Tonight is about humility. The humility of Jesus, the Master and Lord who was a servant.
By living among us as one of us. By allowing himself to be sacrificed for our sins. By washing feet.
And he says that humility is the “full extent of his love.”
Judas was probably embarrassed. Everyone was surprised.
Peter was shocked. As usual, he reacted immediately!
He tried to stop Jesus!
It’s hard to receive, isn’t it? We know its better to give than to receive, but in life its harder to receive than to give. Receiving is humbling. Receiving reveals our need. Receiving breaks down our sense of self-sufficiency. Receiving means trusting someone else. Receiving from Jesus means that we are admitting we need a Savior. It means acknowledging that our world is fallen, and that we are part of that. It means confessing our own sin.
We need to be washed, cleansed. We are washed and cleansed as we are saved by Jesus, we are washed in the waters of baptism, and we are washed by him daily as we confess our sins.
And we also receive from him through the Body of Christ – each other. His hands give us a cup of cold water when we are thirsty, through our fellow believers. His hands wash our feet when a brother or sister overlooks our faults and forgives our sin.
Even though, like Peter, we often do not want to receive from Jesus, the path of humility calls us first to receive.
All of this receiving is humbling. But as we do so, we are changed. Our hearts are turned. We are now close to Jesus – uncomfortably close. Like the Twelve, he is right there before us, our Master and Lord, seeing the dust and grime on our feet. The greatest one has humbled himself and become a servant, washing our souls through the cross and the waters of baptism, washing our feet from our daily sins, feeding us as a servant would feed us, giving us what we need.
When we have received from Jesus and from others, our hearts begin to turn. They turn toward him and others. We are no longer afraid to admit our failings. They have been washed. We no longer have to defend our status, or our ego, or pretend that we are “all that.” A sense of freedom and peace invades our hearts when the Master stoops down to wash our feet. It turns the world upside down! Or rather, right side up.
In the early days of the church, Jesus humility was so powerfully transformative that in the church, the slaves were often the priests. That’s how radically Jesus changes our hearts, once he has washed our feet and our very souls.
Of course, the Twelve didn’t understand what he was doing. In fact, he told them “you won’t understand what I’m doing now, but later you will” He knew that he would have to start with their feet. That would begin to transform their hearts, and that only later would they would understand with their minds.
So this path of humility that Jesus took the Twelve on started with washing their feet, affected their hearts, and then eventually changed their minds. But he does something even more radical. As usual, he turns it up “to eleven.” He says, “Go and do likewise.”
Now Jesus is starting with our hands. He wants those of us who’s feet have been washed by the Master to take our hands and wash feet. To go out and do what he has done.
Humility is love that is lived out to its fullest extent, as we’ve learned from him. But we are tempted to think that humility is a state of being, or a mindset, or some special presence. But insted, it is personal, which makes it messy. It is relational, which makes it take time. It is practical, which means its hard to fake. It is experiential, which means we learn as we do.
Pope Francis is said to be humble because he choose tonight to celebrate Maundy Thursday at the juvenile prison in Rome. He also is living in a tiny apartment instead of the Vatican palace. He doesn’t see himself as humble though. He calls it an “experiment in simple living.” I love that.
Because we have received from Jesus, we are now called to take a journey on the path of humility. We can all do it. Its not for special super spiritual people, because there aren’t any. There is just us.
We who have received from Jesus are all called to walk on this path. To take these hands, and to serve without regard for status or personal gain. He calls us to find real needs and meet them. He calls us to connect personally with people, face to face, as he did. He calls us to wash feet. Yes, to wash feet.
Very messy. Very uncomfortable.
He calls us to take these two hands and to humble ourselves by using them to serve others. And as we walk along this path of humility, our hearts are changed. Just look at Peter. The same Peter who tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet, later wrote these words:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
The experience of Jesus and of serving others had affected Peter’s heart, and seeped up into his mind. He had received from Jesus, and then began to walk on the path of humility. He washed feet, he served. And in doing so, he learned how to be a humble servant.
When I started coaching kid’s soccer six years ago, I bombed out at first. I studied the books. I planned the strategy. I showed up to practice with my whistle, my clipboard, and my plans. I stood on the sideline and started telling the players how to form a line to take shots. Nothing happened.
These were kindergartners, mind you.
I shouted instructions from the sidelines for them to form a circle to learn passing. Nothing happened.
I went out on the field and set up cones. Then I returned to the sidelines and told them to dribble through the cones. Nothing happened. Actually a lot was happening, but it was mostly a bunch of kids running around, yelling, crying, and not doing any soccer stuff.
It took me about four practices to realize that I was trying to coach from the sidelines. I didn’t want to go on the field with the kids. I didn’t want to look silly running around out there. I wanted to chill out and be the cool coach on the sidelines.
But when I went out on the field with the kids, things changed. When I started kicking the ball with them, they started kicking the ball. When I ran around the field, they ran with me. When I took a shot, they took shots. They needed me on the field with them.
I can tell you that I loved soccer after that. It was a great joy, and a special time for me. I learned a lot over six years of coaching, but the joy came from being on the field, in the dirt, with the kids.
That’s why Jesus associates “blessing” with humility.
The blessing is a not a separate reward God gives us later because we were humbly serving. The blessing is the humility itself. It is a blessing to know others, to receive from others, and to give. It opens up our souls to God and each other. The path of humility is like a soccer field. Until we go out on the field, we cannot know the blessing of humility. When we step out there, laying aside our “status”, stepping into the dirt of the field of life, we find blessing and joy there.
We cannot know the joys of leaving behind our status, and our egos, and our fears, and reaching out our hands in love until we step out. Humility moves us from isolation to relationship. It moves us from disorientation to focus. It moves us from paralysis to action. It moves us from brokenness to healing.
In the field of human life, we find Jesus there too. He is humble, so he is out there among the least. He found us and washed our feet, and now we find him out there, and that is a blessing beyond compare.
And it all begins when Jesus stoops down, picks up a towel, and begins to wash our feet as a servant.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon for Maundy Thursday 2013, Holy Cross, Loganville, Georgia.
Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.