[John 13:1-17 RSV] 1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. 5 Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. 6 He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" 7 Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand." 8 Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me." 9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you." 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "You are not all clean." 12 When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Good News: Jesus’ victory is ours, so we can be humble because we have already won.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
So we today get to start with a game of “Would You “Rather”. Basically the rules are this, I give you two scenarios and you choose which of them you would rather do.
So the first one is, would you rather eat Pizza or Hamburgers. Now that was kind of an easy one to give you the feel, most of the time they are uncomfortable things.
So, would you rather live without the internet or live without AC and heating? Neither one is good, but which do you value more?
A couple more: would you rather be forced to dance every time you heard music or be forced to sing along to any song that you heard? Remember you are supposed to vote for one.
Would you rather lose the muscle control over half your face or have to speak in public? Too soon? Never mind then.
How about: would you rather wash someone else’s feet or have your feet washed.
If we are honest the whole other people touching our feet, or touching other people’s feet thing is a little first century. In our world where we have socks and shoes are inexpensive and plentiful we really don’t have to worry about each other’s feet. So the whole feet thing has become a bit taboo. However in that day and age—without good socks and shoes, feet had to be washed often, either by you or a servant or a low member of the household—like the youngest child. So it would not have been that bad for people to wash nor have their feet washed. It just was not as much of an issue in that time. In fact in that day you would know that you want your feet to be washed because it was “dirty” and “low” work to have to wash other people’s feet. You knew you were on the bottom of the totem pole if you ended up washing other people’s feet.
Yet today in my experience the majority of people would much rather wash someone else’s feet than have their feet washed. While it may be a bit degrading to wash someone else’s feet, it takes quite a bit of vulnerability to have your feet washed. And most of us would rather be degraded than vulnerable. Oh and there is the big thing which is Jesus washed feet! So you are doing the same things as Jesus, so that must count for something.
That is why, in part, foot washing is not a great example of “foot washing” anymore. It has been glamorized by Jesus. In a weird way because Jesus did it, we think of it as a mark of an important person. In fact, public service can be a good way to show you are a great leader in our country. Whenever a president or senator does public service there is always a public relations team there recording it for a press release. If you remember when the President went over to Puerto Rico he delivered some of the relief supplies himself throwing out paper towels and telling the people that the Government would help them. The entire experience of service there was showing his power and control. As most photo ops about service are now a days. The example there is drawn from this sentiment—a true leader must be able to humble himself in order to serve. If someone does literal or figurative foot washing we think of them as being Christ like—or powerful. So in a weird way sometimes service in our culture is seen as the powerful thing to do. After all it is those with the power who can and should do the serving—according to Christ.
Jesus does not only take the position of the strong one doing the washing. Today we read from John chapter 13 but it is in John 12 that Mary comes and washes Jesus’ feet and she wipes them with her hair. So before Jesus serves his disciples he takes the service of Mary. He is in both positions, he has his feet washed and then turns and washes the disciples feet.
What I am trying to say is that Jesus both accepted the washing of his own feet and also washed the disciples’ feet and both of these are holy positions. In accepting the anointing from Mary he has validated her work and sanctified her offering. Then by washing the feet of the disciples he even sanctifies the position of the foot washer.
So whether in the first century where washing others feet was seen as the humble act, or in our century having your feet washed is seen as the humble act—we are called to do it because it is what Christ has done! We are called to lessen ourselves so Christ can be glorified. Whichever one takes the attention and focus off us for the good of the other that is the one we should be doing. Now God doesn’t call us to do that because we deserve to be humbled (but honestly most of us do) but he calls us to humility because we already have victory in Christ. If we have already won and have glory with the king of kings and the Lord of Lords, well then in this world we can afford to be humble and to move down a peg or two for the sake of the other. We can then be an example to the world of how Christ humbled himself for us—and if the whole world lived this way, willing to serve and be served—can you imagine that? It would be like heaven here on earth.
There was a reporter who went to interview Mother Teresa and while she was there she was just awed by Mother Teresa’s presence, for the reporter it was like meeting a famous celebrity. So as they talked this reporter was just in awe over her and her wisdom. Then during their discussion a rich Indian couple came in and demanded pictures with Mother Teresa, and in the reporters presence they ordered her where to stand and got the pictures they wanted, and in the reporters opinion were very rude to Mother Teresa. After they left the reporter was indignant—how could those rich people treat this woman that way, after all didn’t they know she was a living saint? How could Mother Teresa put up with it---she was a powerful person who could call the president or pope and both would take her call. Mother Teresa’s answer was that we are all enslaved to something, whether it is a disease like the people she served or riches like the people that had taken the pictures. The only true victory is through Christ. She knew that because Christ is her victory she could serve the outcast and the diseased and the rich and annoying because in either case her humility would serve the Lord.
At times we need to pick up the soup ladle and serve those around us and at times need to be able to take what others give us to validate their own service—remembering that because Christ has given us victory we do not need to prove or make a name for ourselves here because our name is already written in the Book Of Life. After all, what can we do that would be better than that? May you know God has already glorified you for all eternity and may that free you to serve and be served in the name of Christ.So that was the ending of the sermon as I first wrote it. However then I developed a case of Bell’s Palsy. I have always considered myself strong, smart and very capable. To watch half my face droop and then no longer be able to even smile, well it was heartbreaking. Yet as I went to the urgent care and was taken care of, this sermon became even closer to my heart. After all I was truly humbled, and I stand humble before you now. I will probably make a full recovery, yet there is a 20-30% chance that I will never recover fully, there will be a permanent weakness in this half of my face. Yet I can tell you that God is good and that because of his salvation I fear not. Christ the Lord of all came to serve me, and lowered himself to humiliation I cannot imagine. So Victory is yours because of Christ’s victory in you, let that empower us to serve with him with passion—with what we have, even if it is just half a face. Amen.