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Beloved in Christ

Rev. Nancy S. Taylor
Feb 14 2010

Headline: Otter mistaken for drowning snowmobiler. True story. It came over the wires yesterday.

Here's what happened: Three people on the shore of Moosehead Lake in Greenville, Maine saw a drowning snowmobiler, struggling far out on the ice.  They called it in.

Park Rangers sprang into action. For two days they searched. They flew over the lake by plane and used an airboat on the water.  They found no evidence anyone had fallen through the ice; no evidence of snowmobile tracks in the vicinity. In addition, no one has been reported missing.

The Park Rangers did find something on the ice: pieces of chewed crayfish and a bloodstain.  Evidence, they say, not of a drowning snowmobiler, but of an otter having lunch.

Given the distance and the sun's glare off the ice, the Ranger's believe the lunching-otter could have easily been mistaken for a drowning-snowmobiler.  (Boston Globe on-line, February 13, 2010).

Headline: The disciple whom Jesus loved reclined next to him. True story. Gospel truth! It's in John's Gospel.

Here's what we know. We know that Jesus and twelve men were local celebrities. There was a kind of magic about them … a vibe. They went everywhere together and, wherever they went, things happened: crowds gathered; storms were stilled;     people were fed; others were healed; others forgiven; politicians and other celebs showed up; public arguments broke out.

And there were parties. People put on parties for them … great gatherings with plenty of food and wine and animated conversation.

So, what happens when they step away from the public eye? What are they like in private, out of ear shot and out of view from the media and the people?

It is here, in the upper room, behind closed doors that John gives us a peek, a tantalizing glance into the personal life of Jesus.

This is what John tell us. He tells us that one of the disciples, the disciple whom Jesus loves, is reclining next to him. Simon Peter motions to this disciple, and whispers to him: "Ask Jesus which one of us will betray him." The disciple whom Jesus loves, leans back against Jesus and asks him, "Lord, who is it?"

The beloved disciple is mentioned five times in John's gospel and a not a single time in the other three gospels. What did John see that Matthew, Mark and Luke did not?

What do you see in the glimpse we have been given of the "beloved disciple"?

Since Harry Huff assigned me this story, I have spent time squinting into the sun, trying to see what is happening in this room. Because I am not certain what it is I am looking at, I called in the authorities for assistance. I turned to biblical scholars to ask them what they see.

Scholars sprang into action. They have searched the texts with their version of airplanes and airboats. Some scholars postulate that the beloved disciple is Judah, a supposed son of Jesus; others surmise it may be James, Jesus' brother; or perhaps Jesus' good friend, Lazarus. Most scholars believe that the evidence points to a male disciple, likely John. But is it John, the disciple, or the author of the fourth Gospel? Are they the same? Some scholars argue that the beloved disciple is actually Mary Magdalene.

The truth is no one knows. Despite sending out search parties, scholars have not uncovered enough evidence to say one way or another. So we are left to wonder, to imagine.

What do you see as you peer into this scene?

Andrew Lloyd Webber in his rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Nikos Kazantzakis in his novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, both postulate a love affair between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

The figure represented as the beloved disciple in Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper is decidedly effeminate … something novelist Dan Brown made a great deal of in The Da Vinci Code.

What do you see from your perspective?

I can tell you this. In the last few weeks several men, gay men, have wanted me to see (have ached for me to see) what they see in this story. They see affirmation that Jesus had some sort of special, intimate, tender, affectionate relationship with one of the twelve disciples - perhaps platonic, perhaps not.

What do you see?

Let's continue with the story. Jesus and his disciples are behind closed doors. Without explanation, Jesus takes off his robe. He fastens a towel around his waist. He fills a basin with water. He kneels. He lifts the foot of one of his disciples. He unfastens the sandal, slips it off.  Holding a bare foot, he bathes it and then dries it with his towel. Wordlessly, without explanation, Jesus moves from one disciple to another. He lifts one foot, unfastens the sandal, slips it off, bathes the foot, dries it. Then the other foot. Then the next disciple.

What do you make of this? What do you make of this tenderness, this behind-closed-doors intimacy? What do you see from your vantage?

It is then that Jesus delivers what scholars call his "farewell discourse." Some describe this farewell discourse as Jesus' last will and testament: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

His last will and testament.  This is what he possesses: love. This is what he bequeaths to his followers: love.

Buddhism, by contrast, teaches the means to enlightenment,     ultimate liberation, nirvana.

Islam teaches submission or surrender to Allah.

Judaism teaches a means to keep in covenant with the One God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt.

The heart of Christianity is rather different. I don't know which is harder, more arduous and difficult: the attempt to achieve enlightenment or the attempt to love one's enemies. But they are different.

I have another headline: Plato, Valentine and Claudius clash on don't ask, don't tell.

Roman Emperor Claudius II issues an edict ordering young men not to marry. Why? To grow his army. The Emperor, or so the report alleges, believes that married men make poor soldiers because they are anxious to be home, and protective of their own safety.

Valentine, a Christian priest with a heart for romance, defies the edict and secretly officiates at marriages of young love-struck Romans.

Greek philosopher Plato, looking from a different angle, argues that an army in which homosexuality is encouraged will be invincible, for "love will convert the worst coward into an inspired hero."

What do you see?

Here's what I have seen. I see that some of you are listening to this sermon with heightened attention: What will she say? What can we know of Jesus' personal life? Did he have a love life? Whom did he love and how did he love?

I see others who are perturbed by the possibility that Jesus even had a personal life, let alone a romantic interest, of whatever gender.

The sun makes us squint. The distances between us are sometimes vast. It is hard to make out what is going on in another's life … let alone another's heart.

The community who gathers to follow the risen Christ … we who call each other "sister", "brother", "beloved," …we who pass Christ's own peace … we are adherents of a faith with love as its highest virtue, its greatest achievement.  Such love asks of us, nay, requires of us that we attempt to see what others see, feel what others feel.

The early Christians earned a reputation, notoriety, for their love feasts … their agape meals. These meals, characteristic of the Christians, were whispered about, wondered about, talked about. For it was at these feasts that enslaved persons and those who owned slaves … that Jews and Gentiles … that Greeks and Romans, men and women, greeted each other with a holy kiss, sat together at table, shared possessions in common, and yes, washed each other' feet.

Headline: In Christ's beloved community water is thicker than blood. The waters of baptism, the waters with which Jesus bathed the feet his disciples, are is thicker than blood.

There are people out there searching for evidence of this. They want to know if it is true. They want to know if it is true that Christians love each other. I say: let's give them something to talk about.

Happy Valentine's Day!