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Sermon for Maundy Thursday

John 13 1-17, 31-35

Loving people is a dirty business. You get your hands dirty. Jesus tonight enacts one of the most subversive acts of love you can imagine. 'He got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.' If we had only this one story of Jesus, this act alone would draw us to him, draw us to him because this is a perfect and selfless act of love. Notice how he takes 'off his outer robe', Jesus here is de-selfing himself in that action, taking off the weight of ego and getting stuck into the dirty, free work of loving people.

As we all know we are not that good at loving each other. For understandable reasons, the need for security, for affirmation, for being told it's all right, we like to love people on the terms of a bargain of some kind. I'll give you my love if you can give me something in return? If I give you this, can you give me that? Now this is fine, as far as it goes, but it doesn't go very far and, also, it's actually a remarkably boring way to live, safe as it might seem. Because if we always do something to get something back we are always, to some degree, suffocated by the needy self that keeps us in our little comfortable cages. If I give you this love can you give me that love in return? The needy self, if we let it, will have us and everyone else for breakfast. It cannot stop needing more and more and more.

On one level you might say, Jesus came to free us from these rather dull ways of living, he wanted us to risk, to set out into the unknown country of love where we get nothing back except the ultimate, transformative bliss of living out of God's pointless love. He came to teach us what it is like to live without a why.

This concept, to live without a why, comes from the mystic Meister Eckhart. Here, in Sermon Ten, Eckhart speaks of the just person, but it could also be the loving person.

'The just person (or the loving person) seeks nothing through their works, for those whose works are aimed at a particular end or who act with a particular Why in view, are servants and hirelings. If you wish to be formed and transformed into justice (or love) then, do not intend anything particular by your works and do not embrace any particular Why, neither in time nor in eternity, neither reward nor blessedness, neither this nor that; such works in truth are dead.'

In other words, to be just, to be loving, is the point of being just or loving. It has no other point beyond that. Once we start to play the game of being just or loving to gain a particular end then the quality of our justice and our love suffers. If I love you because you give me something my love is a business transaction.

God loves us without a why. We don't need to please God, win God over, charm God, impress God with our morality, buy God off with our love, although we again and again think that we do. Christ washing his disciples' feet is an act of love that has no why. He does it because he is love and for no other reason.

Over the next few days consider practicing acts of pointless love, of loving without a why. These acts of love are like a long cold drink after a time of thirst. They wake you up to a life so much richer than loving for our own particular gain and advantage. To love without a why is to live out of God's own eternal ecstasy of self-giving, which is the ecstasy of self-giving we see in Christ. The why of our actions can fall away and only the love remains. BEN


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