Friday, October 30, 2015

Two Years an Angel too Soon

Two Years an Angel too Soon

I look down on my family and friends
From this side of the one way lens,
And though I know some time has passed,
The time creeps slow and still flurries fast.

It does both somehow in your world of time,
Of grief and pain and hope sublime,
And through it all, these past two years,
I've seen your laughs; I've felt your tears.

I want you to know that both are fine.
The rain can fall; the sun can shine.
They both were crafted in his plan,
And each's been serving since time began.

The sun keeps rising; the sun keeps setting.
The days go by without forgetting,
That though our time as it was has ended,
My sighted presence from you suspended,

I've never left your heart or mind,
Nor have you ever left from mine.
I am journeying on a different climb, 
So I can tell you from this side of time,

That life, and love, and laughter have powers,
That tears build love, like rain does flowers.
You need not be strong; go ahead and grieve.
Carry your burden, and to your memories cleave,

But know, on the other side of time, am I,
Not waiting, for here the bounds of moment do not apply.
To my perspective, we're here together already,
And our lives are entwined constant and steady,

So you, my loves, be patient; have faith, and live.
Separation is an illusion only time can give.
Eternity knows no death, no fall,
Just the embrace of love surrounding all.

The Sequel to
"To the Angel Taken too Soon"

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Rooted Branches

Rooted Branches
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
October 25, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 15: 1-16

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. [1]

One thing that has certainly been true as we have moved into this new Jerusalem/Holy Week phase of John's gospel is that every chapter is very dense. All throughout the first bunch of chapters, up until the Lazarus raising back in chapter 11, there was a really structured pattern. Jesus would perform a miracle that was found out by a crowd of people. The action of the miracle divided the crowds, that some believed and followed Jesus, and others grew angrier and angrier, plotting to arrest, and then even eventually plotting to have Jesus killed. But now Jesus is in Jerusalem, and we are still in the scene of the Last Supper, as we have been since back in Chapter 13, when Jesus opened this section by washing the disciples' feet. Now Jesus has been talking ever since telling the disciples that one of them was going to betray him, and also telling them that Peter would deny him three times, and that all would abandon him. In this speech he has told them to not let their hearts be troubled, that he is the way, the truth, and the life, he has told them that in his father's house there are many rooms, he has told them that they will not be able to follow now, but they will be eventually because Jesus will be there for them as the Way, that they know the way, that they know the father because they know him, and that they will come to know the paraclete, that Jesus is sending to them, as a helper, a counselor, advocate, and friend.
And now Jesus is going into his talk about himself being the true vine. He says,  I am the true vine and the Father is the vine grower. . . from this he talks about two different kinds of branches. . . those that bear fruit and those that do not bear fruit. . . and he doesn't mix words about them. He says that the ones bearing fruit will be pruned and cleansed, so that they will bear even more fruit, where as the ones that do not bear fruit will wither, be cut off, removed, tossed aside and burned in the fire. . . now that is quite an image: Fruit bearing branches being cultivated, fertilized, and growing more and more fruit, whereas the others wither, are separated, collected, cast aside, and then burned. There is of course only one difference between these fruit bearing branches and the ones that are cast aside and burned, and that is that they either abide or do not abide in Christ and his teachings. Those that abide bear fruit, whereas those that do not, cannot. Jesus goes on to say. . . I am the vine, you are the branches. . . apart from me you can do nothing. So if we were to summarize this paragraph and put it into simpler, more systematic words. . . it would go something like this: You all are branches on the vine that is me. . . Your purpose as branches is to bear fruit. . . the way to bear fruit is to abide in me. . . if you abide in me, my teaching, my commandments, then you will bear fruit, this fruit will glorify the father, you will then abide in the father's love, and that will result in "joy that is made complete". . .but if you do not abide in the teachings, you will wither, die, because you will be cut off. .  . then you will be separated, collected, and cast aside for burning.
That is all being said pretty clearly, and that is rare for Jesus, but then we have the question of what exactly does it mean to abide? What does abiding look like? How many of these teachings are there? And old typically riddle speaking Jesus is being uncharacteristically clear, helping us out here again, by clearly stating, and simplifying his commandments. He says, "This is my commandment, that you love as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, than to lay down his life for his friends. . . and Jesus calls us friends here, explaining the difference between servants and friends, because friends know all, there is full disclosure, they are told exactly what the deal is, unlike servants who are just told enough to function. Friends are let in to the inner sanctum, to really see and feel and witness the interworkings of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, shown that the binding force in the universe made by God is and has always been love, love working in relationship, just as it occurs within the Trinity, within God himself. . . and love means laying down your life for another person. Clear, concise, to the point, solid. . . but again a huge challenge. . . because again the definition of love here is the same as it has been throughout John's gospel. . . it is not simply an emotion, not simply a feeling, not simply kindness, not simply doing nice things for people, not paying your fair share of taxes so that others may use those tax money to care for people,  but true and total, completely engaged, personal and relational sacrifice for the other. The other first up to and including the giving of our complete selves even in death, as Jesus has shown in his own personal example. Doing such is abiding Jesus' teaching, doing such is abiding in the truth, doing such is bearing fruit, doing such results in the completeness of Joy.
Now how do we get ourselves to that point? How do we get to that point where we can give of our complete selves, where we are holding nothing back, where we are truly loving in that deepest sacrificial, bearing fruit kind of way. . . that real life living sort of way. We talked about it back when Jesus said "I am the Life" and how he is a perfect example of life, a life that bears fruit, and it bears fruit because Jesus Loves, Jesus loves all the way to the cross. That is life, that is life bearing fruit. How interesting that it is in giving life that we bear life, and it is in hoarding, controlling life that we lose it. . . . It is such an amazing, yet completely true paradox about the world as God made it. . . You gain by giving, where as you lose by holding on. People have giving countless examples about how to get closer to Christ, since it doesn't start with us, but starts with Christ. . .  if we cannot do anything separated from him, then the way to move forward is to cultivate that relationship with Christ. Now since there has been this vine and branches imagery I have had in my mind one of my favorite spiritual writing texts all week. . . and that is St. Bonaventure's Tree of Life. He talked about the way to abide in Christ, the way to graft to the vine, to become a life bearing branch is to experience personally what he called the fruit of the Tree of Life. . . he said there are 12 fruits of the Tree of Life, and each one corresponds to a specific act of love connected with Jesus' life. I want to share some of those with you this morning. . .

I wrote this poem back when I was studying Bonaventure in Seminary. . . the idea of his work is that the 12 fruits correspond with aspects of Jesus' life, coming to terms with them by feeling and understanding on a holistic level. I tried to put to verse the idea of each, with the chorus about conforming completely and carrying the cross of the Lord:

The Tree of Life
Peter T. Atkinson

I want to conform completely
I want to eat from the Tree of Life
I want to understand my Lord
I want to strive in earnest
I want to eat from the Tree of Life
I want to carry the cross of the Lord

  1. When there wasn’t he was already there

Before the water parted, before the air
Already seeing what he was called to be
Embrace it now and kiss the baby’s feet
I want to kiss his feet . . . . Repeat chorus

  1. Then the savior had to humble himself

Follow the laws established Moses did tell
Under a king who didn’t want him to free
Stand fast and protect the mother and see
I want to humble myself . . .  Repeat chorus

  1. In an act of Perfect Justice he was Baptized by John

Fought with Satan, the crisis of temptation
Came out clean, ready to heal the sick
Hear the secret words God did not yet permit
I want to feel his strength . . . Repeat Chorus

  1. Anoint the sinners, wash their feet with tears

Then words of forgiveness you may deserve to hear
Get on a donkey as your kingly steed
Partake of the body broken for you and me
I want to live as pious . . . Repeat Chorus

  1. Feel what its like to be turned in by your friend

Ask your way out of the approaching end
But know no curb could come from majesty
No feel those chains march up to climb the tree
I want to feel your pain . . . Repeat Chorus

  1. When your friend denies you in fear for his own

In darkness blindfold bound and alone
Forsaken, beaten, quiet and still
Crucify him, Man how that would feel
I want love like that. . . Repeat Chorus

  1. How much humiliating endured for our need

Beaten struck with reads, left there to bleed
How much pain from a nail in your flesh
Hung with criminals on that tree of death
I want to be an example . . . Repeat Chorus
  1. With a prayer hang your head to die

The blood rains down from the lance in your side
He endured the cross, the shame and the strife
To turn that cross into the tree of Life
I want to be worthy . . . Repeat Chorus

  1. Jesus first to be triumphant in Death

Earthquake and Angels, rising in blessedness
Extraordinary beauty, happy the eyes that see
Dominion of Earth give to the eternal King.
I want to defeat death . . . Repeat Chorus

  1. Commander in chief of heaven’s great army

Faithful judge in heaven, great advocacy
Gave us the Holy Spirit to ignite our souls
After passing the trials you have remained faithful
I want to remain faithful . . . Repeat Chorus

  1. O truthful witness, O wrathful judge

Where will the sinner hide with you above
O thank God for the way to be on the right
That’s my gift if I eat from the Tree of Life
I want to be forgiven . . . Repeat Chorus

  1. How glorious is the kingdom of this excellent King

Lord knows I want to reign with him
O if only I could find in this book
The top of the tree of life is a good place to look.
I want to find the answers . . . . Repeat Chorus

This song I wrote in response to reading St. Bonaventure’s Tree of Life¸ November 8, 2006

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 15:1-17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Sunday, October 11, 2015



Do you ever feel lost
Like you’ve crossed
A line in the sand
You didn’t see

Think you can’t make it
But you fake it
To get by
Trying to believe

There is a way
And there is a light
There is a path
Through this world of plight
There’s no need to fear
Though far you  may roam
He knows the way
To light your way home

Once you were there
But you didn’t care
About the things
Given to you back then

Led astray by a voice
But your choice
Was to hear
that which you knew was a lie

Repeat Chorus

So you left that safe place
Smile on your face
The true strength
That You thought was your own

You try to do your best
You need rest
From the road
Though you’re far from home

Repeat Chorus

Your surrounded in Darkness
And your success
Is lost
Just as you think you are

And you almost forget
But don’t let
It fade for it
Keeps you striving on

Repeat Chorus

Though the road may keep turning
Your breath burning
As you wander and
Search for the road

A guide will come help you
It is the glue
That will keep you on
The road that goes home

Repeat Chorus

He is the way
And He is the light
He is the path
Through this world of plight
There’s no need to fear
Though far you  may roam
He is the way
To light your way home

Way, Truth, Life: The Context

Way, Truth, Life: The Context
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
October 11, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 13:36 - 14:7

My anthem from today, the song "Home" I wrote during my first summer in seminary

Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.
1 “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.”[1]

The Gospel of John is a favorite to many people because of the famous lines. It is the most poetic of the gospels. You have some real notable ones, and we have looked at many of them. Lines like, In the beginning there was the word. . . or and the Word became flesh. . . or that people choose to live in darkness rather than light, or You must be born anew to enter the kingdom, they just lend themselves to quoting and sermonizing, and it continues because then  you have all the famous I am statements, like, I am the bread of life, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Resurrection and the Life. . . and probably the most quoted verse in all of scripture: John 3: 16, "For God So loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Or the favorite among Sunday School kids having to memorize, "Jesus Wept." We've talked through many of them as we have made our way through, and one thing that I have tried to do is place them in their context. . . for instance. . . that John 3:16 takes place in the middle of Jesus' strange nighttime conversation with the covert Pharisee, Nicodemus. . . we always remember the quote, but the context is typically foreign to us, and context is truly always important for honest readings within the Bible, and that is why I chose to include the end of chapter 13 with this morning's reading. . . because context is important.
And this morning's reading has some 3 of the most quoted Jesus lines in all of John's Gospel. . . 1. Let not your heart be troubled. . . 2. In my Father's House there are many rooms. . . and perhaps my favorite, since I use it every week in my prayer for illumination. . . 3. I am the way, the truth, and the life. We hear those three all the time, don't we. I can't tell you how many times I've heard In my father's house there are many rooms, usually at funerals, it is such an uplifting message, perfect for those times when we are mourning and grieving and thinking about life, and death, and the next world. . . how wonderful to hear the image of such hospitality and love. . . that there is a space being made especially for each of us. . . . and Let not your heart be troubled. That is just everywhere. . . it has even become part of the secular lexicon. . . I don't know how many times I've heard it in the past 7 years on the radio. . . it's ok, don't let your heart be troubled. It is a main stay. . . and I am the way, the truth, and the life was always very central and special to me as I was studying in seminary.
I wrote the song that I played for the anthem back during my first summer at seminary. . . I was taking summer Hebrew. And I had a great teacher. That class could so easily have been drudgery. . . I know it could have because I took Greek in an intensive minimester type class too, and it was drudgery, so I know Hebrew had the potential to be, but it wasn't, because the teacher really loved teaching. . . he really loved the language, and he really loved teaching it, and we didn't feel like we were learning something to pass some test in the future, or to fulfill some archaic graduation requirement, but because the language was beautiful, the poetry of the Old Testament was crucial for really getting to the heart of it, and he made us feel that. I bring it up because the first of Jesus triad, I am the Way, really stands out in my memory of those first three weeks of seminary. . . "Way" in Hebrew is the word "derek" and this is where Hebrew is great. . . the language doesn't have alot of words for stuff. . . whereas Greek has alot of words for everything, like 5 words for love, Hebrew doesn't, and so has to rely on poetry. . . so the word Derek, means the way. . . but it also means road, path, and a way of living. . . the law in other words. . .follow the way of God. . . so when God talks about Abraham living in the way of the Lord, that is derek, and when God talks about blocking the way back to the tree of life. . .that's derek.. . when we looked in the Deuteronomy passage that Paula read for us this morning, when Moses is giving his warning to the Hebrews before they entered into the promised land, to not forget, the way, the trials they went through in the desert, that is derek, and when he says in order not to forget, they should wal kin in the ways of the Lord, and by fearing him. . . again that is derek. . . when the Psalms refer to paths or roads, or God's way, there it is again, over and over. . . All in all the word is found 706 times in the Old Testament. It's a big deal. . . but my Hebrew professor talked about it with such passion. He would say these were a travelling people, so roads meant something. . . these are people who had found their way through the Red Sea, (also Derek), these are people who had been taught how to live. . . and being lost, being disconnected from God, what you need is a path, God is a path, his ways, living his ways, are like walking a path back to him, back to home. I wrote that song Home, about being lost, about searching for the path, and then saying in the chorus again and again, there is a way, and there is a light. . . when you are lost that is what you need, a way, and a light. So that's what Jesus means when he says I am the way. . . that road that path, that fulfillment, through desert, through Red Sea, through the gate back to the tree of life in the garden, that's Jesus. I am the Way. . .
The Truth is awesome, too. . . I am what is true. . . I define it, I made, I spoke it into existence. What is true comes directly from me. . . . back again in the garden you have problems stemming from a lie. . . that lie being told about God, not telling the truth. . . . Eve, did God tell you not to eat of the fruit. . . God said we should not eat of it, nor touch it lest we surely die. .. You will not surely die. . . my professor taught this passage with a lot of passion too. He wanted to show us something cool about Hebrew. . .they have these negating prefixes. . . where you say a statement, and then you say the same statement with the prefix, and whatever was just said is completely negated. They use the prefix Lo - - -it negates. . . so this is, if we eat it you we shall die. . . Lo if eat it you shall die. . . a direct quote, a direct refutation, a direct accusation. . . God is a liar and you don't have to listen to him, go ahead make your choice. . . interesting claim to make for someone who spoke the entire world into existence. . . see how beautifully rich the poetry of the Hebrew language is. . . these things matter. God says let there be light, if he is a liar, then what is light. . .no here Jesus is saying. I am the Truth. . . I don't just speak the truth, I am it, I embody it, it completely comes from me.. . .
The Way, The Truth. . . now the light. .. no life. . . for ever I was misquoting this after that first year of seminary. . . I liked light better, and it works, too, as I said, when you are lost you need a light, and that is why I put light in the song, but of course it is Life. . . and we talked about life before a couple of weeks ago when Jesus said, I am the Resurrection and the Life. We said then that Life here meant the perfect example of life, a life that sets the tone, is what life is about, that is fruitful and Multiply. . . and that of course could work here too, Jesus is the example of life, the source of life, and the perfection of life. . .all of those things certainly qualify him to be considered as The Life. . . . So again what a beautiful all encompassing description of what Jesus is, who Jesus is, and what that means for the rest of the world, since we all stem from him, and it is also in a set of three, way, truth, and life. . . and in Hebrew this concept of three meant the three plus everything in between, so it is a really powerful statement from Jesus about being just like God, the Father, believe in God, believe also in me. . . not to mention the I am, which so brazenly echoes the name of God, I am that I am. . . Yahweh, Jehovah.
I could talk about The Way, the Truth, and the Life all day, but what really struck me this week, was not the words itself because I had seen them before, but how close all three of these are together. . . like I said you hear Do not let your heart be troubled all the time, and you hear, In my father's house there are many rooms, and you hear I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but how often do you think about all three of them living, and coming from the same chapter in John, not even just the same chapter, but the same paragraph. And how often do you think about the context of them? Like what spurred Jesus on to say these things. . . we know that Jesus said "For God So Loved the Word" stuff to Nicodemus, near where he also said about the whole born again stuff. . .and he said I am the bread of heaven at the feeding of the multitudes, he said I am the Resurrection and the Life to Lazarus' sisters. . . but here he says this in response to telling Peter that he was going to deny Jesus three times.
Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.
Straight from that into. . . let not your heart be troubled. . . .in other words,  yeah you are going to deny me, but don't worry about it. . . and don't worry about it, because there are many rooms in my father's house. So Even if you are going to lie to me about being willing to lay down your life for me, don't sweat it, there is still a room for you in my father's house. . . and trust me because I am the way, the truth, and the life. . .I am what matters not what you do or don't do. . . whoa. . .
And I just let it sit there because I had no idea what to write next, where to go, what to say because that is huge, enormous. . . it doesn’t matter. . . wait what? Now a lot of Elder brothers from the old prodigal story start, then what am I doing all this for then? If all this stuff doesn’t matter.  . why carry my cross, why show up to church on Sunday morning, why forgive, and give in, again and again, why put it all on the line when its dangerous out there to be a Christian if that isn’t the way, the path, the Derek to heaven, the ticket for one of those rooms in heaven? If it is not about that what is it all about. . . Answer: it is about Jesus, not heaven. It is his father’s house, no one gets to the father except through him, he is going to prepare a place for us there, then he is going to take us there himself, if you know him, you know the Father also. . . he is The Way, the Truth, and the Life. . . it begins with him, and what he does, not what we do. . . but though Peter denies three times here. . . he does pick up the cross and carry it later.  . .. Jesus is the way, Peter found that, Jesus is the truth, Peter came to believe that, Jesus is the life. . . so Peter could give up his own. . . not here, but once his place was made, the time was right, Jesus took him home.

[1]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Jn 13:36). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

As I Did

As I Did
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
October 4, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 13: 12-14; 31-35

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

 12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, 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 that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [1]
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” [2]

Many times this year of working through the Gospel of John, the timing has just worked out right, and today is another of those. I wish that I could take credit for it, that I had planned it out this way weeks, months, even the entire year in advance, but I can't, because I didn't. That's never been my style to plan. I much too much of a free spirit to bind myself today with an idea that I had months ago, but still, letting it happen as I have, there have been many times this year when the timing has just been perfect. Like today when the Last Supper segment from John lines up with Communion Sunday, actually even World Communion Sunday, where the world of Christians comes together united at Christ's table, though we be separated by walls, geography, ideology, and many other barriers. The statement of purpose for World Communion Sunday is as follows:
Even though the communion table is the one table to which all Christians are called, our understandings and practice at the table often serve to divide us. On this day, World Communion Sunday, we seek to overcome these barriers and commune with each other across them. As we eat of one consecrated loaf, we signal our unity with Christ and his broken body, the church, even as we celebrate and seek the oneness of the whole communion of saints on earth and in heaven. It is indeed, for such as these; broken, opinionated, sinful, but forgiven people, that Jesus prays for unity “that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”(John 17: 23b). It is to this unity that we give witness on World Communion Sunday.

What a perfect day to again look at Jesus giving a command to love, a command to do as he did, a day where Jesus gives another example of what love is about. . . of course we know that the ultimate act of love is his heading to the cross. . . that as Jesus will say again next chapter, Love has no greater one than this, that for one to lay his life down for his friends." Statements like that and the overall story of Christ, his cross, and all of us, have made me before proclaim that love must include that type of total giving of self, for after all God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. . .  but here in this chapter, in this story, surrounded as we are by betrayal, and denial, for the Last Supper episode includes those as well, Judas is here after all, and so too is Peter with his thrice denial, it is here in this story where we see a much more simple act of love. We see a much more personal act of love. We see a much more humble act of love, and dare I say we see a much more intimate and touching act of love, for here we see Jesus bend down to meticulously wash each of  his disciples' feet. 
It says that Jesus
got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean."

Isn't it great to have the disciples back in their familiar, "Do What?" roles. . . In the other gospel, the disciples are there with Jesus all the time, and we constantly get from them the questions that we would just love to ask. . . the "Do What?" questions. . . I had this friend that told me about his high school football coach, they called him "coach Do What" because he was constantly saying exactly that, Do What? He told me this story one time where the coach, he had a big pickup truck, and he said that he was having some trouble on his way to school, that there was this strange rattling noise, and he wanted them to check it out. . . so when they looked under the truck they saw that he had hit a deer and that it was of course dead, and stuck under the truck, they were like, coach you've got a deer under the truck, and he was of course like, "Do What?" There were many stories like that, and they all ended the same. I don't know why but when the disciples are hanging around Jesus and they don't seem to get it, I always think of old coach do what, and those stories.
Perhaps the washing of feet was a much more common occurrence back in Jesus' days than it is in ours, I mean I wouldn't ever think of washing someone's feet today, other than in some act of trying to emulate Jesus in this scene, and judging by the reactions of the disciples and especially Peter, he didn't expect it either. .  . "You will never wash my feet," but Jesus says, you don't understand now, but you will later, and then he says, unless I wash you, you have no share in me. . . and in such a great Peter moment, he's like, well in that case wash my hands, arms, and legs, get a little bit of soap up here on my head, too. . . if that is what gives me a share of what you are bringing, wash away. . . give me some of that, I need some coverage. And then Jesus answers with one of those great ideas that make all of it seem so authentic to me. It is a piece of truth that is so simple we'd miss it, and the culture is foreign to us, but he says, you can bathe and bathe, but if you are travelling your feet will always be in need of cleansing. I can say that, that is true, and DeAnna and the kids can probably attest to it too. . . we have that new field at Blue Ridge, and it is artificial turf, and I never would have thought how ridiculously hot it gets when it is hot outside. We got to use it for our game on Thursday, and even in the monsoon it was relatively dry, it drains so well, so it has more than made up for this, but it gets hot in the sun. . . and it was hot in august. . . so hot that it melted one of the other coaches shoes. . . and when your feet are that hot, I'll just put it this way, they need some washing. . . I've never been to the Holy Land, but can imagine the combination of desert sand, and hot dry climate would have a similar effect on feet as the field did. . . and people are self conscious about their feet in our culture, anyways, maybe it is the same in theirs. . . but here you have Jesus washing feet.
What is it all about? I've heard that it is about humility, and I think definitely it must be. If anyone was a foot washer back in those days it would have had to have been be a slave or a servant doing those honors, certainly not a lord, and certainly not among equals. . . but here we have Jesus, the son of God, humbling himself, kneeling before his disciples, literally placing himself below them, physically, and also symbolically below them. . . and it fits the rest of the Jesus narrative, this humility. . . I placed the great humility hymn from Philippians in the bulletin this morning, take a look:
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6     who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7     but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9     Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10     so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11     and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. [3]

Humility began way back in the manger, and hasn't stopped since, perhaps this footwashing is the high point of it, the high of the low as it were. . . putting others above you. . . it is a major piece of the love definition as well, and is connected with the giving of your complete self, in that you are putting others ahead, and above you. . .
I chose to do this chapter the way I did, pulling out the commandments from the rest of the story because I think that is what Jesus is trying to get across, though he gets caught up talking about betrayal and other things in the middle. If you look at what I separated as the reading for today, there is one important parallel. . . . Jesus says to his disciples to do both. He says, you also ought to wash each other's feet, and he says, Just as I have loved you, you should also love each other. . .the word ought, and the word should are both there. . . we ought to wash each others' feet, and we should love each other. . . as if washing each others feet is the same as loving. . . and maybe he means it literally. . . and you get that on Maundy Thursday services sometimes. . . where the ritual washing of feet is done again in all the glorious awkwardness that seems to always stem from literal renderings of Biblical stories. . . something akin, but not quite as interesting as some of the snake handling stuff you can get.. . . But no let's go beyond the literal, and look at that simple detail I pointed out earlier, the one about feet getting dirty when the rest of you is clean, when you are out, and about, doing your work. . . loving in this sense is about helping those who are doing their work, and getting dirty doing, getting themselves in the midst of it all. . . and getting a little bit of that on them.. . . those people need a little washing from time to time. . . they need to be served, too. . . Jesus knows that his disciples are going to have a hard time. . . especially when he is gone. . . he knows that Judas is going to betray, and that Peter is going to deny. . . he knows it, he knows he's not going to be around forever. . .and he wants to prepare them, he wants to show them how dirty it can get, but how with the love that they have for eachother, that they can show in really intimate and meaningful ways, they can overcome and get through it, together.
Man, what a week, what a year, what a past few months it has been to be a Christian in t his world, torn apart by divisions, disagreements, polarization, lack of compassion for those who disagree with each other, even hatred, and that's just between the Christians, heck you say that, that is just within the Presbyterian persuasion Christians. . . . these are troubled times, and it grows more troubling when you look to the news, and see Christians feeling like they are on the defensive, claiming victimhood, it isn't good for us to do that, but also you see it, Christians being persecuted by ISIS, beheadings, and if that is too far away, even this past week in our own country there was a mass shooting where it was reported that Christians were especially targeted. So yeah, unity would be a good thing for us these days. . . solidarity, fellowship, compassion, that's what we need. . . maybe it starts with humility, and the kind of humility that Jesus models for us here. . . knowing that those around the world are working, and have gotten their feet dirty, and need the supporting loving touch of symbolic washing. . . things like World Communion Sunday are basically just symbolic words on a page, unless you take a moment to internalize what it means to share a table with Christians all over the world, united in a simple act like the breaking of bread. . . and the sharing of the cup. It means something different to all of us. . . as we proceed to the table, take a moment to think about what it means to you to be apart of the greater world body of Christ.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 13:12-14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 13:31-35). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[3]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Php 2:4-11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.