Thursday, March 29, 2018

Jesus, Up Close and Personal: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

1Now 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. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus 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.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12After 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (NRSV)

Last Thursday was the first time in twenty years I’d set foot in a high school auditorium.  I was there for Kiski’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

One of the first things I noticed was how small the seats were.  Uncomfortably small, especially given the fact that it was a sell-out crowd.  Nobody smelled bad, and no one kicked the back of my seat. But I like my personal space—and I didn’t have much that evening.

For that reason, I’d be extremely uncomfortable with him washing my feet. 

Bear in mind, it was customary for a slave to wash the feet of his/her master’s houseguests in those days. 

But Jesus, their rabbi, their leader, and their Lord, performed the duty of a slave for his disciples.  Not only that, Jesus had never been as close to his disciples—physically, spiritually, emotionally—until now.  Jesus entered their intimate space.

Just speaking the word intimate immediately sets off alarm bells in my mind—as I think of how often people in positions of power trespass against the intimate space of others. 

We all put up protective barriers around ourselves, and rightfully so.  It is only within an extreme mutual trust that we allow these personal boundaries to be transcended.  And there is no one worthier of that trust than Jesus Christ. 

But Jesus says, “as I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” 

Since we have shoes, socks, and running water in our homes, there is absolutely no need to literally do this.  Yet, the mutual foot-washing embodies valuable truths about what our life together in the Lord ought to be.  And we have a long way to go to get there—because of the protective barriers we put up around ourselves—physically, socially, and spiritually.

Speaking from my own experience, I’ve always gone to church dressed in my Sunday best—and not just because it’s what you do; but also because I’ve always felt the need to present myself to my fellow Christians in the best possible way.

If I came to church looking like I’d just rolled out of bed, people would call me lazy and disrespectful.  If I came to church crying, people would see me as weak.  And I certainly wouldn’t want to come to church—and especially take communion—if people saw me sinning.

One of the biggest reasons why the church is struggling so much now is because of an unwritten rule that you don’t belong in Church unless you’re healthy, happy, prosperous, righteous, and full of faith.  But that’s not a church.  That’s a farce.

The disciples gathered around Jesus’ table were sinful and broken.  Judas betrays Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.  They’d been given a front-row seat to Jesus’ teachings and signs, but scatter away like cockroaches when the heat is on.  Yet Jesus gives them his body and blood—and washes their feet. 

When Jesus gathers you around his table—your sinfulness, brokenness, and vulnerability come with you.  Jesus draws so close to you here that he isn’t merely washing your feet; he’s giving you his flesh and blood to eat and drink. 

Jesus sets for us an example—meaning that we are slaves to each other.  You experience Christ’s self-giving love most powerfully when it’s up close and personal.  We don’t hide our sins away; we confess them together.  We don’t judge each other or even tolerate each other; we forgive and bear with each other.  In God’s family, you’re freed from the pressure of keeping up appearances.  You can cry here.  You can complain here.  You can disagree here.  You can even be an atheist here. 

You guard your neighbor’s vulnerability.  And you never betray their confidence.

Tonight, you are invited to participate in foot-washing—to experience firsthand the Gospel truth.  If you are not ready or able to do that, you need not worry.  But I challenge you to do something else, to break the barrier you put up to keep your neighbor—and the Gospel—at a comfortable distance.

When you share the peace, speak the person’s name and look them in the eye.  If you don’t know their name, ask. 

Change pews so you can be closer to the front—or closer to someone else you don’t know. 

We have many new persons in this church.  Have you invited them to your home for a meal?

If there’s someone you haven’t seen in a while, send them a letter or a card!

With all the names on the prayer list, call those people up and pray for them.  Pray with them if they’re here at church.

Visit a homebound member. 

If you’re tangled up in a sin you’ve committed, or a sin that’s been committed against you—confess the sin.  Forgive.  Receive grace.  Let now be the time for reconciliation—or release.

Let Christ come closer into your busy day.  If you’ve felt a call to participate more in the life of the church, make this Easter your time to act. 

Tonight, Christ’s love gets up close and personal—and that’s the way Jesus wants it to be, because you’re loved that much.

This is love that saves.  This is the love that makes us one.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Remade Mind: Philippians 2:5-11 - Sunday of the Passion

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
  did not regard equality with God
  as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
  taking the form of a slave,
  being born in human likeness.
 And being found in human form,
  8he humbled himself
  and became obedient to the point of death—
  even death on a cross.
9Therefore God also highly exalted him
  and gave him the name
  that is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus
  every knee should bend,
  in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue should confess
  that Jesus Christ is Lord,
  to the glory of God the Father. (NRSV)
Palm Sunday by Les Chatfield on flickr.  CC BY 2.0.

Someone once asked me, “what is the one modern convenience that you could not live without?”

My answer is the microwave oven.  I can think of no appliance that is more useful other than the refrigerator.

Trouble is, the microwave is also the king of kitchen controversies.

For years, myths have swirled around that microwave ovens give you cancer and poison your food. Some folks, like my grandparents, will never use it—and no amount of scientific evidence will persuade them to the contrary.  Their minds are made up, and that’s that.

Please understand—these folks aren’t stupid.  They’re every but as human as you and me.  The human mind is sinful and broken—unlike the mindset of Jesus (as Paul describes it so beautifully in his letter to the Philippians):

6who, though he was in the form of God,
  did not regard equality with God
  as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
  taking the form of a slave,
  being born in human likeness.
 And being found in human form,
  8he humbled himself
  and became obedient to the point of death—
  even death on a cross. (NRSV)

Jesus was truly God—but he refused to exploit his divinity for his own benefit. 

But Jesus emptied himself of all the rights, powers, and privileges of being God’s son—and became a slave. 

But Jesus became even less than a nobody.  He cast himself to the very bottom of the social and economic hierarchy.  He exchanged power, dominion, and authority for weakness and helplessness.  He exchanged sinlessness for a sinner’s death.  He sacrificed himself for the sake of the people who nailed him to the cross.  “He was obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

Do you remember Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?  They ate the apple so they could be like God (Genesis 3:4)—because being like God means control, power, and authority.  You don’t want to serve others; you want others serving you!  You want others wishing they could be you!    In this climate of tribalism, competition, and high anxiety, adopting the mindset of Christ is the most difficult thing you can do.

Except—Christ’s mind was set on you and on the world God created in love.  Jesus became your slave.  Jesus cast himself into the depths of your sin.  Jesus descended into the depths of your pain.  Jesus went into the grave for you.  And, Christ’s mind was set on trusting in his Father to help him to bear the cross for us all and raise him up from the grave. 

These truths have the power to change your mindset.  Eating and drinking the body and blood he pours out for you changes your mindset.  The forgiveness of your sins changes your mindset. 

No longer will your mind be set on success and status which can so quickly vanish away.  No longer will your mind be set on things that perish.  No longer will your mind be bound to anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion. 

The mind of Christ sees God’s power at work when all signs point to the contrary.  The mind of Christ is set on the well-being of others, believing that their well-being is directly tied to your own!  A mind set on God’s promises freely pours out even what is precious, valuable, and vulnerable—trusting that God can do far more with what you would otherwise keep or control.  A mindset of Christ sees abundance of life not on power, privilege, or conquest—but in forgiveness, humility, and self-sacrifice.

The mind set on Christ sees the reality of Christ.  Yes, it’s difficult to change a made-up mind—but Jesus can change it.  But as a Church, Jesus wants us to have a shared, single mindset. 

So I ask you: what is the mindset of your church—and in what ways does Jesus invite you to be changed?

What if each of us took responsibility for one another’s faith and well-being—recognizing that you bring the presence of Christ when you show up?  What if you sat in a different pew to be closer to someone you don’t know well?

What if we strove to love this community as much as Jesus does—and see ourselves as part of that love? Can you see that there are folks out there for whom this church may be the only family they may ever have?  

What if we who are in positions of leadership created safe spaces for people to ask questions, share ideas, and even disagree?  Can we recognize that leadership and control are not the same thing? 

What if we embraced the future of our church with hope—keeping in mind that the church of tomorrow won’t be like the 1950’s, but something different—yet no less meaningful?  Are you willing to take risks and try new things in order to grow?

As we go into Holy Week, I invite you to ponder what a new mindset would be like for you—and for this Church—so that resurrection isn’t merely something we celebrate, but that it’s something that we experience every time we come together.