The Host and the Servant of the New Creation: A Homily

This is a sermon I preached on Maundy Thursday 2016, which Joel graciously let me share with you via his blog.


Gospel Text: John 13.1-17; 31b-35

Please pray with me as I pray a prayer written by St. Anselm of Canterbury:

“O my God teach my heart where and how to seek you,

where and how to find you…

You are my God and you are my All and I have never seen you.

You have made me and remade me,

You have bestowed on me all the good things I possess,

Still I do not know you…

I have not yet done that for which I was made….

Teach me to seek you…

I cannot seek you unless you teach me

or find you unless you show yourself to me.

Let me seek you in my desire, let me desire you in my seeking.

Let me find you by loving you, let me love you when I find you.”

Amen.


I don’t know about anyone else, but I grew up a little turned off by the idea of washing someone else’s feet. In our culture we just do not practice these sorts of things—largely because there are no conventional reasons to. However, in the historical context of tonight’s Gospel lesson there were a few reasons for the washing of feet, and, after exploring these reasons, I promise that the idea of foot washing will make a little more sense.

First, feet were primarily washed for hygienic reasons. Proper hygiene in the form of foot washing was imperative to societies that primarily relied on foot traffic along dusty roads. After all, first century Palestine was essentially a desert location, and therefore washing the dust that had been accumulated from travel off of one’s feet would have been as essential then as washing one’s hands is in today’s society. This is often overlooked by us today as there are socks and shoes, while back then there were only sandals.

Second, feet were often washed as a gesture of hospitality. What this means is that upon entering one’s residence, the service of foot washing would be offered as a gesture of good faith that was extended for the hygienic practices mentioned above. Sort of like our efforts to make a sink and bathroom available for guests to freshen up in today’s culture. We’ll talk more about this in a moment.

The third reason for foot washing in John’s cultural context would have been cult activity. There are some cases in which foot washing was enacted for cultic worship, though it’s worth noting that never would these cult leaders or deities ever be depicted washing the feet of their followers.

Considering each of these options, it seems most likely that John’s Jesus is washing his disciples’ feet for the sake of hospitality—not only that, but representing the unique portrait of a God that serves his disciples and not the other way around. So, let’s dive into the intricacies of hospitable foot washing in John’s culture.

The host of a gathering would typically make foot washing available for their guests, especially if the gathering was a meal—think hygiene—and the host’s servants were usually the ones who carried out this service. In other words, it was highly unlikely that the host of a gathering would have washed the feet of his guests himself. This is where the novelty lies in John’s account of this gesture. Not only is Jesus hospitably providing the means by which his disciples are to be cleansed and cared for, as any good host would have done; but he is performing this service himself, as any good servant would have done.

In this passage of Scripture we are confronted by Jesus as both the host and servant, the one who invites us and delivers us—who serves us as he leads us. Notice how that Jesus’ identity as teacher and Lord is directly tied in with his actions of self-emptying love and servant leadership. He even asks his disciples to imitate this gesture toward one another—a suggestion that is directly paralleled with the commandment to love one another as we have been loved by God. What can this mean? There are a few things to consider.

First, this isn’t just an ethical formula for living into one’s faith. In other words, one cannot simply reduce this text to yet another rule that the Christian is to follow. It’s not that we must simply wash feet once a year, even as when we don’t want to, even if we are repulsed by feet, or even as we might find this particular, liturgical expression obtuse and awkward. For us to assume such a conclusion would be almost as clumsy as Peter’s insistent misunderstanding in tonight’s Gospel lesson, refusing to have his feet cleansed by the Lord. This isn’t just a suggestion; this is an opportunity to be transformed by the acts of love carried out by and through Jesus Christ. This act serves as an expression of our transformation in Christ. How are we transformed? When we dine with Christ! When we receive God’s sacramental grace, we are transformed and renewed in such a way that we can performs acts of hospitality, such as the washing off of our neighbor’s feet.

Second, there is more going on in this text than the act of foot washing itself, as alluded to above. While this specific gesture was culturally relevant at the time, and the water can be seen as symbolic for a whole slew of other elements in the Christian faith, it must not be forgotten that this scene is unfolding in the shadow of a meal—and not just any meal! The washing of the feet is just a liturgical act unfolding in the context of the bread that is broken, the wine that is poured and ingested, the feasting upon Christ’s broken body and shed blood.

The sacrament of Holy Communion is the meal in which we are invited to attend—the meal that Christ is hosting for us, into which he invites us so that we may receive the ultimate fulfillment for which we long. It is in the imitation of our teacher who accomplished for us what we cannot accomplish ourselves that we are able to see the revelation of God’s nature, and we are able to find a deep love for one another through our abiding love of God’s presence.

So while I want you to see this liturgical act, this tradition of washing feet, as something essential in John’s Gospel for revealing the character of God through Jesus Christ, it is insurmountably more important that you realize that through this act you are being invited into something so much more profound! Namely, the presence of Jesus Christ and the grace of the Father, as it dwells among the elements of this table before us, calling us into deeper union and intimacy with both God and each other.

The host that serves you in everyday life—by washing your feet, by suffering even until his death on the cross—is throwing a banquet in which heaven and earth fuse together, and the glory of God is shown forth from within the self-emptying love of Jesus Christ.

May God’s Holy Spirit call us into a deep meditation on the nature of Jesus’ ministry—his sacrifice and his self-emptying hospitality.

May we participate in and imitate the inconceivable hospitality of our host as we serve one another by the washing of our feet and the cleansing of our hearts.

And, while we imitate and embody our Lord’s hospitality, may we realize the invitation to behold the New Creation that’s unfolding within our midst.

Behold, God is making all things new; let us embody the example of Jesus and rinse off the dust that we have accumulated while walking down the roads of our lives—welcoming and serving each other as we have been served through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and his ongoing work in our lives through Holy Communion.

Let us serve those gathered, seeing this expression of faith in the shadow of such a seismic meal. Let us see Christ as our example—our host and servant—upon whom we feast and feast with.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Amen!

Friday is coming

Friday is Coming

While this story is unconfirmed, would it really be a surprise? One of the great problems with Christianity in the west is that we have forgotten that there are still those who in picking up their cross and following, end up nailed to it. Why it is so shocking and surprising that a priest may be crucified on Friday is beyond me since our Great High Priest already suffered that fate.  With the rise of ISIS in the world, we have witnessed, via the ever present 24 hour news cycle, the martyrdom of thousands of Christians and it has not moved us. Don’t misunderstand please, I am certain that we are all repulsed and distraught at the death toll not only of Christians, but also of the numerous Muslims and others killed by ISIS. The horror of bombings will remain etched in our minds for a time to come without doubt, but we have not been moved. We mourn the death of the martyrs, but fail to rejoice in their blood. The blood of the martyrs should strengthen us, and all it seems to do is bring us sorrow. If we do not take strength and an increased urgency to spread the message of the gospel from their blood, then we have cheapened their sacrifice…not just theirs but the sacrifice of Christ Himself.

When we hear the stories of their deaths, and on Friday the death of Christ, we should be moved to tears, but also moved to action. Those tears should contain the sorrow that it has come to this, the pain and recognition of death, but also of the joy of the promise of resurrection. Our actions should reflect that promise of the kingdom to come, but also of the kingdom that is here. That is the way of the kingdom of God after all, it has come, it is here, and it will come again in its completeness. We, however, seem unmoved as we will do the same things on Monday without change.

Friday is coming, but first there is today. Holy Thursday is a time when we will hear the story of a Savior who is a servant washing even the feet of those who He loves. We will hear and share the supper with Christ. We will hear about His body and blood and have His real presence in the Eucharist. We will hear of the betrayal of Christ and be reminded of the betrayals we have experienced as well. We’ll remember that even when betrayed, we are called to forgive and love. There will be an arrest, some blood and a healing. There will be prayer and agony. There will be acceptance of the will of God. There will be faith, even unto death. There will be blood, as an ear is cut off. That is really a constant in this story after all…blood. If the story above is accurate, the priest in question is being beaten and tortured today. There will be blood. Our great High Priest was beaten and tortured as well. There was blood. There will be more.

Friday is coming. Christ will carry His cross…our cross…to the hill. He will be hung there to die. He will be mocked, he will be scorned and He will be abandoned. He will suffer, but even in that suffering offer redemption to one who asks it of Him. Christ will be offered gall to numb the pain,. but will refuse. He will say the three most precious words…it is finished.  Eventually He will die. If the above story is true, a priest will suffer a fate similar to our High Priest. We will be repulsed and agonize. We will be angry at the injustice. If we pay attention, we will be moved, not only to tears, but to action. I hope we will be, but fear we will not.

We know the rest of the story. Sunday is coming, Christ will rise, and the joy of Easter will fill and renew the church once more. We will be reminded, at least for a brief time, that we are Easter people. We will forget about the pain, the death, the blood. We can never forget that while we are indeed Easter people, we are also a people born again in blood. The blood of the martyrs is a reminder of that, but how we have forgotten. We have gone from the example of Peter who wished to be crucified upside down as he was not worthy to be killed in the same manner of Christ, to people who do everything we can to avoid talk of death and blood at all. While I would not advocate a rush to go and be martyred, I would hope that we are not fearful of it. When we become indifferent to the blood of Christ and the martyrs, when we avoid and discount it, we have taken the gall..maybe worse as we have taken the blood shed and turned it into the gall that numbs us. Not only have we not followed the example of Christ by not allowing the numbness to overcome us, we have cheapened the most precious blood ever shed. We have cheapened Christ and those who have died for His name. We have turned it is finished from a statement into a question. The blood of Christ and His martyrs reminds of the great mystery of faith; Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. The blood of Christ and the martyrs reminds us that the promise of resurrection carries with it the guarantee of death. More than any other time of the year, thank God Friday is close. Without it, there is no life everlasting.

Benedict XVI on the Existential Side of the Cross

On Good Friday, I thought this quote from the Pope Emeritus’ book was fitting:

In all that we have said so far, it is clear that not only has a theological interpretation of the Cross has been given, together with an interpretation, based on the Cross, of the fundamental Christian sacraments and Christian worship, but also that existential dimension is involved: What does this mean for me? What does it mean for my path as a human being? The incarnate obedience of Christ is presented as an open space into which we are admitted and through which our lives find a new context. The mystery of the Cross does not simply confront us; rather, it draws us in and gives new value to our life.

This existential aspect of the new concept of worship and and sacrifice appears with particular clarity in the twelfth chapter of the Letter of the Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren by the mercies of God, to present you bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [word-like] worship” (v. 1) ….

Pox on the flavour of Christianity.

Note: This is a departure from my normal genre of writing, and is in the format of a rant or vent….one of which I don’t apologise.

John Piper has got up my nose when he said, “God’s intention for Christianity is for it to have a “masculine feel” 

I made the following comment elsewhere today:

Pipers ‘sodmonisation’ of Scripture is what happens when you cowtow to a certain theological belief system and community, in which the peer pressure to remain “one of the boys” is immense.

Seriously this guy has overstepped the mark. Joel made a great comment about his marriage improving in his recent post about leaving Fundamentalism in which he posted about a new book being released by IVP.

Shame on you John Piper! Shame!  Do you really believe that God’s intention is for Christianity to have an masculine feel!

I thought Christianity was about Christ, freeing all of humanity from the bondage of sin and reconciling us back to God. I thought within the framework of Christianity we recognise that both male and female were created in the image of God. And I thought that within the glorious liberation of the Gospel that there is no distinction between gender, race and societal class / position in Christ.  … H.T my blog 

Piper, Driscol, et al, all remind me of a school boys club where they get a grip on each other, if you know what I mean? I think Paul’s vent to them would be….guys I wish you would go and cut all your tackle off! Such is the nature of circumcising the body. …..end of my rant!

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What do you pray and how do you pray?

Every Christian I know believes that prayer is important. In one way or another, we all pray. I believe that even non Christians pray in times of hardship or heartache. The term, ‘Oh God!’ I believe is a heart cry to the almighty for help, even if it does seem blasphemous at the time.

I like to often write my prayers. It helps me to think about what I am praying, why I am praying and how I am praying. It helps me to think about my expectations and lifestyle, others and it helps me to draw closer to the God whom I love. This is my mornings devotion.

Father God, you have set me free from the power of sin. I ask that you help me to walk in your truth. Help me to live as I should in the power of your spirit. You have called me to a life of love. Help me to truly love in thought, word and deed.

Help me to be a listener, open my ears so that I may hear. Help me to see, so that I many not ignore. Help me to act, so that I may not pass by those in need. Help me to be aware of those who need to be heard, who need to be seen and those who need to be helped.

I ask that you help me to replicate your ways towards me. For you never stop listening. You never stop watching over me and you never pass me by.

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