Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Washing Feet

     I don't know why Jesus didn't just start over.  The twelve He had were incorrigible, stubborn, selfish, egotistical.....I think you get the idea.  John doesn't tell us this, but we get the message from the Synoptics.
     Let me set the scene for you.  The time for Jesus to die is fast approaching.  The Passover was a feast that all good Jews celebrated.  If you lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem, you were required to be there for the feast.  Right before the feast evidently the apostles were having a discussion.  Feud would probably be a better description of what was going on.  They were arguing among themselves who was the greatest.  Peter may have had the inside track because he seemed to be the one who had the right answers.  James and John could have made a good argument because they were there with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Matthew could have made the case that he once had lots of money, but he gave it all up to follow Jesus.  To which they all probably said, "Join the club!  We've all left everything!"
     During this "I'm better than you are" talk, Jesus gets up from the table, wraps a towel around His waist, pours a basin of water and starts washing their feet.  This is typically a job for the house slave. It was the basic bit of hospitality--much like us offering something to drink today.  It was just assumed that you would do that at the very least.  But they were too busy jockeying for position.  The Creator of the Universe, the Savior, the Messiah, the Way, the Truth and The Life got on His hands and knees and washed the dirty, smelly feet of the apostles.
     Here's how John described it.  "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power,"  (Think about that!  He had all the power in the world!  Yet, He took the role of the servant.) "and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 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 13:3-5
     I bet that stopped all the arguments!  But note what John said.  He had come from God and He was returning to God.  Isn't that all of us?  Didn't we come from God?  Isn't that our ultimate destination at the end of our lives to return back to God?  So what do we do while we're here on earth?  Serve.  It's what Jesus said to do.  No task is too menial.  No one is above anything that advances the Kingdom.  No matter how dirty, no matter how silly it looks.
     Friends of mine work for the corporate giant Tyson Foods.  They are a well known chicken company based in Northwest Arkansas.  All of their employees where khaki pants and khaki shirts that have their name and the company logo on it.  Even the higher ups wear the traditional garb.  One day I asked one of the chief executives why he didn't wear a suit.  He said, "Jim, let me ask you a question.  If you were wearing a suit, would you likely go into a chicken house?"  Touche!  All right, let's wrap our towels around our waists and let's start serving.  JW

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Cup

     Several images come to my mind when I think of "The Cup."  My first thought goes to the Lord's Supper when Jesus calls His apostles to drink the cup in His memory.  Another idea is that of fellowship.  Let's sit down and have a cup of coffee (or chai in my case...sorry, not a coffee drinker).  But it conjures up the image of fellowship, having something in common.
     In ancient times, it was a form of capital punishment.  If convicted you drank a cup of poison.  Socrates died in such a manner by drinking a cup of hemlock.
     James and John sent their mother to do their dirty work; they had her ask Jesus if one could sit on His right side and the other on His left side when He came into His kingdom.  Jesus asked them if they could drink the cup that He Himself was going to drink.  Mark makes it a little clearer when he quotes Jesus as saying, "Can you drink the cup I drink I drink or be baptized with baptism I am baptized with?"  (Mark 10:38)
     Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus agonized in prayer over His coming death.  He prayed to God, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken away from me."  Later in the same scene, the mob comes to arrest Jesus and Peter uses his sword to cut off Malchus' ear.  Jesus says to him, "Put your sword away!  Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"
     So I get the idea that this cup image is something important.  It's used enough times for me to take heed and listen.  Is Jesus calling for a suicide pact of some kind?  My answer?  Yes and no.  His not calling for us to kill ourselves physically.  He says, we need to die to ourselves.  Paul said, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain."  He also said, "I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless not I, but Christ lives in me."  Jesus calls us to take up our crosses....daily.
     William Barclay told the story of an ancient coin that was found with an image of an ox facing two things--an altar and a plough.  The inscription reads, "Ready for either."  In other words, if God asks us to sacrifice our lives even to the point of death, we are ready.  Isn't that what John says in Revelation where he said, "Be faithful unto death."?  Or, we should be ready to put on the yoke of Jesus and live "the long routine of Christian life, with all its daily sacrifice, its daily struggle, and its heart-breaks and its disappointments and its tears."  Jesus said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
     Whatever He calls us to, Jesus asks us to drink the cup with Him.   Come what may, we accept His fate as ours and serve Him all the days of our life.  Blessings on your day.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Like Little Children

In Matthew 18, the disciples come to Jesus and ask Him who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  There are several interesting things about this whole situation.  First of all, it's the wrong question.  All indications are that they were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest.  Both Mark 9 and Luke 9 tell the story, but they indicate that the apostles were arguing among themselves about this very question.  Their thought process was that Jesus was going to overthrow the Romans and He would become the leader.  He would then need a Secretary of State, a Secretary of Treasury, a Speaker of the House...  They, as they often did, missed the point.  It wasn't about an earthly kingdom, it was about God's kingdom at large.

Another interesting point is, Matthew doesn't bring up the fact that they were arguing among themselves.  Mark does.  Luke does.  But not Matthew.  Mark wasn't an apostle.  Scholars feel he told the story from Peter's perspective.  Luke wrote Acts and Luke and sent them to Theophilus.  Luke was a physician, a missionary mate of Paul.  He wasn't an apostle either.  So neither of them weren't afraid to tell the story.  Perhaps, Matthew was a little too embarrassed about this because maybe, just maybe he was in on the argument.  So "let's just not bring that up."

So Jesus places a child in their midst and says that's what the kingdom of heaven looks like.  William Barclay says it may have been Peter's son.  That's an interesting twist!  He tells those who were acting like children that they need to be more like children.

In my sermon Sunday, I gave five characteristics of children that I think Jesus would want us to emulate.

A Sense of Wonder--

I think you can see all of these except for the "overlooked" one.  In his book, Jesus, A Gospel, Henri Nouwen says to be like a child is to pay attention to those who are often overlooked.  "Children should be seen and not heard," is the saying.  Yet, Jesus says they are the ones to look to as our model.

Learn from a child.  See how he still has the purity of youth and has not yet been overcome with the curse of cynicism.  Learn to trust God and to be dependent.  May we always have a sense of wonder and awe at what God has done and is  doing.  And may we follow the example of Jesus when he says he is meek and humble in heart.

Blessings to you this day.  JW