Filed under: Sermons | Tags: Jesus, jesus' temptation, love, maundy thursday
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
At the beginning of Lent, we heard the story of Jesus out in the wilderness, fasting and being tested by Satan. In that testing, Jesus chooses to remain steady in his course. He commits to the whole plan of being incarnate, taking on human flesh and form. He chooses to be God among us, within creation, limited, sharing our boundaries as human creatures. He rejects the option to create food out of stones, he rejects the option to have power over others and to be worshipped and glorified, he rejects the option to keep himself free from harm and suffering.
Tonight, we see where that choice leads him.
That scene in the wilderness ended with the ominous description, “the devil departed until a more opportune time.” Tonight, that opportune time unfolds. “The devil had already put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus.”
Tonight, we experience the outcome of the choices Jesus makes when the devil opens up so many options for another path. Jesus is tested- will he really embody love for all people? Will he really maintain his stance of humility and service? Will he really be willing to suffer and even die- for those who will fail him? Once again, Jesus chooses faithfulness to us over his own glory and well-being.
According to the Gospel of John, it’s the night before the Passover and the disciples have gathered for a meal. Judas is there, even as his heart is turned towards betrayal. Peter is there, without knowing that his faithfulness is so weak that within a day he will deny ever knowing Jesus. At the moment, all seems well, normal.
As normal as things can be with Jesus around. Jesus is always pushing the boundaries of our expectations. He turns upside down our understanding of the right way to do things. For his culture, the way it’s supposed to be is that servants welcome important guests into the house by washing their feet. Jesus gets this all backward. At the end of the meal, Jesus, the master and teacher, kneels down and washes his disciples’ feet.
This act embodies Jesus’ choice to love, through humility and self-sacrifice.
Tonight, some of you have agreed to having your feet washed as we practice this act of love Jesus teaches us to do. I’ve heard that at other churches people take extra care to scrub their feet before coming to a service in which there is foot washing. For many of us, feet are kinda gross.
But they are not as gross as those disciples’ feet must have been. Their feet would be hardened by miles of walking, crusted with dirt and who knows what from the roads shared by people, wagons, and animals. We might imagine that the disciples are repulsed not only by Jesus’ reversal of the proper acts of status- a leader shouldn’t take on the work of a servant- but also by their knowledge of how gross they are, not wanting someone they love and respect to see the grossness of their bodies.
A couple years ago for Christmas, Tammy gave me a coupon to have her come over and clean my house. It was really sweet of her. But I never quite found a good time. With two little kids and parents who are always running, our house can be a mess. All the time. So, really, at any moment, there would be something I could use help cleaning. But then I get really embarrassed. I don’t really want anyone to see the corners where dust has accumulated. I don’t want anyone else to lift up the couch cushions to vacuum and find granola bar wrappers that never made it to the trash. I don’t want people to see the mess I’d rather hide.
So, I can understand the horror some of the disciples might have felt as Jesus knelt with a basin, to wash their feet.
The thing is, Jesus already knows their mess- and ours. Jesus knows Judas’ betrayal will come, and yet he washes his feet. Jesus knows Peter’s denial will come, and yet he washes his feet. In the other gospels, it’s the same idea with a different practice. Jesus lifts the bread and says, this is my body, given for you, and the wine, this is my blood, shed for you- and he gives these elements out to each person, knowing that their faithfulness will fail. No one is worthy of the gifts Jesus gives. Jesus chooses to love, to serve, to give himself away, without weighing who is worthy.
Jesus loves you by giving himself for you. If the fear, “what would you think if you really knew me?” has ever crossed your mind- rest assured- God knows you and God loves you through all brokenness in your life. Jesus loves through rejection. Tonight you get to experience that love, in hearing Jesus’ forgiveness spoken directly to you, in feeling the water of Jesus’ loving service, in holding and tasting Jesus’ presence given for you, in contemplating Jesus’ suffering for you.
The devil might put in your mind that you are not worthy. That you haven’t repented enough to receive forgiveness, that you don’t understand enough to receive communion, that you haven’t lived well enough to receive life. Those judgments are thoughts of Satan. They don’t come from God.
Look, remember and experience what God is doing for you. Trust what God shows you through Jesus. Let your faith cling onto these gifts that Jesus gives you freely. Not one of us has done anything to deserve the gifts of Jesus’ love, and that’s why we are all welcome. None of us is higher than the other, more deserving than the other, none of our knowledge or our actions count before God. All that matters is what Jesus has done for you- choosing to come to you- choosing to accept you- choosing to welcome you. That’s the path of gracious love to which Jesus remains faithful, everything he does is for our sake, dependent only on his faithfulness to us.
When everyone is served at Jesus’ table, when everyone receives the bread and wine that carry Jesus’ presence into us, we enact God’s love that is for each of us, no matter what. We experience love in this meal. It doesn’t matter if we’re having a good day or not, Jesus is here for us. This goes against the way we think it should be. In our family, the kids earn a prize or an outing if they’re extra good, doing what they’re supposed to do, fulfilling our demands. But Jesus doesn’t act like that. This meal doesn’t work like that. Jesus feeds everybody, and there is always more than enough for all.
Tonight, Brianna and Britney have chosen to prepare for and receive their first communion. We celebrate with them as they finally receive this means of grace, the way Jesus has chosen to come into our lives to create and feed a growing faith.
As he washes their feet, Jesus tells his disciples to follow his example, commanding them to love as he has loved them. That command falls to us. Will we follow Jesus’ example, choosing deep love, radical inclusion, and humility for the sake of the world?
Jesus’ love isn’t diminished when we don’t live up to his example. The depth of Jesus’ love is amplified as we see him serving, feeding, and dying for those who don’t deserve anything from him. Our encounter with Jesus’ sacrificial love, our taking in his presence, is meant to transform us into people who follow his command: to love with the same love that we have been shown. Don’t hold back from experiencing this grace of God; know that Jesus loves you as a free gift, and may God give you the strength to choose to live in that grace towards others.
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