Sermon - Brad Brookins
“As I have loved you…”
The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ Peter said, ‘I am not.’ John 18:17
Over these final four weeks of the Lenten season we will be reviewing scenes from the closing hours of Jesus’ life. We will see just how deep the darkness is in which we humans sometimes move. We will face the evil of which our kind is capable.
Here’s a warning before we begin: read these accounts closely and honestly, and you will be made uncomfortable. We will see ourselves in these scenes; with more clarity than we’d like to admit.
However, as we step into this darkness we need to keep something else in mind as well, and it is this: the only reason we have these pre-Easter stories of betrayal, desertion, suffering and death is because we are a post-Easter people. We are not heading in to this darkness. We are looking back at the darkness from which we have been delivered. This difference in perspective is really, really important.
You see, the lens through which we peer into this darkness is not one of betrayal, but of resurrection. We know how the story comes out. And even though we don’t sing Hallelujahs during Lent, we are, as Pope John Paul once said, an Easter people and Hallelujah is our our only song.
So even now, in these dark Lenten days—off in the distance perhaps, there shines the light of Easter morning. We wouldn’t have survived without it. With it, any darkness is bearable.
Which is good, you know, because there is plenty of trouble ahead. The success of our little human adventure is, right now, far from certain. Pick your crisis on the world stage—Syrian refugees, Rohingya genocide, North Korean bluster, Washington DC gridlock and the death of democracy, our badly disrupted climate. Taken alone, each one is daunting. Together they seem insurmountable.
But this is why we have the season of Lent, with its dark stories of betrayal, desertion and death. They remind us we’ve been here already. What lies ahead will be bad enough, but maybe not so much different from what has come before.
Except for the climate crisis. That one is different; and worse.
Reading these stories from our spiritual past will help—if we read them honestly; if we are able to look into the mirror these characters hold up. This is hard work; but it is good Lenten work. The world is broken, remember. We are broken. We have to confess this brokenness and the part we play in it.
The world is broken.
The world is also redeemed. That is the Easter light. Our darkness is ever tempered by the Easter light. Our failure is to be expected—of that there can be no doubt. But, the story says, our failure has already been corrected—and of that there should be no doubt.
We are not defined by our pre-Easter desertion, you see, but by our post-Easter restoration. Keep that in mind as we re-live these old stories. Keep it in mind, too, as we muddle through the darkness yet to come.
Here’s the piece of the story we have for today.
Jesus has been arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. The soldiers and police have hauled him off to the house of Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest.
Ten of the 12 disciples turn tail and run. Peter and another disciple follow the mob, as closely behind as they dare.
There are different opinions as to who this “other disciple” was but many commentators believe it was John. In any event, he was known to the high priest and was able to follow Jesus into the courtyard. Peter is left standing at the gate. The other disciple goes back, speaks to the woman guarding the gate and brings Peter inside.
This is when she turns to Peter and asks, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” Imagine the look on Peter’s face. It wasn’t half an hour before that he had taken a sword to one of the high priest’s servants and sliced off his ear.
And now, in the courtyard of that priest he is being fingered—pointed out as an accomplice to the man on trial.
“You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” She demands an answer.
And Peter gives it, “I am not.”
He moves across the courtyard and stands in a circle of slaves and cops gathered around a charcoal fire. It is cold. Peter is chilled to the bone.
Those huddling around the fire know everybody else in the courtyard—but they don’t know Peter. One of them repeats the question: “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” Peter says again, I don’t know, maybe with more conviction this time—“I am not.”
Meanwhile, Jesus has been bound again and sent on to Caiaphas, the high priest. This is more bad news. It was Caiaphas, you see, who had advised his colleagues some time earlier that it would be better to have one person, namely Jesus, die for the people than to have Rome come and destroy the whole nation.
The mob processes out of the courtyard. Peter stays by the fire. One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off—he really knows how to pick his company, it seems, asks him, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”
And for the third time in as many opportunities, Peter denies any connection to the prisoner.
And the cock crows; driving a dagger into Peter’s heart.
It wasn’t like he hadn’t been warned, you know. Just hours earlier, as Jesus had been detailing for them how this night would play out, he had said, “I’m going someplace where you can’t follow—not now, anyway. Later you will; not now”
Peter protests, strenuously. “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!”
“You think so?”, Jesus says; and there must have been sadness in his voice. “I’ll tell you what you will do. Before the cock crows tonight, you will have denied me three times.”
There you have the story of a fall into darkness—a head long, head over heels slide into a place none of the disciples—least of all Peter, wanted to go.
Now we can sit here and contemplate this fall for a while—and we should. But I wouldn’t want us to get stuck here. I wouldn’t want us to miss the response Jesus gives to Peter’s fall.
And it is easy to miss. Easy to miss because Jesus rescues the disciples from their slide into oblivion—before it happens. The solution comes before the mistake. The problem is resolved before they know they have a problem.
This is how grace works. This is how the redemption of the world, and of each life—yours, mine, everyone, is accomplished.
Before the darkness fell, before mistakes were made, Jesus gives his friends a way out—a way through. Before they hit the wall of their own humanness, he gives them new rule to live by. A new rule that will save them; that will keep them connected—to each other and to him.
This is our way through, as well. Here’s the rule:
“Love one another”, he said. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
The tidal wave of evil, at that moment hurtling toward this little band of disciples, would do them in. Jesus knew they weren’t going to make it. So he tells them: “When everything falls apart, when I am gone, and nothing seems true or trustworthy or permanent—love one another!”
Interesting, isn’t it, that at the moment Jesus is preparing to be torn from his friends he tells them to turn toward each other—“Love one another”, he says, “as I have loved you”. The world would know who they were, he said, not by their love for him, but by their love for each other.
Interesting—and true, no matter what trouble confronts us.
We navigate darkness most successfully, you see, in the company of people who care about us. We need the company of people who take us as we are—who see the warts and still find us lovable.
That’s how Jesus loved his disciples; it’s how he loves us; it’s how we are to love each other—Love Anyway.
This “love as I have loved you” command calls us to turn to each other; to build a community of wanderers wandering together; a community of lovers loving each other. Anyway.
The “love anyway” rule creates a community of believers who bear witness to the grace of God enfolded in their own weakness. And by this love they begin to heal the Creation.
So here’s two things to carry from this story—through this Lenten darkness, into Easter morning and beyond.
1: The grace of God—which is the love of God, is constant and true and eternal. That light shines in the darkness, John says earlier in his gospel, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Grace is just the way it is. Get used to it.
And 2: We will get through the darkness of our own times together, or we will not get through at all. Peter denies Jesus and survives because he turns to his friends and they are there to take him in. Judas betrays Jesus and dies alone because he turned away from his friends, and thus was alone.
We must love anyway. Get used to that, too
Because I need you and you need me and the world needs us all. Amen.
Text and questions
If you haven’t done so already (and maybe even if you have) read over the texts below before you tackle these questions.
1. You are not also one of his disciples, are you? Why or why not?
2. How does one become a disciple of a man known only through words printed in the pages of an ancient book?
3. Do we need a living teacher?
4. Do we have a living teacher? Explain your answers to questions 2 & 3.
5. If the church is the “Body of Christ” in the world today, does the church have a role to play in forming disciples? How?
6. Peter denied himself—that he had any relationship with Jesus. Have you ever denied yourself? How did it feel?
7. John 13:33 “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Where was Jesus “going”? Why could Peter not follow him?
8. Does Jesus go anywhere today that we cannot follow? Or has he already gone there and now we can follow “afterwards” (John 13:36) This is a really important question; it is about what it means to be the church.
9. John 13:35 How would “everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”? Note: Jesus is looking into the future. Everyone will know this after he is gone. Discuss the meaning of discipleship in this verse. How does “love for one another” demonstrate discipleship?
10. In John 18:17 Peter issues his first “I am not…” denial. Why do you think he hangs around through 10 more verses and 2 more denials? Why didn’t he get out of there?
The texts for this week are: John 13: 33-38 and John 18: 12-27
John 13. 33-38
33Little 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.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
36 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ 37Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ 38Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.
John 18. 12-27
12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ 18Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ 22When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ 23Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ 24Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ 26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.