washing each other’s feet

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, 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

To get the full impact on what was going on, you can click the link and read the entire passage of our Lord washing his disciples’ feet on the eve of his crucifixion. What occurs is remarkable, but easily lost to us who maybe have read it time and again. Jesus took off his outer garment and embraced the attitude of a slave. In love, as the passage says, he washes his disciples as any servant or lowly slave would do.

Peter objects, thinking it is demeaning to Jesus, and definitely won’t let Jesus touch his feet. But Jesus in his kind response makes it clear that if Peter doesn’t receive this, then he has no part with Jesus. I have often heard this applied to the truth that we’re cleansed of our sin or forgiven once for all, but that this applies to the daily cleansing we need through Christ’s blood, and with confession, as well as for unknown sins, as we walk in the light (1 John). I tend to think we can make an application that way. After all, Jesus told Peter that he didn’t need any more than foot washing since he was already clean along with the other disciples (except Judas Iscariot). Later that evening he tells them that they are clean through the word he had spoken to them (John 15:3).

What I think Jesus was getting primarily at is brought out in the text (again, the full link above). If they were going to be his followers, they would have to do what he did. Take the path of humility in love to serve others, especially each other. But also others. I am a bit skeptical over whether foot washing should be an ordinance in the church, except that in such cases it can serve as a reminder of what our Lord was getting at in this passage.

Out of love, the same love of God in Jesus, we’re to reach out to each other, even in our weakness, and in humility serve one another. It is something we do, no less. We don’t wait until somehow what’s needed is in ourselves. We live in God’s love in Jesus, whether or not we feel it, whatever our experience. And we’re to take the lowly attitude of a servant in doing so. Paul expresses what our Lord was getting at wonderfully well in Philippians 2, Jesus taking on himself the form of a slave in becoming one of us in the Incarnation, and further to the very depths in his death on the cross. And how we’re to have that same mindset in our relationship to each other. This is the posture we’re to take no matter what, come what may, in and through Jesus.

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characteristics of love

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Paul, in between writing about spiritual gifts in the church, actually makes something higher than any and all of the spiritual gifts, as important as they are in their place.

Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1a

And Paul makes the point that without that love, the gifts themselves are null and void.

We should understand Paul’s description of love as what comes from a heart of love, not as something we have to work up ourselves. At the same time we need to be aware when our lives don’t match. This list helps us know whether or not we’re on track. And if we have God’s love in our hearts, we will find these characteristics in our lives. In our weakness amidst the factors of living as not totally together in a broken world, we will sometimes contradict this. We then need to repent, get back on track, and seek to grow in God’s love, so that these characteristics will more and more become the norm of our lives through the Spirit’s working. In and through Jesus.

 

romantic love

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.

Song of Songs 1:2

Song of Songs (click link for full book) is essentially a celebration of what we call romantic love. It celebrates the love between a woman and man. The opening lines quoted above suggests that women can be the initiators, often done subtly in our culture.

Unfortunately in the minds of too many, instead of being a wondrous gift from God, sex can be seen as a necessary evil. In Scripture there’s no question that sex is tied to procreation. God gave it to bring children into the world, as he told humankind at the beginning, to fill the earth. But Song of Songs makes it clear too, that sex is for pleasure, as Paul says, that each might give their bodies fully to the other for mutual satisfaction.

Of course romantic love is not just about sex, although given the sometimes reticence and even shame, as if sex was dirty, our culture, and specifically sadly enough, even religious culture can inculcate sex as something less than the wondrous gift from God that it is. But again, it’s not just for pleasure. That pleasure is given to God for procreation. Of course not every couple can have children for biological reasons. They continue to enjoy such relations in marriage for bonding and enjoyment, as well as to satisfy that God-given drive and desire.

Married and sexual love is an important part of life, but not everyone marries. Some out of choice don’t, to give themselves fully in devotion and service to the Lord. Others don’t marry not by choice, wishing for a mate, but somehow not finding any such person. While we are sexual beings, our identity goes deeper than that. We are God’s by creation and through Christ by new creation. We are God’s children, one family, again by creation, but more so in Christ, by new creation. While we don’t leave our sexuality behind, our primary identity is more than that, so that when need be, we can sublimate such desires to God, and find joy and satisfaction in other gifts God gives us.

Sin distorts all the good in creation, but by both common grace, and saving grace, God gifts us. We’re to be thankful, and enjoy. As well as submit everything to God, knowing that full realization of what we were created to be lies ahead in the resurrection in Jesus. While we press on in this life to give ourselves fully to God and then to others in and through Jesus.

to love, regardless

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

We live in difficult, even if not perilous times here in the United States. And all around the world much division is becoming more and more evident, and often threatening to tear what fabric of society is left. And of course the actual conflicts with all the human tragedy.

If we don’t have hearts engaged with strong thinking and feeling, then we’re actually not real. Maybe we just want to avoid the pain, including the strife. To want to avoid such is natural, and to want to avoid strife, good. But probably impossible to avoid controversy if one acts on any convictions at all.

But what Paul was saying in the above passage, that in the midst of everything with a thoroughly Christ-centered conviction, following him with others, we’re to do everything in love. That’s how the short imperatives end. “Do everything in love.”

If we’re to break the impasse of strife and hate, we need to love. And not just any love. Not the “all you need is love” bit, which is only good up to a point. No, we need the love of Christ no less. The love of God in him. A love which goes to the cross and dies for one’s enemies, yes for one’s enemies. If we don’t love our enemies as Jesus taught and exemplified, then we fall short of that love.

Love, love, love. In Christ. That’s what we need for each other. And what the world needs to see from us. Which doesn’t mean we won’t speak out against what is wrong. But we always do so in love. And everything tempered in love. In and through Jesus.

stepping aside for others

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

This passage in its rich context tells us that as those in Christ we’re to value others above ourselves. We’re to take the place of the servant just as the one we follow, Christ did. Of course he did it par excellence, like none other. He not only set the precedent, but only in and through him can it be lived out to its fullest. Not to say we can ever do it to the degree and perfection he did. No. But certainly by the Spirit, we can live it out from the heart.

There’s a time to step aside and let others take over and lead the way. Maybe after we’ve shown them the way by example and word. Then we can continue to be an example by letting them take over.

We do well to take the lower place. We want to do so in fellowship with the one who took the lowest place for us and for the world: Jesus. That’s the fellowship in which we’re to live ourselves, and with others in him. In and through Jesus.

longing for a better day

Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

“Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
the pedestal of your idols,
the star of your god—
which you made for yourselves.
Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.

Amos 5:19-27

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Martin Luther King, Jr., was I believe the greatest civil leader of the last century. He spoke with a moral authority which arose out of his Christian understanding, and with a gift of intellect, resolve and passion unmatched probably during his time, and nearly any time. And like the prophets of old, he called people to a better day, which would involve change, indeed repentance. He didn’t mince words, yet he spoke and acted as a follower of Christ, with no love withheld from enemies, in the midst of many prayers, and surely, struggles and tears. To do what he was doing put his life on the line. It was compelling, and could not be dismissed even by those who desperately wanted to.

The prophet Amos lived during a time of great evil in the land. God’s people Israel were continuing on as if all was okay, but in fact all was not. Rich people were living off the poor. The heart of God’s command to love God, and one’s neighbor as one’s self was not the heart of God’s people. So through Amos, God was calling his people to repentance.

They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.

Amos 2:6b-7a

Here in the United States, racism is not erased. Society is still stacked against people of color, at least in many places. Of course some overcome, but for many, they settle down into what they have to do to make ends meet. Others, disenfranchised, don’t do as well, sometimes into a life of drugs in which violence is more or less an every present danger and threat. The gap between the wealthy and the poor is widening. I don’t see how God’s people who read scripture and take Jesus and the prophets seriously can remain silent in the face of such injustice and lack of love. To write it off as secondary to the tragedy of abortion is simply the refusal to do what God does throughout the pages of scripture. And see Amos on this. God doesn’t let some sins slide. Everyone for everything is held to account, particularly for sins against love for God and for one’s neighbor, including those different such as the stranger and refugee.

It’s up to us as God’s people in Jesus to do what Martin Luther King, Jr. did. To do our part, whatever that might be, in calling especially the church, God’s people along with others to a better day. Of course in the church we should be endeavoring to live this out, but alas, all too often we rest in the status quo. God is patient, but wants us to develop a sensitivity to these things. That we might have something of God’s heart for every situation. And show that heart through prayer and deeds in and through Jesus.

get blunt

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Matthew 16:23

Peter had just made the God-received pronouncement that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus had just declared that Peter’s name, rock would be figurative for the rock on which Jesus would build his church, in some ways Peter and the apostles, but directly the message of the gospel of Jesus which they proclaimed. Jesus then tells his disciples just what he as Messiah must do: suffer and die. Peter rebukes the Lord. Then the Lord roundly rebukes Peter. Notice that this is not some outsider whom Jesus is seeking to win. Yet at the same time when I read the gospels you really don’t have to read between the lines much if at all to know what Jesus is getting at. Jesus is characteristically direct and clear, although it’s certainly always in love.

I don’t think we have picked up much of that needed air. Yes, all we do needs to be marked by God’s grace. We’re as much in need of God’s mercy and help as anyone else. So we don’t at all think or if necessary speak from any position of superiority. We’re all on the same level at the cross. We need to be as gentle as possible. And it can depend on the person who we’re trying to help.

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

Jude 1:22-23

We certainly don’t want to alienate others. Of course there are those to whom we can’t appeal at all. They may not be ready to receive it, or they may set themselves up in opposition to God and therefore against themselves. Such blunt language should be reserved only for those who can receive it.

Some would say that this is a case of reading scripture and identifying with Jesus instead of the disciples. It should be and/both. We can’t identify with Jesus all the way, but we should be able to fully do so as those who are seeking to follow him all the way.

In any case I believe the lives of many would have been much better served if pastors and churches, those who are spiritual would have had the wisdom to be blunt when needed. To warn others in no uncertain terms about the path they are on or considering.

Read the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, and Luke especially, along with John, and you’ll find that Jesus didn’t mince words with those who were following him. We are blessed if we can both receive such words into our own lives, and then in grace pass them on to others. But bluntly at the right time, not harshly but gently, but with the force and emphasis needed to help the hearer wake up and change course in their thinking and action. In and through Jesus.