“A Foot Washing Word” John 13.1-18, 31-35

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"We want to get to the main event, don’t we?

The point in the evening when all the awkward greetings are over and the small talk has gotten past the weather, the Cubs, and how the kids are doing.

The point in the evening where you and your spouse forget about the argument you had over the bottle of Pepsi you brought instead of the wine as you walked up the sidewalk.

The point in the evening where you stop worrying if so-and-so will be there because, well, she tells the same stories over and over and if you have to listen to Mr. Know It All’s take on the candidate you’re most annoyed with that you might just rip his toupee off and tell him to shut it.

The point in the evening when you’re more than half way through the night and you are just 45 minute away from taking off this tie or those heels, and you can slip back into those tired sweatpants, let your hair down, and watch reruns of your favorite TV show.

We want to get to the main event, don’t we?

Some of us are perfectly fine with the small talk and rarely argue with the significant other, don’t worry at all about who will be there, and find a night in watching Netflix a bit too boring.

Some of us see the whole night as the main event and are saddened when even the trivial celebration comes to an end.

If you’re thinking I am being a bit trite in my generalizations, you are absolutely right.

Something needed to set us up about our foot washing experience.

Like going to parties or events, some of us could care less about what our feet look and smell like. While there are some of us who washed our feet three times before we came and powered them with some of whatever Mary used on Jesus when she anointed his feet.

And, there are those of us who absolutely will not let you or anyone, for that matter, near our feet.

What an extreme generalization bout foot washing, right?!

In the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, an event that happened before the last supper, there are extremes in what takes place as well. Imagine this:

Jesus is at the table with his disciples, all of them reclining, propped up on their elbows, dipping pita bread into bowls of savory hummus and smacking their lips; licking their fingers. The sounds of conversation fill the room, punctuated from time to time by loud laughter or the clink of one clay cup against the other. Oil lamps flicker, their light reflected in the shining eyes of the disciples, and while all of this is going on…

Jesus gets up from the table…

Strips off his outer robe… Wraps a towel around his waist…

Pours water into a basin…

And begin to wash the disciples’ feet.

An extreme, unexpected action that causes a bit of a ruckus amongst the disciples. As we all know, it was the role of the house servant, not a person such as Jesus, to wash the feet of the disciples. In fact, the disciples had probably had their feet washed before. However this is different. This isn’t some servant or even one of their peers but instead this is Jesus. Their teacher. Their Lord.

As he makes his way around the room, the disciples fall silent, until all you can hear is the splash of water being poured into the basin over dusty, callused feet.

This is when another extreme takes place in the story. While foot washing was normal, it was expected, what Peter does was a bit over the top. Peter objects, saying “You will never wash my feet! But if you insist, wash not only my feet but also my hands and my head.”

Jesus persists in washing only the feet and asks, “Do you know what I have done to you?”

There is but silence.

Jesus speaks again, “I have set you an example. If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Despite Peter’s best attempt to be holier-than-thou or attempt to wiggle out of Christ’s intimate act of service, Jesus washes his feet.

What do we do with this story?

Some of us hear this story and think, “This is a story about social justice and action, putting feet to our theology.” We want to ask questions such as: “Where is it that people are broken and bruised from war, poverty, drugs, abuse, and discrimination and are in need of a healing bath?”

Some of us might say this story is not about doing but about being. This is a story that reminds us as people of God who are committed to serving the poor in many capacities that this is a story about letting Jesus tend to us. Just as baptism inaugurates us into Jesus’ ministry of tending and washing the wounds of a broken world, we, too, are in need of the ongoing washing of Jesus and the bathing of our own weary feet if we are to have the strength, compassion, and Spirit to continue that ministry in the world.

But because I know you all, I know what you are thinking now: Pastor, it isn’t either/or. Mission is a healthy balance between action and theology, contemplation and justice, mission and meetings.

 There is no disagreeing with this sentiment and truth. But let me plant a seed. Let me stir the waters in the basin a little bit.

Perhaps this foot washing in John 13 is not just a thought exercise. It isn’t simply a scene we re-create each year because “it’s just what we do.” Instead, this scene is essential not only to the identity of God in Christ but ours as a church as well.

Jesus doesn’t just talk about love.

Jesus doesn’t just philosophize and theologize about loving one’s neighbor and setting up benevolence funds to assist those who are “less fortunate” than us.

It isn’t proverbial.

Rather, it is service.

Jesus actually kneels down and washes the disciples’ feet—and then tells them to do likewise.

Which might be the real reason Peter objects to Christ’s washing of his feet. Jesus was showing Peter that discipleship was not only about humble service, but also about being, as one theologian has put it, a “community of equals.” No servant is greater than his master…and to be the greatest, the master must become like the servant.

All are welcome. All are needed.

Some of us like parties, some of us don’t.

Some of us don’t mind getting our feet touched; others would rather sit through a three hour opera…in German…than have our feet touched.

Wherever it is we find our selves in the either/or, both/and, all things in moderation, conversation, we are all in this together. We are all invited to the table.

Tonight is a night where we look around the table and we see not only Jesus, but also Peter, who denies Jesus; Judas, who betrays Jesus; John and James, who fall asleep while Jesus is praying in the garden; and a whole lot of other misfits who will forsake him in his darkest hour of need. It is a scene that reminds us of the posture that the church is supposed to take: one of selfless service; even if it means making a scene. It is story that reminds us that the church, that the communion table, is a place where we can come—time and time again—to have our own ugliness lovingly touched and washed clean by Jesus. The reality of this story and the good news for us is this: Jesus washes everyone, even those who are as beloved as John or as troubled as Judas.

No questions asked.

The fact that Jesus spends his last night with his friends, pleading with them to love one another in spite of their own differences and disagreements, is compelling to say the least.

Thus, to ponder what foot washing might look like—not only in relation to the word, but also in relation to those in the church who have hurt us and those we love—might take us very close to the heart of the gospel tonight.

When Christ washes the feet of the disciples, he continues what God started.

Jesus enacted love.

We are commanded to do the same.

[Adam Quine, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Lincoln]



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