Friday, April 6, 2012

Love Like This

Over the years I’ve come to realize I am not a good care receiver. I like to be a care giver. It’s hard to let someone do things for me. Many of us have been teachers, secretaries, managers, nurses, parents-lots of ways we’re used to caring for and serving others. We feel good when we care for others. We feel useful. But letting someone else care for US? Not so much. Good caregivers are often lousy care receivers. Sound familiar?

So I wonder- as we struggle to let others do loving things for us, how much are we willing to let Jesus love us? Jesus says love others as I have loved you. But how easy is it to let Jesus get close and love us- the real “us”?

I think the answer to this question affects how we will then love-which has me rethinking this whole foot-washing thing. In some churches tonite is the night for re-enacting not only the Last Supper, but the washing of feet. I was asked again last night- are you going to do foot washing? After all, in the Gospel of John we hear nothing about the meal we call communion, no words of “do this in remembrance of me.” We hear about washing feet. There’s been lots of division in the church over communion, but perhaps not surprisingly no such heated debates about washing feet.  As I was asked about washing feet with cringing faces, there was relief when I said “no.”
We get a little up in arms about the whole foot washing thing. Peter is indignant too, though we hear he is indignant about having his feet washed mainly because he thinks it’s beneath Jesus, this act of bowing down, and doing the work of the lowliest slave. This breach of social standards is shocking. It’s embarrassing to have Jesus on his knees, washing off the grime, and the dust of animals, taking off and laying down robes that will only again be removed when he lays down his life and is crucified.

Jesus washing feet. It was a part of a social custom, but while it’s not a common practice today, I think our feelings about foot-washing still tell us something about Jesus and ourselves. I confess I’ve never been a fan of the practice, but in one congregation I served, I realized there was no way out. I spent hours getting my feet ready for the big reveal-making sure my feet looked OK-which of course ironically reveals something about me.

From talking to some of you, I know I’m not alone. Unless its summer and we’re the flip-flop wearing kind, our feet are usually hidden. Perhaps they’re not our most attractive feature. Yet, one writer suggests that our feet are perhaps an indicator of our real selves. Long after we start out with cute, pink baby toes, our feet develop crooked toes, corns, calluses, discolored toenails, cracked skin, bunions. Centuries later, and in spite of all our technologicla advances, our feet aren’t much better than those feet in the sandals of the followers of Jesus. While they may be cleaner, to invite people to look at our feet is to invite them to accept us as we are, because we can do little to change their appearance.

This is an intimacy that perhaps we’re not likely to want to be a part of. Just like those layers of dirt of the disciples’ feet, we will keep our layers, thank you very much. It’s a little too much humility. Jesus’ humility is hard to look upon, the humiliation that will be seen most fully in his death. We don’t like this, or thinking of our own humility. Even when we care for others, we like a distance. Yet, Jesus shows a loving intimacy that we are ill at ease with. He removes the distance between him and his followers, and brings them face to face with pure love. For Peter and for us there’s something else at stake besides Jesus’ dignity. It is our ability to receive this love that comes as a gift we didn’t earn or deserve, that doesn't allow us to keep our status. Jesus loves us as we are up close, without the layers and pretense, and shows us how we “instinctively seek to protect our position and perception of power and control.”

We don’t respond to God’s commands or to God’s saving initiative easily, but we are even more ill at ease with this searing honest love. Yet, it is only in God’s steadfast faithfulness, seeking and shaping, washing off the layers that we can begin to approach self-giving love- either to receive it or to model it in the world. Tonite we hear again, that we are to love and be loved in this way.

We prefer to let God love us in ways that let us save face, but when we do this, we miss the possibility of God revealed in our midst in ways that break open deeper love in community. 
Who is God using to show us this love?
Can we learn to simply receive it and the  hospitality of others?
Will be willing to risk deeper, more intimate relationships, and proclaim a death to our barriers? The story of footwashing invites us to Christ in these things. Things that break open barriers to real relationships, and encourage us to be willing to lay down our lives for this new way of being.
To believe that Christ’s love for us is even deeper than our willingness to admit our need. And that the love God the Father has for the Son is the love the Son has for us-No reservations. This kind of relationship is possible for us here. Mutual love, without any special treatment. Honest love for who we are.

Foot-washing shows us both the depth of Jesus’ love and the model for us as disciples. While we can’t love as deeply as Christ, we’re invited to step deeper into this reality nd to believe God really does intend such love for us.

When we begin to believe this is true for us, we’ll be more able to receive God’s love through all kinds of people who bear Christ into our midst.
And then...we’ll be unable to keep from showing the light of this love to others, even when it means sacrificing our comfort level.

A real, intimate love willing to go to places our social standards would say we should avoid that models the real, intimate love that went the places God didn’t have to go. Self-giving love seen fullest in the cross.

Tonite we’re asked to remember and here is God's message-
I love you. Love and be loved as I have loved you.
Love like THIS and the whole world will know who I am .

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