Benediction Online

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Radical Humility, Radical Love

I popped into the Abundance Shop, our thrift store on 9th St one morning this week to drop something off and met one of the volunteers who I hadn’t seen for a long time. She is not a church member but wanted to tell me how much she appreciates both the shop and the church. She talked about the Abundance shop as place of healing where she feels grounded and gets to meet people and listen to their stories in a unique way. She talked about St. Benedict’s as a place where she felt welcome when she visited, but also as a place where everyone is accepted. “That,” she said, “is a rare thing to find.”

In the gospel reading today we see Jesus in his last evening with his disciples doing something very odd. He picks up the towel and water, and taking the role of the servant, washes their feet. This was unheard of - the teacher washing feet -the master being a servant. And so he explained,
"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. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

This is a call to radical humility. We are used to people who are powerful in an organization not doing the dirty work. Washing feet is for those at the bottom. Our society is based on inequality. Last year the typical corporate CEO was paid more than $15million. But caregivers, those who wash our feet and other body parts when we are unable, are paid very little, hardly enough to get by. They are often unseen and unacknowledged. Yet they are doing everyday exactly what Jesus taught us to do.

Jesus says, “servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.” The words make sense, but his symbolic actions turn conventional wisdom on its head, because it shows that he too considers himself no greater than his master or the one who sent him. He is saying that we humans are all equal in God’s sight. We are all servants of the Most High, we are all messengers sent by the same One.

Even though we have been listening to these scriptures for about 2000 years, I don’t think we have begun to really take in what they mean or to find a way to live them. No-one is intrinsically more important than anyone else. We all have different gifts and skills and we take on different roles. But in the reign of God, in the Church, no-one is more important or more valuable than anyone else. Everyone is equally acceptable. Everyone is equally loved by God.

Jesus goes on to say, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

We tend to read that in the light of the cross, of that ultimate act of love and pouring out of Godself in order to give us life and immortality, but if Jesus said this to his disciples on the night before he was betrayed, then they would have heard it in light of the way he had lived with them and loved them over the previous three years.

So, in order to better understand how we are to live and love together, let us think about how Jesus loved his disciples.

It was obviously a close relationship of teaching and learning. We get glimpses of their life together in the stories we hear about their travels through Galilee and Samaria and eventually to Jerusalem. We know that they ate together. We know that the disciples quarreled. We know that they got tired and that Jesus took time out to rest and to pray. We also know that it was a life with purpose – the purpose of proclaiming and demonstrating the reign of God.

It was a life lived closely together, a life in the round. Jesus did not set himself above the disciples even though he was their acknowledged Lord and Master. This is the life that we are called to live. A life of equality, a life where all who enroll in the kingdom are treated and respected equally, regardless of their wealth, regardless of their personal charisma or talent, regardless of their ability to engage in easy conversation.

It is not the way the world operates.

The world rewards those with talent, good connections and good luck. It rewards those who are able to garner financial wealth. It rewards those who are able to speak eloquently. It rewards those who play the game.

The early church was seen as a totally different society, a society of love. Tertullian, writing in about the year 200, said that others say “See how these Christians love one another.” The members of the early church sold their assets so that they could share what they had with each other and with those who came to them.
That experiment didn’t last very long, but it is a reminder to us of how we are really called to live. We are called to live as though we take Jesus’ words seriously. We are called to be counter-cultural in our care for one another. It is kind of fun and kind of uncomfortable to wash each other’s feet once a year. It is good to remind ourselves that we are called to be servants to each other.

It is another thing to live it out and to embody humility. How many of us stay to help clean up after pot lucks? How many of us take the time to get to know another church member or a visitor whom we find a little difficult to like or to communicate with? How many of us are willing to serve behind the scenes doing what it takes to make a church run smoothly?

Creating a faith community where all are accepted is a wonderful thing to attempt, but unless we are constantly living acceptance and mutual respect, it won’t be long before someone feels excluded. I salute our friends at Trinity for declaring this year that they are a welcoming and reconciling congregation and I challenge both St. Benedict’s and Trinity to think about how we can become even more inclusive.


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