Sermon: Just Love Them (Maundy Thursday)
Text: John 13:3-35
Note: My commentary on this text can be found here.
The disciples were undoubtedly shocked and amazed when Jesus took up the basin and the towel and began to wash their feet. He was their master! He was their Lord! Foot washing is just not something that masters do. Imagine your surprise if you saw the President of the United States shining someone’s shoes. What would you think if you saw the Queen of England giving someone a pedicure?
In the days of Jesus, foot washing was typically done by the servants of one’s household, and it wasn’t exactly a glamorous job. People’s feet get really dry and dirty and calloused and cracked when they walk around for miles wearing sandals. To wash someone’s feet was an act of hospitality and care. It was also an act of servitude and humility. No wonder Simon Peter told Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” Not Jesus. Not his master. Not ever. Still, there Jesus was with his wash basin and his towel. He knelt in front of them one by one and washed their feet, calluses and all.
When he was done, he told them why. “I’m setting an example for you,” he said. “You also should do what I have done to you.” In that moment, I wonder if the disciples finally ‘got it’. They had been hand-selected by Jesus from the crowds. From the smelly dregs of farms and boat docks he had called them, and given new meaning to their lives. With him they were something special. He had elevated them above the plow and the fishing net… or so it seemed.
The disciples were special. Jesus, however, did not call them from the crowds of farmers and fishermen so that they would enjoy a greater status. Jesus called them to serve, to carry on his ministry of loving people after he departs. And we can almost hear the disciples asking, “What in the world are we going to do?”
It reminds me of a story my great uncle, who was an Air Force chaplain, told me several years ago. He recounted the birth of his first child. He stood there in the waiting room, nervous as he could be, and finally after what seemed like forever a nurse called him back into the nursery to meet his newborn son…
Only it wasn’t a son. It was sons – twin boys. Of course, back then they didn’t really have ultrasounds and sonograms. He found out he was having twins the minute he looked them right in the face. The nurse let him hold them both at once. He said he remember standing there with a tiny bundle in each arm, asking God, “What in the world am I going to do?” In that moment he imagined what God might say back to him. The answer was, “Just love them.”
When I think back to the births of both of my own sons, I remember holding each little bundle in my arms and seeing them face-to-face for the first time. Suddenly, I was a father. In the soft wheezing of a swaddled newborn, the world had immediately changed. While certainly overcome with joy and elation, I also had a healthy does of anxiety and uncertainty mixed in. Each of those amazing events was one of those moments where I asked God “What in the world am I going to do?” Once again, the answer came: “Just love him.”
I think that’s really Jesus’ message to his disciples, too. He’s preparing them for a time when he will no longer be with them, and they’ll be the ones doing ministry. They’ll be the ones standing in front of the crowds of people, staring right into the faces of sinners of all shapes and sizes, all suffering from their own brokenness and longing to be whole people. The disciples without Jesus will have plenty of those “What in the world are we going to do?” moments. But then they will remember Jesus, with his wash basin and towel. They’ll remember his example of how he expects them to treat other people. It’s like he’s saying, “See? It’s simple. I’m sending you out into the world, into those crowds of people from whom I called you. Your job? Just love them.”
In the days and weeks and months that follow this worship service, you will undoubtedly see the church that you know and love look a lot like its ideal self, on its ideal day. In those times we’ll seem every bit like the clean-footed church! You will also undoubtedly see situations in which our feet look a little dirtier. Around you will be people whose spirits are disheartened and weary. They’ll be dry, and cracked, calloused and worn. You may find yourself wondering… What in the world are we going to do?
And once again the answer will come.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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This sermon was written by Rev. Lee A. Koontz.