A message given Sunday, March 9, 2008
by Rev. Scott Summerville
I know that you are all grouchy this morning; you are in a bad mood because you lost that hour to daylight savings time. So I have decided to give you back one half hour of your lost time . I’m going to pronounce the benediction and conclude the service right now; we will even skip the organ postlude .
“Go forth into the world in peace…”
Just kidding! You didn’t think you were going to get off that easy, did you?
The title of my message today is, “At Jesus’ feet.” Today the message is all about feet. Before we begin, wiggle your toes. Think about your feet. Are they tired? Are they sore? Think of all the places they have taken you. Feet.
If you are currently employed or have ever held a job, I ask you to imagine that you walk into your place of employment, you ring a bell; you call everybody together and you declare:
“Hey, everybody, listen up. Come on, all of you. Yes, I want the boss out here. The secretaries, the accountants, the custodial staff, the tech staff, yes – you computer guys, I want you out here, too. Everybody, come on, listen up!
I want you all to know who I am.
I want you to know what makes me tick.
I want you to know what my life feels like from the inside.
I want to share with you my deepest thoughts.
I want to tell you what scares me.
I want you to know where it hurts.
I want you to know my greatest hopes and dreams.
I want you to know me as I truly am. And I want you to love me.”
How would that be?
I suspect that in most cases you would be escorted down the hall to the human relations department for emergency counseling, and your job would be suddenly outsourced.
Where can we open our souls in utter trust, lay bare our deepest needs and hurts and wants, and bring forth all that is within us: love and fear, soaring dreams and hidden shame? In healthy and loving relationships, with people we can trust, we can experience to some extent that total opening of ourselves. In our life together in the church as we grow in trust with one another, we can find a place to let ourselves be known and to let ourselves be loved. But ultimately, it is only before God that we can be truly and nakedly open.
I’m going to lead you on a brief biblical journey today. I am going to take you through a series of gospel passages which have one thing in common: they all take place at the feet of Jesus. At the feet of Jesus, people experience a total trust, that enables them to be entirely honest and free. We are going to make for stops today on our biblical journey.
The gospel lesson today from the 12th chapter of John. This takes us to the home of Lazarus and Mary and Martha, where we find Mary at Jesus’ feet.
What is she doing there? What she’s doing there is – for lack of a better word – gross. She is wiping his feet with her hair. And she is wasting a lot of money. She is using up a whole jar of terribly expensive ointment. She’s rubbing the ointment into his feet with her hair. Martha, her sister, is doing the right, proper, and correctly female thing: she is cooking and serving food to Jesus and the other guests.
John 12:1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 12:3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
It is an image of total self giving, the giving of something valuable in a material sense and also the giving of herself in an extreme act of love and devotion.
Not everyone is impressed. Judas criticizes her, scolds her, says to her, “Why are you wasting this valuable ointment?” He pretends that his concern is practical and philanthropic, that he would have given the money to the poor, but this we know is only an excuse to cover his own greed. Jesus addresses the critic and defends Mary: “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” With these words we are reminded that what Mary is doing is an outpouring of deep feeling; she is grieving; she is anticipating Jesus’ death. Jesus reminds them of this with his concluding words in this story: “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
That is the first stop on our biblical journey today.
In fact that story of Mary wiping Jesus the with the ointment is the third story in a trilogy. So now we turn to parts one and two of the trilogy of the women at Jesus’ feet. If you are trying to follow along in your Bibles, we are turning now to Luke chapter 7 beginning with verse 36. Jesus enters the home of Simon the Pharisee.
While he is having a meal with Simon and Simon’s male friends – all respectable and honorable men – into the room comes “a woman in the city who was a sinner.” It does not take too much imagination to conclude what kind of career this woman has pursued.
She also has a jar of ointment, just as Mary had a jar of ointment. A precious and expensive ointment – and this time the container holding the ointment is equally valuable, for it is an alabaster flask. She falls to Jesus’ feet and like Mary, she anoints his feet with the ointment and wipes his feet with her hair. Also she is weeping, weeping so heavily that she wets his feet with her tears, and she wipes his feet with the ointment and her own tears and kisses them. As she does this, once again, we hear the voice of criticism and complaint. “If he knew what kind of woman this was, he would never allow her to touch his feet in this disgusting way.”
Do you see the pattern? A woman is that Jesus feet, and she is criticized for what she is doing. Once again Jesus defends the woman at his feet and answers her critics: “Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven;
as she has shown great love.”
So you see the pattern? A woman at Jesus feet is doing something out of the ordinary, breaking some social conventions; she is criticized by men, and she is defended by Jesus.
The second story in the trilogy is found in the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Luke beginning the verse 38. Here also Jesus is in the home of Mary and Martha. Once again Mary is at Jesus feet.
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. By now you know the pattern, so you know that someone is going to criticize Mary for being at Jesus feet. Sure enough, we read:
But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’’ As we expect, Jesus speaks in Mary’s defense: ‘‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one.
Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’’
Important things happen at Jesus’ feet. People pour their hearts out at Jesus feet;
they pour out their tears; they set aside their inhibitions; they get past their self-consciousness. At Jesus feet people become utterly and sometimes shockingly real.
People break the rules that Jesus’ feet. At Jesus’ feet social conventions get turned upside down. Women assert themselves at Jesus feet – they get criticized by men and by other women for not being proper women – but Jesus defends them.
Women learn at Jesus feet; they draw wisdom that Jesus feet, they claim their minds and the equality of their minds in a man’s world, at Jesus feet. At Jesus feet extravagant gifts are given without the usual mental reservations. The alabaster jar is opened at Jesus’ feet and drained to the bottom. At Jesus feet, people put their calculators aside; they to put aside their ordinary financial calculations, their tax breaks, their careful retirement planning – at Jesus feet people give joyfully and extravagantly.
Judas objects to extravagant giving. Isn’t it odd that Judas was given control of the purse for the disciples of Jesus? Why was the least trustworthy person given the cash? Keeping the cash and fretting over the financial resources of their group – was that part of the reason that Judas lost his way? Money can do that. Did he become too occupied with the purse and the problems and the responsibility of paying for things? Judas in the end was not able to be at Jesus’ feet. He could only criticize the one was.
Powerful and important things happened at Jesus’ feet. Things happen that Jesus’ feet that define a person’s life. People do strange things that Jesus’ feet. Just before his death Jesus himself did a strange thing. We read of it in the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John. There we read how Jesus rose from the table with his disciples,
removed his clothing, wrapped a towel around himself and knelt nearly naked
on the floor and washed the disciples feet.
By now we know that in the Gospels, whenever someone goes down to the floor and gets involved with feet, something very important is happening, and there is going to be an argument. Sure enough, Jesus’ disciples object almost violently to having Jesus wash their feet. Peter said, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus answered: “Unless I wash your feet, you can have no share in me.”
When he had washed their feet, Jesus told them to do for one another as he had done for them, to wash one another’s feet. So our biblical tour at Jesus’ feet ends with Jesus now at the feet of the disciples; and in so far as we are invited to be disciples, the biblical journey ends with Jesus at our feet; Jesus who washes our feet, Jesus who invites us to wash one another’s feet.
With all these feet today, I almost feel like I’m at the New York City Marathon today. If you have ever stood up close at the Marathon, you know how amazing it is to see all the thousands and thousands of feet going by. I have talked about a lot of feet this morning. On holy Thursday there is an ancient Christian tradition of washing feet. I have found it is very difficult to get volunteers for foot washing, even though to me it is one of the most meaningful and powerful of all the rituals of the church. There is something so holy about seeing a row of bare feet:
the foot of a child, the foot of an elder,
female feet and male feet,
skinny feet and broad feet,
brand-new feet, all straight and sleek,
feet and toes twisted with arthritis.
In the washing of feet we encounter each other’s humanity.
There is also an amazing sense of comfort and healing human contact
in having someone wash your feet.
It makes you realize why increasingly even men are going for pedicures.
I do not recommend that you go into work tomorrow and say:
“Hey, everybody, listen up. Come on all of you. Yes I want the boss out here. The secretaries, the accountants, the custodial staff, the tech staff, yes you computer guys, I want you out here, too. Everybody, come on, listen up! I want you all to know who I am. I want you to know what makes me tick. I want you to know what my life feels like from the inside. I want to share with you my deepest thoughts. I want to tell you what scares me. I want you to know where it hurts. I want you to know my greatest hopes and dreams. I want you to know me as I truly am. And I want you to love me.”
But I do strongly recommend that you go to Jesus’ feet; that you allow yourself, before God, to be utterly, nakedly, transparently known. And as sisters and brothers in Christ, as we walk together, as we learn to be more authentic with one another, and as we grow in our trust of one another, we will come to share more of ourselves, our hurts and our hopes.
Together at Jesus’ feet we will learn to let go of our fears
and let God use our lives and our gifts extravagantly.
Shalom, salaam, grace and peace to you.