St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
At the last supper, when Judas 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 I was four years old, I got my feelings hurt. I was mad. I was sad. I did not want to face my mom because of whatever bad thing I did. Now, four and a half decades later, I have no recollection as to what I did. I do remember how I made my mom feel, and how I felt after her correcting me. So I ran away. Now being 4, I only took the necessities. I grabbed my favorite doll, Mr. Shaggyhead that my aunt had made me, and my blanket, and I went out the front door planning to never come back.
Now, I knew that I was not allowed to cross the street. I was bad, but I was not that bad. Only VERY bad boys crossed the street by themselves. So that kept things very limited. And about the time I figured out how limited my options were, I heard my mom calling for me. So whatever I needed to do, I needed to do it fast.
In my brilliance, I crawled under my dad’s Ford pick-up truck. My dad was out in his workshop so it was only my mom I had to worry about. I got under the truck about the time she got out the front door. “Jeff! Jeff! Where are you?” [Don’t forget my real name is Jeffrey.] Now that I am a parent myself, what I heard as anger was really fear, but at 4 I did not know that.
She ran around the front yard, calling my name, and I knew that I was going to be in big trouble really soon. All I could see was her feet and her ankles running around looking around bushes and getting faster and faster. About the time I figured that I was in bigger trouble than what started this whole thing and was going to come out, my mom ran to the back yard. I figured that I better get back into the house fast.
But then, my mom AND my dad were running around, looking for me, and both were calling my name. Two sets of feet, two sets of ankles. Frantic. Desperate. At this point I knew that I was now getting really close to being VERY bad.
I was cemented to the ground underneath my dad’s truck, and there was NOTHING that was gonna get me out now. Or so I thought.
That is when I heard my dad say, “He cannot have gotten far. You stay here, and I will see if I can find him.” And he moved toward me to get into the truck to drive away.
Now I was scared. I was in trouble. But even at 4, I was not THAT stupid. I HAD get out from under the truck FAST. I jumped out with my hands up saying, “I’m here! I’m here!”
I learned a big lesson that day, we cannot walk out on our problems. It is always better to stay and work them out, or to face the music. And if our problems are with God, truly, where can we go? Our options are more limited than a four year old who is not allowed to cross the street.
In the Gospel today, we see one of the most well known things that Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” And tucked away, just before this, we have Jesus talking about how he has been glorified, and how God has been glorified in him. But just before that, we see a few little words.
At the last supper, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said...
We may be like Judas, and think we can walk out on God. Or as Judas’ betrayal is sometimes told, set up actions to force God’s hand. Judas, in the verses just before this, is the one where Jesus gives the bread which has been dipped in the bowl. If you have ever been invited to a Seder meal, what Jesus and his disciples were having at the Last Supper, a part of the meal is dipping your Matzah (unleavened bread) into the Maror, the bitter herbs. It is to give the bitterness of slavery back into the mouth of the celebrants. The taste that Judas and Jesus shared, that bitterness, is often shaved and minced raw horseradish. That is what I have had as Maror when I have been at a Seder. Pungent. Strong. Unforgettable. “Do quickly what you are going to do.” With those words and with that taste on his tongue, Judas heads out. Slavery in his mouth and in his mind, Judas heads to Betrayal, and Jesus heads to Love teaching his disciples to do the same.
Judas was walking away from all that he had seen and all that he had learned over three years following Jesus. Judas thought that he could get away from all this Jesus stuff, for whatever reason, but like the Maror, the bitter herb, the taste lingers. We only think that we can walk out on God.
We may think we can get on a ship and head West when God said to go East. Jonah tried that. And look where it got him. A Great Fish. Three days of darkness. And then he ended up where God sent him in the first place.
We may think we can come up with excuses, and get away from God. Moses tried that with the burning bush. He has half a chapter of excuses on why he cannot do what God is asking. (Exodus 4:1-17) And do not forget that already Moses had run away from murder, which took him to the desert in the first place. He spent decades thinking he could outrun his past.
As our Revelation reading reminded us, God said of Godself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” God is here long before us, and will be here after we are dust and a distant memory. Why would we ever think we can get one over on God.
Back to when I ran away, even then, after the adrenaline rush I had given my parents, when I crawled out, I expected a spanking. And what did I receive? Welcome arms, relief and joy. When we think we can walk out on God, what we really find is that we are loved, and always have a way home. Amen.