Cross Training Week Five - "A Full Share"


This week I am concluding the sermon series "Cross Training" as we celebrate the Fifth (and final) Sunday of Lent, and begin preparing for Holy Week.  The text for this week's sermon comes from John 13---the scene where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  Here's the text:

1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
I've often wondered what was going through Jesus' mind when he sat at that table and looked into the eyes of his friends.  He knew that each of them in their own way would betray him---though Judas would betray him first, and openly.

They were gathered to celebrate the Passover for the last time.  And there was no one there to wash their feet, no servants to attend them.  So Jesus got up from the table, shed his outer clothing, poured water in a basin and began to wash the feet of his disciples.

In the ancient world of Jesus, people wore sandals that exposed their feet to the dust, mud and dirt of the roads.  It was customary that when you sat down for dinner--since you basically had to recline while you ate---that a good host woud have a slave or servant wash the feet of his guests.  Foot washing was hierarchical.  In other words, not just anyone did foot washing.  Slaves and servants typically washed feet, but wives would also wash the feet of their husbands, and children would wash the feet of their parents.

Listen.  I didn't make up the rules in the ancient world, so don't go hatin'

Jesus, it indicates here, takes on the form of a doulous---a slave, quite literally.  The garb that he strips down to when he washes the feet of his disciples is what a servant would wear in a similar situation.

The easy thing to do here is to get sucked in to the surface meaning of the story, which is what typically happens to most of us when we read the Bible.  After all, what is happening here on the surface is pretty profound and beautiful.  Jesus even takes the time afterward to let his disciples know that what they have just seen is something they need to emulate.

To serve one another, to remember that they are no better than anyone else, and to put others sacrificially above themselves... these are the lessons that seem to be lifted up here.

And rightly so.

But as we have discovered over and over again with Jesus, there is so much more going on below the surface.

I love what happens here with Peter.  He's the only disciple to speak up even though the others probably were horrified by what Jesus was doing.  By the time Jesus gets to Peter, he's ready to explode.  He declares that there is NO WAY that Jesus will wash his feet.

What he does here is what all of us do.  We want Jesus on our terms.  We want things done exactly the way we want them done.  There is NO WAY that Jesus is going to break from tradition, lead us where we really don't want to go... turn the world upside down.

It's pride and self will that motivates Peter.  When Jesus tells him that the only way that he is going to have a "full share" of his life and the kingdom of God, Peter declares that Jesus should wash his whole body.  Again, Peter wants it on his terms.  It's like he's saying, "Fine, if my feet need to be washed to be a part of your kingdom---then you're washing the rest of me, too!  I want more than a full share of what comes next!"

I believe that what Jesus wanted Peter and the rest of his disciples to understand was that what he was doing had a deep meaning for all those who would follow him.  Jesus told Peter that if he wanted a full share of his life---he had to let him wash his feet.  I took that as Jesus telling Peter (and us) that he needed to give up his pride and simply trust Him.

Which leads me to this truth, which I believe undergirds this whole story:

If you want to fully participate in a life with Jesus, you have to place yourself in his hands.  

Here's the thing... For most of us who call ourselves Christians, we often want to follow Jesus, but to do it on our own way and on our own terms.  The challenge of his teachings, the demands of following in his example more often than not keep us from being "all in."  We find it next to impossible to simply trust Jesus enough to hand over our lives, and as a result we settle for ordinary lives.

Jesus invites us to something more.

It's time for a quick word study--because they make me happy.

This whole passage begins with a wonderful sentence:  "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."  The word that is used here for "love" is agape, which (as we've studied in past weeks) is a word that means selfless, sacrificial love--the sort of love that wants the best for the other.  The phrase "to the end" is actually better translated, "to the outer limit."

This moment is symbolic on so many levels.  It is the outer limit.  The last time the Teacher and his friends would gather together.  Jesus first calls them "friends," a bit later when he prepares them for what comes next.  In other words, they graduate from being disciples.  School is out.

The language that is used to describe how Jesus took of his "outer clothing," is the same sort of language he uses to describe the greatest sort of love that a person can have---to lay down his life for his friends.  When he takes "up his garments," this is a sign and symbol of how even though he would lay his life down, Jesus would be raised from the dead three days later.  This whole scene is connected intricately to the Resurrection--a connection that the disciples would come to understand later.

Ultimately for Jesus, this was about true humility.  Washing the feet of his disciples was not necessarily something that Jesus did because he wanted to teach his followers about how God wanted things done.  It was something that Jesus had to do because he came from God.

When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he was giving them a profound teaching about the way God was saving the world.  It was the last lesson he had to teach them.

This moment was meant to teach Jesus' followers what it meant to have a full share in his life.  Having a full share meant to fully participate in Jesus life---his ministry, his suffering, his death and his resurrection.  This was about dying to yourself in order to be raised up for a new life following Jesus.

And this is more than just a model for service---although almost every teaching I've heard on this passage holds up this meaning as the meaning of the story.  What Jesus unequivocally declares is that being bathed by Jesus is a necessary prerequisite to having a part with him.

For Jesus followers this was an act of trust.  For the disciples, to put their feet in the hands of their Master was unthinkable.  For those of us who follow Jesus, to put our lives in his hands is just as unthinkable in its own right.  We often struggle to simply put aside our pride and trust him.

And further, like Peter when he demands that Jesus do things on his terms, we often assume a measure of greatness we don't deserve, don't we?  We get irate when our order isn't right at the Mickey D's drive-thru.  When we are slighted or passed over for promotion in our jobs, we grow bitter and angry.  We find ourselves tingling with rage when we think someone is talking about us behind our backs...

There is also something about this scene in John that acts as a call to the community of faith.  When we participate fully in Jesus' life as a community of faith---a "church," if you will---then we reveal his identity to the world.  When we know Jesus, we show Jesus, as our particular church family is fond of saying.  And when we do this as a community we assume an identity that is grounded in Jesus own life, so that when people see us doing life together, they see Jesus more clearly.

This was also a call to submission, probably more than anything else.  Jesus wanted his followers to know that living a full share of his life is more than just doing good deeds, it's about being the very body of Christ in the world.  It's not about going through the motions each and every week---appearing as though we are something we are not.  It is, in fact, about living the very life that we are called to lead as we participate in the life Jesus.

Like I said, if you want to fully participate in a life with Jesus you have to place yourself in his hands.

Years ago, when I was a youth pastor, I led a mission trip to Mexico every spring.  As part of our tradition, we would have worship each evening, and on the last night of the trip we would share communion, and would also wash one another's feet.  You can imagine what this was like if you have ever been around teenagers who have worked out in the blazing sun for a week without really showering.

There was a young man who participated in the trip one year who was renowned for the stench of his feet.  They were foul, to be sure.  The odor of his putrified feet permeated through the layers of sock and shoe that tried unsuccessfully to tame it.  It was unthinkable.  Virtually every single person in the room that night of the trip was praying to God that they would not have to wash his feet.  Several of them even made sure they weren't sitting next to him when he took off his work boots.

As I was finishing my talk that night, I began to hear the voice of God whispering in my ear that I was supposed to be the one who washed the young man's foul feet.  I fought this voice.  I tried to think of other things, but to no avail.  The voice in my head got louder.  Finally, I gave in, and when we started the foot washing ceremony, I went directly to the young man, knelt and washed his filthy, disgusting feet.  The room was silent.  I discovered that I had started to cry.  Something broke over all of us at that moment, and I looked around at the leaders and students gathered there and saw that many of them were crying, too.  The young man got up and quietly took the basin and towel from me and went to wash the feet of one of his friends.

It was like in that moment, I realized the grace and love of God for me in my brokenness and pride.  I realized how much I wanted things on my own terms, how I came to God with my filthiness and tried to dress it up as righteousness.  I felt the sting of shame that came with this realization, and then I thought of Jesus kneeling at the feet of his disciples, showing grace, teaching them about humility and submission...

And I realized how much I needed Him.

Did I mention the kid's name?  You guessed it.

His name was Peter.

Here's a thought.

Jesus washed the feet of all of his disciples---even Judas.  Yup, even Judas received the foot washing.  So it's obviously not about "the gesture."  There are plenty of people who have all of the appearances of being a follower of Christ, but as soon as Jesus doesn't fit their idea of what it means to be a Messiah, they betray him.

Peter didn't get it at first either.  Then he almost lost it when he denied Jesus three times, despite swearing that he would never do any such thing.  But the difference between Peter and Judas is that Peter took the second chance he was offered, and made the most of it.

So where are you?

Has Christ washed you?  Have you given up trying to follow him on your terms and finally given up your pride and self will?  This means that you declare yourself to be His follower and He your Savior.

Have you truly placed yourself in His hands?  Do you trust the One whom you call Savior, and Lord?  Do you believe that Jesus has your best interests at heart?  This means that you stop trying to control everything

Are you ready for a full share of His life?  Jesus told his followers: "I came that you might have life---and have it more abundantly."  This is the kind of life that Jesus wants for you---abundant life.  Life that is filled with wonder, joy, hope and the peace that passes understanding.

Because you have placed yourself in His hands.

Hands that bear the marks of what he endured so that you might live.

Loving hands.

Amen.
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