Sermon delivered at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Perkasie, PA
“You’ve got to use your cheek as the anchor!” grumbled the archery teacher a few weeks ago at the Clover Leaf Archery Club. There was 5 teenagers, feet at the line, bow strings pulled back, arrows ready to fly at brightly colored balloons pinned to the targets. Almost at the same time, their fingers released, the arrows swished through the air, and the room echoed with balloons popping.
The teens of St. Andrew’s are fine archers! And if you saw on Facebook, the young adults of St. Andrew’s are terrible ax-throwers! Now, not every archery shot was a perfect one of course. Interestingly, I never once heard any of them, either compliment or insult the arrows or axes. They never congratulated them for their accuracy, nor did they shout at the objects for going astray.
As you draw the bowstring to your cheek, and you feel the arrow resting there and you take aim: it all becomes an extension of your will, you know? The arrow doesn’t choose to be sent out into the air—it simply is sent. It obeys. It has no choice.
So it is with Jesus, John’s Gospel tells us. And so it is with us. Tonight we hear that Jesus was commemorating the Passover meal—remembering the Hebrew people’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt—as he was also at table instituting the communion meal. And Jesus also taught what it means to be sent by God.
John’s Gospel tells us, “during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.” Jesus decided to teach with actions. We have heard the embarrassed replies of his disciples. “Not my feet, Jesus,” said Peter, “No way!”
Jesus went on to say, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you … servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
If you want to know what Jesus means by this look no farther than 5 teenagers with bowstrings at their cheeks. Messengers are not greater than the one who sends them—arrows and axes are not greater than the hands that release them. In fact, in these things—messengers and arrows—their virtue is in obeying. That is exactly what Jesus is doing as he washes feet. God has sent him to serve and forgive, to cleanse and to be merciful. If God sends Jesus, and Jesus obeys—then just as an arrow is an extension of the archer—so Christ is a perfect extension of God.
But, it goes further, according to Jesus in John’s Gospel. We, too, are arrows. We, too, are servants and messengers of God. Jesus says, “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.” As we love, as we serve, we are no longer full of ourselves—we are full of God. In these times, we are truly and unmistakably sent by God.
At your baptism God fit you into the bow, in your youth and in your learning, in your adulthood and in your hardships you are nocked onto the string. You, the arrow, are pulled home. Then, of course, you are released. Now, as Jesus teaches us today, this image of the archer and the arrow is very important. Because we never love or give or serve “for God.”
If we do things “for” God then we actually are taking credit for our actions. We seek to be rewarded, we seek merits for our labor. We would be like arrows seeking credit for the skill of the archer or messengers claiming authorship of the words they they deliver. It cannot be so.
Jesus says, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” We are sent to love one another, Jesus says, to serve. And when we do we cannot do it “for” God—God doesn’t need what we give. We are very fooled if we attempt to do anything “for” God.
Jesus, instead, seems to be teaching us tonight that loving our neighbors, being sent in moments of forgiveness or mercy—that is God in us. And this urges you to see—that in all acts of service to our neighbor, great and small—Jesus is quite actually present in us, just like the arrow of an archer is full of her aim.
A big weakness of mine is that I can slip into abstraction. If you ask the confirmation students or Pastor Krey they will tell you I do it way too much. So, here I am, repeating what Jesus says: to love one another. But what does that even mean? It’s so abstract.
Well, that is why this evening’s service is so beautiful, so helpful. We have two very concrete actions to show us what loving one another looks like. Two beautiful forms of service set out before us by Christ.
One is the meal. Now, there’s a whole ocean of ink spilled about Eucharist or communion or whatever-you-want-to-call-it. It is a mysterious meal that means many things. But let’s just say, for the sake of brevity, it’s about forgiveness and it’s about community. No matter who we are, no matter where we’ve been, Jesus is there for you in communion. No matter what we’ve done there is a place for us at this table. God became Jesus for you, and Jesus becomes bread for you, to show you concretely you are welcome, you are forgiven.
Another is the bath: foot washing, hand washing, head washing, baby washing. Baptism is a big part of it. This, too, shows us forgiveness and welcome. But, let’s say also for the sake of brevity—and especially in light of Jesus’ actions in John we’ve heard—let’s say it’s about mercy. God who is the greatest of all in all, the highest of the high, thatGod washes you. God serves you, wipes the dust off, cools you, comforts you, loves you. God gives mercy.
When Jesus says we are sent to love—when I say we are sent like arrows into the world—we are sent to do two things, to forgive and to have mercy.
It’s not hard to think of concrete times in our culture when mercy and forgiveness are needed: road rage & political discord, addiction & our drowning in busyness, global migration crises on a scale never seen before, rude customers & job stress—whatever it is, great or small. Jesus forgives, Jesus has mercy on us, on us who could never deserve such things, and yet, and yet there it is. And so, the gifts of forgiveness and mercy are yours to give too.
Not vengeance, not violence, not indifference—but think of what a little mercy could do, a little forgiveness. I wonder what these two bring to mind for you all. I guess I’ll never know.
But I do know this: the moment will come, when you will feel the welling up of forgiveness and the cool water of God’s mercy will flow through you toward another. And then you will know that you have been sent straight and sure by God, like an arrow that has found its mark exactly in the center of the bullseye.