Will you lay down your life for me? / John 13:36-38 / Pr. Lucas Andre Albrecht / Ash Wednesday, February 22nd, 2023 / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Theme: “Will you lay down your life for me?”
Intr – The Sermon text for today is from John’s Gospel. But I’d like to mention first another John.
“John McClamrock was an achingly good looking kid who bagged groceries at Tom Thumb and cruised Forest Lane on weekends in Preston hollow, Texas. He quit football for a bit so he could work extra hours and pay off his debt. When he returned to the sport, coaches made him play junior varsity until he could earn his way back to the varsity team. The year was 1973, John was 17 years old and he was determined to win his spot back, so he hit the ground playing his best. “But in a game versus Spruce, one devastating collision changed everything.”
“On the opening kickoff, John “burst through the blockers and zeroed in on the ball carrier. He lowered his head, and as the two collided, John’s chin caught the runner’s thigh. The sound, one teammate later said, was like “a tree trunk breaking in half.” John’s head snapped back, and he fell face-first to the ground. For the next several seconds, another teammate recalled, “there was nothing but a terrible silence.”
John was removed to the Presbyterian Hospital and the worst was confirmed. He was tetraplegic. “John’s injury and paralysis garnered an enormous amount of media attention. Even President Nixon sent a letter to him at Presbyterian Hospital. This went on for months and years.”
What I want to point out in this story today though, is not John himself, but his mother, Ann McClamrock. She was 54 when John’s terrible accident happened. According to the long winded text portraying John and Ann’s story, she abandoned mostly everything in her life to dedicate herself to take care of her permanently bed-ridden son. John was 17 when it happened and he died at the age of 52. Every single day in between he had his mother doing everything for him. After reportedly having as his constant prayer to God “Please, give me just one day of life more than him”, she died 2 months after John passed away, at the age of 89.
When you read the full report on that story, here’s one of the conclusions you might come to: This mom laid down her life for her son. After the accident, until his death, she laid down her former life and dedicated herself to her new life: to help and serve her son.
Back to the other John, St John the Evangelist. He is reporting on Peter boldly telling Jesus that he would certainly lay his life down for his master. In this case, it was the literal meaning of it. He said he was not only ready to lay down his life in terms of following Jesus, but actually dying with Him, if that would be the case.
To this bold affirmation Jesus add a question: Will you lay down your life for me?
How does that question ring in your ears? We are here at God’s house because we, as baptized Christians, have promised and committed to follow Jesus. When a person is on that path – that is, faith is awakened in the heart and then you trust Jesus as your Saviour – it means that you are laying down your former life to take on your new life: you are His disciple. But in some cases, that becomes literal, as we know that many Christians still suffer persecution and death in our world today.
The question then, again, rings in our ears; Will you lay down your life for me? It is pertinent also for our age:
_When society encroaches on your principles
_when your family or friends thinks what you do is fanatism or, naiveté at best
_When your liberties may be restrained because you don’t cave to the mood of the moment?
_Especially, when you are “killed” socially speaking. Because you hold on to principles that are not popular in the world, you are mocked, persecuted, cancelled or simply ignored. You are not welcome in many circles anymore
Will you lay down your life for me? It is a very hard question with a very difficult answer. We think we will, but one wonders if we would, really.
If you feel like that, you are not alone. That’s exactly the case of Peter. "Will you lay down your life for me?" Answer, no. Jesus himself adds it. After asking Peter the question, he tells him bluntly: you’ll deny me three times. Why is it so? Because Peter was trusting in “his faith” “his courage” and “his boldness”. Peter, again, was looking to himself, not to Christ. When we trust in our faith, our capacity, or courage, we will fail as well.
Ash Wednesday is a moment of recalling our fragility. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. It’s time not to look to ourselves, but to Christ. Our trust is in the One who came out death without becoming dust. The one who killed death to give us new life in faith, where his faith is our faith, his courage is our courage; his strength is our strength,
“Will you lay down your life for me?” Jesus is the one who answered yes to that question. He laid down his life for you, to redeem you from your sins and to give you new life. Your old life is gone, is laid down. You live in Him and for him now.
It reminds me again of Ann, a mother laying down her life for her son. I only wonder how many challenging days and weeks she had. But as a Christian as she was, she prayed every day, she attended Church regularly, she manifested her trust in God in the midst of everything. She certainly relied on her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to give her strength courage and honour not just to tend to her son, but to tend to God’s teaching of being responsible for her family.
By the way, the name of the article describing John and Ann’s story is “still life”. A life lived mostly on a still mode upon a bed. However, Ann’s life was not still. She lived almost 4 decades fulfilling her mission of mother and caring for someone else – here own son.
In many difficult moments in life, when persecution comes, difficulties, sadness, and others, we stay still. We lack strength. God comes to our hearts and says. “Be still and know that I am God”. Be still, for He is not. He is actively working in your life His love, salvation, forgiveness and life, through His own son. If He didn’t spare his own son, would He not give us with Him all things? So that perhaps our exchange with God about the difficulties of living our faith in the world would be somewhat the exchange between Ann and John minutes before he died: John “told his mother something he had never said before. “I know how hard it’s been for you.” “Hard?” Ann asked. “Johnny, it’s been an honor.”
Cc – Will you lay down your life for me? Peter failed. We will fail many times. But Jesus didn’t. He laid down His life for us so now we now that, whether still or very active, we can pursue His will for our life, tending for those around us, living the honour of being a disciple of Christ. In Christ we lay down our former life, and live the new life in Him. A life we live here, and we will live forever. For we look for the resurrection of the dust, and the life of the World to come.
 Psalm 46
 Romans 8