Read John 13:1-17
Having read the Bible several times with somewhat different perspectives over the years, I often have thought; man, I am glad I did get called by God to do that. Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah surely tops my list.
Moses listening to a burning bush would have been tough. This voice called I Am told me to go back to where I am wanted for murder, that’s tough to swallow. Moses wasn’t too keen on the idea himself, but I am glad it was him and not me.
Balaam had to get his instructions from a donkey. So God spoke to you through a burning bush? Nope, he had my donkey talk to me. Yeah, OK,
No way, I could have done Noah’s job. He used Gopher Wood as instructed by God, but I always get the basic rule mixed up and measure once and cut twice and have to go for more wood. I would not have been a good fit for the whole ark business.
Here is a position that I think I might have qualified for once upon a time—editor for the Christmas Story. The editor position is not in the Bible, but I could have done it. Really, how did some of this stuff get past the editors?
Let’s start with this whole babe in a manger scene. That’s no way for the King of kings to enter the world.
No room at the inn, really? That reservation would have been made before Adam lost a rib. They can just keep that room empty until needed.
If there is a foal of a donkey waiting for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem three decades or so later, they could have held a room at the Inn. I don’t mean Motel 6. We’re talking Embassy Suites. It comes with a full, to order breakfast, quite the happy hour in the evening, and suites—not rooms—suites!
But what do we get? A kid that’s born in a barn or a cave. At least they knew to edit out the first couple years of dirty diapers, but bring the one and only Son of God into the world in such a mean estate. Who let’s that get by the first draft?
Try working the first divine dirty diaper into the lectionary readings every third year. That’s when you go on cruise and get a pulpit supply.
And then this is this whole fleeing to Egypt bit. What gives? I am thinking a couple legions of angels get garrison duty. That’s good duty for them. It’s absolute security for the Son of God. If Herod wants to mess with them he can just be known as Herod the wasn’t around very long.
The shepherds and Magi might not have like the full body search and getting X-rayed and wanded five times to finally get to the waiting area to see the one who was Lord at his birth, but hey, we eventually learned to handle TSA procedures, and we are a spoiled generation. The shepherds could have handled it.
And who scored this story? Silent Night, really? I’m thinking Ride of the Valkyries!
Richard Wagner or the Little Drummer Boy? Puh rump pa pum pum. C’mon people, this is the King of kings!
If the careless editing only stopped with the Christmas story, I could live with that. But it continues. We get this whole last will be first and first will be last theme that Jesus delivers for about 3 years.
What gives? He is the King of kings. How about establishing a formal hierarchy here? We put Jesus at the top and…
And why is he eating with sinners and tax collectors and talking to women that shouldn’t be getting anywhere near him even if he was just a common rabbi?
This whole story of God with Us seems upside down. And then we come to a meal not too long before Jesus will return to the Father.
He has done his time. He surely rates a couple medals for having stepped out of heaven and lived the human life. He obviously gets the Good Conduct Medal. Throw in one for fasting, parables, and walking on water.
Jesus can go home to Dad with some fruit salad on his uniform. He has done some stuff. But, he is not just catching the next flight home. He will be betrayed and sacrificed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and he knows it.
So, what does he do? No, he doesn’t turn more water in to wine, though I would have no problem if he did. C’mon, think of what lies ahead of him.
Jesus takes off his outer garment, wraps a towel around his waist, gets a bowl of water and starts washing the feet of his disciples. He doesn’t leave them with wet feet. He dries them on the towel that’s wrapped around him.
Apparently, none of the 12 are saying anything about this. Yes, Judas was still among them. He didn’t leave until later.
So, Jesus comes to Peter, and Peter says—mind you this is in traditional Okie with much license and not in the classical Greek or even Aramaic—Peter says, “That dog don’t hunt, Lord. Ain’t no way you are doing what the lowliest servant would normally do.”
Jesus answers, “OK, then you are not going have anything to do with what I am all about.”
Peter replies, “OK then, I’ll take the full body wash, spa package, and pedicure. Give me the works!”
Jesus knows that they don’t get it. Peter is just the spokesman for the dumbfounded disciples. “What just happened?”
Jesus at least gives the disciples some encouragement by saying that they will understand what’s happening at some point in their future, but for the moment, these men are just stunned.
These dozen men have heard Jesus say that he must die but they witnessed him ride into Jerusalem to shouts and cheers. Jesus has rebuked the religious leaders. He has chastised those doing business in the temple as if it were a common market place.
Maybe, this man whom they witnessed walk on water and raise the dead was about to take his rightful place on the throne and take his place at the top of this world.
That is exactly what he did, but the world was upside down and did not know it.
· You call me Teacher
· You call me Lord
· You are right on the money
I am your Teacher and your Lord, and I just washed your feet. I just performed the job of the lowest servant. Now, you have an example. You have a model for what to do when I am gone.
You have a model for guiding this world to a right-side up position when it does not even know it is upside down. In one more chapter, Jesus tells his disciples that because they follow him—even though he will be with the Father—they will do greater things than even he did.
At this very moment, he reminds them that a servant is not greater than his master. The messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.
Jesus is telling these men, and he is telling us, that the reward for following Jesus is not a bigger tent or a fatter paycheck—though there is nothing wrong with either unless they become your gods—but their reward for following him is greater service.
We don’t see a lot of feet washing from the apostles in Acts or in the course of the New Testament letters. This was not a religious ritual to be instituted in place of songs for children or reading the Apostles’ Creed.
Jesus demonstrated to 12 men that their understanding of the world was upside down. He showed them that the patterns of the world still had too high a place in their thinking.
Think to Paul’s words which came a few decades later. Do not conform to the patterns of this world any longer. Any longer denotes that the models and paradigms and patterns of the world already had their hooks in people. People understood the world through the upside-down lens of the world.
Jesus would not send these disciples into the world to offer a plan B or option C. He would not send them with a you need to hedge your bet spiel.
Jesus sent his closest followers into the world—equipped with the Holy Spirit so they could make sense of what had been a mostly cloudy experience over the past 3 years—to bring grace and truth to the world.
Grace came from God himself, was God himself, and walked with these men over a few hundred miles teaching and healing and proclaiming good news for the captives, until it was time to shed his blood on the cross.
The story did not end at the cross but the power of sin and death to separate us from the love of God did. The story continues with resurrection and life and life eternal.
It is a story that we carry to this upside-down world today. It is a story of love and faith and hope but how will we tell it.
Will we try to make it fit into the world’s model? Will we try to make it less offensive to those who don’t believe in God or who think one god is as good as another?
Will we try to tell this story without disturbing the patterns that rule this world? We really do want to keep our status in this world, don’t we? We don’t want to be looked upon as if we were the lowliest servant around, do we?
Can’t we pay at least a little allegiance to the god of this world, so we blend in just a little?
Jesus alone saw the dichotomy of upright disciples in an upside-down world. He gave them a stunning example of how out of sync this world had become with God the Father when he became what the world would regard as the lowliest servant and he washed their feet.
These disciples—at least 11 of them—with the help of the Holy Spirit, would soon have these right-side up eyes to see as well. But, do we?
How do we take this 2000-year-old example and put it to work in this out of control century?
Let’s start with truth. We are talking Truth with a big T and truth with a little t. We must always—not occasionally—be people of truth. We speak it in love but love does not dilute the truth.
Let’s not be dumfounded as Pilate was and have to ask, “What is truth?”
Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The truth is that God loves us so much that through Jesus, he made a way for us to be right with him. We can live in this world as right-side up people.
God did not send his Son into this world to condemn the world but to save it through him.
The truth is that through him, in him, following him, believing in him we have eyes to see exactly how we are to live in the truth—right-side up in this upside-down world.
Let’s not forget love. Paul coined the phrase speaking the truth in love in a very narrow context, but the phrase is nearly universal in application. We bring the truth of Jesus Christ to people out of love. It’s not out of duty or obligation or desire for greater rewards.
It is love that propels us to bring good news of the Truth to people who think we are upside-down.
It is love that shapes our heart like that of our heavenly Father’s—a heart that desires none to perish.
Love does not dilute the truth. Love doesn’t even make the truth taste better all the time. Love causes us to bring the truth to the blind once more, when the world condemns us for it.
Let’s speak the truth, live the truth, and bring the truth to the world but always in love.
There are many other areas—faith, hope, patience, kindness, peace, and more. Many of these we will discuss in 2018. But there is one more area that I would like you to consider as you enter this new year. Consider inclusion. Consider communion. Consider that someone cannot know the fullness of life that we know from the outside looking in.
I have said this year after year, but this year, I charge us to live this as followers of Christ Jesus. Abundant life in this modern century centers around inclusion in the body of Christ.
Jesus didn’t just pick a dozen guys walking down the road and pulled them over for a foot wash. He didn’t send Judas out to round up some people with dirty feet, and tell him to take care of his other business while he was out.
This lesson was for those who already had been cleaned. They just needed their feet washed. They didn’t need a whole bath. Their salvation was in Jesus and it was secure, even before Jesus went to the cross. Jesus noted to his Father in heaven that he saved all that were given him, except for the one that had to bring about the sacrifice that was to come.
But Jesus needed to give these men eyes to see right-side up in an upside-down world. He washed their feet as the lowliest of servants would. He knew that with the Spirit’s help, they would see the world as it was and as the Father in heaven designed it to be, and know the difference between the two.
We do a lot to bring people into the body of Christ. We really do. A response to serve the Lord seems rare these days when we minister to the disconnected and the lost.
Think of the waitress at a restaurant that you visit only occasionally. She takes your order, gets it right, checks on you regularly, remembers what you asked for, and takes very good care of you. You give her a decent tip.
One minute after you pay your bill, she can’t remember what half the people at her table ordered. She is focused on her other customers and those just now walking in the door. It makes her a good waitress. She can deal with her customers until they are out the door and then it’s on to what’s next.
Many of the people that we help with bills, food, baskets, gifts at Christmas who are not really an active part of the body of Christ, stop trying to connect with us once the bill is paid or the gifts are in hand. We might see a single visit at a worship service, but then it will be another 10 months before they surface again.
Like the waitress, it’s on to what’s next.
Sometimes paying a bill, buying Christmas gifts, loading up a family with food, and other acts of benevolence work against us with those who are not really connected. For those active in the body of Christ, all of these things are blessings.
So we come to a New Year. For many it is a time to catch our breath from Christmas. Some are still wired waiting on the outcome of the football playoffs. Many have resolutions. Many have resolved not to do resolutions any more. It’s a new year set before us.
In this year, I challenge us all as the body of Christ to bring the truth and love to the world and to bring the disconnected home.
Without the distraction of a food basket or Christmas ham, lead people to the truth.
Without the obsession over Christmas gifts, invite people that you know need to come home back into the fellowship.
With all the love you can muster, speak the truth to those who remain content apart from the body of Christ. You have been given eyes to see the world right-side up. Will you leave people that you know—some you call friends—subscribing to the patterns of the world.
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples to give them an example. His actions were extreme. He was and is Lord. What was he doing washing feet like a lowly servant?
If Jesus was so extreme and provocative and bold to show his disciples how upside-down their world was, how can we be timid in our discipleship?
How can we be reserved in our evangelism?
The New Year is upon us. What will we do?
You may reject or receive what I challenge you to do, but you cannot say that you didn’t know.
Take truth and love into the world from day 1 of this new year. Without promise of anything of this world—food, money, gifts—call people home. Invite them to know the truth and know love and know what it is to live right-side up in this upside-down world.