← back to list

Aug 02, 2015

Receiving His Gifts

Receiving His Gifts

Passage: Genesis 18:1-8

Speaker: Jonathan Gamble

Series: Sermons

Category: Faith

Keywords: gifts

Receiving His Gifts


August 2, 2015                                                                    Genesis 18:1-9
                                                                                                John 13:1-17


         One of the hardest spiritual disciplines is simply remembering how much you are loved. It is beyond difficult to go through an entire day without forgetting this. Imagine a world in which we lived our lives fully conscious of the love we have received from God, from Christ, from friends, family, even that unspoken love between strangers. Sin occurs when we forget how much we are loved. Remembering love is not a safeguard against sin, certainly not as much as experiencing the love anew, but you can run a long way with it. Jesus washing His disciples’ feet was many things, and we will explore them. But it was also Jesus’ way of giving His disciples a physical reminder of His love for them to practice in the age of the Spirit. We are still in the age of the Spirit. Should we not also wash each other’s feet and remind each other how much Jesus loves us?

         In this scene from the Gospel of John, Peter takes the lead again. He tries to give to Jesus what he has not received. We cannot give what we have not first received from Christ. And like Peter, we struggle to receive blessings for which we did not labor. Peter resists letting Jesus wash his feet and serve him. He doesn’t want to see Jesus that way. If he is not ready to watch Jesus wash his feet, imagine how ready he was for Jesus to go to the Cross! Even after all this time witnessing Jesus heal, feed, and serve so many people with an unforeseen level of power, Peter does not yet see that he needs to be healed, fed, and served by Jesus, too. He is still not ready to see the Messiah embody the feminine in footwashing or take the form of a suffering servant on the Cross. He would prefer to follow Him into battle instead of nonviolent resistance.

         One of the first things Jesus did after His baptism and continues to do today is renounce our conventional understandings and avenues of power. How can Jesus be the Messiah and also the person who washes our feet? This duality is hard to move past. It tells us something about the kind of Messiah Jesus is and how we are to serve like Him in ways that turn many things here upside down. But it’s important to remember that Jesus did not wash their feet all the time whenever they entered a home together. Otherwise Peter would not have been as surprised as he was. This was all about timing, and this was the only instance in all four gospels that Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. He does it right before instituting Communion. What was He trying communicate to them and us through this upside-down gesture of radical love?

         Of course, on a practical level, footwashing happened for the same reason we take our shoes off when we enter a clean home: to keep dirt, dust, and germs out. Folks carried a lot of that stuff on their feet in those days because they wore sandals, had no paved roads of course, and lived in a unique climate. But I think footwashing is included here to reveal a greater purpose, something more than Jesus keeping the physical germs out.

         Footwashing means that a journey has ended. The disciples have come this far with Jesus in the flesh, and He is about to leave them for the first time to go where they cannot yet go and do what they cannot yet do. Once they leave the Upper Room, everything is going to change. Their journey and training with Him as a human being are over. There is nothing left for Jesus to give them except His very self. And Jesus is marking this – commemorating the end of the time they’ve had together, and probably mourning it as well – with a simple, loving ritual to let them know how much He loves them and how sorry He is for the Hell they are all about to go through.

         God often chose – and still chooses – the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary. Jesus uses what we understand to communicate what we have difficulty understanding. The disciples understand footwashing. They do not understand, at this point in the story, why Jesus is washing their feet. Jesus promises that later they will understand. So what new perspective does the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, or Pentecost reveal about why Jesus washes their feet? And why can’t the disciples wash His feet?

         We cannot wash Jesus’ feet for two reasons. The first is that Jesus’ own journey is not yet over. At this point, He has chosen to go to the Cross, go to the tomb, close down Hell, and be raised from the dead. As much as we may want to, we cannot bring His journey to an end at this point in the story. We cannot hide Him in the Upper Room forever or run away with Him into exile and listen to new parables for the rest of our lives. And like the disciples, we cannot go to the Cross before Jesus does. Not just in the physical dimension, but in the cosmic sense. We have no power to lay down our lives for Him before He lays down His life for us.

         The second reason we cannot wash Jesus’ feet is that we cannot fulfill the promises God made and chose to fulfill through Jesus. The washing of the feet signals the end of the journey of waiting for God’s promises and the beginning of their reception and fulfillment.

         In Genesis, we read that Abraham and Sarah are waiting on God’s promise to give them a son, a people, and a nation – just as the Jewish people in Jesus’ time are waiting for God to give them a Messiah. Footwashing in Genesis reveals that Abraham’s journey of waiting for God’s promises is coming to a close and is being washed away. His journey into witnessing, experiencing, and receiving the fulfillment of God’s promises through him and his wife Sarah is beginning. The messengers wash their own feet to show this and to show that their own journey of carrying the promise has ended; their journey into delivering the promise has arrived. Jesus does not wash His own feet. His journey of carrying God’s promises is not finished.

         The messengers come to proclaim to Abraham the love of God, that God’s promises are true, and that God cares about him personally. That’s why Abraham is so excited. In the culture in which he most likely lived, people ate meat a few times a year at most. The meat came directly from their flocks, so it was very costly. For Abraham to prepare one of his own calves, for Sarah to make cakes, and for them to get water for the messenger’s feet is the highest hospitality, marking the celebration of the end of a long journey in active waiting that has been riddled with doubts. To welcome those who have a message from God into his tent means that Abraham’s journey is changing. He is about to become the father of a son and of a people.

         In the same way, by washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus is trying to communicate to them as much as possible that God’s promises have come to them through Him and will be fulfilled by Him: a Messiah, a New Covenant, victory over death, and eventually the Holy Spirit poured out on all flesh. And we, like the disciples, are invited to remind ourselves of these fulfilled promises from time to time.

         Abraham and Peter have very human moments when those sent by God appear to them with wondrous news. They try to give something back. But grace means receiving gifts we are not capable of returning. We can respond, but we cannot give to Jesus as Jesus gives to us. Jesus gives us gifts, and through these gifts His very self, but they require time to be received.

         We give mechanics enough time to fix our cars. We give surgeons enough time to perform necessary procedures on our bodies. We give therapists enough time to discern counsel for us. And yet when we ask Jesus to give us greater things than these – like spiritual strength, grace, vision, guidance, or forgiveness – how much time do we spend receiving them, or giving Jesus time to work them into the core of who we are? Do we really let Jesus be good to us? How can Jesus give anyone anything lasting and valuable if they are running around all the time without His Spirit’s presence? And what kind of healthy relationship operates on the principle of instant gratification during spare time?

         While the first step of Abraham and Sarah’s new journey, marked by footwashing, is to make a baby (to conceive a nation), the first step Jesus invites the disciples into for their new journey is to conceive a Church. They will need to receive forgiveness and have compassion for who they used to be and for what they will do to Jesus, however, before they can bring the Church to birth on Pentecost. If our true selves cannot forgive and have compassion for our old selves, how can we forgive and have compassion for others or become who we are called to be?

         What we desire to do for Jesus in Abraham and Peter’s spirit of religious athleticism and what God intends for us to receive in humility are often not the same thing. The grace God offers is often not the grace we expect. What God calls us to receive is often harder than what we desire to do for God. Being still and letting our feet be intimately washed by Jesus is harder than being busy washing His feet. What we want to give to Jesus is not required, and what we must receive to be part of Him we resist. We want to serve Him before we let Him serve us. We want a reciprocal relationship. I’m sorry, but if God is your parent, there is no giving back or attaining as God gives and attains. I am never going to be able to pay my parents back for what they have done for me, and they would be insulted if I tried.

         By washing their feet, Jesus is showing the disciples that they cannot follow Him in the same way anymore. This is the act of initiation preceding Pentecost. Pentecost may have been when the Church was born, but the footwashing is when the Church was conceived.

         With this act Jesus is prefiguring what He will do as Holy Spirit: save them from all their journeying to save themselves, and purge them from all their vain attempts to wash themselves completely clean through adherence to Torah. And don’t you think Jesus was weeping into the water He used to wash their feet? Even though Jesus did not sin against them by choosing to go to the Cross, Jesus is asking His disciples to forgive Him for what He is going to allow Satan to put them all through. Part of loving someone means asking for forgiveness even when you did not do anything wrong.

         There are at least two other reasons why Jesus does not let His disciples wash His feet. For one thing, we cannot remind Jesus how much He loves us. Jesus never forgets. But we can wash each other’s feet. We can remind each other how much God loves us, because we live in a world that will steal such remembrance as quickly as it can.

         Footwashing is also the moment in the story when Jesus baptizes His disciples. We cannot wash Jesus’ feet because we cannot baptize Him. When Jesus says to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you will have no part in me,” that sounds a lot like baptism to me. When Jesus says, “Do you understand what I have done to you?” I think He means, “Do you realize that I have baptized you, that you are the first ones to whom I have given full belonging into my Mystical Body?” Jesus is blessing their reception of the Spirit and its mission before it occurs, giving them power to baptize others. That’s how much faith He has in His disciples.

         By washing their feet, Jesus is also fulfilling a directive from the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “how blessed are the feet of those who bring good news” from God. (Isaiah 42:7) And that is exactly what the disciples will be doing in their new journey as the Church.

Pastoral Prayer

         Holy, Living, Loving Christ – ours are also the feet of those who bring Good News. Let us bless them today. May our hands be your hands to our brothers and sisters. Our journey traces back to the disciples’ journey as the Church. And yet there are smaller journeys within this larger one of carrying Good News from God. We enter the Upper Room now, that the Church may be conceived again in us, where we continue to learn how to pray as our Savior taught us… “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Invitation to Footwashing

         Jesus calls us to do for one another what He has done for us – in love. We are all a little different when it comes to touching other people. What is liberating for some can cause harm in others. So this is of course optional. However, individuals are invited to come forward, men on this side, women on the other, with another person to wash each other’s feet or nod to one of your faith family standing ready to serve you. If that makes you uncomfortable, simply wash your own feet, as God’s messengers to Abraham and Sarah did. Couples are invited to take turns washing each other’s feet. Parents can wash their children’s feet, and vice versa.

         One of you take a seat on one of the chairs provided, remove only one shoe, hold that foot over the basin on the floor, and give yourself permission to receive a gift of care and grace.

         The person washing the feet, put a handful of water on the foot of the friend that you are serving, then dry with the provided towel. Change places, return to your pew. Take your time, watch your step, move with care, there is no hurry. Come, and be blessed and reminded of Christ’s love, the King who washes our feet.