August 18, 2019

“Serve Like Jesus”

John 13:1-17

A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi

August 18, 2019 (Pentecost +10)



Our Scripture reading for today is often read on Maundy Thursday, when we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. It is a scene full of meaning and emotion because we know that Jesus knows he is headed for the cross, and he uses this opportunity to show his disciples his love for them.  It’s an amazing gesture, as he, their teacher, stoops down to do what only lowly servants did:  he washed their dusty, dirty feet so they would be clean.  


After finishing, Jesus said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you?  You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”(vv. 12b-15). Jesus was the kind of teacher who could say to his students, “Do as I do.”  He set the example for his disciples.  It was very clear from his life and his actions that he wanted his followers to serve others like he did.


On Maundy Thursday during Holy Week, this reading is often accompanied by some kind of foot washing ritual so that we, Jesus’ followers 2000 years later, can follow Jesus’ example.  Over the years, the Worship Planning Team has planned many Maundy Thursday and Passion Sunday worship services, and we have included foot washing in many of those services.  From the beginning, people were a bit hesitant to participate.  Some would bravely take off their shoes to have their feet washed, then they would wash the next person’s feet.  To encourage wider participation, we began to offer hand washing as an alternative.  Most people choose the hand washing.  I’ve often thought about why we’re so hesitant to do this symbolic act.  After all, Pope Francis washes the feet of the poor, prisoners, even those of other faiths on Maundy Thursday.  If it’s good for the Pope, it must be good for us, no? 


There are many reasons not to participate in the foot washing ritual.  It may be too intimate, or you may be afraid that your feet are smelly.  And that’s fine.  As I was reflecting on the Scripture reading this week I realized that while we may be reluctant to take part in foot washing, we are not at all reluctant to serve one another.  In fact, you, Hawaii Kai UCC, all “wash feet” in so many ways.


Early every Sunday morning, a small team—2 or 3 people—show up here to rearrange all the tables, set up the PA system, sweep and get this room ready for worship.  Sometimes the room is a mess—trash on the floor, sticky tables from the weekday lunch or the activities held here on Saturdays.  LeRoy, the set-up crew, and folks who show up early and jump in to help, make this place ready for worship every week.  Others come in to set up the projector and the altar table.  Someone comes with flowers to decorate the altar table. This room is set up, clean and ready for you all because folks give their time, attention and resources to help us all worship God.  All those who help prepare our space for worship each week are washing our feet.


Sometimes, I go to the hospital or I visit a member at home and I learn that others from this congregation have already visited and prayed with that person.  The visitors often bring food or flowers.  If someone needs transportation to the doctor or help with yard work, there are people who will help.  You care for one another in so many ways.  I was looking over the Appreciative Inquiry interviews this week, and one of the questions was, “What made you stay?”  Someone answered, “One question I asked myself, ‘Is there pastoral care at HKUCC?’ I found out that everybody is working to help each other.” The whole congregation cares for the whole congregation.  When you take care of each other, you’re washing each other’s feet.  


Whenever Jeff comes up here to make an announcement, chances are that he’s calling for volunteers for a school event or project here at Hahaione, or to serve dinner at the River of Life Mission or help with the Convoy of Hope.  And the thing that amazes me is that he always gets the folks he needs to help sell drinks at the Fun Fair or distribute shoes or serve dinner.  When you sign up to work these projects, you’re washing the feet of people in our community.


So even though we may be reluctant to participate in a foot washing ritual, we do “wash feet” all the time here at Hawaii Kai UCC by serving each other and our neighbors.  I raise this because washing feet or serving like Jesus is at the heart of our Future Direction Statement #1.  These Future Directions Statements aren’t just wishes for our future that were pulled out of the air.  Our Future Directions Statements are rooted in our appreciation for who God has made us to be as a church.  They were written after we identified and reflected on our strengths and gifts.  The Future Directions Statements took the good things that have made us who we are as a church, and envisioned how these strengths, these blessings from God would lead us into the future.  So while they describe a future state, they point us further along the trajectory that we have been on.  The Future Directions Statements challenge us to be more who we are, and the first one affirms our inclination toward servanthood.


Let’s read the first Future Directions Statement together:

With Jesus Christ as the foundation of our faith, we are open to the Holy Spirit to guide the use of our gifts and passions. As servant-hearted people, we are confident in trying new ways of doing ministry, welcoming new people to authentic relationships with Jesus and one another. We do this with the support of our church family, our community of faith.


I think that being servant-hearted people is at the center of this Future Direction Statement.  We already are servant-hearted.  We are servant-hearted people because Jesus is the foundation of our faith.  We are servant-hearted people because we follow Jesus, whose love for people was expressed in service.  We wash feet because he washed feet and we take seriously his command to do so.  We have experienced the blessing of serving, as Jesus promised when he said in verse 17, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  


Because we want to serve others, we look for opportunities minister to others.  As our world and community changes, and we change, how we serve also changes.  One of the ways that a number of families were introduced to our church in the late 1980s and early 1990s was through camps. It was a great introduction to Hawaii Kai UCC.  It often led these families to worship with us, then they eventually became members. We don’t go camping as much now, because our folks aren’t into it as much as they were before.  But now we show movies at the church office, and families with young children are coming around, and maybe they too will feel comfortable coming to worship or our IGA (intergenerational activities) in the future. We’re servant-hearted, and it means being open to different ways of meeting people’s needs, different ways of welcoming others into the life of our church.


The challenge that our Scripture reading and our Future Direction Statement present to us is to be flexible and open in our service to each other and to our neighbors.  Peter was hesitant to have Jesus wash his feet.  I’m guessing that it was partly because he was ashamed that his rabbi was doing what the servants should have done.  In taking on a servant heart, we need to be open to doing things differently, shaking things up and not letting roles and positions limit our service. A rabbi can wash his disciples’ feet. A child can teach.  A pastor can sweep the floors.  A teen can lead.  Our Future Direction Statement challenges us to be open to new ways of doing things, and that may mean allowing different people to do different jobs and to serve as they are gifted and called by God.


The other challenge I see in our reading is that Jesus washed all his disciples’ feet.  He knew Judas was going to betray him, but that didn’t stop Jesus from washing his feet.  Our service can’t be limited to those whom we like or get along.  God may call us to serve people who may betray us.  God may call us to serve people who are very different from us—ethnically, socio-economically, theologically, culturally. There are so many different kinds of people in our community.  Our service should extend to all people, not only those we think are deserving or those who will appreciate what we do or those who can reciprocate.  Our goal is to share the love of God freely, without condition in the same way God has loved us without condition.


Serving like Jesus will take lots of courage and faith. But the Holy Spirit empowers us to do so.  And when we serve like Jesus, it will distinguish us.  We will be different, in a good way.  A little while after Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he said to them, “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”(John 13:34-35).


When we love and serve one another, when we serve our neighbors like Jesus would, people will take notice and will know that we are Jesus’ followers.  Remember Rublev’s Trinity icon I showed you last week?  Imagine that instead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are the ones sitting at the table.  As people look at the fellowship of love and service that is taking place at that table, they will be drawn in and will want to take a place at the table.  There’s an open seat for them.  As we continue to serve to one another and those beyond our church, the Holy Spirit will draw people into our community and will help them enter into a relationship with Jesus.  They too will become servants, and we will all wash each other’s feet.  


God is calling us into the future, challenging us to be servant-hearted people because God is love, and God wants the whole world to know this love.  God sent Jesus to show us that we are loved, that this love changes us and empowers us to love and serve others.  And even when we struggle to serve like Jesus, God continues to love us and work through our lives to bless the world.  So let’s find ways to serve like Jesus.