Summary: Using the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet, this is a call to simple, self-less service. The sermon also discusses Jesus' provision for our ongoing fellowship with him.
The Order of the Towel and the Basin
Textual Introduction: Jesus’ public teaching has come to an end. In the next few chapters, he will teach some of his most profound lesson to his small band of disciples, those who had been with him from the beginning, teach them during the few hours before the crucifixion.
Circumstances and schedules conspired to keep our youth from going on what has become an annual mission trip. I’ve had the privilege of going with them on each of their trips.
You’ve heard the stories of meeting Native Americans on the Cherokee reservation, of painting houses, of dealing with children in Bible clubs, of visits to nursing homes, of nightmarish bathrooms, of hordes of wasps; and, most recently, of angry rioters burning homes only a few blocks where we were staying. You haven’t heard as much about the evening worship times.
These were usually encouraging and often inspiring. Still, I always looked forward to the final night with a kind of dread. You, see the Thursday night meeting always concluded with a foot-washing service.
From our first trip to Cherokee we’ve asked the local leaders to make sure each person knew they had the right to decide for themselves if they would participate.
We’re we trying to be hard to get along with? I hope not. I think we were acknowledging that this passage has created some issues for Baptists over the years. Some of our fellow Christians are convinced Jesus was instituting a third ordinance, along with baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In fact, some Christian groups conduct a foot-washing service whenever they have communion. They believe the act is a sign of humility. One writer actually implied a congregation wasn’t healthy unless it practiced foot-washing.
The irony is these groups often believe they are being more humble than the rest of us.
Other groups focus on the cleansing Jesus speaks of and argue that foot-washing symbolizes our willingness to forgive the hurts and slights we may have received from that person whose feet we’re washing.
The fact someone has to go to such an effort to explain the rite probably means they’ve missed to point Jesus was making.
By the way, from what I can determine, the rite of foot-washing didn’t appear in the church until the fourth-century. Does this mean I believe any group of Christians who observe this practice is doing wrong? No. It does mean I believe the danger of missing the point of this story is very real.
As often seems to happen in John’s Gospel, there may be several levels of meaning in this account but ultimately I believe Jesus is calling those who believe in him to display a spirit of service.
Jesus had some final lessons to teach his disciples and he does so dramatically by providing a visual aid.
To do so he casts himself in the role of a servant. But, of course, this was nothing new. Paul reminded the Philippians that Jesus had conducted his whole earthly ministry in just such a servant spirit. Quoting what may have been an early Christian hymn, Paul says: