Love looks like Foot-washing

A sermon preached on Maundy Thursday at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings are here.

Love. I preach about it a lot. Presiding Bishop Micheal Curry is often heard to say, “If it’s not about Love, it’s not about God.” John writes in his first letter that God is Love. Jesus says that Love is how others will know we are his followers.

But before we get to that part of today’s reading, I want to start with the end at the beginning, or at least what John says about Jesus loving to the end: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

The Greek word translated ‘the end’ is telos and when it is translated as ‘the end’ to our 21st century minds, it could mean the conclusion of something but that would mean that at some point Jesus’ love stops. A better understanding of telos is “fulfillment or purpose or complete”. The Common English Bible translations says “he loved them fully” which I think helps avoid any misconception that love has an end point or that love is the means to some end.

Jesus said he came to fulfill God’s law and then gave us his summary of that law: Matthew, Mark, and Luke all give us Jesus words as “Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.” John simplifies Jesus command a bit, saying “love one another just as I have loved you.”

Love is the telos, the fulfillment, the purpose, the point, the aim of our following Jesus. And so just how does Jesus love?

On his last evening with his closest friends, knowing what was to come, Jesus gives us a flesh and blood example of this love by washing their feet. All of their feet, even knowing that Judas would betray him, Peter would deny him, and all of them would run away. The point of the footwashing wasn’t to reward those who were extraordinary but to provide an example of what it looks like to really submit to this Way of Life, this Way of Love.

John focuses in on Peter & Jesus’ exchange as Peter realizes what it is that Jesus is going to do. Peter starts to refuse Jesus this act of service. Why on earth would their leader do such a degrading thing? The example that Jesus is giving is that love looks like washing AND being washed. It goes both ways. When the disciples asked Jesus about feeding the crowds, he told them to feed them. Jesus gave the disciples instructions for how to prepare for the passover and then let them do it. Jesus asked the disciples to pray with him in his most vulnerable moment.

To submit to this Way of Life means both that we serve others but also that we let others serve. If I don’t let others serve me as I serve, I am not allowing them to follow Jesus fully. If I have to be the one that does “it all” I am not making room for others to walk along side me as we journey with Jesus; I am expecting them to follow me as I follow Jesus.

Jesus tells Peter, that unless we allow our selves to be washed, we have no share with him. We have to set our egos aside and say not only do we need Jesus but we need each other. I am of no higher rank that any of you. The first shall be last and the last shall be first takes away any ranking at all in God’s Kingdom. We like to see it as a reversal of the line order but what it actually does is take the line out all together.

In God’s Kingdom, there is always an abundance of love and compassion and kindness. We don’t have to divvy it out like pie. We don’t have to be afraid that others will get it and there won’t be any left for us. We don’t have to survey our place in line to see who is ahead and who is behind us. We are on this journey together.

John doesn’t give us much of Judas’ story, just that he would betray Jesus. If you were here this past Sunday, we read Matthew’s version of what Judas did and you may remember me asking y’all to ponder why we define Judas by the worst thing he did but we don’t do the same with Peter. Both repented, regretting what they had done. Both attempted to make amends.

Peter was able to return to the community of the disciples and step back into loving relationship, setting aside his ego to make room for Holy Spirit to transform his heart and mind. For reasons unknown to us, Judas was not able to do the same. Perhaps he encountered some of the disciples after they scattered and they wouldn’t accept him. Perhaps his internal shame was so great that he couldn’t even face the others and never attempted to return. Either way, their actions were based on a limited supply of love. They stopped for a time relying on God’s love which is always in abundance.

And, I seriously doubt that Peter just slid right back into the groove without grumbling if not outright accusations from the others. Why were the disciples able to reconcile their relationship with Peter but not Judas?

Even 2000+ years later, we struggle to reconcile what Judas did and barely give a thought to what Peter did. Why are we able to offer grace and compassion to Peter and not Judas?

We aren’t given the details of either Peter’s or Judas’ motivation for why they did what they did. But we do have the stories handed down to us so that we can ponder our own motivation. What would we do in their place? How do we respond to Jesus? How would we have treated Peter and Judas?

Do we believe that being in relationship with each other is more important than our own egos? Do we believe that love as Jesus loves, is worth it even when inconvenient or difficult?

Way back on Ash Wednesday some of you asked me about whether or not you should wipe the ashes off your forehead as you left. I offered you the same advice I was once given – that if you want to leave it on, ask yourself why and then wipe it off; and if you want to wipe it off, ask yourself why and then leave it on.

As we move on to the footwashing, I offer the same advice, metaphorically speaking, because I want to be clear, no one is required to come forward for this. It can be traumatic and uncomfortable for some. Jesus offers this act as an example only.

We will end this evening in a cliff hanger – concluding communion with stripping the Altar and leaving in silence without a blessing or dismissal. Over these next days as we wait for the Resurrection, ponder of all the ways you serve and consider your own motivation. Are you doing it out of love or guilt? Are you seeking to bring glory to God or yourself? Are you trying to appear humble or are you living humbly with all who are on this journey with you? Do you want others to see you or to see Jesus in what you do? Are you allowing others to follow Jesus along side you or do you prefer that others follow behind you as you lead the way following Jesus? Ponder your motivation for doing what you do then ponder what love is leading you to do. It is through Love that we see Jesus and enable others to see him, too. Amen.

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