Monday, March 30, 2009

This week's sermon: Jesus washes feet

John 13:1-17; 34-35.
If you are like me, you grew up thinking that the point of Christianity was to do things for God. We go to church for God. We give our money to God. We do good deeds for God. And this is not entirely wrong, but it is not a complete picture. Misunderstanding this thought has led a lot of people to see the kingdom of heaven like a hierarchy. Like an earthly kingdom, where there is a king and advisors and where some people are more important and others are peons. How many of you have had that thought?

This morning we are going to continue to look at the upside down kingdom of God. And it is particularly upside down when it comes to this very issue of power and dominance. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”(Mt 20:25-28). Jesus came to show us that in the kingdom of God, the king is the greatest servant of all.

Read John 13:1-17; 34-35.

The first verse of this passage says that Jesus loved his own who were in the world, and now he showed them the fullest extent of his love. And then he went out and died on the cross... No, he showed them the fullest extent of his love for them by washing their feet--by being a servant to them and setting an example for them to follow. Why was this the full extent of his love? Let’s ponder that question for a minute.

Washing feet wasn’t the hardest thing he did, that would have been dying on the cross and being separated from God the Father for the first and only time in all eternity. So it wasn’t that it was hard. It was not the most enduring thing he did, that would have been walking around pretty much homeless for three years with twelve guys who constantly missed his point. So it wasn't that this act required perseverance. It was not the most miraculous thing he did, that would be raising the dead or rising from the dead himself. But John says that in this moment he showed them the full extent of his love.

Let’s think for a moment about who Jesus is and what his purpose was here on earth. Jesus, also according to John, was the creator of the universe. Elsewhere he is called the king of kings. He is the celebrated Messiah. He is God. From an earthly perspective, a being that powerful and awesome would be at the top of the food chain and everyone else would serve him. And this God of the universe takes off his outer clothing, wraps a towel around his waist and takes the dirty, travel-stained feet of his disciples one by one and washes them. The king of kings and lord of lords becomes in that moment what no other pretend god has ever been—a servant for his followers. I don’t know if we can wrap our minds around that.

These disciples had been walking the roads alongside camels and donkeys. They had walked down streets that were combo avenues and sewers. And they wore sandals. Anybody here just have a burning desire to wash feet with who knows what splashed all over and ground in between the toes? Too descriptive? Sorry, but we need to understand that this was not a pretty foot-washing ceremony where everyone washed their feet before hand to make sure it wasn’t embarrassing. These guys came in to eat supper, and Jesus washed their dirty feet. It was a job reserved for the lowest servant in the house. That night, Jesus became the lowest servant in the house. That is why John describes it as Jesus showing the fullest extent of his love.

The greatest in the universe became the lowliest. That is why Peter objected. Peter knew who Jesus was. He said seven chapters ago, “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God”(John 6:69). No way was Peter going to let Jesus look at, let alone wash his filthy feet. Peter was going to wash his own feet. “It’s ok, Lord, really. I got this one.” And Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no part of me.” Well, impulsive, lovable Peter then went to the other extreme. “I want to belong, so wash every part of me.” I think Jesus probably laughed and shook his head as he told Peter that only his feet were dirty and that washing them would be enough.

We often fll into the same trap that Peter did that night. Because of our misconceptions about the order of the kingdom, we think we have to act a certain way to impress God. We can’t let him know that we have dirty feet. We can’t imagine that God would want to serve us, we think it is our job to serve him. And I am not saying that serving God is wrong, but if it stops there and we think that somehow by doing all the right things and avoiding all the wrong things we are in the clear, then we have missed the point. Jesus said, “The son of man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” Before we even think about serving God we have to accept that he wants to serve us first.

We have to let him wash our feet. We have to let him make us his own by washing us where we come into contact with the world. That is how the disciples got their feet dirty, by coming in contact with the earth. We get our priorities upside down by coming in contact with the kingdom of the world and letting worldly priorities sink in. We need to let him cleanse us from that contact to set us straight. Once he has done that—once we have let God cleanse our hearts, and serve us, we are to serve others.

Jesus said, “Just as I your lord and teacher have washed your feet, you must wash one another’s feet.” And he didn’t give this as an option. It is a command. So strong of a command that he follows it with the statement, “No slave is greater than his master, nor the messenger greater than the one who sent him.” He is telling these guys who fought constantly about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom, that they had to serve each other. Not only serve, but serve in the way Jesus had served. They were to wash each other’s filthy, stinky, crud-covered feet. That puts a whole different spin on Christian service, doesn’t it?

Jesus said, if you are going to follow him, you have to be willing to be the lowliest house-slave for each other. And just in case you think you can get out of it by saying foot washing is not your gift. Jesus said, “Don’t think you are better than me. I washed feet, you can too.” It is not about spiritual gifts, it is about responding in love to our brothers and sisters in Christ because Jesus loved us first. It is about serving others, because Christ served us first.

It doesn’t take a special spiritual gift to see a brother or sister in need and do something about it. It doesn’t take a special spiritual gift to serve a struggling young mom by volunteering to bring her a meal—even if you order pizza. It doesn’t take a special spiritual gift to take five minutes to let someone know that they are missed and that you care about them—all of us have phones and can afford a stamp, at least until the price goes up again. It doesn’t take a special spiritual gift to let a young person know they are valued and appreciated by going to a game or attending a special event, or getting permission from their parents to take them out for a coke. This is basic stuff. It isn’t hard. It isn’t glamorous. It isn’t miraculous. But it shows someone that you care about them in a practical way.

What would happen if we did that? What would happen if people knew that we cared about them? How would that change the face of our church, or even our community—if we were willing to be the lowest of servants and meet people’s most basic needs. How is God calling you to put this servant hood into practice? Pray about it. Seek his face. Let him show you how to serve those around you.

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