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Maundy Thursday 2009

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Theme: Giving of our selves

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, on this night we remember how your son had his final meal with his friends and how he demonstrated an act of humble service; may we follow his commandments: to remember him through the bread and the wine and to love one another, always, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“A landlord is promising two months free apartment rent if its tenants in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Texas lose their jobs. Goldberg Cos. Inc. says layoffs have become the No. 1 concern for prospective renters. In response, the company's ‘Layoff Proof Lease’ program, as it’s called, will begin Saturday.

“Tenants will qualify after they’ve signed a 12-month lease and have made three rent payments. Goldberg says when they provide a termination letter or other proof of job loss, they will receive 60 days rent-free, and after that time they may back out of the lease. Senior vice president Jordan Goldberg says his family’s company hopes its offer will attract new tenants to its properties and help retain current ones.” (AP)

Jesus preached humble service. Goldberg Companies deliver it.

The Passover feast was coming soon. Jesus knew that this particular Passover would be different than other Passovers. He knew that he would die before seeing the Passover. He also knew that his love for his friends knew no bounds. Judas Iscariot had already decided that he was going to betray Jesus. According to John, evil in the form of the devil had entered Judas’ heart. Knowing that his death was imminent, Jesus also knew that he was from God and was going back to God.

The disciples knew the story of Elijah and Elisha. And how Elijah granted Elisha’s wish to give Elisha a double share of Elijah’s spirit. This enabled Elisha to perform might acts. If Jesus was departing, wouldn’t he give his closest friends what Elijah gave Elisha? If Jesus really loved them, wouldn’t Jesus give some of his power to them – to show the world how great they are? They may have been shocked to find out that instead of a mantle of authority, they get a towel.

It was customary for servants or slaves to provide the water for guests to wash their own feet. Ancient documents tell us that even a Hebrew slave is not to do such a menial task. The only time the Bible mentions anyone washing feet, they are always women. If that did not work out, then the feet remained dirty. Since Jesus was hosting this supper, the disciple’s feet remained dirty.

Presumably during dinner, Jesus got the idea for a teaching opportunity. He got up from the table and washed the feet of the disciples during supper. Can you imagine what went through the minds of the disciples while Jesus was doing this? I would have to think that it was uncomfortable.

Jesus was breaking a social taboo. It should have been one of them washing Jesus’ feet. But not one of them ever offered. Instead, they silently offered their dirty, dusty feet for Jesus to wash them. Maybe some in the group, whose egos were big enough, thought that at last someone was washing his feet, even if it had to be Jesus.

All of this was too much for Peter. Jesus should not be stopping so low as to wash his feet! He would not remain silent like his friends. Peter believed it was beneath Jesus’ dignity and status in the group to wash the disciple’s feet. So Peter objected. Jesus knew that he would not understand what he was doing, but that understanding would come later for Peter and probably also for the rest of them.

Peter may be expressing a false humility. Peter really doesn’t want to be so vulnerable as to have Jesus wash his feet, masking a sense of pride. Peter would rather be in control. Peter wants to choose which gifts he will accept. Yet, we humans are vulnerable. We depend on others. Jesus is telling them that if they cannot accept the physical washing of their feet, how can they accept an even more humbling forgiveness of sins when Jesus dies the next day on a cross?

To keep the debate short, Jesus told Peter that dirty feet meant Peter was out of the group. Peter, in his usual bravado, then asks Jesus to give him a bath. Jesus said that if you already bathed, it was not necessary for another bath. Jesus then declares the disciples clean, except for Judas. Jesus knew all about Judas’ plans. Even Jesus cannot make Judas clean.

When the major way of getting around was walking, washing feet was a welcome luxury. It was a welcome relief. Even today, when we wear sturdy shoes, protecting our feet better than in Jesus’ time, we welcome the tingling sensation of clean feet. Our feet work hard. They bear the burden of our weight and we call on them to make us mobile. But when we have a public washing of feet, we twinge in discomfort. Feet are smelly. Feet are unattractive. We abuse our feet. Many feel that touching someone else’s feet is disgusting.

Yet, washing feet may lead us into a new way to see our faith and our relationships. Jesus calls us to radical change. Foot washing is a sacramental rite. Peter tried to refuse to have his feet washed. Jesus convinced him that humility is part of following Jesus.

Jesus continues the teaching moment by asking the disciple’s if they understood what Jesus did. Without waiting for a reply that was likely not coming, Jesus says that if he was truly lord and he washes their feet, then they are to never think that anything is too menial to do for another disciple. No one is ever above the station of another human being. If we do these kinds of tasks, then we are blessed. Even for a company to give away rent to their unemployed tenants.

Jesus is now glorified. Before things hit the fan, Jesus has one last commandment for his friends, “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That is how the world will know that we are Christians, if we love one another.

Jesus isn’t saying you ought to love each other. We are to love each other just as much as Jesus loves us. This is a high bar. Jesus’ love for us is overwhelming. It is in this overwhelming love that we are to love each other. This is a promise to us of the self-giving love of Jesus Christ. This is a command of Jesus that is not just good for us here, but it is what we take from here to our homes, to our workplaces, to the streets and byways, and to every place we visit.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of humility; let not our pride get in the way of doing loving service for others, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

[The Associated Press contributed to this sermon.]

Text: John 13:1-17, 31-35 (NRSV)
13 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table,a 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,b but is entirely clean. And youc are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

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. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servantsd are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

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,j 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.”

[1]


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a  Gk from supper

b  Other ancient authorities lack except for the feet

c  The Greek word for you here is plural

d  Gk slaves

j  Other ancient authorities lack If God has been glorified in him

[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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