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First Scripture = 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
We are continuing our series looking at the questions that God and Jesus ask in the Bible. And remember that God never asks a question for his own benefit. When God asks, “Where are you,” it’s not because he can’t see you! God asks questions to get at something within our souls.
Last week we heard Jesus ask “who touched me?” Just as Jesus restored and refreshed the woman in that text and the religious leader in that text, so, too we need to be refreshed. Hopefully you gave the 7 Day Refresh devotional a try this past week. If not, it’s still available for download on our website.
This week we are rewinding the clock a bit to what Jesus did and what Jesus asked on Maundy Thursday before his betrayal and crucifixion.
I saw a comic once that said, “Sometimes when people leave, I’m seized by a sudden fear that they’ll die while they’re out, and I’ll never forget the last thing I said to them.” And then it shows the guy saying, “Hey, while you’re out, can you pick up some spray cleaner that works on cat vomit? [PAUSE] And…uh…you are in my heart always!”
Jesus wanted his disciples to remember this last act before his crucifixion. Jesus wanted his disciples to remember this, to imitate it, to embody it. Jesus knew this and Communion were the last things they would see from him before he was hanging on a cross. So let us see what Jesus does. And let us ponder what Jesus asks.
Main Scripture = John 13:1-17
1Now 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. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12After 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Sacrifice or Astonishment
Well it was one of the most memorable conversations I have ever had in ministry – and that is saying quite a bit! This conversation has shaped my entire approach to ministry for over a decade, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Lo those many years ago, I was in charge of the children’s ministry. And, let me tell you, we had a hopping children’s ministry! It was one of the main engines of growth for the entire church. Children made their parents get out of bed and take them to church!
And it was also a blast to lead. That was one of the most fun eras of my ministry life. Part of that was because we got to see so many children getting to know Jesus and want to come back next week. But another part of the fun of that ministry was seeing so many adult volunteers discover their talent and passion and using it for Christ.
So about that transformative conversation. One of those adult volunteers came to me one day with a theological quandary for me. He said to me, “I feel like I’m doing something wrong.” “What do you mean? The kids in your group love you! And you seem to be having fun every time I check in on your group. What’s wrong?” “Well that’s the problem. I’m having too much fun! I feel guilty about it. I feel like Jesus wants me to be sacrificing, but instead I’m having fun. What’s wrong?”
I have had variations of that conversation many times over the last decade or so. Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever thought that you had to be sacrificing to be truly loving like Jesus loved? I mean, Jesus sacrificed, right? Aren’t we supposed to as well?
Well…sometimes. Plenty of times I have had to serve in ways that annoyed the be-jeebers out of me because I was certain that Jesus wanted me to do it. But other times I have felt like Rob West. Rob was making props for movies in Hollywood when the coronavirus shut down all of his films. With his background in fabrication, he started making face shields for hospitals – including ones in Denver. And as the need became greater, as his production increased, he found himself leading a volunteer organization that was pumping out thousands of face shields. In an interview, he said, “I feel like this is one of the most productive things I’ve ever done.”
So many people would think making cool props for Hollywood would be the apex of your career. You could tell stories about that for years. But it’s this volunteer effort to help hospitals that is the apex in his mind. Why?
Because we were made in the image of a God who went above and beyond to serve us and love us. When we go above and beyond for someone else, that kindles the image of God within us. That’s when we feel most alive. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it requires sacrifice, like Jesus. Other times we don’t even realize the sacrifice because we’re too busy feeling like we’re doing what we were made to do and being who we’re made to be.
Earl Palmer wrote in one of his books a story about how a pre-med undergrad became a Christian after a long journey of doubts and questions. A particularly nasty flu kept him out of classes for 10 days – 10 critical days in organic chemistry! But one of his classmates, a Christian, collected every assignment, took notes on every lecture, and took time away from his own studies to make sure this other student was able to catch up. This pre-med undergrad told Earl Palmer, “You know that this just isn’t done, and I probably wouldn’t have done it, but he gave that help to me without any fanfare or complaints. I wanted to know what made this friend of mine act the way he did. I found myself asking him if I could go to church with him.”
Later, he gave what Palmer said is the greatest tribute he had ever heard, “I felt more alive when I was around this friend.”
Let me repeat that last part: “I felt more alive when I was around this friend.” And did you hear what the student said, “I found myself asking him if I could go to church with him.”
Not because he felt guilty. Not just because he was impressed by the sacrifice. Mainly because he saw and experienced life, not death. He felt more alive!
Jesus told his followers in John 10:10, “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].” But Jesus showed his disciples in our text today that the way to have and enjoy life, the way to have an abundant, full, overflowing life is to serve others above and beyond their expectations.
Remember that there weren’t a lot of paved sidewalks at this time. And remember that sewers didn’t really exist at this time. Do you know where the sewer was in most cities? The street! People dumped their waste in the common street, and in nicer cities they had channels for it to run to a nearby river or lake. But not all cities were so nice. So the ground wasn’t exactly sanitary, right?
And have you ever seen what someone’s feet look like after they wear hiking sandals on a day hike? There’s actually a competition from one of the sandal makers where they ask people to send in pictures of their feet after their hikes. That’s not because they look pretty, capisce?
So when Jesus washed the sandaled feet of people who walked around in cities where the sewers were literally the ground beneath them…do you think that was pleasant? I don’t think this was one of those “I’m having too much fun serving” moments.
But that’s why Jesus asked them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” Notice that he didn’t ask, “Do you know what I have done for you?” No, he did something to them and to us. What did Jesus do to us in this foot washing?
Jesus told them the answer to that question. “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
In other words, if we want that abundant, overflowing, full life, we have to be willing to serve people in ways that seem beneath us. Jesus went to the extreme here. How many things are lower on your wish list than washing people’s sandaled feet after they walked around in sewage? I can think of a few things lower than that, but not many. And the Son of God did it
Not only did Jesus wash their sandaled, sewage feet. Guess who hadn’t left the room yet? Judas was still there! Jesus washed Judas’ feet! Jesus washed the sandaled, sewage-covered foot of the man who was about to betray him that very night! Whoo-boy!
I sometimes say that one of my leadership styles is to take away people’s excuses. I will put in extra work to take away people’s easy cop-outs. But man! Jesus washing Judas’ feet is like the ultimate excuse take away. If he was willing to do that, how can I tell God that I’m too good to do something? I don’t think Jesus left any cop-outs after that!
Living by Serving
If Jesus has been tapping you on the shoulder, now you know. You don’t have any excuses. You don’t have any cop-outs. Unless you think you’re better than Jesus, you don’t have any wiggle room.
But…and this is a big but…but if you do what Jesus is asking you to do you are likely to feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before. In our text today, we see Jesus telling us the bad news, the thing he did to us. “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
But this astonishing service results in what we heard Jesus say in John 10: “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].” Your willingness to become as low as you need to serve someone above and beyond their expectations will make you feel taller than the Denver skyline.
We were talking in our staff meeting this past week about how to define a “win” during this strange season of ministry. What do we hope happens? What do we hope to see?
We were sharing stories of moments that made us (and hopefully Jesus) smile. Many of those stories focused around the delivery of the Communion elements to people who are struggling to connect with our church and our online worship right now. We’ve heard from many of those who drove around to deliver the elements, and they appreciated the connection, even from six feet away. Those who served were grateful for the opportunity.
And we’ve heard from many of the recipients of those Communion elements, and they appreciated the thoughtfulness behind it. One of them said, “I can’t believe you did this for me.”
So we have the ones who were serving saying, “I’m so grateful I could do this.” And we have the ones who were blessed saying, “I can’t believe you did this for me.” That, sisters and brothers, is a glimpse of the Kingdom of Christ. That’s a little slice of heaven on earth. That is finding life abundant by washing others’ feet. That’s what we’re about.
In fact, I think that’s a great summary of what I have been hoping to see. My “win” for this season of ministry is defined by how many times we can hear, “I can’t believe you did this for me,” and “I’m so grateful I got the chance to do this.”
And we have seen quite a bit of both. I’m kind of weird – newsflash, right? – I’m kind of weird in that it’s really hard to make me feel proud. I expect to do things well. If I do something well, it’s just what I expect. If our church does something well, it’s just what I expect. And I only tell you that so you know that what I’m about to say has far deeper meaning than if it were coming from someone else.
I have been proud of how our church has responded to this sudden shift in our church’s ministry. I’m proud of Kate, our children’s director, sending personalized letters to the kids with special drawings. I’m proud of her offering to Zoom with kids. That’s not just expected. It’s above and beyond.
I’m proud of how many of you have rolled with the changes and embraced this new season. We have had about twice as many people connect with our online worship and devotionals and prayer and Communion meetings as I had expected. And as Elinor and Carol called people ahead of the Communion element drop-off, they found out a bunch of people who we thought weren’t connecting online had a family member who helped them get connected. In response to this disruption, you could be sitting at home, griping about how church isn’t really “church” right now. I’m sure some of that is happening. But I am proud of how many of you have made lemonade out of lemons during this time. That speaks well of your character and your faith, and it makes me proud.
I’m proud of Karen and her family delivering packages to families. Since she leads our bell choirs, she called them “Ding Dong Drop-Offs.” That’s not expected. It’s above and beyond.
I’m proud of our Shabby Sheep women’s ministry delivering baked goods and pinwheels for people’s yards. That’s not expected. It’s above and beyond.
I’m proud of our Deacons for reaching out to help two people from our community who worked very close to our church who were laid off during this disruption. Their gifts to those people aren’t expected. They’re above and beyond.
I’m proud of Carol for organizing and the people in our church who responded to do weekly phone calls to those who might be especially lonely or disconnected during this time. We’ve heard how that has blessed the callers and the recipients. That’s not expected. That’s above and beyond.
I’m proud of the many sewers in our church who are making face masks out of their personal stashes of fabric and giving them away to neighbors, friends, and hospitals. It would be interesting to get our church’s total mask production output at the end of this, because I think it would be a surprisingly large number.
I’m proud that we are offering burner phones for people who are experiencing homelessness in our community, and I’m proud of our multi-year partnership with GraceFull Cafe so those phones can be distributed with grace and care. That’s not expected. That’s above and beyond. I actually got a thank you note from one of the first phone recipients. That’s above and beyond on his part!
I know there are a lot more stories out there of people saying, “I’m so glad I got to do that” and “I can’t believe you did that for me.” The more we hear both of those phrases, the better we have handled this season.
How might Jesus be calling you to serve in an unexpected, above-and-beyond way? If he is calling you to serve in some unexpected way, I bet you’ll be glad you did it. Because he takes our unexpected, no excuses, no cop-outs service, and he gives us life abundant.
I pray that we continue to hear, “I’m so glad I got to do that.” And I pray that we continue to hear, “I can’t believe you did that for me.” Both of those are a little slice of heaven on earth. I’m proud of how much we’ve heard both of those. I pray we continue to serve that way. I pray that we continue to serve the way Jesus served. With no excuses. And no cop-outs. Amen.