Maundy Thursday LSB #’s 445:1-4, 543
Text – John 13:16-17
Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Sarah Raymond Cunningham is not only a Christian, but a Christian who witnesses to her faith. “I have braved a few real-life conversations with homosexual friends,” she writes. “I distinctly remember how I felt on each occasion. Queasy mostly.” Sarah goes on to tell about a conversation with one particular friend:
“There were dozens of tangible traits I treasured about my friend, & I told him so. But, in a voice trembling with nervousness & compassion, I confessed I was afraid my friendship might seem insincere if I couldn’t affirm what he held to be a central part of his identity: his sexuality.”
“‘As far as I can tell,’ I gulped, ‘the Bible only introduces one kind of sexual union, & that is between a man & a woman. So, I have to believe this is the course that leads to the fullest life – the life the Creator intended for us.’ When I spit out these defining sentences, I worried all my friend could hear was Blah-Blah-Christian-Blah-Blah-Blah.”
Maybe you’ve tried to share your faith & got a roll of the eyes, a polite suffering through your witness, or outright rejection – Blah-Blah-Christian-Blah-Blah-Blah. That was not the way Sarah’s witness was received. Her homosexual friend stared back at her kindly, so she continued:
“I want you to know I believe God loves every person deeply & equally. That includes the homosexual. It would be dishonest for me to pretend I agree with or understand the path you believe is right, but I accept that you are free to choose your own course. However, that’s not because I’m especially charitable or generous. It’s because God is.” Looking back, Sarah reflected, “I think the conversation changed me more than my friend, because it forced me to acknowledge parts of God’s will I sometimes overlook.”
That caring conversation helped her discover more about herself. To be more specific, Sarah’s care for her friend helped her discover more about God’s will for her life. Maundy Thursday helps us discover more about how God wants us to live our lives.
John 13 begins, “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world & go to the Father.” What would you do with your life if you knew that tomorrow you would die?
“…having loved His own who were in the world, [Jesus] loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, & that He had come from God & was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, & taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin & began to wash the disciples’ feet & to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.” (John 13:1b-5 ESV)
That Maundy Thursday the 1st disciples found themselves served by the Son of God. Jesus knew He was going to die the next day & what did He do? He showed His love by the menial service of washing the feet of His disciples. Peter balked at such a thing: “Peter in charge here! I’ll pick & choose how you relate to me, Jesus!”
We might say that Peter was an individualist, a good-hearted individualist, but still a man who wanted his will, not God’s, to be done. Jesus challenged Peter’s individual judgment. Tonight Jesus challenges us: Do you choose how you will relate to me? And if you think you can relate to God in any old way you choose, is that how you will relate to one another?
This is the most challenging time of this evening’s sermon. Jesus “came to Simon Peter,
who said to Him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’” (John 13:6-8)
In our nation we think of churches as voluntary associations of autonomous individuals. Individuals come together as a church, if they want, & do what they want. It’s interesting that our modern understanding of the individual, going back only to the 19th century, is relatively recent in the long scope of history.
American individualism says you can do what suits your best interests & you can express yourself in any way you want. You are free to find the true you! Jesus speaks against this do-your-own-thing individualism with the words: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Our life together as a church is not a voluntary association of independent individuals. It’s not for us to decide how we relate to Jesus, or even to each other. Jesus is radical in His teaching when He says, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” Peter backed right off: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands & my head!” (John 13:9 ESV)
By washing their feet Jesus was giving the disciples a sign. They were cleansed, we are cleansed, by His coming, by His passion, by His death for us, by His resurrection & going back to the Father, by the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Your baptism cleansed you. “…unless one is born of water & the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5 ESV)
This word you are hearing cleanses you, as John 6 says: “My words are spirit & they are life.” The meal we shall receive shortly, the supper of our Lord, is our cleansing. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, & whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV)
Maundy Thursday helps us find ourselves. This evening, God shows us again who we
are. Sitting together to hear Jesus’ words, gathering together at His table, are visible signs that our life together is not as autonomous individuals who voluntarily come to church. We are made one body, as we are washed by our Savior who is also our Servant. Social commentator Robert Bellah wrote:
We find ourselves not independently of other people & institutions but through them. We never get to the bottom of ourselves on our own. We discover who we are face to face & side by side with others in work, love & learning. All of our activity goes on in relationships, groups, associations & communities ordered by institutional structures & interpreted by cultural patterns of meaning… We are parts of a large whole that we can neither forget nor imagine in our own image without paying a high price.
“When [Jesus] had washed their feet & put on His outer garments & resumed His place, He said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher & Lord, & you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord & Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:12-15 ESV)
Let me close by going back to Sarah Cunningham. She said, “I worried that all my friend could hear was Blah-Blah-Christian-Blah-Blah-Blah.” But that wasn’t the way Sarah’s friend reacted. He “stared back at me kindly.” He knew that she cared, genuinely. The heavenly Father loves us enough to be honest with us.
His love for us gives our independent hearts the freedom to be no longer afraid of change. The earliest Christians gained a reputation for loving one another, & that changed others. On Maundy Thursday, God’s love helps us realize that we have been washed & loved. We can be a community that aspires to follow Jesus in loving service to each other.
That’s who we are, not because we’ve found ourselves, but because a loving Savior has found us! Amen.
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down, when I was sinking down, sinking down, when I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul. Amen. LSB 543:2.
 David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons, UnChristian [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007], 113-114.
 Stanley Grenz & John Franke, Beyond Foundationalism [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001], 203.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet