Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sermon for Sunday, March 18

The reaidng

John 19:1-16a

1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3 They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him." 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" 6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him." 7 The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God." 8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" 11 Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor." 13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!" 15 They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor." 16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

The message

Today, we pick up where we left off last week and hear the last half of Jesus trial before Pilate, the Roman Governer of Jesus home and community.  The report of this trial is filled with rapid movement inside and outside of Pilate’s office (and of Gods kingdom and of people in and out of the light and darkness).  The flow is complex, like any court today. There are layers of rules and there is a hierarchy of decision making powers. There are people with various levels of knowledge, about the procedures and process but Jesus is the only one who knows about what God is doing.  The trial starts in John 18:28-32 as the religious authorities stand outside Pilate’s office and demand death of Jesus for his crimes against the Jewish law (which Pilate barely cares about). Then the trial moves inside, where Pilate and Jesus debate with one another on kingship. Then outside again as Pilate goes before the crowd to announce that he does not find Jesus guilty of any crime, let alone one punishable by death.  That is where last week’s reading ended. Now this week, in verses 19:1-3, the  action moves inside, soldiers abuse Jesus, beating him and putting a crown of thorns on his head. After this, the trial moves back outside.  In verses 19:4-8, Pilate once again declares that he does not find Jesus guilty of any crime, He shows a physically weakened, humiliated and abused Jesus to the crowd, hoping they will be satisfied, it is not death but at least Pilate did something nasty. The trial goes back inside and in verse 19:9-11, Pilate and Jesus have another debate on power. Like the last one about kindgoms, they are once again talking about completely different things.  Finally, the trial moves outside again and in verses19:12-16a, a frustrated, anxious and uncertain Pilate reluctantly gives in and sentences Jesus to death.   The crowd manages to get Pilate to take action, to sentence Jesus to death, by accusing Jesus of violating Roman law (which gets Pilates attention, after all, his power is from Rome and could easily be taken away by Rome, especially for tolerating people challenging the emperor with claims of kingship). 

Last week, we looked at the power of God vs the power of this world, expressed in who sees the whole picture (Jesus) and who is not influenced by outside factors or worldly forces like power or glory (again Jesus).  This is all expressed through a trial, one of main ways throughout history that people have relied on to make sure order is maintained, laws are enforced, power is expressed, fair decisions are made and justice is served.  Of course, the system does not always work that way, never has really, at least not for everyone. There are always examples of innocent people found guilty, guilty people who walk away unfound or unpunished or several people who commit the same crime with very different consequences.

Last week, I promised that I would talk about my day in court, well it’s really my 2 or 3 minutes in court as a defendant.  It was a long time ago, probably 20 years. My brother and I were accused of jumping a turnstile at our local train station and were issued summons with a few dollar fine. I was anxious in all sorts of semi realistic ways, we had just turned 18 a few weeks before. I wondered if this would stay on my record, if I’d have to check off that box on all sorts of paperwork and applications that ask “any trouble with the law”, I thought I could lose my scholarship for college, I wondered what if I applied to jobs and people were, “um I don’t think so, we don’t accept people who try to rip the city off for $1.50”.  This all happened before the internet was so available and research so easy.  (I just googled it for this sermon, it’s considered like a parking ticket, a non-criminal complaint and has no impact on your record).  At the same time, I know that people have been trapped in cycles of crime, poverty and struggle for less, with severe and lasting consequences from convictions for minor quality of life stuff. I’ve read entire books on it, about what’s broken with broken window policing and policy.  

First, I was shocked that we were actually given summonses, my brother had just joined the Navy, I was doing volunteer work with the local police precinct and we both volunteered at the local community ambulance (all of which we conveniently worked into our brief conversation with the officer).  We fully expected our good deeds to get us off the hook, probably a warning, “don’t do it again, you can get in real trouble” and a response of “okay, we certainly won’t , thank you for your understanding” (it’s happened that way before in other matters, you look like good kids, don’t be stupid anymore)     

We decided that we would fight it.  I don’t know what we expected to say at court but my brother and I spent an hour or two getting some sort of story together, our defense and evidence. We had a story about a broken machine and defective card or something. Whatever we had, we were going to use it. We assumed that we would be given a several hour hearing, call each other as witnesses, take a lunch break, be grilled on the stand and fight the unfair system. (I can’t imagine why I thought this 40 or 50 dollar fine would occupy a whole day). A few weeks later, when I went before the judge. There was a public attorney there (at least I think that’s who he was, time restrictions prevented him from bothering to introduce himself). He knew the system, He looked at the summons for a second and said, just sit there and be quiet, don’t say a word in front of the judge.  I thought “huh, what am I missing”, It was obvious that he knew something I didn’t. I had this elaborate story to explain what happened, it was going to be great. The judge said some technical formalities, this is answering summons number, the hearing is open etc.   Then I thought, okay, it’s my time to at least say something, my name, not guilty or whatever.  After the formalities, the judge says something along the lines of “The wording on this summons does not meet the legal requirement to indicate any violation actually occurred,   the matter is dismissed”.  Immediately after he reads off some other legalese sentences and that’s all. Relieved, I say “is that it, I’m all done” and then guy who told me to be quiet gives me a dirty look like “dude I said don’t say anything at all”.  I saw my brother in the hallway afterwards, same thing in his room.
This story of my minutes in court has a lot more to do with the results of Jesus trial before Pilate that it does with the actual arguments and events. After this trial, Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion, a nasty punishment reserved for the worst offenders and offenses and definitely not where anyone following Jesus from Christmas to now thought he would end up.  Of course, the results of this are also not what anyone expected.  Jesus will endure that death and rise again, for the forgiveness of all sins and giving of eternal life. It is the ultimate victory over death and evil, the limitless presence of God in and through all suffering. This is also the heart of God’s grace revealed through Jesus, scripture and our experience. In this story, Jesus tells us the same advice I got in court that morning, sit there and be quiet, don’t say a word, let God be God, remember by faith, not works your sins have been forgiven,    

My good deeds did not keep me out of court (although I thought they should).   I was all set to save myself from this but my creative thinking didn’t save me, it didn’t even get told. Honestly, If I had opened my mouth and said anything at all, I would have been found guilty of the original accusation or worse.  This case was over before it started, I just didn’t know it. I wanted to do the work, I wanted to save myself, I wanted to have power.   Last week, we saw the interaction of power, there were lots of factors beyond any one person’s control. Pilate could not disregard the crowd, the high priest could not sentence Jesus to be crucified, the crowd could not do much without being prodded and instructed, Jesus, following God’s will to the end, would not stop it from happening. Through history, people have wanted to punish the Jews for their role in this, especially as recorded in John. That ignores the truth. In this trial, people act like people, sinful and anxious. However, God acts like God, in control, speaking truth and responding to serious injustice with grace and mercy. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon for March 11

The reading: John 18:28-40

28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate's headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" 30 They answered, "If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you." 31 Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law." The Jews replied, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death." 32 (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) 33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." 37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." 38 Pilate asked him, "What is truth?" After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him. 39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" 40 They shouted in reply, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a bandit.

The message

Today, we hear the first part of Jesus trial before Pilate, a Roman Governor. His territory included Jerusalem and the regions where Jesus was born, lived, taught, performed those 7 signs of power and constantly faced off with the religious authorities.  He was the only person who had the authority to put Jesus to death. (Rome allowed non-Roman governments to make local and small decisions but restricted major things like capital punishment to their leaders). Pilate was an outsider to the Jews, a gentile, a leader appointed by Rome and charged with looking after Roman interests (which were often different from the interests of the Jewish people).  They are so separated that the religious authorities who bring Jesus before Pilate and the crowds that follow them cannot even enter Pilate’s headquarters without violating the Jewish law and being ritually unclean.  They must talk to Pilate outside, meaning Pilate has to enter and leave what is basically his office to listen and speak to Jesus’ accusers (Rome did respect local customs and traditions to some extent).  For us, it is a reminder of what is said and done in the light and in the darkness. It is a court case that centers on power and knowledge.  

After all, the Gospel of John is very concerned with inside and outside, with those in the light and those in the darkness, those who understand and those who do not see what God is doing in the world.  This week and next week, we will see the trial of Jesus before Pilate physically go inside and outside 7 times: The trial starts in John 18:28-32 as the religious authorities stand outside Pilate’s office and demand death of Jesus for his crimes against the Jewish law (which Pilate barely cares about) and then the Roman law (which gets his attention).  Then in John 18:33-38a the trial moves inside, where Pilate and Jesus debate with one another on kingship. This is a conversation where they are obviously talking about two different things, Jesus is focused on God’s transcendent power over all, which Jesus knows is breaking into the world through him. Here, truth is unchanging. Pilate is focused on worldly power, on being a ruler like so many others, with authority granted temporarily by people and maintained by violence and force. It is a position where truth can often be manipulated or just ignored for survival. Now in verses 18:38b-40, they move back outside,  Pilate goes before the crowd  to announce that he does not find Jesus guilty of any crime punishable by death.  Pilate once again tries to make the Jewish authorities handle their own problems and offers them a choice of saving Jesus or Barrabbas, a thief and all around bad guy. After some persuasion by the religious authorities that Jesus is more of a threat to everyone, the crowds demand Barrabbas.

That’s where this week ends, next week we see the trial go back inside, in verses 19:1-3, the  soldiers abuse Jesus, beating him and putting a crown of thorns on him. After this the trial moves back outside.  In verses 19:4-8, Pilate once again declares that he does not find Jesus guilty of any crime, He shows a humiliated and abused Jesus to the crowd, hoping they will be satisfied, it is not death but at least Pilate did something nasty. The trial goes back inside and in verse 19:9-11,  Pilate and Jesus have another debate on power. Like the last one about kindgoms, they are once again talking about completely different things.  Finally, the trial moves outside again and in verses19:12-16a, a frustrated and uncertain Pilate reluctantly gives in and sentences Jesus to death.  Pilate, with all his authority, does not have the power to anger and disregard the crowd without facing difficult consequences, without going before a higher official in the Roman Empire and explaining himself.   Jesus speaks the truth, regardless of consequences.   

At each movement, each transition inside or outside, public or private, we are reminded that each participant has a different issue, a different cause and a different type of power.  The religious authorities want to get rid of Jesus, seeing him as a political threat to a delicate peace and a religious threat to their own comfort and authority.  They try to kill Jesus several times by exploiting fear and inciting the crowds to turn on him but each attempt fails. . While they have some power over the people, its insufficient to get rid of Jesus.  While they rule over some things, capital punishment is not one of them. Pilate seems to view the whole thing as wrong and annoying but even he needs to keep the crowds satisfied. His power was temporary, others gave it to him and could be taken away.  Reports to Rome that he was allowing unrest, failing to handle disputes in a place they barely knew existed or allowing Roman law to be broken, could easily mean his replacement. Jesus’ power is different. He goes through this trial, like the rest of his ministry, well aware that his kingdom is not of this world and whatever happens, God will be victorious.  This is what even his closest disciples never quite understand until after Easter, even death cannot stop God’s will from being done.   The crowds, at least the ones who show up, seem anxious, they trust their leaders and worry about Jesus disrupting the way things are, while things were not great, they could be much worse. 

Perhaps even today, this has not changed too much, justice, courts, law enforcement, the work of figuring out what is right and fair still has insiders and outsiders, factors beyond truth that influence decisions.  I have been to trials a few times as a witness and once as a defendant (that’s next week’s story).  In all of the cases, I always felt like I was on the outside, like I barely knew what was going on. There were lots of things going on that I didn’t understand, that were not what I expected.  Once, I was a witness for a housing dispute, I received a supenona with a lot of frightening legal words on it, threats that failing to respond could land me in jail or liable for a judgment. I showed up with the paper and went to the clerk to sign in, explaining I’m here, I’m here, don’t throw me in jail, or fine me or whatever this document threatens to do.  The clerk doesn’t even look at the paper and says “you can go sit.  I ask “don’t you want to mark me down as present, don’t I have to sign in, don’t you want to see this”. He quickly dismisses me, saying we only care if you get called and aren’t there, most everything gets settled before the actual hearing anyway. To me this was a big deal, to the clerk, just another guy who didn’t get it.  I sat around for about 2 hours, reading, writing and watching 3 or 4 clerks run around, watching teams of lawyers and clients make deals, go from room to room and get things stamped. I had no idea how anyone could possibly keep track of what was going on.  After a while, I went back to the clerk who I annoyed earlier with my desire to sign in and asked “when is this coming up”, to which I was told “oh your still here, that’s  been settled and points to a pile of folders.  I ask, “Can I leave “and he says “if you want”, I avoided my sarcastic urge to say “no im waiting for my free lunch or I want to sit here and do nothing for another hour and then go”.   

Someplace in this process there was power, real problems were being resolved, significant sums of money were changing hands and life changes where happening. It was working. To the initiated, it all made sense, it’s all in a day’s work.  They were the ones who controlled the flow of information, whose full understanding of the system gave them power. To an outsider like me, it was just confusion (and aggravation).  I had some power here, the lawyers could point to a mystery witness, a neighbor who might say x or y, a ploy to force a settelement and keep people honest 

At the point of Jesus trial, no one really gets it. A few people like Mary are close to getting it, but right here in Pilates office, no one understands what is going on.  Only Jesus knows the full system, It will take Jesus death and resurrection for people to get it, it will take the Holy Spirit descending on the church for people to get it. As much as it is the place where people come inside, Church can often be a place where people are outside, people who understand the service and people who don’t.  There are people who know their scripture and people who know the bible was written by Jesus a long time ago, unwelcome for sin or sexuality or age.  I think of bringing the preschool kids up here, showing the church to friends who did not grow up in church or even welcoming people who worship in other traditions. They all ask  “What do you do in here”. There are lots of answers, we leave our sorrows, raise up our prayers, hear God’s word, sing God’s praise, be strengthened and inspired to serve, to teach . in short we experience the other worldly power of God.  You do all that here, the answer is come and see.  

Next week, we hear the second part of Jesus trial before Pilate and ill talk about my own day in court.  This week the focus is on power,  next week, Grace. 


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sermon for March 4

The reading

John 18:12-27

12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people. 15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17 The woman said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." 18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. 19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said." 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?" 23 Jesus answered, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not." 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?" 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

The message

Today’s reading is one of the clearest examples that Jesus changes everything, that because Christ died and rose again for the forgiveness of sins, things are different.  We see that in how Peter responds to the first significant challenge to his faith and how he will respond later, after Good Friday when Jesus dies, after Easter when Jesus rises again, after Pentecost when the promised Holy Spirit fully enters the world, after the church exists to teach, encourage and strengthen faith.  

Peter’s three denials start when Jesus changes his tone. Right after Jesus washes his disciples feet in the beginning of John 13, Jesus reveals that one of those disciples, his hand- picked,  earliest, closest and most faithful followers, will betray him.  After that, we are told that Satan enters Judas, who gets up and heads out to sell Jesus identity and location to the religious authorities.  The disciples somehow miss the fact that Jesus said, whoever eats this bread I just dipped will betray me and Judas both eats the bread and leaves.  Now, with Judas gone, Jesus tells the disciples a hard truth “Where I am going, you cannot come”.  That’s a change, a first really. Before this, Jesus had consistently told them follow, promised I will bring you, I will take you, I will make you fishers of people, come and see.  

For this one moment the people who have given everything to follow Jesus have reached the end of their time with him.  They cannot follow anymore. Jesus knows he is off to death, that he will be executed, spend 3 days in hell and rise again, fulfilling God’s ultimate renewal of creation.  Even Jesus himself struggles with this, the Gospels report long, intense, tear filled prayers from Jesus,  in particular John has several chapters of Jesus’ pleas to “take this cup from me” and acceptance that God’s will be done”.   The disciples cannot follow. Even if they could, their deaths would not being salvation.  

Along with the news, you cannot follow now, Jesus tells them what to do instead, he shares a new commandment.’  that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. They used to be identified by being around Jesus, by being witnesses and participants in God’s healing, restoring and welcoming power.  Now they will be identified by love. Their faith will be lived out in the world, in daily life.  

Simon Peter, curious and dedicated, asks Jesus “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answers, the same as before “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.”  Peter, realizing that Jesus will lose his life (but not clear that he rise again)  says to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”. Now the stage is set for Peter boldly walking with Jesus, telling the authorities, what you do to him , do to me, whatever happens, I will confess that you are my Lord and God.  Peter really believes he will do it.  To this generous, compassionate and faith filled offer,  Jesus answers, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.  We never get Peter’s response, Jesus goes immediately into the words I have turned to for almost every funeral I have helped with over the past 9 years,  Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also”. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Now of course, Thomas and Phillip jump in with their questions. Thomas asks  “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Then Philip jumps in seeking some clarification “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” (I guess he wants something like a photograph or painting or vision)  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’.   God is revealed through love.  

Even Jesus disciples seem to be in some darkness of misunderstanding, like Nicodemus and the woman at the well and everyone else Jesus encounters.  To the great proclamation, mystery and joy of the Word made flesh and dwells amongst us”, they say he must mean something else.  To Jesus frank and honest talk about his death and resurrection, they keep saying “eh can’t be, he must be talking about something else”.  To Jesus promise he will save all people from sin and death, they say, as though Jesus cannot do this by himself, “we’ll work on it with you”. 

Now, this morning, several chapters later, we see Peter’s answer to Jesus question, “will you lay down your life for me”. The opportunity presents itself, as Peter is questioned in the courtyard. .  The woman asks, you are not one of his disciples are you? And Peter says “no”.  Moments later, Peter is standing out, new to their community, odd on this of all nights for a random person to show up, a group asks Peter the same question, You are not one of his disciples are you?  I get the feeling this is after a conversation, is that the guy we say with Jesus, no, maybe im not sure, it really looks like him, I saw them on a boat together, well boats are far out in the water, you couldn’t tell, dude, im sure its him, yeah you were also sure you saw a guy floating in the moon, let’s just ask, if he’s a disciples, im sure he will tell the truth.  Again Peter says no.  Finally the third question comes, this time a direct witness, someone who saw Peter with Jesus in the garden, a relative of the man whose Peter cut the ear off.  Peter, confronted with the truth, deines Jesus the third time, saying it was not me, You must not be sure what you were seeing, it was dark, chaotic, frightening, fast, your relative got hurt.  If Peter said yes at any of these times, he would have certainly had the opportunity to lay down his life for Jesus.   Right after this, a rooster crows, a completely meaningless sound to everyone but Peter.

After Jesus resurrection, Peter will be asked three times, do you love me, and answer yes, undoing the denials we just heard.  about 20 years after that, Peter will follow Jesus, he will lay down his life for him. According to the earliest church traditions, Peter was crucified upside down, as he insisted he did not deserve to die in the same way as Jesus (and we’re left to believe his executioners didn’t care one way or the other). Most of Jesus disciples will end up being martyred, killed for their faith.    Jesus has shown us the way. We are an Easter people, things are different.  We are not just sharing theories or ideas, of self helpy life philosophies for successful living or some strong reason to be nice, we are not just community do gooders or semi social workers, we are not a relief organization, those things are all sort of who we are, but those things do not lead us to say “yes I am one of his disciples”, to act and confess and witness in the face of danger, attack or embrassment.  When we try to be church without Jesus, we end up saying No way too often. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sermon for February 25th

The reading 

John 13:1-17

1 Now 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. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then 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. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" 7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." 8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." 9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus 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." 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." 12 After 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

The message

It takes John’s Gospel 12 chapters to get to Jesus last night. It will take 5 chapters to describe those hours and their significance.  In the first 12 chapters of John, we see the 7 signs that will show the bold promises of the prologue we heard on Christmas are true, proof that Jesus is the word of God made flesh, evidence that he is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. There is an aggressive argument that Jesus is superior even to Moses: This is set out in the introduction “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known”.

The 7 signs in John’s Gospel are Changing water into wine at a wedding for friends in Cana (told in John 2:1-11) Then there is the healing the royal official's son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54, Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15 and Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14 (one of the few stories found in all 4 Gospels). After this, there is walking on water in John 6:16-24, healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7 and finally, Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead in John 11:1-45.  This list is not meant to be a complete or comprehensive description of what Jesus did, each sign is selected to show us something about Jesus.  The feeding of 5000 (plus an unknown number of woman and children) with a few loaves and fish shows that Jesus is greater than the prophet Elijah, who feed 100 with a small amount of food.  The power to heal a man born blind was never experienced or shown before, likewise, no one could raise the dead.  

Along with these signs, we hear reports of Jesus chasing the money lenders out of the temple (an early action that amplifies the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities). We also hear of Jesus welcoming an outsider, a Samaritan woman with a hard story into the kingdom of God. Finally, these first 12 chapters are filled with information on how Jesus called, taught and equipped his followers for ministry.

Today’s reading is the start of John’s detailed description of Jesus last hours.  This reading from John 13 is one we usually reserve for Holy or Maundy Thursday, where we remember Jesus command, “do this in remembrance of me”. We usually focus on Jesus instructions and promises on Holy Communion first made this night as reported in Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians. The challenge for us is that John’s Gospel makes no mention of Holy Communion, instead, we have this story of Jesus washing his disciples feet.  Communion is about God being present with us, in the world, mysteriously being what Luther calls “in, with and under” these common elements of bread and wine.  For John, the presence of God with us, in the world, can be shown in how we serve one another. In particular, how we overlook social, political or economic things and live seeing everyone as loved by God.  The foot-washing is a way that Jesus prepares his disciples for the work of being the church, for starting new congregations, preaching in the face of oppression and threat, defending their beliefs against other philosophies or ideas,  healing the sick, welcoming others and living a different way.

Foot-washing was a common custom in Jesus time, a basic act of welcome into someone’s home and a job reserved for the lowest of servants.  Today, most of us wash ourselves, it’s a private experience. In fact one of the biggest discomforts for many people as they grow older is the inability to care for their own bodies.  We also walk on cement, paved streets, travel in vehicles and mostly wear solid, hole free, closed shoes.  Even for our Holy Thursday worship services,  instead of footwashing, we purchase hygiene items (soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, washcloth, mouthwash, shampoo, etc) to be distributed to new arrivals at the Pam Am family shelter (and leave the washing to them).  This simple act helps us recognize the shared humanness of all those around us, the shared deserving and the shared need. 

I do not want to totally forget about the foot-washing.  It is not irrelevant to us today.  As Jesus prepares to wash his disciples feet, Peter objects, no way is he going to allow his teacher and Lord to wash his feet, that’s not right, Jesus has done more than enough already.   To this, Jesus answers, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand" and "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." After this, Peter decides instead of no washing, he wants full washing, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" to this, Jesus says  "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean. Jesus is giving his disciples a lesson in serving and caring for others.  In showing God’s care through caring for people. If Jesus, the teacher and Lord can wash their feet, no one can ever say “I won’t do that for a neighbhor”.   

There is another level here in this story as well. I keep thinking about one of the most annoying things that my wife Jennifer does.   It’s about walking barefoot in the house.  If I get caught doing it, she will yell put on sippers, when I go to bed, I hear  “do you have your slippers”, sometimes to be proactive she will say “I left your slippers near the bed” (with the assumption, they better be used).  My side is we do not wear outside shoes in the house and clean regularly, so what’s the big deal. I mean we don’t put booties on the cat, she can just walk around.  If I do get caught walking some steps with my feet unprotected from whatever is lurking on the floors, I get an ill, you need to wash your feet,  you don’t know what you are carrying around, bringing into bed, putting on the couch etc.  She might have a point here, our feet do take a lot of abuse and are surrounded by stuff the rest of our bodies can avoid.   

I also think back to Martial arts class as a kid (an oddly significant part of how I became Lutheran to begin with, we used to meet in the basement of a Lutheran Church and my mom would attend community meetings there, so when I left the Catholic Church, I just went there). Anyway, a lot of church basement floors are not so clean, so your feet would be black, a stamp of pride in some ways, showing that you did the work in class. 

As Jesus washes his disciples feet, we are reminded that our Faith, like our feet, is going to be used,  hammered, go through the dirt and mess and yucky stuff.  We cannot really put slippers on faith, it gets attacked by evil, by things we believe should not happen in God’s world, by people with other philosophies, by cries of hypocrites and mentally ill.  Our faith needs to be renewed, refreshed, strengthened, cleaned up, refocused, whatever you call it, faith needs to be maintained.  That is the work that happens here, this is the washing that Jesus offers,