on being washed and fed

a first offering for solcum union church and elkhart first united methodist church. july 5, 2015.

i was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the lord. would you pray with me? gracious god, send your holy spirit to be among us—to comfort and to guide us, that our hearts and minds may be open to what you would teach us this morning. and may the words of my lips and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, o lord, our rock and our redeemer, amen.
[on being washed and fed]

something really amazing happened late tuesday morning. i arrived at the parsonage for the first time i would call it home, and found that not only had my dining table already been assembled, but that some of you had already assembled yourselves around the table. some had come and gone by the time i arrived and there was a collection food growing in the fridge and on the counter. what a truly wonderful welcome. my gratitude for your gifts and for your presence, and your prayers as i have been journeying to slocum/elkhart swells my heart and is nourishing my soul already. and what a profound way to begin a week, and begin a season of life together, than today to gather around this table for communion. it is around this table that we are reminded of the importance of gathering around one another’s kitchen tables.

this morning’s gospel lesson is also about gathering around a table. jesus is with the disciples for their last meal. this is a story that, perhaps, is a familiar one—often remembered and retold during holy week, the final week of lent. the table, which is an important and a crucial part of the story, generally takes center stage. we focus on eating together, on gathering around the lord’s table for communion and the power of that spiritual food that feeds our souls.

john’s telling of the story, however, has a different heading than the other three: jesus washes the disciples feet. all of the other gospels are titled the preparation for the passover and the institution of the last supper. this is a story about eating, yes. but it is also a story about washing, about bathing. this story, this lesson is of eucharist/communion and of baptism.

within one lesson we find both of our sacraments as embodied and enacted by our Teacher and our Lord, jesus christ the son of god. within one lesson we find a humbling example of the purpose of both the church and of the pastor—this simple example we have been gifted shows us, as followers of christ what the heart of god looks like, and how we each can embody it, too.

the disciples are a walking people—their feet tend to get dirty. and this is long before the advent of the vacuum cleaner and disposable swiffer mops—it is difficult to keep the floor clean. also, dining practices are different than our ways of sitting and eating here: their feet are not safely tucked under a table far from anyone’s hands or the food. traditionally they would have lain on their sides and leaned over the table rather than sitting up over it. not much of a barrier between one’s feet and one’s food.

each home or host would provide water for guests to wash their feet upon arrival. if you were coming to my home i would provide this water for you at the front door where you would wash your own feet. or, if i had a slave, i could instruct him or her to wash your feet for you. so this is where the gospel lesson really turns things up on its head. jesus is the host. jesus is god incarnate. jesus is the Teacher (with a capitol ‘T’) jesus is the Master he is Lord. he is all of those things and he is servant. he removes his outer garments—ties a towel around his waist like slave—and performs a humiliating task of washing feet. 

[the purpose of the church and the pastor]

 i recently heard the Church (at large, not one in particular) referred to as a dying social club. as places where some still gather together to see and be seen by others in the community, and as places that are no longer relevant to our more and more fast-paced lives. i have spent a lot of time reading and researching those in my age group (frequently called millennials) and the generation following mine and what they and we want from the Church. i have a lot of feelings about this research—about who is doing it and why, about how it is reported and what parts of it are taken seriously or disregarded. but the feeling that rises to the top is that the Church was never really meant to be relevant before, so why are fighting tooth and nail to be something we were never intended to be?

and the same goes for clergy, for pastors. it is all the rage to be reading, studying and researching ways to be the most relevant pastor. if we are relevant, they will come! our numbers will grow! the bishop will notice me! so i feel like it is really important for me to share with you, right out of the gate, that my hope for the Church, and for this church is not to be relevant to the community.

my hope is not as your pastor to be relevant to you. no, my hope is listen to what the heart of god is saying in this community. my hope is to listen to what your hearts are saying. my hope is that we can share what we hear god whispering to each of our hearts together. that you share with me, and i share with you, and together we learn how to listen to the heart of god in slocum/elkhart, texas. this, far and above, is the purpose of the church and the pastor—and it has nothing to relevance. 

it was not relevant for jesus to kneel down, as a slave, to those following him. but it shows us the shape of god’s heart. jesus as both lord and servant teaches us how to be like god. this is the purpose of the church and the pastor: that together, you and i kneel in humility with each other, wash one another’s feet, and live in this community in this humble and vulnerable way. 

let us not seek to be relevant, but let us seek to embody god’s heart and love one another. this is what we are here to do. jesus gives us the example of humility, radical hospitality. he shocks his disciples with his gentle actions. this is what i hope we can do together. 

jesus said “i am your teacher and master-i have shown you who and what i am, and how i do it. now it’s your turn.”

it is our turn, friends. right here. to listen to the whisper of god in our community, to reach even further beyond our walls to the hearts of our neighbors. to those who have lived here all their lives, to those who moved in last week. across the street to the teachers, administrators and students and their parents in our schools and, perhaps hardest of all, to those who seem forgotten by everyone else. jesus calls us commune and be washed. to dine together here at this table, and at one another’s dining room tables. to draw one another in and always to make more space. 

i hope we can encourage one another to think, to pray, to learn and wonder. i hope we can doubt together. i hope you and i can rest together in the fullness of god’s love and tenderness. i hope that when you doubt, i can hold you in the safety of god’s love and when i doubt you can hold me too. i hope we will come to love one another as family—even if that means we will disagree sometimes—and walk and work together in god’s love. 

i hope to see you at my dining table soon. i am so excited to be here with you—and cannot wait to see what god has in store for us and for this community. 

thanks be to god. amen.


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