John 13:1-17 – Stinky Feet Love

Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, by Leszek Forczek

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

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

One of the reasons I like Jesus so much is that he loves me as I am, and not as I should be. Jesus loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my herky-jerky commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin. Jesus loved even Judas and washed his feet. Jesus serves people because they need his love, and not so that they will love him back.

I read about a man who lives in Paris. His wife has Alzheimer’s. He was an important businessman, and his life was filled with busyness. Yet, he said when his wife fell sick, “I just couldn’t put her into an institution, so I kept her. I fed her. I bathed her. Through the experience of serving my wife every day, I have changed. I have become more human. The other night, in the middle of the night, my wife woke me up. She came out of the fog for a moment, and she said, ‘Darling, I just want to say thank you for all you are doing for me.’ Then she fell back into the fog. I wept for hours to know this grace.”

Sometimes Christ calls me to love people who either cannot or will not love me in return. They live in the fog of some sort of disability, depression, poverty, or common spiritual blindness. As I serve them, I may only receive brief glimpses of gratitude. Just as Jesus loves me within my own spiritual confusion, so I desire to continue loving others as they walk through whatever fog they are in.

Lord willing, my life will be useful through my words and my witness. If God desires, my life will bear fruit through my prayers, my service, and my love. Yet, the usefulness of my life is God’s concern, not mine; it would be indecent of me to worry about that. I simply desire follow my Lord’s example.

Neither many Christians nor churches wash feet anymore. So, the following is today’s Gospel lesson put in a slightly different context:

It was just before the biggest and most important feast of the year, Passover. Jesus knew that it was finally the time for him to face the cross and die for the world’s sins. Having spent the past three years loving his followers, he now wanted to leave them with a clear demonstration of his love that they would never forget.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already gotten a hold of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus to those who wanted him dead and gone. But it was all according to plan. Jesus knew that his heavenly Father had given him all authority because he was his Son, and he was ready to do what needed to be done to secure salvation and return to his rightful place at his Father’s right hand.  So, Jesus got up from the meal, rolled up his sleeves, put an apron on, and ran a sink full of hot water.  Jesus told the servants to take the night off, and he began taking the dishes from the dinner table and started washing them, taking care to do all that waiters and dishwashers would do.

When Jesus came to take care of Simon Peter’s dishes and serve him dessert and coffee, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to serve me?” Jesus replied, “I know you do not understand why I am doing this since it seems like something that is beneath me to do, but later you will look back on this night and understand completely what I am doing.”

“No,” said Peter, “this is not right – you are the Master, and this is not what a well-respected rabbi does – you are only disrespecting yourself and making us all look foolish. You are not going to take my dishes and wash them.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash these dishes and serve you, you are not going to be able to follow me anymore and you will have no part of what I am doing in this world.”

“Well, then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “if that is the way it really is, then don’t just wash the dishes – come on over to my place and clean out the fridge and scrub the kitchen floor!”

Jesus answered, “A person who has had a decent meal needs only to wash the dishes so that he can enjoy the freedom of hospitable relationships with me and those around him.  And all of you here have had a decent meal, though not every one of you.”  For Jesus knew that Judas was only picking at his food in anticipation of betraying him.

When Jesus was all done washing the dishes and serving his disciples, he took his apron off, rolled his sleeves back down, and returned to the table.  He looked them all squarely in the eye and said, “Do you understand what I just did for you?  You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so, for that is exactly what I am.  So, now that I, your Master, and your Teacher have washed your dishes, you also should wash one another’s dishes.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I am telling you the plain truth that no follower is greater than the one he follows, nor is a preacher greater than the one he preaches about.  Now that you know that it is your task in this life to provide humble loving service, you will have God’s stamp of approval on your life if you quit thinking about how to possess and use power for your own purposes and start thinking about how to use the authority I am giving you to love other people into the kingdom of God.

Loving Lord Jesus, how shocking it was for your disciples to be served by you in such a humble manner.  But I cannot be spiritually cleansed unless I allow you to love me in an almost embarrassing fashion.  Help me not to be so proud that I neither refuse your humble loving service toward me, nor neglect to offer that same kind of service to others.  May love be the word, the idea, and the action that governs my every motivation and movement in your most gracious Name, I pray.  Amen.

Song of Songs 5:2-6:3 – I Am My Beloved’s

Song of Songs by German illustrator Egon Tschirch, 1923

Beloved

I was asleep, but my heart was awake.
    It is the voice of my beloved who knocks:
    “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled;
    for my head is filled with dew,
    and my hair with the dampness of the night.”
I have taken off my robe. Indeed, must I put it on?
    I have washed my feet. Indeed, must I soil them?
My beloved thrust his hand in through the latch opening.
    My heart pounded for him.
I rose up to open for my beloved.
    My hands dripped with myrrh,
    my fingers with liquid myrrh,
    on the handles of the lock.
I opened to my beloved;
    but my beloved left, and had gone away.
My heart went out when he spoke.
    I looked for him, but I didn’t find him.
    I called him, but he didn’t answer.
The watchmen who go about the city found me.
    They beat me.
    They bruised me.
    The keepers of the walls took my cloak away from me.

I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem,
    If you find my beloved,
    that you tell him that I am faint with love.

Friends

How is your beloved better than another beloved,
    you fairest among women?
How is your beloved better than another beloved,
that you do so adjure us?

Beloved

My beloved is white and ruddy.
    The best among ten thousand.
His head is like the purest gold.
    His hair is bushy, black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves beside the water brooks,
    washed with milk, mounted like jewels.
His cheeks are like a bed of spices with towers of perfumes.
    His lips are like lilies, dropping liquid myrrh.
His hands are like rings of gold set with beryl.
    His body is like ivory work overlaid with sapphires.
His legs are like pillars of marble set on sockets of fine gold.
    His appearance is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
His mouth is sweetness;
    yes, he is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved, and this is my friend,
    daughters of Jerusalem.

Friends

Where has your beloved gone, you fairest among women?
    Where has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you?

Beloved

My beloved has gone down to his garden,
    to the beds of spices,
    to pasture his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.
    He browses among the lilies. (World English Bible)

God is love. God rejoices over you. 

There is a reason why so many people in this cruel and calloused world are unloving and unkind: They are unaware that God loves them. 

If we neither believe nor know God’s infinite love for us, then our words and our actions will reflect more of hate than love. God really truly does love you and me. This is crucial. Do not forget this. Believe it. Live it. Enjoy it. Know it. Tell it to yourself until you are thoroughly bathed in it, because it is more wonderful than any ‘70’s sappy love song could ever describe it.

I believe the small book of Solomon’s Song of Songs too often gets a weird hermeneutical spin of literalism from modern-minded simpletons. For nearly all of history, this poetic ode to love was understood as an allegory of divine love for humanity – and the believer’s reciprocal response.

When the beautiful text of Scripture says I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, and that his desire is for me, it is a wonderful way of communicating that God’s love for us is not abstract, distant, or detached. (Song of Songs 6:3, 7:10) 

The truth is: We belong to God. The Lord’s desire is for you and me. God has an intense and overpowering longing for you. Let the deep desire of God for you shape and form your thoughts so that fear is replaced with faith; loneliness with enjoyment; the fickle nature of others with satisfaction; praying as duty with praying because I want to be with the God who loves me so much.

Oh, how we need a vision of God singing over us with joy! Yes, God loves you that much! Grab a hold of what the prophet says:

The Lord will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears.
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Zephaniah 3:17, NLT

Even the most unlovely of people are made lovely through God’s persistent and pursuing love for them. You are being wholly seen every single day by the infinite gaze and eternal compassion of God, who watches our every step with delight.

Christianity does not “happen” simply by knowing some beliefs about God, as if it is a mere contractual signing-off on a doctrinal statement. Rather, Christianity “happens” when individuals experience the white hot burning love of God in Jesus Christ. 

Jesus came not only for those who skip church and only occasionally read their Bibles. Christ came also for the hard-hearted prick, the immoral adulterer, the strung-out addict, the terrorist, the murderer, and for all those caught in bad choices and failed relationships. 

“I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” (Matthew 9:13, GNT)

“Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.” (Matthew 28:19, MSG)

“You will be witnesses for me.” (Acts 1:8, GNT)

“Love each other in the same way that I have loved you.” (John 13:34, GW)

All Christ’s words and actions are because of the Lord’s intense desire to love the world, and to love it through the divine beloved people of God.

God’s love is never based on our performance, or how good we look to others; it is never conditioned by our moods. The love of God only looks longingly at you and me with the potential of what we can become in Christ and cares for us as we are. It is a world-altering revolutionary thought that God loves me as I am and not as I should be. 

God loves me as I am, and not as I should be.

God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! (Romans 5:8, GNT)

Despite the erosion of church attendance, the majority of people still believe God exists. Conversely, however, many people do not believe God really loves them. We are in a crisis of love. People need to know the God who is pure Love. 

Christianity never begins with what we do for God to make ourselves lovely. Christianity always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wonderful love that exists for us in Christ Jesus.

It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, easy marks for sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this. (Titus 3:3-8, MSG)

All the wrong turns in the past, the mistakes and the moral lapses, everything that is ugly or painful, all melts in the light of God’s acceptance and love for us.

If the consuming passion of Christ’s followers is not showing God’s love, then we have lost both our mission and our first love of Jesus. Perhaps we must let time evaporate, as we bow at the foot of the cross, and experientially know the great love of God in Christ for us and for the world.

May it be so, to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 12:27-31 – Diversity and Unity

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So, you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all. (New Living Translation)

“Ubuntu” is an African Zulu word for humanity. It roughly translates into English as, “I am because we are.”

In whatever way it is to be translated, the idea behind ubuntu is a belief of being connected in a universal bond of humanity. So, an authentic individual human is part of a larger and more significant relational, communal, societal, environmental, and spiritual world.

That is precisely what today’s New Testament lesson is all about. Believers in Jesus are connected to one another, as well as having a human bond with all people, since everyone is created in the image and likeness of God.

“We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family, God’s family.”

Desmond Tutu

So, then, we are all to use whatever spiritual gifts and divinely given abilities for the common good of everyone. Just like the triune G-d who is both unity and diversity, and just as an individual human body has many parts yet one person, so also believers are diverse in every way yet thoroughly unified as one Body of Christ.

The Church at Corinth had divided into special interest groups who followed a particular person. Each was continually lobbying for what they wanted, rather than seeking to work together as one temple of G-d. And each group believed their gifts were superior.

Paul identified some spiritual gifts – neither to give an exhaustive list, nor to rank them in importance – but to clarify that all these diverse people and their G-d-given skills are to be used for the building up of the congregation. Ideally, the people’s gifts are to flow together in common worship, fellowship, encouragement, and mission:

  • Apostles. There are two kinds. Capital “A” Apostles are the original ones. They are set apart as those who saw the Lord and were his disciples. Little “a” apostles are “sent ones” or missionaries, proclaiming the gospel in word and deed to those who need to hear.
  • Prophets. These are folks possessing a function and gift of encouragement, building up the church through picturing a special future for the ministry of the community.
  • Teachers. Explaining sound doctrine through careful application of Scripture to daily life and ministry is the function of a biblical teacher.
  • Miracle workers and healers. Yes, miracles and healing happened and still occur. These are believers with an unusual gift of faith who are able to discern with spiritual eyes what others tend not to see.
  • Helpers. A necessary element of any Christian fellowship are people who serve in all kinds of capacities: giving to others’ needs; doing acts of mercy and benevolence; and attending to whatever physical needs Christians are faced with.
  • Leaders. Men and women who provide guidance and steer the church in directions they ought to go. They are skilled administrators, able to give wise counsel.
  • Speakers in tongues (languages). It must be borne in mind that this gift is not an end in itself. It is a Spirit-given ability to help include people. Christianity was never intended to be an exclusive club of Jews or devoted solely to a particular class or race. The gospel is meant for every type of person.

Reflecting on all these gifts and abilities within the Church, Paul rattled off a flurry of staccato-like rhetorical questions. The point is to lift up all the gifts as equally needed and appreciated. The ghettoized Corinthian Church needed an understanding of this. Their individual identities were too wrapped up in their abilities, rather than in Christ.

Keep in mind that today’s New Testament lesson immediately precedes the great ode to love of chapter 13. It is the primacy and permanency of love which holds everyone together. Love is the supreme end of all the speaking and serving gifts.

The most excellent way of engaging our giftedness is expressing it with the love of G-d in Christ Jesus. Anything less than this is a mere shadow of the gospel and severely truncates Christian mission and worship.

What’s more, not only does every local church need to function in unity through diverse exercise of gifts with the individual members, so every local church must cooperate and live in harmony with all other churches. Yes, if you are reading ecumenism in this, you are correct. An ecumenical spirit is a generous spirit which pays attention to other believers in our communities, countries, and throughout the world.

“Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed.”

Mary Parker Follett

If leaders, teachers, helpers, healers, church planters and encouragers are all doing their jobs, according to the grace given them, then working together with believers everywhere simply happens. And it never seems weird to extend basic Christian mercy and care to believers everywhere – no matter whether they are in full agreement with our doctrinal statements, or not.

When Jesus prayed for all potential believers to be one as G-d is one, he wasn’t thinking of special interest groups, separated Christianized ghettos, nor some believers as being more right or special than other believers.

Diversity, unity, equity, inclusion, and most of all, love, are what characterizes the Lord. It should characterize us, too.

Methinks the Zulu were on to something with the concept of ubuntu. A person is most fully a person through other people. It seems to me it is high time to affirm the basic humanity in others through appreciating their unique difference.  

You and I are more than independent individuals. Our shared humanity is a quality we owe to each other.

I am because we are.

Lord G-d almighty, Creator of the universe, who made us different from one another in myriad ways we can see and in more ways we shall never know yet made us all in your image; fill our hearts with your love and our minds with your wisdom, that we may truly become brothers and sisters of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2 John 1:1-6 – Love Must Have It’s Way, or It Isn’t Love

Heart painting by Ivan Guaderrama

My dear congregation, I, your pastor, love you in very truth. And I’m not alone—everyone who knows the Truth that has taken up permanent residence in us loves you.

Let grace, mercy, and peace be with us in truth and love from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, Son of the Father!

I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father. But permit me a reminder, friends, and this is not a new commandment but simply a repetition of our original and basic charter: that we love each other. Love means following his commandments, and his unifying commandment is that you conduct your lives in love. This is the first thing you heard, and nothing has changed. (MSG)

An Absence of Love

It seems no matter where we look there are groups of people with entrenched ways of looking at things. And so, their solutions to the great problems of community, nation, and world narrowly focus on one way of thinking. Those answers rarely consider John’s message. The fix usually involves the belief that one group of folks know better for every other group. It is pride, condescension, and selfishness all rolled up into a tidy package of hate to be distributed to all who oppose the sanctified plan.

Good grief. We need a bit of humility to consult voices on the margins of society – to be open in finding understanding in remote places. Sometimes, the answers to significant issues are tucked away somewhere nobody looks. The brief letter of the Apostle John to the Church is nestled in a place within the New Testament where few believers ever peek. 

Perhaps love itself has become a forgotten virtue among the very people entrusted to uphold its beauty and grace.

It is my unshakable conviction, based upon the consistent witness of Saint John the Evangelist, that everything in the Christian life rises and falls with love. Even to say this with such brash boldness is a gross understatement. That’s because love is more than an idea, a feeling, and a practice.

God is Love

God extends loving words and actions because love is the stuff that God is made up of. The very character of God is love, through and through. There is never a time when God is not loving. God’s anger and wrath are expressions of love – for God is opposed to all that which is unloving. Therefore, God extends justice and confronts sin so that love will freely flow once again amongst humanity and all creation.

John is known as the Apostle of love. He consistently espoused the primacy and permanence of love whenever he had the chance. Truth and love go together, always. John says to the church, “We love you because the truth is now in our hearts, and it will be there forever.”

The true muster of the Church and of individual believers is their love. It doesn’t matter how right or important the cause is. If the strategy to implement that cause leaves love out of the equation, it is a fool’s errand.

A profound lack of love is the litmus test that belies a faulty and heretical doctrine of Jesus. The absence of love is always the clue there is going to be some impure teaching behind it. The real enemy of Christ is the one who claims Christianity but does not love in either word or deed. If we really want to love God, we will love one another, and vice-versa.

Love and Truth Always Go Together

To embrace truth is to love a group of people wherever they are. It is to see them, listen to them, then act on their behalf. Far too often Christians are known for their hubris in superimposing on others what those others need – believing they already know the truth of both Bible and them.

Love abides with the truth of a people. Genuine love seeks the truth and responds accordingly. Love is willing to find out what the issues are of a people. Assuming others need our money, our plans, our service, or our solutions assumes we already understand their situation apart from hearing from them.

Love is longsuffering. It is willing to sit with folks for as long as it takes. Love orients itself around the patient and careful application of biblical truth to the truth of a people. And that takes a great deal of time and effort. There are no shortcuts to love. Love must have its way, or it isn’t love. Since God is love, God must have his way in us first.

Maybe we need to come back again and again to the great ode to love expressed by the Apostle Paul. After all, the consistent witness of truth throughout the Bible is love.

Love, the Motivation of Our Lives

If I were to speak with eloquence in earth’s many languages, and in the heavenly tongues of angels, yet I didn’t express myself with love, my words would be reduced to the hollow sound of nothing more than a clanging cymbal.

And if I were to have the gift of prophecy with a profound understanding of God’s hidden secrets, and if I possessed unending supernatural knowledge, and if I had the greatest gift of faith that could move mountains, but have never learned to love, then I am nothing.

And if I were to be so generous as to give away what I own to feed the poor, and to offer my body to be burned as a martyr, without the pure motive of love, I would gain nothing of value.

Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offense. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.

Perfect Love

Love never stops loving. It extends beyond the gift of prophecy, which eventually fades away. It is more enduring than tongues, which will one day fall silent. Love remains long after words of knowledge are forgotten. Our present knowledge and our prophecies are but partial, but when love’s perfection arrives, the partial will fade away. When I was a child, I spoke about childish matters, for I saw things like a child and reasoned like a child. But the day came when I matured, and I set aside my childish ways.

For now, we see but a faint reflection of riddles and mysteries as though reflected in a mirror, but one day we will see face-to-face. My understanding is incomplete now, but one day I will understand everything, just as everything about me has been fully understood. Until then, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love—yet love surpasses them all. So, above all else, let love be the beautiful prize for which you run. (1 Corinthians 13, TPT)

Amen.