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Wash One Another's Feet (John 13:1-7)

Rev. Dr. William A. LewisRev. Dr. William A. Lewis, April 15, 2018


April 15, 2018 Washing One Another’s Feet

John 13:1-17

Tax day…I’ve told you about the man who came across a child who was choking because he swallowed a quarter. The man immediately jumped into action and turned the child upside down shaking him until the quarter dislogded from this throat. The grateful mom asked, “Are you a physician?” He said, “No I work for the IRS.”

I love the way this chapter of the Bible starts: Jesus loved His disciples to the end, which means till death do us part—and we know, because of eternal life, there is no end! There is no circumstance that prevents Him from loving us. His love is constant, consistent, continuous. While we were yet sinners He died for us.

It would be easy to skim over this foot washing as a dramatic lesson in humility. Actually, this example should not be minimized. To show how rare this behavior is: when one person does it, like Mother Theresa, we canonize her. Serving others is a rare attitude.

I was surprised to find “couch potato” in the oxford Dictionary. The word was invented in 1976: “a person who does little or no exercise and watches a lot of television.” I’m sure you have your own visual: someone with a remote in one hand, often overweight, drinking a beverage with chips in the other hand. A blank stare.

Hopefully the term pew potato won’t make it into the dictionary. A Christian who makes it to church, watches what’s going on and snacks on their religion. They are disinclined to Christian activity or spiritual exertion. For the pew potato, Christianity is a spectator sport.

You can’t blame them, because service is not fun: Working in the nursery with screaming toddlers or the drudgery of teaching Sunday School every week. The thankless task of serving coffee and snacks to promote fellowship. Coming early to open doors, turn on lights and A.C. or staying after to close up the church. Picking up dropped bulletins, washing empty coffee pots. It’s the small mundane things of running a church that people do not want to do.

We make excuses like, “I have nothing to offer,” like Moses said to God. We can rationalize not stepping forward because, after all, “the professional clergy and staff can do it better.” “The positions available don’t fit my gifts,” or “I do that all week at my real job, I don’t want to do that in my spare time.” “I don’t want to deprive someone else of an opportunity to serve.” The problem is that our souls atrophy if we do not put our faith into action.

The thing about being a follower of Jesus is our everyday life is a place to serve Him: at home, at work, in our social life. As Pastor Bill says, we are trying to put God on display. The renowned artist, Paul Gustave Dore 1821-1883, lost his passport while traveling Europe. When he came to the border crossing he explained his predicament, giving his name to the official. He hoped he’d be recognized and allowed to pass through. The guard said, “Many people attempt to cross the border by claiming to be people they are not.” Dore insisted he’s the man he claimed to be. The official said, “I’ll give you a test and if you can pass it we’ll allow you to go through.” Handing him a piece of paper and a pencil, he told the artist to sketch the peasants standing nearby. The artist did it so quickly and skillfully the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His work confirmed his word.

We are God’s workmanship, which in Ephesians 2:10 is a term for art that expresses the authors thoughts. “We are His masterpieces, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” You were born with a purpose, a plan to serve others.

Christians live differently: We spend our money with an eye on building the kingdom of God. We are generous with our resources towards others. We give ourselves to others even when inconvenient. It’s the small jobs extending kindness, sending encouraging e-mails, cleaning up after others. Serving others demonstrates we belong to Jesus. How we care for one another proves we are His disciples.

The ability to do this reveals our self-worth. It does not come from titles or positions, but from God’s definition of you.

We have a leader who I’ll catch picking up the trash in the parking lot on Saturday because people are coming to church tomorrow. He wants people to have a good experience when they seek the Lord. I’d assume he’s too sophisticated, too important for such a demeaning task…but not for his Lord.

Once I’m at the Starbucks and someone’s dog does his business right in from of the entrance. Everybody is freaking out. You can’t get into the coffee shop with that pyramid in front of the door way. Well I have dogs, I know what needs to be done, so I take care of it. Nobody even bought me a free coffee! When you walk into the restroom and see paper spread out all over the floor, do you pick it up thinking a visitor might see this? Or at home, serving the spouse, the kids, the neighbors, is just as significant as leading a Life Group. Even in the smallest ways you are making an impact for eternity.

Colossians 4: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” When you serve others, something else is going on. Jesus said, “Whatever you did for the least of them you did unto Me (Matthew 25:40).”

Jesus told us in Matthew 5:16 that our good works cause others to praise our Father in Heaven. I remember doing street ministry where we would serve coffee and food in known drug areas at night. We would be kind to the addicts and use the free gifts to release Jesus’s love on them and give them directions to rehab centers. One time a prostitute approached us while she was on her coffee break. Her pimps were literally 20 feet away. She said, “I know why social workers and police come here, but why are you here?” We told her, “We’re followers of Jesus who especially loves people that live in neighborhoods like this.” She burst into tears, gave us a hug and told us her life story. We prayed over her, sharing God’s opinion and love for her. You can do the same thing at work, interjecting God’s love and opening conversations.

I was in a conversation recently when someone asked, “What would you do if you had 24 hours to live?” Everybody had answers: Go to the beach, be with my wife, eat at my favorite restaurant, hang out with my best friend, listen to my favorite music. What did Jesus do with His last 24 hours? He washed the disciple’s feet.

Jesus, the presence of Almighty God on earth, takes on the chore of a servant. The disciples were arguing about who was the greatest? Jesus gives them a life lesson on how to care for each other, reinforcing Luke 9:48 “Whoever is least among you is the greatest.”

When we are unsure of our identity, we fight to assert who we are, our rights. The meal began with their feet being unwashed. The breach in etiquette was due to pride and self-importance attitudes.

This happened before when Jesus went to the Pharisee’s house. The mark of a gracious host, to wash one’s feet, was not extended to Jesus. So, a sinful woman broke into the Pharisee’s house and washed Jesus’s feet with her tears. Ironically, the lowest person in society.

Interesting: Jesus took off his outer garments, wrapped Himself in a towel and served. The next time Jesus had His garments removed and stripped down was when He was beaten, mocked and crucified.

Notice, when Peter protests to Jesus taking on the servant role, he doesn’t volunteer to take over the job. He doesn’t say, “Give me the towel and allow me to wash these dirty guys feet.”

Jesus was teaching the disciples to stop thinking like a guest of honor at the meal and think like a servant of others at the table. A church in Santa Fe NM has only one door in their building with a sign over it, “servant’s entrance.” The only way in or out of the house of worship is through the servant’s entrance.

Jesus didn’t do this merely as an object lesson. This was a personal moment, as it was the last time He would personally touch them. I’d imagine He prayed over and prepared them for their spiritual future.

Here is the important statement in the text: “If I don’t wash you, you have no part in Me.” It is essential we receive what He has done for us. It is not about doing more for Him; reading your Bible and cleaning up your life, doing this or that. He doesn’t need our service, we need His. We couldn’t fix our broken state without Him. Jesus wasn’t washing dirt from our feet, but sins from our souls. We naturally think, “I must get better first,” but the Bible continues to show we can’t clean ourselves up enough to receive Him.

Peter flops from one extreme to another—if you are going to wash my feet then wash all of me. Jesus says, “What I have done is sufficient for you.” You can’t add to Christ’s gift with your actions. We can’t supplement Christ’s cleansing with our piety or rituals. St Francis of Assisi commented: in his over indulgent pursuit of holiness he found he became less Christ-like than by a simple application. I used to fast and it was confusing because after 15 hours of no food I became irritable and cantankerous—nothing like Christ’s attitude.

Did you catch the comment Jesus makes regarding Peter, "You are clean.” Wait a minute! In a couple of hours Peter will be denying the Lord three times. Yes, Peter folded under pressure, yes we fall and fail, but Christians are covered by God’s grace.

Christianity is not so much about doing the right thing as having the right heart—extending compassion towards those on the wrong side of the fence.

Too often we withdraw from folks with flaws, especially moral flaws and sinful behaviors. We tend to criticize rather than invest in them. God is known for His ability to wait on the fallen to get up again. Max Lucado asks, “Can the sick mock the ill? Can the blind judge the deaf, so why do the sinful condemn the sinner?" The Peter who denied the Lord also preached the Pentecost sermon. The Samson, who in weakness was blinded, was re-empowered to level the pillars of the godless. A stuttering shepherd became the mighty deliverer Moses. They laughed at Noah because it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark. The objective for a Christian is pick up the fallen brothers and sisters in Christ…James 5:20

A servant’s heart is an inner disposition. Christianity is not information we know, but rather doing something for another and not wanting or expecting a thank you. It’s not needing recognition or concerned with another’s praise about your service. Smile when someone slights you—it was for the Lord anyway!

Roman 12:1 Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, this is your true form of worship. Worship isn’t just singing a tune or listening to a sermon. Are fruit and transformation coming from your worship?

A little boy with a deformed hand was trying to do the Sunday school exercise “Here’s the church-here’s the steeple-open the door and here’s all the people.” He couldn’t do it, so another little girl offered her hand and said, “Let’s be the church together.” “While we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who are of the household of the faith (Galatians 6:10).”

Whether we are reaching out to others in the church or outside the church, we need to pick up and serve.
A missionary shared: while working in India he contracted Tuberculosis which forced him into a sanitarium for several months. He didn’t speak the language, but tried to give everyone Christian tracks, which everyone declined. They were not happy about having an American in their facility.
He woke up at 2:00 a.m. coughing and noticed one of the older patients across the isle was trying to get out of bed. He sat on the edge of the bed and tried to stand up, but in his weakness fell back into bed and started crying. The next morning, he realized the man was trying to get up to go to the bathroom. The stench was awful. Other patients yelled at him, angry nurses moved him around roughly as they cleaned up the mess. One nurse slapped him. The old man curled up in a ball crying.

The next night he woke up coughing and noticed the man across the isle trying to get up again. So, he got out of bed and went over to him. When he touched his shoulder his eyes opened with fear. The missionary smiled, put his arms under him and carried him to the washroom. The American stood behind the old man with his arms under his arm pits as he took care of himself. After the old man finished the missionary carried him back to his bed. As he laid him down on his bed, he kissed the American’s cheek and said something he couldn’t understand.

The next morning another patient woke the missionary up and handed him a steaming cup of tea. He motioned with his hand that he wanted a Christian track. As the sun rose, other patients approached and indicated they also wanted the booklets he had tried to distribute before. Throughout the day, nurses, interns and doctors asked for literature.

Weeks later an evangelist who spoke their language visited. He discovered many of the people in the sanitarium had accepted Christ’s salvation as a result of the literature. What did it take to reach these people with God’s love?

It wasn’t being healthy, or the ability to speak the language or persuasive talk. It simply took a trip to the bathroom.
Mark 10: 45 “The Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and give His life for many.” Our text… As I have done to you do to others!

Sources: Noel Atkinson, Wayne Lawson

About Rev. Dr. William A. Lewis: Rev. Dr. William Lewis has been the Senior Pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Celebration since 2009. Whether at a traditional service, praise service, or the more casual Thursday night service, you’ll find that Pastor William’s preaching brings the Word of God to life D.Min. McCormick Theological Seminary Th.M. Princeton Theological Seminary M.Div. Fuller Theological Seminary B.A. University Colorado
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