Tag Archives: quaker minister

A Life Built Wisely

Click here to download or listen to the sermon based on these notes.

Today we reach the grand finale of the Sermon on the Mount, so a bit of a recap is in order. With the beatitudes Jesus challenged the value measurement system of health, wealth, happiness, and prosperity by saying God blesses the humble, meek, hungry, mourning and persecuted. He then tells his disciples that living according to God’s values will light up the darkness and prevent the decay of relationships. Jesus then teaches his disciples how to live faith filled lives that point to God rather than our flawed understanding of personal holiness. Jesus continued by teaching that God’s kingdom and his way of being and doing what is right is our top priority, even eclipsing the basic needs that everyone is trying to meet. We have enough right now to live out God’s calling. Jesus teaches how to recognize those whose priorities are self-aggrandizing and that even though they sound like they are right, the way they interact brings harm rather than restoration. Jesus then concludes his sermon with a warning and parable.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

  • In the name of God.
  • Says vs. does, “sound theology” The pretext of the text is a context of obedience.
  • Saying the right words and doing big things does not equal faithfulness.
  • Windstorm Inspections and the importance of knowing the foundation is firm.
  • The test of faithfulness is obedience to the teaching of Christ both past and present. Friends of Jesus. Vine and Branches “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:12-15
  • When our teaching and actions point to deeper, more loving, relationships with God and others we speak and act with the authority that comes from following God’s, and not our own, priorities.

Something That Made My Week

As you who follow my blog know, the past few months have been pretty challenging on many levels, and now that things are starting to smooth out I am playing a bit of catch-up. This, of course means that I am late in posting, and this will probably continue for the next few months.

This week someone from my meeting came to me with a desire to talk and ask questions about faith. I came into this meeting with a little bit of leftover trepidation since the last few months have been a series of what felt like blows to the gut. I have been winded and now that I was breathing again I had this internal flinch ready for another blow. What happened instead was someone sharing their deep desire to connect with God and to grow deeper in their faith.

The palpable sense of relief that I felt reminded me that there are times when crisis ends. In that moment God reminded me that there are still people who listen, and that others really did see the Holy Spirit working through me. Often when I’m going through crisis I lose my ability to recognize God at work in me. By coming to me and asking for instruction this Friend was actually opening themselves up to God and ministering to me.

The takeaway here is that when we ask someone else to minister to us we are recognizing and encouraging the use of their gifting. Sometimes after a long period of needing to receive we desperately need the reminder that we have gifts of ministry to share with others as well.  For someone like me, who derives great joy from discussing and studying matters of faith with others, requests like the one I received two days ago are sources of life.

The Mark Of Perfection

Today we look at what I consider to be extremely high difficulty level Christianity. In our pursuit of perfection the hardest part of ourselves to overcome is that piece within that desires to lash out when we are hurt. I think every one of us in this room can tell stories of the times in which we lashed out, and the long term negative consequences that had, but today I want us to think about what happens when we keep our eye on the end game and don’t get distracted by the pains of the moment. Jesus does something amazing in this passage and defines Godly perfection in a way that went completely beyond the Jewish understanding of perfection to God’s heart for all of humanity.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38-48

All of our common sense and societal training screams at us that this can’t possibly work. Let’s be honest here, every criminal justice system in human history is based on retributive justice, the idea that the punishment must fit the crime and that justice is fully served when offenders are punished. Punishment is the focus in that sphere of life and those ideas seep their way into our understanding of what God’s justice is all about. However, Jesus is sharing that the purpose of God’s justice is not punishment but restoration and redemption. Retributive justice leads to full prisons and the continuation of suffering, while redemptive justice leads to restoration of the person and a society that better reflects God’s heart. This is one of the reasons that I so deeply appreciate the ministry that Chuck Colson founded and its work in bringing victims and offenders together which has an amazing record in terms of preventing repeat offenses. I highly recommend checking out their site at https://www.prisonfellowship.org/ and their Restorative Justice project at http://restorativejustice.org.

Each of Jesus’ examples in today’s text has at its core a concern for the ways we look at ourselves and other people, for the ways we judge those with more or less power than we ourselves have. Jesus is saying here that the categories we make to define people, and which we use to justify our passing of judgment on the motives of others, are unjust. We must make our starting point for determining the value of any human being, including that jerk in the mirror, the image of God that each person is stamped with. Do we through our actions and attitudes distract ourselves and others from that image we bear? Of course, but nothing we can do will ever take that image away. Jesus’ teaching in the first part of our text is an important reminder that we have a responsibility to not only affirm the dignity of others, but also to behave in ways that affirm our own dignity and value.

When Jesus told his disciples to turn the other cheek, he wasn’t telling them to passively take abuse. It was a mark of contempt to backhand someone on the right cheek, by turning the other cheek you were forcing the person striking you to do so as an equal. By turning the left cheek towards them you prevented them from backhanding you again and instead of rising to the provocation of the violent you take the moral high ground and force your assailant to acknowledge your humanity. In this situation Jesus takes the idea of lashing out in response to hurt and instead confronts an aggressor with the humanity of the person being attacked. We are being called not to take revenge or retribution, but instead are being called to extend the truth that every person has value in God’s sight and must be seen as our equal, and that we will not accept anything less than an affirmation of the dignity and value of every human being. When we are focusing on God, it becomes much easier to see the value of the image of God stamped on every person. Turning the other cheek then is an affirmation of human dignity and a challenge to attitudes that treat others as “less than.”

This next example involves another act of protest which is designed to graphically remind someone taking advantage of the legal system of Jesus’ day that the person they are taking advantage of is a human being. It was a common practice to sue people for their clothing to cover minor debts that were outstanding, and the moneylenders in Jesus’ day who were using Jewish law to collect were also violating Jewish law through the rates of interest that they charged. This put the people who borrowed from them in a situation that ultimately led to losing everything so that the moneylender would profit. Jesus again is reminding those around him that they could get creative in their reminders to others of their humanity. When people begin to take advantage of others, and treat them as means to ends, for the sake of their own souls they need to be confronted with the humanity of those they are taking advantage of. It is the same with the carrying of burdens. The Roman legions would force people to carry their packs and were legally limited to one mile. The Romans used people as beasts of burden, and by carrying that pack beyond the mile you lovingly forced that soldier to confront the fact that you were a person with dignity. Even in oppressive circumstances there are ways we can remind each other of the value and inherent dignity of every human life. The first step towards perfection is recognizing God’s love for every created person.

That first step is the easier one, and now Jesus raises the bar to the highest possible mark. Godliness. Perfection. God’s love is not exclusive. He loves every human being exactly as they are, right now. There is nothing required of us to be loved by God, every human being is loved. This gets tricky, because we don’t necessarily see ourselves or each other as loveable and there are plenty of messages out there which point out our flaws. There are plenty of statements that say you can be loved if you just change this one thing and we will provide it for the low, low price of $49.95. There are messages that tell us that because we do this one thing it makes us unlovable, and not worth anybody’s time or effort. Jesus tells us that the mark of God’s perfection is the love that he extends not just to those who deserve it, but to those who have chosen to be his enemies. Perfection is a tough mark to aim for, and keeping our eyes on God and allowing him to set our course means that we are going to have to love people who are not our friends. It means that we are going to have to love incredibly broken people.

God’s love doesn’t require anything of us, but somehow when we receive it we can’t remain the same. It is being loved by God that gives us the power to step away from the ways we miss the mark, and Jesus is teaching his disciples that being Godly means loving those you completely, utterly and totally see as your or God’s enemy. God welcomes us as we are and pours his love into lives as we are and we must do the same for others. Now we could come up with a whole list of others, but the reality is that Jesus is confronting the Jews with a major failure on their part to live up to the mission God gave them. The purpose of Israel and the reason they were chosen was not so that they could sit back and say “We are chosen so that makes us better than you.” No God called Israel for the purpose of leading the world into the paths of righteousness. God called Israel to be the means through which the world could be reconciled to God. All Jesus could see around him was a people that instead separated themselves from the world as a way to keep themselves pure and unstained. They had lost sight of their purpose.

Jesus completely redefines for the Jews and us what it means to be pure and holy. This more than anything else puts him at odds with the systems of this world, that the mark of purity is not conformity, but is instead hospitality. God extends his love to every human being regardless of whether they are trying to live up to God’s love or not. God loves us so much that he even gives us the power to accept or reject the relationship that comes from accepting God’s love. When Jesus calls us to perfection after the manner of God we have some soul searching to do, because I know for sure that when I read this and I prayed over this I was squirming in my seat a bit. I had to ask myself if I was setting conditions on people being welcomed into the kingdom, if I was placing conformity to my ideals or my community’s ideals ahead of God’s love. This teaching of Jesus is not an easy one and challenges us to love people who not only don’t look like us, but also people who don’t think like us. In Jesus’ disciples we see a slice of Jewish societal conflicts and how God’s love can bring people with completely opposite agendas and philosophies of life together to follow him. Jesus could bring Matthew the tax collector profiting from the oppression of his people and Simon the violent revolutionary anti-Roman Zealot under the same banner of God’s love. God keeps challenging me and his church to consider who I might be neglecting or cutting myself off from because I see them as my or God’s enemies.

We are facing into some difficult questions as a society and we Christians are being called to perfection in the ways we address those questions, and it is so easy to miss that mark. The perfection of God’s love for humanity embodied in the cross and resurrection is the mark we aim at and it will require us to seek out those stray arrows that we might pick them up, aim and try again to match God’s love. Jesus loved us when we were his enemies, and laid down his life in demonstration of the depth of God’s love for us. The mark we aim at is not an easy one to face into. Quite often we take our eyes off that mark and I know that I have some repenting to do on this one and some growing, so as we enter into our time of open worship, let us all seek the throne of grace together. Let us all turn our eyes upon Jesus so that we might better love those who bear his image. After five minutes of silence someone will stand with the microphone. If you are led to speak in the silence I ask that you stand and wait for the microphone to be brought to you. We will try to give some space to others’ words, so the microphone may not come right away.

Let us seek God together.

 

Reconciliation is Our Victory

(You will most likely want to listen to the sermon as I deviated from my manuscript in quite a few places.)

I sometimes jokingly say that the person who most needs to hear my sermons is me. As I prepared for today’s sermon I also was dealing with a colossal error in which I hurt someone. In short my mouth engaged well before my brain did and I said things that were hurtful. I was confronted with just how far I missed the mark by on that one and we could say that if I was aiming inside of the barn I still would have missed the broad side. The good news is that the person who confronted me provided an example of today’s teaching by Jesus and came to me with the help of some elders to make things right. You know what? I did completely fail on that incident, and knew that the only recourse was to confess that they were right and that I had indeed sinned through my careless words. I knew that I had to ask for forgiveness, and forgiveness was granted. This is the truest sign of Jesus at work among us, not that we don’t mess up, but that when we do we own up to the way we miss the mark, humble ourselves and ask our brother or sister to forgive us we give and receive that gift of forgiveness and display the truth of God’s reconciling power for the world to see. This is why Jesus felt it so important at the beginning of the disciples’ ministry to instruct them in the best ways to interact around conflict situations.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[a term of contempt] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:21-26

Jesus had just finished talking about the importance of the Torah and now begins to address specific areas of interpretation in which the scribes and Pharisees were missing the point. There is a formula here that we will see in the next few weeks of Jesus’ teaching in which he corrects a superficial interpretation of the Torah by giving an interpretation that addresses motivation as well as action. You shall not murder is one of the big 10 and saying that it leads to being judged is a serious no-brainer. When a person is murdered there are two sins that occur: the first is the idolatrous act of claiming God’s power over life and death and the second is in acting on our judgment of the value of another human to be zero or less than zero. The focus in Jesus’ time was on the action of committing murder and the punishment for the action, but Jesus took his teaching to the motivator, the underlying moral issue, that drives the action: harboring anger against another. Every one of us gets angry, it is a normal part of being human, what Jesus is talking about is not that anger which is beyond our control, but when we allow that anger to stay and to guide our thoughts, words, and actions towards another human being. The Greek word underneath what we translate as anger implies provocation and duration, that this is not a short term thing. In many places in the bible we hear about harboring anger or holding grudges and this type of anger that Jesus is addressing is the anger that leads us to pass judgment on another person’s value as a human being.

Murdering someone is the end of a mental process and Jesus is saying “Hey, let’s address the moral issue that leads to the bloodshed before we get there.” You see, if we address issues before they have had a chance to reach an internal boiling point we avoid taking our eyes off the mark that God has set for us to aim at. Jesus gives us some warning signs to pay attention to that can tell us when we are beginning to lose sight of our end goal. First is when we start making dismissive or contemptuous comments about someone. How many times have we said “Oh, that’s just them being them. Nothing to bother ourselves with.” or “They’re always that way. I stopped paying attention to them a long time ago?” Those are the beginnings of contempt and we usually go there with people who get on our nerves. The problem is that when we dismiss others we are judging their value as a human being and it is a short step to mentally saying “You know, we would be better off without them.” or “They are just a drain on everything, they are worthless.”  When I find myself heading down those well-worn mental paths I am walking a path of sin and need to repent and begin the process of reconciliation.

This is an incredibly bold statement on Jesus’ part because he is telling the disciples that God’s heart and deepest desire is for reconciliation and not punishment. This is easy for us to see when we look back and see the sacrifice Jesus made to demonstrate God’s way of redemption, but I want you to take a moment and think about just how this had to sound to the disciples at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching. Nothing is more important to God than reconciliation and that if we really pay attention to the mark the Torah aims us at we will have that same priority. Even when that person who seemingly drives us crazy by their mere existence is bringing us closer to the boiling point, God wants us to think and act in ways that lead to reconciliation rather than devaluing, dismissal, and rejection. This is so important to God that he would rather us fix the broken relationships with each other before coming to him with our gifts. “Leave your gift at the altar and deal with the broken relationship first.” The ways we think about and act towards our brothers and sisters is a crucial part of the way we are called to worship God and are a sign of the truth of God’s forgiveness offered in Jesus. Our sharing of the gospel of God’s reconciliation becomes a lot more convincing when our lives display reconciliation.

Jesus isn’t just addressing externals he is dealing with the thoughts that are in our minds, and let’s be honest here; I don’t think any of us would be very comfortable with everyone around us knowing exactly what is going through our heads at any given moment. God wants to reconcile all of creation in him and that is the condition of victory we have been given. Consider what could happen if we carried our grudges out to their retributive ends. Our prisons would be overflowing with people, making one mistake of a certain kind could get you fired, everyday conversations would consist of walking around on egg shells because we would never get around to the hard work of looking inside and asking the question: How have I hurt my brothers and sisters? Or slipping down the road of hatred because we can’t see how anyone could behave that way and have malicious or sinful intent. Internalizing and avoiding conflict and not asking ourselves the hard questions is the way of defeat! I don’t think that anyone here wants to live under the defeat that comes from focusing on judgment. We see just how devastating it is just by looking at the news headlines in our browsers and papers. Do you want to experience the victory of God in your life? Then work towards reconciliation. Become a person who catches the dark thoughts and examines them to find their source and goes to their brother or sister in love to reconcile. You will experience the truth of Jesus sacrifice when you do that, and you will make that truth known to the world through your example.

I am not saying this will be easy, but Jesus makes an important point that we must keep in mind. Do we really want to drag each other before God with our full feelings and motivations exposed before him and the one who accuses? Do we really want to see someone destroyed? Or do we want to see relationships restored and made whole? Do we want to see that person who is acting in hurtful ways brought into a transforming relationship with God? Because when we come to God demanding justice he gives it to us in full, not just the other guy, but us as well. Jesus does give us a more excellent way: as we get dragged towards a place of judgment we can pause and take on the humility that comes from taking responsibility for the ways we contribute to the situation and seek to invest in restoring the relationship. In the world we live in victory comes from beating our opponents and dividing the world into the categories of winner and loser. In God’s eyes victory comes from reconciliation.

As we prepare for open worship take five minutes to allow your thoughts to wind down and seek the Holy Spirit’s leading in ways you can work towards reconciliation. Maybe there is someone who you find yourself beginning to dismiss or devalue. Maybe there is a conflict that has been brewing for a while. Maybe there is someone you know deep down that you are harboring anger towards. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you towards the steps you can make to bring reconciliation. It can be a scary thing to face into conflict and work towards reconciliation, but you are not alone. God is with you and we have elders who can help pray with you and go with you to begin the reconciliation process. Let us who so desperately need God’s reconciliation come together in His presence to seek his victory.

Receiving My Daughters’ Gifts

There are few aspects of life that have changed my life and relationship with God as deeply as my daughters have. Now that my oldest is 6 I have learned to not only be a minister to them, but to give them the space to minister to me. I am at a point in my life in which I am learning that the relationship of parenting has a lot more to do with developing the gifts my girls have than anything else. My oldest is the quiet, bookish one who can pull out deep meanings and has conversations with me that challenge my understanding of God and challenge me. My youngest is the sassy outgoing type who likes to sing and call me out on being a “Silly Daddy.”

I have to work hard to not squash the questioning spirit of my 6 year old and to help her discover God for herself and not give her a solely inherited faith, by to allow her to develop her own relationship with God. I also have to work equally hard to not be triggered by my almost 2 year old who is so like me in personality that it is a little frightening. Both of my girls have great gifts to offer me if I humble myself and allow them to minister to me, but if I try to force parental authority rather than lead them it gets ugly fast and instead of building each other up tears and grumpiness reign. Friends theology teaches that each human being possesses the ability to hear the voice of God speaking within and that our role is to seek out in the people we meet the way God is speaking through them. As a parent it becomes a bit difficult to seek that voice out in our children since often the truth they have to share and reflect at us is the truth of our personal errors.

I don’t want my daughters to be obsessed with negative body image and food intake, and I sure don’t want to hear “Daddy, is it ok for you to eat that?” It is hard to hear those little voices when they question my brokenness and my hypocrisy, but I need to. I need to give their voice the weight it deserves, especially when they are sharing their ministry of concern, or their questioning of whether what I do and what I say are matching up. I firmly believe that God has placed these two small ministers of his grace in my life to teach me to listen better, to use my authority to promote others’ gifts, and to challenge me to live as I say I believe.

When I was considering what to write this week, my youngest toddled by singing the chorus “Hallelujah, Grace like rain falls down on me.” and the truth of the grace I have received through my girls ministered to me in that moment. As I considered the grace I have received through the ministry of my daughters I started asking myself some queries to examine how I was present to my girls:

How do I encourage my kids’ ministry? What ways am I helping them develop their gifts? How do I help them see their gifts and talents? What ways do I allow them to minister to me? What areas do I need to let them minister to me? What ways am I interfering with their ministry? Is there any issue of pride or fear that is preventing me from accepting their ministry?

For you other parents out there, are there queries you ask yourself that I might add to this list?

With love and trepidation,

Gil George, Silly Daddy

To Follow Jesus

(Click here to listen.)

Before I get started, I want to make an important disclaimer. There is no way the fullness of Jesus work that we celebrate today can be contained in one sermon or one book. The writer of today’s text ended his gospel with the words “25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25 So my words today are about one small yet significant piece of what we celebrate.

Today we declare with joy the resurrection from the dead of our savior. Jesus is risen! Those three words are packed with the hope of our lives, the promise of transformation, and freedom from the power of sin and death. I want to share with you an understanding of what we have been saved from and what we have been saved for. We often tend to focus our energies on one or the other, but I would like us to consider that we serve a God who operates by a different priority structure than the systems of control and domination that characterize human interaction. We are saved from sin in two ways: we are saved from the personal darkness within that drives us away from God and neighbor and we are saved from the systemic sins based on personal sin that govern the priorities of the world around us. What we celebrate today is our freedom from the power of death, freedom from the systems of death, and the resurrection which brings that freedom to us. When preparing his disciples for this freedom, and how things were to work under the authority structure of God, Jesus did something absolutely shocking.

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:3-17

Jesus is amazing at showing us ways to be extraordinary in the mundane. Foot washing was a normal part of life in a dusty land with little to no sanitation where everyone wore sandals. When you went to someone’s house the first thing that would normally happen on entry is washing feet. In a poorer household, the host would have water available and you would wash your own feet. In a household with slaves the owner would ask a slave to wash the feet of his guests. And yes, “ask” is the right word. This task was so lowly that it was very bad etiquette to order a slave to wash your guests’ feet. John’s introduction of this act juxtaposes Jesus’ power and authority with his actions in a way that calls into question everything we think we know about the way God’s authority works. Before Jesus gave us his example it would be easy to interpret God as the stern, dictatorial, judge handing down laws based on his own whims and impossible to entirely please or appease. In Jesus we find a different perspective on what it means to be God and how God chooses to exercise authority, justice and mercy.

John tells us that Jesus’ actions on the night before he was killed were undertaken with the full understanding of having received power over everything. What would I do if I knew God had given me power over everything? Set myself up as absolute ruler of the world, gather the riches of the world to myself, appropriately “deal with” those people that tick me off, and change everything I don’t like about the way the world works. This is just off the top of my head, I am sure you could add to the list as well. Jesus, however, was operating from a different understanding of how Godly power functions. Godly power finds its expression in humble service, not grandiose self-promotion. Knowing this, Jesus, the Christ, the prophesied Messiah, the Son of God and Son of Man, the King of Kings, Emanuel, the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God noticed that no one had washed their feet or volunteered to wash the feet of others. Seeing this sad state of affairs he stripped off his outer garments, got a basin of water, wrapped a drying cloth around his waist, got down on his knees and began to wash the increasingly horrified disciples’ feet.

When Jesus finally got to Peter and began to wipe his feet Peter went into a full freak out. I am sure that he wasn’t the only one, but Peter wasn’t known for keeping things bottled up and in some ways I am sure Jesus knew what was coming, and was probably counting on it in order to drive the lesson home. Peter had struggled with this teaching of Jesus on the use of authority in the past, and I think that in this interchange we are witnessing just how hard this teaching is to accept. We have been trained that power exists to be served from a very young age. It is the way the world works, and we are told that of course powerful people should be served. It is what power is for. Anything else is crazy and would fall apart almost immediately, at least for the powerful. Peter still thought that he was on the Messiah gravy train and soon enough he would get to be served as one of the disciples of the Messiah. He was going to be rich and powerful and “what the…ahem…on earth are you doing? You can’t wash my feet! Are you crazy?!”

Jesus reply was basically, “No, Peter. I am not crazy, and if you want to have a part of the only sanity left in this world you will submit to my service.” Of course we know that Jesus was the one sent to restore sanity, to overturn the crazy rules of domination that held people bound to their sin. Of course Peter swung the pendulum too far in the other direction in his reply to Jesus, saying well wash all of me then that I might be even more a part of your work. In Jesus’ reply to Peter’s overcorrection we learn that Jesus serves in the way we need, not necessarily in the way we desire. The disciples were already on the right path, they just needed the dirt of what they had walked through to get to the path removed. Sometimes when we see the spots of dirt on us we overreact and try to get God to give us the full cleansing again since we must be horrible people if we got a bit of dirt on us again, after we have travelled all this way. That’s the way I have tended to react and it crippled me from allowing God to clean up my little messes. Let me tell you that no one judged me as hard as I judged myself over my weight. All I saw was an addiction to food and patterns of eating that were destroying me, and like some kind of idiot I couldn’t even stop myself. I knew in my heart of hearts that I was an unrepentant glutton and wondered how I could ever believe that I could be any kind of pastor with that kind of sin in my life. The world taught me that I had to be self-sufficient and deal with my messes without help, that I should be the one to wash my own feet. Jesus replies “If I don’t wash your feet you have no part of me, besides the rest of you is clean let me take care of your feet.” Jesus not only knows that in coming to him we were made clean, but he also knows that some of the voices we have been listening to are betrayals of the hope we have in him. We have walked through the muck and need our feet washed.

This passage foreshadows the cleansing service of the cross, in which Jesus took on the deadly, sin based, systems of domination and showed the victory that comes from humble service in the resurrection we celebrate today. On this day we can declare that the work of making us clean has been accomplished and, yes we need to wash our feet regularly because the roads we walk down take us through the muck and mire as we journey towards our Lord.  Do you know, really know, what Jesus has done for us? Can you accept the lowerarchy of Jesus way? The way of the suffering servant prophesied in Isaiah? Jesus reminds us that if he is our teacher and we name him as our Lord we must be prepared to serve, to lay aside our agendas and desires, instead serving others and accepting the helps we need to grow more Christlike. We must know that Jesus freely chose to die for us rather than operate according to the world’s priority systems; that his blood was shed according to his will so that we could be freed from the need to be self-serving and from that self-centered state set up systems of domination and judgment over others and ourselves. When Jesus stepped out of that tomb the lie of self-serving power was defeated. Now that he has done this work of ultimate self-sacrifice of pride and position it is on us to follow his example.

It is in coming together to serve each other that we can step away from the self-serving patterns of domination and be transformed into the blessed community of resurrection. It is here that we rebuild our connection to God and neighbor through humble service. In order for me to have gotten to this point in my faith I have needed my brothers and sisters to serve me, and be served by me. I must say that after 36 years of trying, failing, getting my feet washed and trying again I couldn’t be more blessed, and it is all because the community of faith has been around me to give and receive the grace Jesus has given us. In our time of open worship I invite you to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, to welcome the Spirit in and allow God to speak to and direct you on his path of humble service, into his way of being and doing what is right. After I share a song there will be a time of silence for five minutes then one of our youth will stand with the microphone. If God speaks to you with a message for the rest of the gathering weigh those words and then stand and wait for the microphone to be brought to you.

Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace to
Let you be my servant too

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are travelers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear

I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through

When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony

Brother sister let me serve you
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant too[i]

<Open Worship>

As we prepare to leave this place of celebration to rejoice with our families let us sing in joyful reminder of Jesus’ self-sacrifice in service to us.

[i] CCLI Song # 72673
The Servant Song
Richard Gillard
© Words: 1977 Scripture In Song (Admin. by Maranatha! Music (Capitol CMG))
Music: 1977 Scripture In Song (Admin. by Maranatha! Music (Capitol CMG))
For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com
CCLI License # 378755

Dear Stan

Dear Stan,

I hope that on some level you know how much of an impact you have had on the people you have faithfully served in ministry. When I first started attending Olympic View Friends Church you took me under under your wing and mentored me. I was a brash, abrasive, East-coast transplant in the midst of culture shock, questioning my worth because of being unemployed. You invested your time in me and I grew as a man and as a follower of Christ because of it. One of the things I appreciate most about that time was that you didn’t give me advice, just asked questions and pointed me towards Jesus. Then, as I shared difficult things you showed compassion with my struggles and gently guided me towards grace and mercy with a humorous and compassionate spirit. Through your influence, my immature faith was deepened and I began to confront myself and stop hiding from my brokenness behind pious language and a judgmental spirit. Through your patience I learned to value silence and carving out time to listen for the still small voice and allow the Spirit to minister to me even when I didn’t hear anything. You encouraged me in a discipline I still struggle to live up to: listening for the voice of the Spirit in every conversation I have.

Through your example I learned what the spiritual parenthood of being a Friends pastor looks like, and I felt the way open for me pursue God’s call to minister as a pastor after the manner of Friends. I was afraid and distrusting of authority, and you were the right person God brought into my life to restore my faith that the church really could be the priesthood of ALL believers. You got me started on the recording process, and I am a recorded Friends Pastor because of you.

When I heard that you died, my heart fell. Your voice has been a strong one that spoke words that point to the character of Jesus and the loss of that voice is a blow to the Northwest Yearly Meeting. I hope that I can honor the time, effort, and love you have invested in me in my ministry.

I think I will go eat some toast now.

Your Sorrowful F/friend,

Gil George