May 15th, Jesus as Teacher, with Rev. Kally Elliott
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May 15th: Jesus as Teacher, with Rev. Kally Elliott. – powered by Happy Scribe
The scripture is from John 13. Now, before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Escariat, to betray him. And during supper, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.
Then he poured water into a Basin and began to wash the disciples feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, Lord, are you going to wash my feet? Jesus answered, you do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand. Peter said to him, you will never wash my feet. Jesus answered, Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.
Simon Peter said to him, Lord, not my feet, but also my hands and my head. Jesus said to him, One who has bathed does not need to wash except for the feet, but is entirely clean, and you are clean, though not all of you. For he knew who was to betray him. For this reason. He said, not all of you are clean.
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you. I give you a new commandment that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
You also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.
I recently gave my six year old nephew a real live microphone for his birthday. Anyone who has ever been around a child with a microphone knows how much my brother and sister in law now hate me. If they don’t actually hate me, they are definitely plotting their revenge. Early the other morning, my brother sent me a video of my sweet nephew yelling into his new microphone. Next to the video, my brother had Typed, how’s your morning going?
But seriously, it’s a huge privilege to be given a microphone on Sunday mornings. I am often in awe that you let me have a microphone or if you are watching online that you let me into your living rooms or at your kitchen tables. I can assure you I do not take this privilege lightly, but I don’t think this is perhaps the best way to celebrate or experience God. I don’t think me standing up here with a microphone pontificating on what I may or may not have learned in seminary is what Jesus had in mind when he invited people to follow him or told us to love one another. We’ve been reading the book Freeing Jesus by Diana Butler Bass, and this week we are looking at Jesus from the lens of teacher Jesus.
As teacher Diana Butler Bass talks about her first experience with attending what she calls grown up Church. She writes, the sanctuary was a bit like a school room with people sitting in rows and hard seats so they would pay attention. At the center of grown up Church was a preacher. He gave short lectures about what Jesus taught. The preacher seemed a bit like a teacher, even though he insisted that Jesus was really the teacher.
But I wonder, why do we think learning about God or Jesus is best done with a microphone, through a lecture or a sermon? I mean, maybe we don’t actually think that learning about God is best done this way. But we’re here, aren’t we? Sure. There are times in the Gospels when Jesus teaches in a more traditional sort of way.
We see him teaching in this way and the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. But as soon as he has done teaching, as he comes down from the mountain, he is met by a man with leprosy. And in this scripture, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches this man, healing him. He touches him. Most of the time, Jesus taught not by lecturing but by using his flesh, his body, his touch, to heal and nurture and bless and wash.
He embodies what he teaches. He embodies love.
In the story we just read from the Gospel of John, Jesus is gathered for supper with those he calls his friends. They are all there Peter and James, John, Andrew and the others, probably Mary and Martha and Lazarus, maybe Mary Magdalene and marry his mother. It is only a few nights before he will be crucified, and the shadow of the cross looms over them all. Nobody speaks as they pass the bowl of oil in which to dip their bread and the common cup of wine. And then Jesus stands up, takes off his garment, pours water in a Basin, grabs the towel that is always there for dinner guests to use.
And beginning with the friend to a side, he Stoops down to wash, bless and dry the feet of his friends.
One by one, he works his way around the table. It’s a long, embarrassing interlude of humble service. This is something a slave or a servant usually does when guests first enter a home, feet dusty from travel. If there is no slave, the Basin and the towel are there for guests to use for themselves.
I imagine Jesus coming to Judas, knowing Judas will leave from this very table to sell him out to the authorities. Jesus kneels before him, taking his feet in his hands, washing the calluses with love. And then I imagine him coming to Peter, Peter, who cries out, oh, no, you’re not going to wash my feet. Peter simply saying what they’ve all been thinking. And Jesus replying with, yes, Peter, this is what love in the flesh looks like.
This is who I am. Unless you let yourself be loved, you can’t love others. At least not well. I want you to know love. I want you to feel it in your flesh, in your body, so that you, too, can embody love.
Now, there are people who believe that foot washing should be a Sacrament, a sign or a symbol of God’s Grace for us, just like the bread and the wine we eat and drink during Communion, like the waters we pour on a child’s head during Baptism, God working through ordinary elements bread and wine and water used to feed, soothe, refresh, quench and strengthen our human bodies. And Jesus does say, So if I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
If we didn’t have the other Gospels, if we only had John’s Gospel, we wouldn’t have Communion services. We’d have foot washing services instead.
But foot washing is gross. There, I said it. Sure there are people for whom foot washing is maybe no big deal. I am not one of those people. I don’t like feet.
I mean, I like that we have feet and that without them it would be very difficult to do things that I love to do, such as hike or run or dance. But unless these fees have recently been to the salon for a petty care, you’re not going to see them. Currently. I have what I refer to as winter feet, and I don’t care how well you take care of your feet. I don’t want to touch them.
But maybe that is the point. Maybe when Jesus washed the feet of Peter, of Judas, of his friends, he was preparing them to step into the mystery of faith that involves dying to their own hangups, their own ideas, agendas and goals, and rising to the way of love. Embodied love. Barbara Brown Taylor describes a class she taught with a Presbyterian Minister named Liz. They were teaching about how faith is learned by what we do with our bodies, she writes.
We talked about the usual rituals of baptism, talked about Communion, talked about pilgrimages, Taylor said. We thought we would wrap up the week by doing a foot washing. The act itself would teach us about our bodies and faith. The class revolted. They told their teachers.
They had hoped to end the class with more discussion of stimulating questions. They had explored more history, more theology. They wanted to stay in their heads, Taylor said. And honestly, how many of us would rather our faith be packaged neatly into a Sunday morning worship service, where we get something nice to think about the rest of the week. How many of us would rather stay in our heads, our faith be something we know, something we read about or learn about in a podcast, rather than something we do with our bodies, something we feel in our hands and our feet.
Taylor continues. We got the Christians to agree to remain in the class. Most were clergy who wanted to set a good example. Some were eldest children as well as clergy, and they stayed because they would do it, whether or not they liked it. Slowly, hesitantly, without speaking, the class began washing feet and anointing hands.
There was one couple that had been fighting quietly all week. The woman went first and took off her husband’s shoes like he was one of their children, and put his foot in the Basin. She did it with such tenderness that he leaned over her and cried. She started crying, too, and Taylor said, that was the first time I ever experienced bathing someone’s feet with tears. The husband took off all the wife’s rings and needed her hands.
He put her hands on his wet cheeks and held them with his hands. Then he reached for her wedding ring and put it back on her hand.
How much vulnerability and how much courage did it take for the wife to go first to take off her husband’s shoes and tenderly put his foot in a Basin? They had been fighting all week. There have been times when my own husband and I have been fighting or not speaking to one another, perhaps for days, and he’s come up to me, maybe touched my hand, maybe even giving me a hug, as if to say, can we just remember that we love each other? And it works most of the time because we do love each other. We just sometimes forget how much.
When the wife took her husband’s foot and began washing, he let himself be loved by her. That’s key, because he could have stubbornly yanked his foot away from her, angry, saying, you’re not going to touch my foot until you apologize. But he didn’t. He let her show him that she loved him, and that changed everything. In a way, she was teaching him how to love, and in turn, he was able to love her well.
Of the 90 or so times, Jesus is addressed directly in the New Testament, roughly 60 of those times he is referred to as teacher, as Rabbi, great one, or master, as in the British term schoolmaster. In the first century, the word typically translated as teacher was Rabbi or Rabuni, but it didn’t mean a Jewish clergy person, as it means today. Instead, to be a Rabbi in the first century was to be a teacher who was crafting a new approach to Hebrew texts and traditions and interpretations Jesus says I give you a new commandment that you love one another just as I have loved you. You also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.
Jesus new approach was to embody love. To take faith out of our minds and into our flesh. To love us. Tenderly tangibly to love our bodies, our dirty calloused feet to remind us that we may know what love looks like by using our minds but we feel love. We are loved by using our bodies.
He was love in the flesh.
I give you a new commandment love one another as I have loved you. I made the comment earlier that I don’t think the best way to celebrate or worship God is by giving me a microphone. But I do think this when we are gathered together for worship, even those of you who are gathered in front of a computer or a TV screen. It’s about the body of Christ being together. We are a body all of us, you and me and all of us gathered together together as we worship and as we serve and as we bump up against each other, sometimes annoying or even angering one another.
Working through that anger, showing up with a casserole when one of us is sick. Tangibly loving one another and the world and key here, letting ourselves be loved. That is how we’re begins. Where two or three are gathered together. There too is Jesus in the flesh.