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04.18.19 Grace to the Humble John 13.1-17 Sermon

by on April 24, 2019

Tonight the paradox of Holy Week is distilled into one act. Of course the week begins with Jesus’ entrance as a king and through a gross miscarriage of justice it ends with his execution as traitor. And in one act we see the message again: Jesus the teacher and Lord washes the feet of his disciples as a slave.

This one act, and all of Holy Week, simply reflects his life. His whole ministry was one of paradox. Against the religious, he welcomed sinners. Against the powerful, he welcomed disenfranchised. Against the popular, he welcomed the outcast. Against those who had no need of a doctor, he welcomed the sick. Jesus’ life was a paradox.

John offers an explanation as to how Jesus could live according to the paradox: “Jesus knew God had given him all things, that he was from God, and was returning to God.” It was this assurance that led him to be faithful, that led him to serve. The assurance goes all the way back to his baptism and forward to his crucifixion.

Jesus is the revelation of the paradox of God, a God who graciously exchanges the light for those living in darkness, the faithful for the unfaithful, the free for the bound, the innocent for the guilty, the sinless for the unclean, the truly living for the truly dying, the giver for the greedy, and the king for the subject. Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker summarizes our situation: “If yours is the glory, mine must be the shame.”

Except for Jesus. For there is another paradox in this passage. You and I can participate in the same divine life as Jesus. He said, “Unless I wash your feet, you have no share with me.”

How can we who are in shame, have a share in the glorious? How can we who are the guilty, have a share in the innocent?

It starts with Jesus washing our feet, cleaning us where we need it. Not our heads and our hands, as Peter insisted (unless we need that), but only our targeted need. The place we need it most, which we hide the hardest, is where God wants to wash us. That’s where grace is applied to us. It takes humility to receive grace, to have a share, and it starts with Jesus washing our feet.

But then it continues. We have to wash others, according to their need, not where we want to show them grace, but where they need it. It takes humility to offer grace as well.

And Jesus has plenty of grace to offer, plenty of grace to share, for all who will allow him to wash their feet, and who will wash the feet of others. Amen.

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