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.