A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Exposed John 13: 1-17, 31-35 Maundy Thursday Year C March 24, 2016 March 25, 2016

005-jesus-washes-feet

A video of the entire worship service can be accessed at http://www.bethanylive.org.

When I began my seminary journey several years ago, I started out at Iliff School of Theology here in Denver. I joined a group called the Beatitudes Society whose focus was service. One of the service opportunities included an event that DU hosted to help people who are homeless receive assistance such as a haircut, dental work, resume/job assistance, interview clothing and a medical check-up. The Beatitudes Society was there to offer foot washing to the people as they waited for medical care. Now before you think that I’m so altruistic, humble and pious, let me lay down some truth. I signed up in a moment of “This will be good for me to get out of my comfort zone.” I woke up that day thinking, “What am I doing??!!! I’m a germ-a-phobe who will be touching feet that haven’t seen soap and water in a long time and who knows what diseases they have!” I’m not super proud of that thought or that moment when I considered calling in sick. I was so uncomfortable even thinking about this, how was I ever going to make it through my two hour shift? My own preference for comfort and keeping supposedly safe boundaries rather than connecting with people who were different than myself was exposed and it didn’t feel that great. Here I was in seminary, training be a church leader to proclaim the gospel and I found myself saying, “Ummm only within certain boundaries, Jesus. Only in my comfort zone.” My own hypocrisy was exposed that day.

But I showed up, and I was handed a basin, towels and some soap. I was told to walk around and offer to wash the feet of the people who had been bused from various shelters or from the street for this event. So, taking a deep breath, I set out into the crowd. What happened in those next two hours, I never could have anticipated or even guessed. I washed the feet of a gentleman whose feet where so mangled from years on the street that I was actually afraid I would hurt him if I wasn’t careful. Most often I was turned down. I had one woman take one look at me (an obviously white, middle class woman with the resources for graduate school) and laugh that I would even dare ask her-did it make me feel good to offer her charity she asked me? That stung a bit as I realized the complexity of my own discomfort, of other people’s discomfort and the vulnerability of humanity. I was once again feeling exposed.

After that experience I was a bit hesitant to even ask again, but I did. I asked a woman about my age, if I could wash her feet. She protested and said no, but I persisted. Finally, she allowed me to proceed. We talked for a bit as I washed her feet and she began to cry. I asked her why she was crying, and she replied that this was the first time in a long time that anyone had actually treated her like a real person. I began to tear up too, as I looked up at her from my position of being at her feet, I was even more ashamed of my selfish thoughts on this task, and how I had been too afraid to get this close to someone on the margins of our society. This woman in front of me, the woman who had rightly called me out as a hypocrite and those who had turned me down, had all exposed the tension of following Jesus. They revealed the messiness of humanity, the fear of vulnerability, our inability to really be connected to one another, our preference for comfort and stability, and our human need for knowing our role and our place, and the risk of boundary breaking love for one another. They also revealed Jesus to me. In the uncomfortable exposure of all of the ways I am broken, they pointed to our mutual need for Jesus. I am forever changed and humbled by those two hours. I will admit that it turned my world of privilege and comfort upside down.

Our John story draws us all deep into the brokenness of humanity, the vulnerability of our relationships with each other and even Jesus. Jesus stoops to wash his disciples, encountering them in a most uncomfortable and intimate way; unafraid to break worldly boundaries and get too close to their messiness. This closeness was too much for the disciples and this exposed all of the ways that they were afraid of getting too close to Jesus. This fear led them to say no to Jesus, to deny Jesus and yes, even to betray him. This great love was just too much for them to bear and understand.

But Jesus washed them all, equally and together. In spite of how the world might see them or later judge them, Jesus shows them abundant love that can only come from God. This uncomfortable and all too intimate act is one that Jesus does for the disciples and for us all. It’s difficult because it exposes all of the ways that we are not Jesus and yet are still called to follow him, even though we fear, even though we are uncomfortable, even though we are imperfect.

Jesus’ act of love, exposes that no matter how stinky, broken or unlovable we might seem to one another, we also cannot detach from one another. No matter how much we want to run, call in sick or not deal with those who might scare us, deny us or even betray us, Jesus bathes us all with love to expose that we are all interconnected whether we like it or not and whether we understand it or not. In our exposed brokenness, Jesus’ purpose of unconditional love and mercy is also exposed. Revealed for all of the world to see is how Jesus’ love matters deeply; Jesus’ love heals us; Jesus’ love nourishes us; Jesus’ love binds us together so that more love can be exposed for the sake of the reconciliation of all creation.

This love is also exposed at the table through the promises in bread and wine. In these common everyday objects, extraordinary love transcends earthly boundaries and is made real. Extraordinary love that exposes grace for all, reconciliation for all and Jesus’ promise to show up in our lives each and every day in the ordinary and in the mysterious. The children celebrating first communion tonight will sit at this table, close to Jesus who welcomes them and all to the table of abundance and boundary shattering love. When Jesus’ love shows up at our feet, it moves us past our own needs, wants and comfort zones in order to connect with people whom we wouldn’t on our own connect and risk relationship. When God’s love exposes the reality of our lives, we see other people, people with disabilities, people with differing political views, people who suffer from mental illness, people who we consider unworthy, or people who we simply don’t like, we see them through the love of God, who comes close to us, even when we resist. Jesus’ love removes the boundaries that we set for ourselves and for others.

God isn’t afraid to infringe on our boundaries and come too close to us or to be exposed. Jesus’ presence among us does expose us, turn us upside down and transforms us for the sake of love made perfect in servant hood, love made perfect in suffering, love made perfect in discomfort, and love made perfect in vulnerability. God proclaimed that we are worth the risk, worth the exposure, worth breaking boundaries and worth unconditional love. The experience of Jesus’ love doesn’t leave us alone, but gets too close, breaks our human boundaries, transforms us and makes us new so that everyone whom we encounter is exposed and has an experience of this same love in Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.

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Released and Loved John 12: 1-8 March 18, 2016

We all have what we consider priorities. Each day we juggle those priorities and the squeakiest priority will often get our attention. Family, school, work, housework, fitness, health, paying bills, volunteering at church or elsewhere, are often the needs that get our time and attention. Now, none of these are bad priorities or wrong to pay attention to in any way, but I sometimes wonder for myself, when I get caught up in thinking that something has to be attended to right now, if that is really true. Discernment around what is important in our days and weeks that seem to fly by all too quickly, seems to be a luxury, an opportunity not afforded to us or at least one that we don’t stop to take. I can be become completely engulfed in thinking that if I don’t get my laundry finished, if I don’t wrap up details on a project, if I don’t get my son to all of his activities on time, if I don’t get this sermon perfect or a list of a hundred other things that seem to demand time that I’m not good enough or I’m not really doing what I should be. Or worse yet, I’m not fulfilling my purpose and people will not see me as useful.

If we’re honest, we not only judge ourselves but we judge other people’s priorities too, don’t we? We notice the actions of people at work, at church, in our neighborhood and even in our own families and wonder how they can make the decisions that they do. Don’t they know that they are not choosing the correct action? The thing about priorities is that they are subjective. They are distracting and often not even fulfilling or life-giving to us. Priorities often come from an outside source, outside pressures, such as co-workers, family members and our society at large and are often more about how the world sees us, or what image we project than about who we really are and what we really need.

How often do we really get our priorities straight? How often do we succumb to what others tell us is a priority for the sake of appearance, harmony or simply conflict avoidance? How often are we worried that if we really lived the way our heart begs us to, we’ll be ridiculed, judged or worse yet, dismissed? Mary must have had some trepidation as she pulled out that pot of perfume that cost her everything she had. It must have felt reckless to even purchase it. How many of us would spend that kind of money, our whole year’s wages on something that is quickly used up? But buy this exotic, lavish perfume she did. Her priority wasn’t what people would think or talk about the next day, it was Jesus. The second Jesus walked through the door to her home that she shared with her siblings, priorities of worrying about tomorrow, 401K’s, retirement, social norms, gender roles, and self-dignity vanished. Mary’s priority was her relationship with the one who was all about abundant life. It didn’t matter to her that women don’t touch men to which they are not related. It didn’t matter to her that a woman didn’t allow her hair to be loose in public. It didn’t matter to her that she used up the whole jar of perfume. It didn’t matter that the dinner guests were now also permeated with the scent of this perfume. Mary’s only concern was her relationship with the one whose very presence ushered in the reality of life from death, sorrow to joy and hopelessness to hopefulness.

Judas couldn’t let her misguided priorities go without comment and correction. Where was Mary’s priority to the poor? Where was her priority of appearances? I mean, Jesus was famous or infamous now, and we can’t have the people get ahold of this kind of scandal? A year’s worth of money on perfume? How will that look? Will people stop following and giving money to their ministry and mission? Besides how much of that money would have been Judas’ take? We all know or have been at one time or another, THAT person who has to point out the error in someone else’s choices, especially if we can make ourselves look better in the process. “That money should be for the poor Jesus! Tell Mary how she didn’t use her money wisely! Tell Mary how she’s not being a good follower of you.”

I love John’s aside about Judas. You can almost hear John’s eyes rolling as he explains that Judas’ real priority was himself. He didn’t prioritize the poor or the suffering over himself. Judas’ motivation was Judas. If I love John’s aside, I love Jesus’ response even more. In our NRSV Jesus says, “Leave her alone,” but the Greek might be better translated as “Release her.” Release her Judas from your priority of keeping face. Release Mary from the oppression of gender roles in first century Palestine. Release her from your judgment of how she chooses to share her resources. Release Mary from your judgment of how she chooses to worship God.

You see, when Mary released the fragrance of that perfume from the jar, she was heralding in the promises of God. The promises of release of the captives, the promises of release from oppression, promises of release from being invisible, promises of release from hopelessness, promises of release from separation from God and community and promises of release from death. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise of release from what crushes us, the priorities of the world that don’t fill us, that take our life and don’t permeate our lives with abundance of love, grace and peace. Mary’s anointing of Jesus is active love in response of being released. When your truly free, love doesn’t have a cost, relationships aren’t steeped in obligation or the expectation of reciprocity and vulnerability is held as sacred space.

Jesus will stoop to wash the disciples’ feet just a few days later, releasing them from the old way of being, to a new way, a new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” Be released from worrying about who might take advantage of you and be released from what this world says about priorities of looking out for yourself and your own preferences, wishes and agendas. You are released to live in a different way, released to be who God created you to be, pure love poured out into the world for the sake of releasing others from systems of bondage. This is what we will pour out on Addison, Jamison, William and Stephanie at the 10 a.m. worship. In the water, word and promises made, they are released from the old way of sin and death to the new life and grace with God and the people of God forever.

It’s vulnerable, it’s risky this kind of release. Being released to live with our focus not only Jesus and his actions, but also on the words of Jesus to remember God’s priority that we are to include everyone in God’s promises, the poor, the rich, the outsiders, the hurting, the different from us, the ones that we will always have with us, as we are all in need of mind, body or spirit at some point each and every day. No one escapes the suffering and traumas of the broken world. But we are to remember that we all shine the light of Christ to one another and we all have an important part in the community of God’s people. We know the abundant and extravagant love and grace of God for all people, in all times and in all places. We know the release of sin, brokenness and shame to live in wholeness, vulnerability and authentic relationship with God and with one another. May the fragrance of Jesus’ love permeate us and release us. Thanks be to God.