FIRST LESSON Matthew 16:13-20
TIME FOR CHILDREN Acts 3:1-10
April 24, 2016
So take a look at that sandal in the bulletin.
That sandal was not much protection for feet, if you think of it. It didn’t protect the toes or the tops of the feet or the ankles. It didn’t protect from the cold. Or the rain. It didn’t protect much from rocks or sharp stones on the path, or clumps of soil sticking up, or from snake bites or wagon wheels - not to mention whatever donkeys left behind them on the road. The feet in those sandals are pretty much unprotected.
Now think about the man who might have worn those sandals – Peter, for instance. And think about his feet. He may have been about fifty years old. He was a fisherman, used to walking along the rocky coastline of the lakeshore on Lake Galilee. He had walked up and down hills and through the dessert and in small villages and cities in those flimsy sandals for about seventy-five miles here and there - just in the last three years, following Jesus. Those feet were calloused and permanently stained and grimy and filthy and he had probably broken his toes and his toenails countless times. These are some ugly feet we are looking at here!
And on the last night of Jesus’ life, after he had finished his last supper with Peter and the others, Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist. He took a basin of water and knelt in front of each of them, one by one, and washed their feet. But Peter wasn’t having any of it. He wanted to tuck his filthy, ugly feet under his long robes and hide them and he protested. Knowing Peter, he probably protested loudly. But Jesus had one last lesson for Peter – one final loving gift.
Usually, you know, it was servants or slaves who washed peoples’ feet. Anybody who was wealthy enough to have guests to dinner also had slaves, and before the guests sat down to dinner, the slaves would wash people’s feet. Which were probably hot and dirty and dusty. It was the mark of a truly gracious host.
But Peter says to Jesus, “I don’t want you being a slave to me. I won’t have it.”
And Jesus may have said something to Peter like this: “Peter, you’ve struggled and suffered alongside me for three years. You’ve been homeless and penniless with me and you’ve heard every word I said and you’ve seen everything I’ve done. You, more than any of the others, know and understand who I am. You’ve heard the people who have hated me and they are powerful people and you have stuck with me anyway. But you can’t really belong to me if you don’t let me wash your feet. There is one more, last, lesson you need to learn from me. One more loving experience between us. You need to learn to be vulnerable with me. You have been strong, and proud and very, very active with me. You have said all the right words about me, with great conviction. You have made rash, bold promises to me. Now you need to show me another side. You need let me see your ugly feet, and you need to let me wash them, callouses and all. And unless you let me do that you can’t be a part of me.”
And for us, the story is all the more poignant and powerful. Jesus knew that in this loving circle of friends he had created, two of them would fail him badly in his last hours. Judas would betray him to people hated him and Peter would deny that he ever knew him. And in that moment around the table he could have accused them, and he could have screamed at them and denounced them. But the Creator and King of Heaven and Earth quietly wraps a towel around his waist and kneels on the floor in front of them and does the chore of a servant for them.
And Jesus says to us, “Unless I wash your filthy feet you can’t be a part of me.”
So we look deep into ourselves. We recall all the good we have done in Jesus’ name. We remember all the money we have given to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering and to this church. We remember the funds that we have lovingly given to Renae Venman toward her Mission Trip to Brazil in a couple of weeks, and to the Mel Trotter Ministries. We think about all the clothing and food we have given to very good places for Jesus’ other children. And all the kindnesses we have done and all the care we have given to others.
And we look deep into ourselves again and we shamefully recall all the times we have spent our other money wastefully on all the wrong things. And all the times we have been secretly proud of ourselves for being better than the homeless people at Mel Trotter. And all the times we were so preoccupied with dressing well and looking well and presenting a good image of ourselves that we did not notice the hurts of others.
Let’s have a moment of silence to sit with our filthy feet in front of Jesus and let him see that side of us. And allow him to wash our feet.
And then Jesus says to us, “Now that I have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet.” Which might even be harder still. We won’t have a pedicure first and we won’t clip our toenails first. We will simply take off our shoes and our socks and show each other our feet.
Now I have been your temporary part time pastor for about eighteen months. For me they have been beautiful, very blessed months. I have watched some of you do the very hard work of forgiveness and healing and I have been blessed to sit with you. A great deal of the anger and hurt and conflict and mistrust in this church is gone, and I watch every Sunday now how long you stay in coffee hour chatting with each other and I can’t get you into worship on time because you’re all off talking away and laughing with each other in Teeuwissen Hall. I have seen how you have eaten enormous amounts of very good food that the Membership Committee provides. I have watched how you are able to look across huge differences and work together and worship together well. I have watched the elders on the session slog through the tough stuff together and come to consensus. I have watched the deacons care for you all.
But I have not seen many of you take off your shoes and socks and show your feet to each other. Or wash each other’s feet. I think that’s happening in our Disciple Bible study. But maybe not many other places.
So maybe it will be like this: that you will sit with one or two others in a circle with a scripture passage and talk about a hard time in your life and tell how that scripture has comforted you on your very worst days. Maybe it will be like this: that you will pray with each other in a small group - not the polite little, sweet little prayers we pray in public before and after meetings with each other, but the desperate, fervent prayers of a person in great pain. Maybe it will be like this: that you will even cry with each other and hold hands together and hug each other. Maybe it will be like this: that you will see the faults in others and acknowledge them and forgive them. Maybe you will even say to another person in this church, very privately: “I know a little bit about your life and I can’t imagine how hard it must be, and how can I support you?”
Maybe you will hear Jesus say, “Now that I, your Lord, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet.”
Sit with that in silence for a moment.