It is John’s telling of the last supper story, or the Passover meal. The big difference is that in John’s account, there is no bread that is broken and no wine that is served. In John’s story, the action revolves around Jesus washing the disciple’s feet and how he explains what he has done with his disciples.
This scripture about the serving robe teaches us about what it means to serve others in God’s kingdom. It teaches us about a new commandment that Jesus gave the disciples which is to love one another.
These are themes that are almost always covered on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week, because this is the appointed gospel reading for that night in the church year.
We’re using a little different approach during this Lenten season. We’re combining the choir anthems and the sermons, and taking a look at how the different kinds of robes that Jesus wore can teach us some important lessons about Jesus, that can then draw us into a closer, deeper, and more personal relationship with him.
As I was thinking about what Jesus’ robe might teach us from this story, it hit me that we can learn some things more from the actions of Jesus with his robe, than from the robe itself. The first thing is, Jesus took off his robe. He served the disciples by washing their feet. And then, he put his robe back on.
I’d like to use this story today to think about how we can become more like Jesus through what we take off, and by what we put on.
The disciples were probably pretty shocked when Jesus took up the basin and the towel and began to wash their feet. He was Jesus. He was their teacher. He was their Master. He was their Lord. Foot washing was not something that masters did.
Imagine your surprise if you saw a King shining someone’s shoes. Or, what would you think if you saw the Queen of England giving someone a pedicure? Either of those two scenes would be out of place. You’d never expect to see either one of those things happen.
In the days of Jesus, foot washing was done by the servants of the household. And it was no more glamorous of a job in Jesus day, than it would be today! People’s feet get really dry and dirty and calloused and cracked when they walk around for miles wearing sandals. To wash someone’s feet was an act of hospitality and care. It was also an act of servitude and humility.
No wonder Simon Peter told Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” Not Jesus. Not his master. Not ever. Still, there Jesus was with his wash basin and his towel. He knelt in front of them one by one and washed their feet, calluses and all.
When he was done, he told them why. He said, “I’m setting an example for you.” “You also should do what I have done to you.”
Just what did Jesus do?
Well, John tells us that when the festival of the Passover had come, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. He had loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
So, he got up from the supper, took off his robe, and tied a towel around himself.
What an act of humility that was!
There is almost nothing more humbling than to feel underdressed in public when it is out of place. Ever since the Garden of Eden when the man and the woman realized they were naked, human beings have had a fear of “being naked” both literally, and metaphorically.
We feel much more in control and like we have more authority when we’re dressed for success, when we look the part of being in control and having authority.
Jesus has authority and control, yet he laid it aside.
He set aside the glory and eternal praises of heaven, to come to earth where people would reject him.
He set aside his outer garment at the supper so he could fill the role of a slave and wash the disciple’s feet.
And all of this is to foreshadow the ultimate laying aside that Jesus would soon demonstrate…willingly laying aside his own life, and dying on a cruel, hard, cross.
Being a servant is hard. And being a slave? It’s a repulsive idea to us. Yet that is what our scripture says.
So, what attitudes must we willingly lay aside or take off, if we are going to follow the example of our Lord Jesus, and serve?
How about our ego? We can’t think about how good we are, or that we’re above serving.
How about a lack of compassion for others and the needs of others?
Here’s another piece of clothing we need to set aside – being judgmental.
We need to take all of these attitudes off, if we are going to be able to serve with same mind that Christ served.
On that night in the upper room, as Jesus washed their feet, in that moment, I wonder if the disciples finally ‘got it’. They had been hand-selected by Jesus from the crowds. From the smelly dregs of farms and boat docks he had called them, and given new meaning to their lives. With him they were something special. He had elevated them above the plow and the fishing net… or so it seemed.
The disciples were special. Jesus called only twelve of them out of everyone he could have chosen. But Jesus didn’t call them from the crowds of farmers and fishermen so that they would enjoy a greater status. Jesus called them to serve. He called them to teach them so they could carry on his ministry of loving people after he departed.
And we can almost imagine the disciples asking after Jesus was taken up to heaven, “What in the world are we going to do now?” Throughout the rest of their lives, as many rejected them, persecuted them, and eventually killed most of them, can’t you just hear them asking, “What do we do with these people now?”
It reminds me of a story I heard several years ago about a man who was awaiting the birth of his first child. This story happened in the days before dads were allowed in the delivery room with their wives.
This new dad stood there in the hospital waiting room, nervous as he could be, and finally after what seemed like forever, a nurse called him back into the nursery to meet his newborn son…
Only it wasn’t a son. It was sons – twin boys! Of course, back then they didn’t really have ultrasounds and sonograms. This dad found out he was having twins the minute he looked them right in the face!
The nurse let him hold them both at once. He said he remembered standing there with a tiny bundle in each arm, asking God, “What in the world am I going to do?”
And, in that moment he imagined what God might say back to him. The answer was, “Just love them.” “Just love them.”
When I think back to the births of my children, I remember holding each little bundle in my arms and seeing them face-to-face for the first time. Suddenly, I was a father. And holding each softly swaddled newborn, the world had suddenly changed for me.
While certainly overcome with joy and elation, I also had a healthy dose of anxiety and uncertainty mixed in. How would I be a father to this child? Each of those amazing events was one of those moments when I asked God “What in the world am I going to do?” And once again, the answer came: “Just love her. Just love him.”
I think that’s really Jesus’ message to his disciples, too. He’s preparing them for a time when he will no longer be with them, and they’ll be the ones doing ministry. They’ll be the ones standing in front of the crowds of people, staring right into the faces of people of all shapes and sizes, all suffering from their own brokenness and longing to be made whole by God’s grace.
When Jesus left them, I’m sure the disciples had plenty of those “What in the world are we going to do?” moments. But then they will remember Jesus, with his wash basin and towel. They’ll remember his example of how he expects them to treat other people. It’s like he’s saying, “See? It’s simple. I’m sending you out into the world, into those crowds of people from whom I called you. What are you to do? Just love them. Just love them.”
Last Sunday, we commissioned Jenaye Hill as our new Stephen Ministry Leader. We have a very active Stephen Ministry here in our church which offers one to one peer support for a set amount of time. Stephen Ministry is especially helpful if you’re experiencing a difficult time in your life or if you are going through some kind of transition in your life and you just need someone who will listen and pray with you.
Jenaye has been serving as our Office Manager & Communications Director for the past two and a half years, but during this time, she was also praying to be open to God’s calling in her life.
When Sharon Stoltzfus announced that she felt called by God to step aside as our Stephen Ministry leader and focus more on our prayer ministry, Jenaye felt God calling her to move into this Stephen Ministry Leader role.
So Jenaye went to the week long and very intensive Stephen Ministry Leader training last month in Florida. While she was there for her training, she continued to feel God calling her to serve, but she wasn’t sure what else that might be. Wasn’t this Stephen Ministry Leader training enough on her plate?
After she came back, she was telling me that she still felt God was calling her to serve in some way but she wasn’t sure what that might be. Around that time, I received a call from the district office.
They wanted to know if there was anybody in our church who felt a calling to pastor a couple of small churches near Athens. Jenaye immediately came to mind because of her shepherding heart.
I called her immediately and asked her to pray about becoming the pastor of these two churches. It’s not everyday that you ask your Office Manager if she might feel called into the pastoral ministry.
So Jenaye prayed about it and long story short, today is her first Sunday of worship at Union and New Marshfield United Methodist Churches. A couple of weeks ago, I went to the initial introduction meeting with Jenaye to meet the members of those two churches. They haven’t had a pastor for some time so they were absolutely thrilled when they met Jenaye and heard how God had called her to respond to this new calling in her life.
They had been praying for God to send them a caring pastor, and God had answered their prayer. Like our own Rick Seiter who is serving at Pisgah UMC, Jenaye is beginning her process toward becoming a license local pastor which means a long process of taking pastoral ministry courses and being in a mentor group.
The good news for us is that Jenaye’s new appointment at these churches is only a quarter time so she will be able to continue to be our Office Manager and our Stephen Ministry Leader.
I wonder if Jenaye feels like a new parent of twins, but instead of two babies, she is now cradling two churches. She wonders, like any new pastor of a two point charge wonders, “What in the world am I going to do now?” And a voice responds, “Just love them. Just love them.”
God has a way of handing us these babies and we wonder, “What in the world are we going to do now?
Like a couple of weeks ago, when we were asked to provide a meal on March 9th for Good Works Outreach because they can’t find a group available on that week. And like this week when we have been asked to donate and assemble flood buckets to help with the clean-up down in Pomeroy.
We were handed these two babies and we asked, “What in the world do we do now?” And the answer came, “Just love them. Just love them.”
As we go through our day to day living, God provides us with opportunities to serve others like Jesus did when he washed the disciples’ feet.
We encounter pain and brokenness in our community and world. There are people who have lost hope, who are discouraged, and who are struggling to make ends meet. And we wonder what we can possibly do in these situations.
And so we touch the serving robe of Jesus. And once again the answer comes to us,
“Just love them.” “Just love them.”
Come, Touch the Serving Robe of Jesus
Small Group Questions
February 25, 2018
John’s telling of the Last Supper meal does not include the parts about Jesus lifting the bread and the cup to signify his body and blood. Instead, he chooses to focus on Jesus’ washing the disciples feet at that meal, which was something only servants did in that time period. This action by Jesus surprised the disciples. John wants us to see that even though Jesus is the true King of kings, he is also a very loving/humble/serving King.
Share a time when you were surprised by somebody’s humble service on your behalf.
In order to serve the disciples, Jesus chose to lay aside his garment during that foot washing.
What is God calling you to “lay aside” in order to serve others in his name?
Pastor Robert shared the story of a father who was surprised when his wife gave birth to newborn twins. Feeling overwhelmed and under qualified to be a dad to newborn twins, he cried out to God, “What in the world am I going to do?” He could hear God answering back, “Just love them. Just love them.”
What does this phrase mean to you? “Just love them. Just love them.” How can this response help you to serve others when you are feeling overwhelmed and under qualified?
Richard Foster, author of the book, “Celebration of Discipline” offers these thoughts on being true servants of Christ. Take turns reading these in your small small group and listen for the ones that really stand out for you:
Self-righteous service comes through human effort. True service comes from a relationship with the divine “other” that comes from deep inside us.
Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal.” True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service.
Self-righteous service requires external rewards. True service rests contented in hiddenness.
Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. True service is free of the need to calculate results.
Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.
Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims. True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.
Self-righteous service is temporary. True service is a life-style.
Self-righteous service is without sensitivity. It insists on meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive. True service can withhold the service as freely as perform it.
Self-righteous service fractures community. True service, on the other hand, builds community.