This week someone posted this helpful little graphic on my Facebook drawing the simple distinctions between a boss and a leader. The leader had an uncanny resemblance to Richard Branson – blond hair, big smile and beard… It got me thinking and I posted the comment, “Very good as far as it goes. Worth exploring the difference between models of secular leadership and the model of Jesus Christ.” Then, I added the verses from our gospel reading this evening,
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:12-15)
The Church of England’s Short Guide to the Duties of Church Membership, which we endorse at Christ Church begins with this definition of a Christian. “To follow the example of Christ at home and daily life, and to bear personal witness to him.” How can we do that? What does it mean? To follow Christ must involve every part of us. Following Christ will surely involve my mind, my heart and my will.
Please turn with me to John 13.
- Following Jesus will involve your mind
“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God & was returning to God.” (John 13:1-3)
Some people seem to think faith has nothing to do with understanding. The opposite is true. What we believe impacts how we behave. Three things we are told Jesus ‘knew’ that we need to know. First, “Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.” (John 13:1) He knew he was rapidly approaching the most important moments of his life. His destiny from eternity past. He knew that the pain, the shame and the agony of the cross was before him. Here is the question:
Some people seem to think faith has nothing to do with understanding. The opposite is true. What we believe impacts how we behave. Three things we are told Jesus ‘knew’ that we need to know. First, “Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.” (John 13:1) He knew he was rapidly approaching the most important moments of his life. His destiny from eternity past. He knew that the pain, the shame and the agony of the cross was before him. Here is the question: If you knew that you would die tomorrow, what would you do differently tonight? I would spend the time with my family. I’d write some short letters to family and friends I care about and I’d make sure my will was in order. The fact is – we don’t know. So how should we live? As if it were our last.
Because one day it will be. I had the privilege of spending quite a bit of time with Alan Crouse in the last few weeks of his life. He knew every day might be his last. Every day was a bonus. Until the day he woke up in heaven. He was at peace long before he left this life. The Apostle John wants us to understand something very significant about Jesus.
Jesus was facing something we cannot imagine. Yet he is concerned to prepare his disciples for what’s about to happen to them not himself. Jesus is focused on them. Jesus knew the time. Do you? Do you know the time? The kairos time, not just chronological time. What has God laid upon your heart to do tonight? Tomorrow? This weekend? Second, we read, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;” (John 13:2). He knew who he was. Jesus, was the Lord of the Universe. If anyone didn’t have to humble himself to wash the feet of farmers and fishermen, He didn’t. But because he knew he was Lord of the Universe, he became a servant. Jesus took a towel and basin of water and knelt before each one of them.
He did for them what they were unwilling to do for him, let alone for each other. Are we as secure in our position as children of God? Can we serve in mundane or messy ways at Christ Church without feeling it is in any way demeaning? Jesus knew the time. Jesus knew who he was. Third, notice something else Jesus knew, “For he knew who was going to betray him…” (John 13:11) Judas, full of deceit, full of hypocrisy, is about to betray Jesus. And Jesus knows it. What does Jesus do? What would you do?
This week there has been further high profile threats of resignation from the Labour Party over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and his commitment to root out racism within the Party. Though indirect, there have also been references to the support he gave me and other peace activists in the past. I learnt a long time ago to always accept resignations.That way people can’t use the threat to manipulate or blackmail me into getting their own way. Jesus does not distance himself from Judas. Jesus does not point his finger at Judas and say to him, “How dare you—after all I’ve done for you?” Instead he loves him to the end. He does everything possible to bring Judas to repentance. He washes his feet with the same tenderness and affection that he has shown the other disciples.
Maybe that would soften Judas’ heart. Jesus mentions his impending betrayal, just an hour or so away – that all are “not clean” in verse 10. Jesus dips the bread in the dish and gives it to Judas. One final opportunity to turn back. But instead of repenting, Judas hardens his heart. Opportunity after opportunity have been resisted. Satan enters Judas who leaves to do his evil deed. Jesus knew his betrayer. Jesus shows us how to deal with those who attack us, malign us, betray us. No resentment, no anger, no bitterness, only sorrow for the awful decision Judas has made and the terrible consequences that would follow.
Jesus knew his time. He knew his Father. He knew his betrayer. Do you know you are a child of God? Do you know your sins are forgiven? Do you know you have eternal life?
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-13)
Following Jesus involves your intellect, shapes your understanding, deepens your convictions, engages your mind.
- Following Jesus engages your will
”so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:4-5)
I imagine there were a few open mouths, some wide eyes and whispered conversations as, one by one, the disciples realised what Jesus was doing under the table. Without saying a word he gives them a lecture. Isn’t this the way we learn our most vivid lessons? Notice the ‘action’ words in verses 4 & 5.
2.1 “he got up from the meal”
He left his comfort zone. He made his body do something it may have not wanted to do. My alarm went off at 6:30 this morning. My body did not want to get up. After a brief discussion, my body got up. To be a servant you have to engage the will. Jesus got up.
2.2 “he took off his outer clothing”
To serve others we usually have to lay something aside. Most of us live with a full schedule of activity. If I’m going to serve in and through Christ Church I often have to give up doing something for myself. Every servant has to deny themselves something, to have the time and energy to give to others. Jesus got up and took off his outer clothing.
2.3 “he wrapped a towel around his waist.
After that he poured water into a basin.” He made preparations to meet the need no one else was willing to supply.
2.4 and “he began…”
I like that. At some point we too have to begin. We can think about serving. We can pray about serving. But at some point we must start serving, start fulfilling your calling, your destiny. I hope you already have. But let me ask you, are you on one of our serving teams? Thank you. Remember you are serving Jesus. Maybe not yet? Then talk to Penny this week. Pick up the serving challenge leaflet. Is it because you have never let Jesus wash you? Then let him wash you – forgive you and make you his child. Is it because you have yet to acknowledge what Jesus your Lord and Master has done for you? Then acknowledge him. Is it because you have not connected belief in Jesus with service within his community? Then make the connection.
Following Jesus involves your mind. Following Jesus engages your will.
- Following Jesus touches your heart
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)
Jesus begins with a question: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” Did they? Perhaps not yet. Do you?
This goes way beyond just getting your feet washed. It goes way beyond just getting your needs met. Jesus loves you. He receives you. He accepts you. And some people think that’s all this is about—getting my needs met. No. Following Jesus is about becoming like Jesus, becoming a servant like Jesus. Jesus is into reproduction, multiplication. In verse 15 Jesus explains the reason he has done this. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” If my experience in God is only about me, only about me getting my needs met, I’ve missed the point of being saved. We are saved to serve. Archbishop William Temple once said,
“The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” The greatest tragedy is for person never to receive Christ and experience his love and forgiveness and the gift of eternal life. The second greatest tragedy is when a person has experienced God’s love and grace found in Jesus Christ but never shares that with others. In his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis talks about this danger.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable … The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.”
Notice Jesus tells the disciples why he has done this.
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14). What does Jesus expect of us? That we “…wash one another’s feet.”
What does that mean? It means doing what ever it takes to meet the needs of those we encounter. Especially among his family.
Before she died, Mother Teresa visited Phoenix to open a home for the poor. During that brief visit, she was interviewed by the largest radio station in town. In a private moment, the announcer asked Mother Teresa if there was anything he could do for her. He was expecting her to request a contribution or media attention to help to raise money for the new home for the needy in Phoenix. Instead, she replied, “Yes, there is. Find somebody nobody else loves, and love them.” Find somebody nobody else loves, and love them. How? Open your eyes and just do it, as the Spirit leads. We were created to serve, gifted to serve, shaped to serve, and here, commanded to follow Christ’s example and serve. Need more motivation? Jesus promises “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17). This is how to experience God’s blessing. By following the example of Jesus Christ. May God make each one of us active, fully devoted, followers of Jesus Christ today, as we engage our minds, our hearts and our wills in following him. Amen.