The Love Mandate

Maundy Thursday, (Year A), April 16, 2014

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31-35

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND


May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another, that your joy may be full.” I learned that song in Sunday School as a child. It’s taken from John’s Gospel, not very long after our text. The Gospel of John devotes several chapters to Jesus’ last teaching for this disciples. And the command to love one another is repeated over and over throughout. In fact, the name for tonight’s service, “Maundy” Thursday, is taken from an old Latin word for command: “Mandatum,” from which we get the word “mandate.” Jesus’ last command, his last mandate, was to love one another as he has loved us. On the night before he died, in the last meal he shared with his disciples, the theme was love.

Of course, the theme for all of Holy Week is love, when you get right down to it: everything happens because of love. God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to save us. Jesus loved us so much that he died for us. That’s the greatest kind of love there is. Being willing to sacrifice for the sake of someone else. And that’s the kind of love Jesus wants us to have for one another.

Sometimes we think of love as something selfish. Think of someone who is jealous that their boyfriend or girlfriend has other friends. Or a dog who doesn’t like you paying attention to someone else, and so shoves his nose in between the two of you. Sometimes, for some people love drives them to hurt the ones they claim to love. There are a lot of abusers who use love as an excuse for their actions. And there are a lot of people who talk a lot about love without ever showing that love in their actions. But these are all examples of a love that is twisted and broken by sin and the powers of this world. Yes, even love can be twisted by sin. The kind of love Jesus was talking about is just the opposite.

Jesus’ love is all about service. That’s what the foot-washing is all about. Jesus shows his love for his disciples by doing something for them that’s a little bit icky. Jesus’ love is not about himself. It’s not selfish in any way, shape, or form. Jesus’ love inspires him to consider other peoples’ needs. In Jesus’ day, they walked everywhere, and they wore sandals instead of shoes. So peoples’ feet got really dirty and smelly, even when you were trying your best to stay clean. So in a rich household, a good host would send a slave to wash his guest’s feet. The host wouldn’t wash the feet himself—washing peoples’ feet is kind of gross. But he’d send a slave to do it. Jesus didn’t send a slave, he did it himself. Why? Because he loved them, and he was willing to do something uncomfortable and gross to help those he loved.

Think about what parents do for their children. There’s a lot of things parents do for their children that are not fun at all. Changing messy diapers, taking care of them when they’re sick, cleaning up all kinds of really nasty messes, tending wounds and fishing toys out of toilets—these aren’t fun, but they need to be done. Nobody does them because they like doing those things. And most parents do them out of love. They love their children, so they are willing to do messy, icky things that otherwise they would never do. That love isn’t just words. That love is shown in everything parents do for their children.

That’s the kind of love that Jesus showed when he washed his disciples’ feet, the kind of love that is willing to sacrifice to benefit others. It’s a love that is shown in actions. It’s not just talking the talk, Jesus’ love walks the walk. And washing his disciples’ feet is just the beginning. Jesus is going to show his love for the entire world by dying. He loves us all—every last, sinful, one of us. And because he loves us, he’s willing to die for us. Not because it’s fun, not because sacrifice is good on its own merits, because we need it. It’s something we can’t do on our own, something we would die without. And Jesus loves us, and he can save us, so he does. Even if it means his own death.

But even dying for us, to save us from our sins, isn’t the only thing Jesus’ love means. Jesus doesn’t just want to free us from sin and death. That’s huge, but Jesus’ goal is bigger than that. Jesus’ goal isn’t just to change what happens to us when we die; Jesus’ goal is to also change how we live. Jesus loves us, and he wants us to be happy. He wants us to be healthy. And in order for us to be healthy and happy, we have to love one another. We have to live lives filled with joy, with relationships that build us up and spread God’s love to every corner of the globe. We have to be willing to open ourselves up to the kind of love that is bigger and more powerful than sin, the kind of love that is more powerful than selfishness, more powerful than hate, more powerful than jealousy, more powerful than fear. In order to live the kind of life God wants for us, we have to love God and one another deeply and truly. So Jesus spent his last night before his death teaching us about love.

It wasn’t the only time Jesus talked about love, or showed what love meant. Jesus talked about love a lot. And he spent his life acting on that love. For Jesus, love was stronger than anything. Love was stronger than politics, stronger than proper behavior. Love was stronger than religious rules, stronger than gender or race. Love was stronger than money, stronger than fear. If there was a chance to show love for someone, Jesus took it. Whether that was healing them, eating with them, accepting them, forgiving them, Jesus always chose to love people. No matter who they were or what they had done. That was actually a lot of the reason the authorities didn’t like him: he showed love to people they believed to be unworthy of it. If Jesus saw someone who needed help, he showed them his love by helping them. Even when it was messy. Even when it broke the rules. Even when they didn’t deserve it. Even when it would cost Jesus.

The disciples had seen this, but they hadn’t really understood it. Jesus had one last night to teach them, to teach us, about what it means to love people as God loves us. So he wrapped a towel around his waist and washed his disciples feet, and commanded them to love one another as Jesus had loved them. “This is my commandment,” Jesus said, “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 talk about what it means to be a disciple, what it looks like to follow Jesus. Well, Jesus tells us quite clearly here what the core of a disciple’s life is, and it’s love. The kind of love Jesus has for us. The kind of love that doesn’t ask “are you worthy?” but rather “how can I help?” The core of discipleship isn’t memorizing scripture, and it isn’t perfect morality, and it isn’t worship or any of the common things we think of. Don’t get me wrong, scripture reading and worship and how we live are important parts of the life of a disciple. But they support a life of discipleship, they’re not the core. The core is love. If we love one another as Jesus loved us, we are truly his disciples.

If we love one another, we are closer to the kind of life God wants for us. We live in a world broken by sin and death, a world of extreme poverty and extreme riches, a world of hate and violence and fear. We live in a world where most people would rather turn a blind eye to the injustice and abuse around them than lift a finger to help. We’d rather point fingers than fix things. As Paul put it, we have all sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God. And the only way that’s ever going to be healed is through love. Through the love of God, poured out through Jesus on the cross. And through our love for God and one another, poured out in our words and our actions.

So Jesus commanded his disciples, commanded us, to love one another. He showed what that meant through washing their feet, and he showed what that meant again by dying for us all, to save us and redeem us and heal us. Unlike the disciples two thousand years ago, Jesus is not going to walk into the room to teach us this lesson and show us what love is. But Jesus is still with us here and now. Because washing feet and talking about love isn’t the only thing Jesus did that night.

The other thing Jesus did was to share a meal with his disciples. He took the bread, and blessed it, and gave it to all to eat. And the wine, also, he gave them. And he told them it was his body and blood, given to save sinners, and that he would always be present in it. When we eat the bread and wine, we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood. We hold in our hands a tangible proof of how much Jesus loves us, we smell it and taste it and feel it. Jesus’ love fills us, and inspires us. May we let Jesus show us how to love one another as he has loved us.


Breaking the Cycle

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, (Year A), April 13, 2014

Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 27


Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND


May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wow, the readings for today are really an emotional rollercoaster, aren’t they? But then, that’s the story of Holy Week. It starts on a high—Jesus riding into town on a donkey as the crowds cheer—and then it gets really dark, really fast. Jesus is arrested, subjected to a sham trial, tortured, and executed. It ends well, with Jesus’ resurrection and the salvation of the world, but the path to Easter is dark and pretty scary. I hope you will come to the midweek services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, because each part of the story has an important part to play, and none of the pieces can stand on its own.

Take today, for example. Today is Palm Sunday. It’s a parade! Everyone loves a parade! People cheering and celebrating. But think of what Jesus is going through. This parade isn’t just happening at a random time. Jesus’ popularity in Judea and Galilee had been growing; ever-larger crowds had been coming to hear him teach, to be healed, to be fed, to see miracles. The buzz and excitement had been growing, and this is its peak. I have no doubt the disciples were on cloud nine, as they participated in and led this parade, this celebration of Jesus and his ministry.

But consider it from Jesus’ point of view. Jesus, after all, knew darn good and well what was going to happen. He knew how fickle the crowds were. He knew that when he failed to live up to their expectations—when he didn’t give them what they wanted—they would turn on him. The crowds loved Jesus only so long as they thought he would do what they wanted. When they realized that Jesus couldn’t or wouldn’t fulfill their wishes, things were going to get really nasty, really fast. And there Jesus is, knowing that he’s riding to his death, listening to people shout praises and knowing that in just a few days they will be calling for his death.

Everyone expected Jesus to be a great prophet, a righteous king like David who would create a political and religious revolution which would put them firmly back in charge. They thought they knew who Jesus was, and they knew what they wanted him to do: fight a war for their nation and create a new golden age. For the crowds made up of ordinary people, that was a great thing to be celebrated. For the political and religious leaders, it was a threat. So the leaders wanted him out of the way, and would do anything to discredit and remove him. And when the ordinary people got disappointed in Jesus, they would let the leaders manipulate them into calling for his death.

And the crowds were guaranteed to be disappointed in Jesus, because he didn’t come to lead a political revolution; he didn’t come to provide a temporary fix for one small corner of the planet. He didn’t come to give them what they wanted. He came to give all creation—all of us—what we need. Salvation, healing, hope, and life, that’s what Jesus came to give. That’s what Jesus had been trying to teach them about all along, but they weren’t listening. They heard what they wanted to hear. They needed salvation, but they wanted free food and miracles on tap. Given a choice between the peace and life of God, and a political and social reform, they would choose politics.

I say “them,” but really, it’s “us,” isn’t it? That’s the way the world works. If you look at Jesus’ arrest and trial, nothing in the world has really has changed in the last 2,000 years. Look at modern politics throughout the world. People still look for easy answers and quick fixes, and will follow anyone they think will help them achieve it—and if that person falls short of their expectations, it doesn’t take us long to turn on them. People still use religion as a tool to try to set up a society that benefits themselves, and use God’s word to attack those they don’t agree with. Powerful people still feel threatened by those who work for change, and they still manipulate and cheat and use their power to get rid of inconvenient people.   That’s how the system works. And most people, by and large, go along with it and just accept it as normal.

That’s the reality that Jesus came to change. But it can’t happen by using the same tactics. It can’t happen by political or social revolution. Revolutions come and go, and sometimes they make things worse and sometimes they make things better. But even in the best of times, that fundamental brokenness remains, and in this world no good thing lasts forever. The only way to break the cycle is to heal the brokenness, and that’s what Jesus came to do.

That’s why Jesus rode into Jerusalem, knowing it would mean his death. Because that death would break the cycle. That death would nail the whole stinking system to the cross and provide the cracks for God’s kingdom to break in the world. And the resurrection that followed would widen those cracks so that when Christ comes again all of creation will finally be free from sin and death. We will be free from sin and death. But it comes at a cost, a cost Jesus paid willingly. It comes on Maundy Thursday through Jesus’ feeding his disciples—feeding us—with his own body and blood and commanding us to love one another. It comes on Good Friday, when Jesus was tortured and executed on a cross, abandoned by everyone. And it is shown on Easter, when Jesus rose from the grave, the firstborn of the dead.

Knowing all that, Jesus chose the salvation of the world. He rode on towards his own death, while the fickle crowd cried Hosanna. Thanks be to God for Jesus’ love and sacrifice.

On This Night

It’s a few days late, but here is my Maundy Thursday sermon.

Maundy Thursday, Year C, March 28th, 2013

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND


May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Over three thousand years ago, the Hebrew people gathered together.  They were slaves in Egypt, and God had heard their cries for freedom.  Despite the stubbornness of the Egyptian Pharaoh, God freed them.  On their last night in slavery, in between packing everything they owned to flee the land of their captivity, they ate one last meal.  A meal of lamb, and wine, and unleavened bread, and bitter herbs.  They called it Pesach—the Passover.  God commanded them to remember and celebrate that meal every year, to gather and eat the bread and wine and lamb and bitter herbs.  So every year to this day, faithful Jews celebrate the festival of Passover.  And Jesus and his disciples, being faithful Jews, celebrated the festival as well.  In fact, Jesus’ Last Supper, which we celebrate tonight, was during Passover.

Many things have changed over the three thousand years since the first Passover meal, but some things about the meal remain the same.  It isn’t a memorial, a remembrance of God’s actions.  When Jews celebrate the Passover, they are participating in God’s saving act.  They are participating in the same Passover meal shared by their ancestors.  To symbolize this, they ask a question: How is this night different from all other nights?  On this night, God led us out of slavery into freedom.  Not our ancestors; us.  On this night, all Jews, past, present, and future, gather around the table.  It’s not just a history lesson; for Jews, Passover is a present reality.

We are gathered here as Christians.  Our Lord was Jewish, but we are not.  So why do we remember Passover tonight?  Why was our first lesson the story of the first Passover meal?  Because tonight is not just a history lesson.  Tonight is not just a ritual meal.  Our Lord’s Supper is a present reality for us, just as Passover is a present reality for Jews.  How is this night different from all other nights?  On this night, our Lord Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it for all.  On this night, our Lord Jesus took the cup, blessed it, and gave it for all to drink, saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people.”  On this night, and every time we celebrate communion, all Christians past, present, and future gather around our Lord’s Table.

Think about that, for a second.  When we celebrate Communion, when we gather here at the altar rail, there are more people present than we can see.  The Disciples are here—Peter, James, John, and all the rest.  Our ancestors in the faith are here with us, too, from the very earliest church fathers and mothers to the ones who taught us to pray and read the Bible.  We gather here at the altar rail with all Christians throughout the world, who become our brothers and sisters in Christ, and members with us in Christ’s body.  And all those people out there who aren’t yet Christians but will become Christians, they’re here too, along with all those who have yet to be born.  Our great-great-grandparents and our great-great-grandchildren receive Jesus’ body and blood together with us.  We may not see them, but they are here with us tonight and every time we gather around the table to worship and receive the gift of Christ’s body and blood.

Even more than that, Jesus Christ is present every time we eat the bread and drink from the cup in his name.  This bread becomes Christ’s body, and this wine becomes Christ’s blood, just as Jesus said.  It might not physically change form in any way science can measure, but Jesus Christ is truly present in it, and Jesus Christ becomes truly present in us.  Jesus is here, now, Immanuel, God With Us, in every bite that we eat and drink tonight and every time we receive the Lord’s Supper.  We eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord.  Jesus is the meal we are gathered here to share.

Jesus is the meal, but Jesus is also our host for this meal, too.  The altar we gather around is not our table, but God’s table.  Jesus is the host who invites us to the heavenly banquet.  Jesus is the one who brings us in, welcomes us, and makes us his own.  Jesus is the one who includes us, even when we are not worthy.  In the time of Jesus, it was customary for a host to offer his guests the chance to wash the dust of the road off their feet.  It was a sign that you were welcome to stay, take off your shoes and put up your feet, be comfortable and at home.  In a poor household, the host would offer his guests a bowl of water for them to wash their own feet.  In a rich household, a servant would do it.  You see, washing someone else’s feet was considered a demeaning task, fit only for a servant or a slave.  It’s not hard to understand why—feet are dirty, smelly things, particularly when you’ve been walking in the hot, dusty sun.  Clean feet may be a relief, but washing someone else’s feet is gross.  So a host would offer hospitality, but not at the expense of his own dignity and pride.  Not at the expense of his own comfort and repuation.  Yet Jesus himself takes the bowl and the towel and washed his disciples’ feet.    He washes their feet to show them the greatest hospitality possible: that he put their comfort and well-being above his dignity and pride.  He does it to show that his love for them—his love for us—is more important than his status.

And then he commands us to do the same for others.  Jesus tells his disciples to welcome others in with extravagant hospitality, to care for their needs and show them God’s love in word and deed.  A teacher’s students should follow his or her lead.  So if the teacher serves others, so to should the students.  And we, too, are Jesus’ disciples; we are students and followers of Jesus.  If Jesus, who was God in human flesh, would stoop so low as to wash our feet, we, too, should be willing to show hospitality and love to others even when it pulls us out of our comfort zone, even when it isn’t nice, or pleasant, or easy.  Even when it means putting our own reputation on the line.

How is this night different from all other nights?  On this night, we begin to see just how great and transforming God’s love for us is.  On this night, the God who brought our ancestors from slavery in Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land begins to lead us from the slavery of sin to the freedom of forgiveness.  On this night, we begin to see how far Jesus is willing to go to save us, to make us clean and whole, to show us that he loves us.  On this night, Jesus invites us in, makes us welcome no matter how dirty we are, and feeds us with his own body and blood.  And on this night, after the meal, Jesus will go to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, where he will be arrested.  Tomorrow, he will be tried and executed, and on Sunday he will rise from the grave.  And all of that—Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection—will be for our sake.  Jesus does all of this because he loves us, because he would rather die than see us broken by sin and death.

On this night, Jesus gives us as an example for how we are to live our lives.  On this night, Jesus gives us one last command: to love as we have been loved.  Jesus shows us what love truly means, in his life, in his last actions, and in his death.  Love does not depend on being found worthy, for surely nothing we could ever do would make us worthy of what God has done for us.  Love is a gift we have been given by God, a gift freely given, with no strings.  And as we have been given that gift, so we should give to others what we have received.  Because we live in the light of God’s love, we should love others.  Because we have been fed with this heavenly food, we should feed those who are hungry in body or soul.  Because we have been welcomed and forgiven in Jesus’ name, we should love and forgive others.

As we gather around the table tonight, with all Christians past, present, and yet to come, may we experience the love that God gives us so abundantly, and may we be inspired to go and do the same.  Amen.

It Starts Out With A Parade

Palm Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Luke 19:28-40, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 23:1-49

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It starts out with a parade.  Crowds cheer, people wave, everyone has turned out to see Jesus, the one they hope will be the good king, the Messiah, that God has promised them.  They hope he will throw out the Romans.  They hope he will throw out the Roman occupying army.  They hope he will feed them.  They hope he will heal them.  The disciples hope they will see more deeds of power from Jesus—a show, to prove they’ve picked the right teacher to follow.  We’ve all been to parades.  We’ve all had fun at them, watching the spectacle, and afterwards we often have some kind of celebration afterwards to keep the excitement going.  It’s a party!  It’s a break from normal, boring life!  In Jesus’ day, in a world without sports teams, movies and television, the internet, a parade would have been a huge thing.  A holiday, even if only for an hour, from the workaday world.  But this parade is different.  This parade doesn’t lead to a barbeque, or a picnic, or a Thanksgiving dinner.  This parade leads to the cross.

Our modern parades take a lot of stage management: closing off streets, setting up the order entries move in, regulating the people who sell food and water, and, for larger parades, television coverage.  Individual parade entries take lots of effort to arrange—costumes, vehicles, music, prizes to give away.  This parade took stage management, too.  Notice how carefully Jesus sets the whole thing up.  He tells his disciples where and how to get the donkey he’s going to ride, right down to the words they say.  This parade was not an accident.

None of the things that happened to Jesus in his last week were an accident.  Not the parade on Sunday, not the last supper with his disciples where he instituted Communion and commanded them to love one another, not his arrest in the garden nor his trial nor his execution.  At each step along the way, Jesus knew what was coming.  He prayed to be spared, in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he went forward to his death anyway.

Other people were managing things, too.  Notice how deftly the authorities arranged things.  Jesus was a threat to their power, an agitator who stirred up the crowds and threatened the status quo, so they got rid of him.  They knew he was innocent of the charges laid against him; everyone from Pilate to the centurion at the foot of the cross to the criminals who were crucified with Jesus knew that he was innocent, that this was a miscarriage of justice.  Yet still they went forward, more concerned with preserving their own power and authority and privilege than they were in seeing justice done.

Such injustice is still found in our world, today.  Turn on the news and you will hear stories of corruption and injustice all around the world, from political and religious leaders.  You’ll find it in small local groups, and in nations, in corporations and in churches.  All too often we put our own interests above doing the right thing.  This world is broken by sin and death.  Check any news source, and you’ll find it.  Listen to children talk about being bullied at school, and you’ll hear it.  Watch adults jockey for power and position and you’ll see it.  People put a lot of time and effort into running things for their own advantage, and all too often they don’t see or care what consequences those actions have for others.

Thank God that we’re not the only ones planning things.  Thank God we’re not the only ones at work in the world.  Thank God that our sinfulness, our brokenness, is not the end of the story.  God is at work in the world.  God chose to send Jesus into this world, knowing the cost and the consequences.  And so when Jesus came to Jerusalem one last time, when he told his disciples to go fetch a colt for him to ride, he knew what would happen.  He knew that the crowds that followed him would be the final straw for the leaders who saw him as a threat.  He knew that they would not rest until he was dead.  And he knew that, through his death, he would bring life to all people, healing for our brokenness and forgiveness for our sins.

Let us pray.  Everlasting God, in your endless love for the world you sent our Lord Jesus Christ to take on our nature and to suffer death on the cross.  In your mercy enable us to share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.