“The Feet of a Disciple”
The Rev. Zachary S. Sasser
Chester Presbyterian Church
March 24, 2005
Text: John 13:1-20; 34-35
Theological Thrust: Jesus blesses even those feet that will betray. We must do likewise if we are to share in Christ’s reign.
As a new parent there are new revelations every day. One of the unexpected places they have come from is Zoe’s feet. I remember one day when Treva called me at work excitedly telling me that Zoe had found her feet. I didn’t quite know what that meant but that evening I discovered that she had learned to grab on to her toes and feet and was enjoying the new reality of a thing she had not been able to access previously. And so the joys continued with the first wobbly steps and now she is already running. Of course this translates directly into getting into things. Sometimes this is good and offers the opportunity to explore the unknown wonders of the bookshelf and the kitty cat. Sometimes it is downright dangerous, given her fondness of stairs. And so it is with all of us as spiritual children. The more mobile we get, the more opportunity there is for both success and failure. Why else would confession be such a big part of our worship practice if we were not ourselves too headstrong at times?
As spiritual creatures, confession often becomes the feet on which we stand, move about, and run around. Confession is one of the most intimate and personal times we share with God, and that is why we do it silently and personally as well as corporately. As we grow physically, our feet become one of the most intimate parts of our bodies, though we rarely think of them that way. Only those closest to you emotionally would even be allowed to get physically close enough to touch your feet. Our feet are ticklish because we don’t want them touched. When they are touched it is by permission, or because they are used defensively, or because they are being used to explore in some way. In fact, I think feet are so intimately personal that if I continue speaking about them some of you would get uncomfortable, or begin to think that I am just plain weird…. If you don’t already.
But today’s text is about feet. Well, not just feet. It’s about spiritual intimacy. Jesus knows this gathered crowd intimately. Not just from the times they have shared, but he knows their character. He knows where they are going and what they will do. He knows that his death is coming and that they will continue the work he has started. And given John’s portrayal of Jesus, he knew them before they were (John 1:1-18). To say he “knew that his hour had come” means that he knew not only what would befall him, but what they would all endure. “Having loved them” Jesus loved them “to the end,” that is unto his death.
This attitude of love enters into the atmosphere of darkness in which they are gathered. Not only is it evening, but they are presumably meeting in secret. John’s gospel does not say who’s home they are in, but in Mathew, Mark, and Luke they simply go to a man with a water jug and ask for a place to eat. It’s not important who prepared the table or even how this meal relates to the Passover feast in John’s depiction. Yet I can’t help but wonder what the disciples were thinking about the room they were walking into. They were giddy with expectation, having escaped several death threats and seeing Lazerus raised from the dead just when they thought they were going to die with and for Jesus himself (John 11:16). There had to be an odd mix of invincibility, righteous piety, and yet some sense of really being on to the truth of Jesus’ teaching. They were on the inside…the ground floor of something big…and someone forgot to put out the pitcher and basin for washing feet! Obviously this was an oversight given the things one steps in on a city street in those days, not to mention the dust that cakes it on. Or maybe this was some new teaching! They had once eaten with unclean hands to prove a point to the Pharisees, now that was fun!
Then suddenly, as all were seated, Jesus stands and takes the position of a servant to wash their feet. Maybe the bowl was there all the time and they were waiting on the host or a servant, as was the custom. Who knows. Either way they all thought the same thing. “Uh, Jesus…what are you doing?” Of course Peter is the one who can never keep his mouth shut. And then once he thinks he’s got it he tries to go the extra mile. That Peter, always going to extremes. I like him. And though Peter may be like a flood of enthusiasm, Jesus is like a river with firm boundaries. His power is in his knowledge of who he is, what he is doing, and where he is going. With ritualistic clarity he confirms Peter as already clean, but in need of a dedicated blessing. With ceremonious sincerity he validates the disciples one and all, even the one who will betray him.
And so it is with us. We are giddy with the hope of this time of change in our corporate ministry and in our individual lives of faith. We are threatened by change and we at times even fear our death as a congregation. We are running around and getting into things. We are learning valuable lessons and reaching for steps we know we can’t yet climb but would almost rather break our necks on than stay away from them. We are a community of the faithful, God’s chosen ones, the redeemed of the Lord, and our feet are at times dirty. If you listen to the Christian radio station for but an hour you will constant battle cries against the ways of the world. Though at times they may be like Peter calling for something that has already come they do make us aware that as Christians our faith does not stop at the church door, rather it begins there. So where is the dirt coming from on your feet? What do you bring with you to this place from work, school, or the morass of media telling you what you need and don’t need, how you can be fulfilled, and what you truly want?
(Walk to Baptismal Font and pour out some water.)
Our journey begins in having been loved unto the end. It is a symbol reminding us that though we will die we will yet live. In every baptism ritual our own salvation is confirmed and our hearts are washed clean. But the ritual of Baptism only begins what must be followed by the ritual of daily prayer, lest it be but a ceremony and a photo opportunity. And although our personal confession cleans us of the grime we encounter, Jesus has commanded us to wash one another’s feet. Prayers spoken alone are no less valid, but this is something we also must do for and with one another.
(Scoop handfuls of water out and let them trickle down with each pairing.)
Husbands and wives, parents and children, friends, siblings, brothers and sisters in Christ and by blood…all should be praying together, and not just to bless the food.
(Move to the center of the chancel area.)
Now here’s the tricky part about all of this. If you don’t do it, you aren’t in the club. If you don’t allow Jesus to wash your feet… if you don’t wash each others feet… if you do not “go and do likewise”… then your salvation is incomplete.
(Move back into the pulpit.)
John makes repeated claims along these lines that seem to confound the idea of being saved by grace alone. 3:3 Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 3:5 Unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6:53 Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 8:24 Unless you believe that 'I AM,' you will die in your sins. 12:24 Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. 13:8 Unless I wash you, you have no part in me. 15:4 As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. The truth of the matter is that John is not describing a transaction as much as he is describing a cause and effect. Its an “If/Then”, not a “do this so that.” Its what we do. It is our character. It is who we are as Christians.
On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines flight 225 crashed just after taking off from the Detroit airport, killing 155 people. One survived: a four year old from Tempe, Arizona, named Cecelia. News accounts say when rescuers found Cecelia they did not believe she had been on the plane. Investigators first assumed Cecelia had been a passenger in one of the cars on the highway onto which the airliner crashed. But when the passenger register for the flight was checked, there was Cecelia’s name. Cecelia survived because, even as the plane was falling, Cecelia’s mother, Paula Chican, unbuckled her own seat belt, got down on her knees in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms and body around Cecelia, and then would not let her go. Nothing could separate that child from her parent’s love — neither tragedy nor disaster, neither the fall nor the flames that followed, neither height nor depth, neither life nor death.
(Move to the center of the chancel.)
And so it is with each of us. Our feet have brought us to this table, whether they are clean or not. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord, then go and take the posture of a servant. Judas’ work has been fulfilled. If you who sit at this table and drink from this cup have offended, all is mended in the feasting. Its not about your worthiness, it's about Christ’s willingness. What matters now is how you will go into the darkness, how you will serve others, and the way in which glimpses of the kingdom which is present and yet unseen might be made known through our lives as a body and as individuals. Taste and see, then go and do. And to God be the glory both now and always, Amen.
Hoy, Mike. A New Commandment. http://www.crossings.org/theology/theolo113.htm
Keathley, J. Hampton III, Th.M. (2005). The Believer and Daily Cleansing. www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=986
Herhold, Robert H., The Reverand. (1983) Foot Washing and Last Things: Christian Century Magazine, March 9, p. 205. The Christian Century Foundation (see also http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1675)
Neyrey, Jerome H., S.J. (1995). The Foot Washing in John 13:6-11; Transformation Ritual or Ceremony? The Social World of the First Christians. Essays in Honor of Wayne A. Meeks. L. Michael White and O. Larry Yarbrough, eds. Pp. 198-213
Minneapolis: Fortress (see also http://www.nd.edu/~jneyrey1/footwash.htm)
Smith, Keith. (2003) “How to win the Christian race,” Biblecenter.com.
Additional Reading on John 13:1-20, 34-35:
Brown, Raymond E. (1970) Anchor Bible Comentary, The Gospel According to John. Doubleday. New York, New York. Pp.548-605.
Quick, Beth, The Rev. (2004) Share with Me http://www.bethquick.com/sermon4-8-04.htm
Somerville, James C. (1998) By Our Love Christian Century Magazine, April 22-29, p. 429. The Christian Century Foundation
Additional Web Resources for Further Study:
http://www.biblegateway.com/ This is a great resource for searching through the scriptures. Several translations are offered, as well as many other study tools and helps.
http://www.textweek.com/ A great resource for in depth study of the lectionary texts. Includes links to commentaries, articles from major publications, illustrations from movies, and much more.