we parted. I experienced respect and support. I left that breakfast resolved, capable, and more able to face some of the anxiety I carried into the moment. I tried to remember what sage advice he had offered, what therapeutic techniques he’d used to offer this peace to me. There were no messages or methods I could remember. All he did over our scrambled eggs and coffee, was express interest in me. It seemed he wanted to hear my stories, my opinions, my hopes, and disappointments. It didn’t seem a role or pose for him. It seemed he wanted to listen. He wanted to listen to me.

It made me consider my own pastoral style and my prayer life. In the appointments people made with me, I usually had an agenda. Ice breaking questions to help them relax, questions to find out their issues, and advice for them, sum up, and usually make another appointment. It was good if I could get three of them in an afternoon, meet with my secretary and make a couple hospital calls before dinner. After all I had a committee meeting, or an adult Bible class to get to that evening. My experience at the breakfast made me a bit ashamed. During any of those appointments, did I ever really listen to them?

It made me consider how I prayed. How many times had I listened to God? During any of my times of prayer, did I ever stop working on my issues, my concerns, the pain of the world that depressed me, the encroaching craziness that worried me, the beauty that surrounded me? Did I ever really shut up long enough to consider the one on the other side of the table? Who was that being? Did I notice whether he put pepper on his eggs? What color were his eyes? Was he married? How old was he? How did it feel to create galaxies? Did it feel lonely being the only God?

And how about being quiet, letting the other be quiet, talk, cry, ask me a question? That would be different.

God listens, and we are grateful for that constant and consistent listening ear. Every once in a while, God speaks. Creation, laws, prophets, and scripture. We call them miracles. And we wonder consistently why God doesn’t do it more. Why aren’t there angels showing up at session meetings when we consider the budget. That would shut up the ones who want to put less in the mission budget and more in the reserves. Well, it might clear the room too. And when it comes down to it, the times God has spoken the reaction hasn’t been real positive. We clear cut the forests, we use the law to beat up the poor, we revile, persecute, use fake news to discredit the prophets, and then assassinate them. We use scripture to get in the way of social change and condone violence, and then there’s the cross. Oh yeah, the cross. No wonder God doesn’t talk more.

But I have no doubt that God listens. And I think it’s a positive discipline to develop. Because as Elijah found out after all his whining, it isn’t in the wind, earthquake, or fire that God speaks, it’s in a still small voice that we hear God. The next question is, are we willing to listen to what that voice says? Are we willing to hear?

The week following the breakfast, I thought about my experience and decided to go back to the next get-together and find out who that guy was and thank him. He wasn’t there and when I asked others who it might have been, they didn’t know him.

That’s okay. The message got through. It’s one I have to re-remember once in a while. I talk a lot. Sometimes I sit out in the yard with the trees. That helps. And then I consider two questions. Does God put pepper on God’s eggs, and what color are God’s eyes? They help me remember that old guy across the table from me. And I listen.

*****************************************

StoryShare, April 1, 2021 issue.

Copyright 2021 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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