A recent USA Today article indicated that hospitals and health systems were paying for their doctors to take acting lessons. Not so that they could look and sound like George Cluny or Noah Wylie from ER, but so that the could at lest pretend to be sympathetic towards the suffering and needs of their paitence. The study that lead to this idea of acting lessons for doc's found that most doctors have a difficult time relating to their patience needs and concerns doctors especially had difficulty sympathizing with their less "economically upward mobile" patience (a.k.a poor people). Interestingly enough the study remained grounded in that it did not include surgeons citing that, "surgeons were a lost cause in this area.":) This is not unusual. Service/Compassion "industry" professionals like doctors, social workers, counselors and clergy often erect walls to distance themselves from patiences, clients and parishioners...especially the most "needy" of these. Why? Because after awhile of putting heart and soul into ever case, every illness and every funeral, compassion professionals begin to feel overwhelmed and over burdened by the very people they desire to help most. An example of this from my life comes in the form of helping through local missions. While in seminary I spent countless hours and resources helping the most needy in my community in OK. Needless to say I got burned more than once by the same people. After coming to Onaway I was determined to not be so gullible, but instead be honest about the people asking for help. It wasn't long before I found myself in the same situation that I found myself in OK, helping people who where not interested in helping themselves, or for a better use of words "seeking change". I had to make decisions about how and when and what kind of situations I would, we would help as a church. People called all the time needing help with electric bills, phone bills, gas bills and so on, but the ones I choose to never help where the ones who called the day before the bill was due, the hour before they had to be at the appointment and the last second folks. It was difficult for me to say no to these people. I want to help everyone, but people who are not interested in helping themselves or interested in planning maybe need to fail. To be able to say that and think that for me takes a certain amount of callousing, but perhaps a needed amount in order to protect myself and our church.
When I was in high school we read a book by S.E. Hinton called "The Outsiders." It was a coming of age novel, that I'm sure many of you have read or at least seen the movie. One of the most powerful moments in the book was when Johnny and Pony Boy rush into a burning church to save some children who had become trapped by the blaze. On his way out of the burning building wood beams fell on Johnny and trap him. Though Darry saved Johnny he suffered a broken back and serious burns and ultimately died from his injuries. We've all heard stories like this, where people risk life and limb in order to save others. A mother who lifts a tree up off her trapped children, a husband who is able to pick up a car in order to save his wife and people running in to burning buildings to save others while everyone else is trying to run out. When these great feats of heroism are over and those people are asked, "what was going through your mind at the time?" they often reply by saying, "Nothing, I just acted."
Our passage this week is a passage, in the words of my Systematic Theology Professor, Dr. Chun, is "Pregnant with divine action and possibility." It's a passage of faith in action. Another demonstration by Jesus that shows his disciples how they ought to act. One could say, Jesus is offering us "acting lessons." This passage has been used in various ways over the years and also interpreted in many ways as well. The Gospel of John is the only gospel to not have any formal recounting of the Lords Supper (it's just implied). It is also the only gospel to place this event prior to the passover, unlike the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) which have the last supper as being a passover meal, John has this supper as prior to the passover so that Jesus is being crucified the day that all the passover lambs are being slaughtered, i.e Jesus as the Lamb of God. In the place of a formal recounting of the Lords Supper is a different kind of ritual, foot washing. Many denominations, such as holiness churches, Mennonite churches, Moravian Churches and certain Baptist Churches would consider this act as a "Sacrament". Though they might not use those words because their tradition doesn't "have sacraments" they it is seen as an ordinance, or something ordained by Jesus to be done by his disciples, i.e Communion and Baptism and Foot Washing. Many of these churches have foot washing as part of their communion ritual. My friend Joel Watts, who is now a United Methodist New Testament Scholar came from a tradition that washed feet before communion and he said, "It wasn't communion without foot washin'" In the Mennonite tradition before sharing Holy Communion you are to go to a person or persons in the church who you have offended or who has offended you (someone you're really mad at!!!) and wash their feet while asking for their forgiveness.
The history behind this act is fairly simple. When a room was rented for a celebration or a meal the servant, who was included in the price of rental, the one who set the table, brought the food and cleaned up the mess, was also required to help clean the guest up. One of those requirements was to wash the guests feet. This was a filthy and humiliating job. They wore sandals everywhere and there was live stock every where so you can image how dirty their feet must have been. This was such a nasty job that according to Jewish law a Jewish master could not require his Jewish servant to wash his feet, but he could his gentile servant. What Jesus did was take the place of the gentile servant and make himself the lowest of the low. It was such a disturbing act that Peter begged Jesus to not debase himself in such away, but Jesus reassured him that what he was doing was needed in order for them to "become like there master." Some scholars believe it was symbolic of baptism since there is also no baptism scene in John, but since it's likely that they all had already been baptized as a requirement for discipleship this is most likely something different. Jesus follows up this act by saying, "No student is greater than his teacher." Thats what this passage means. Jesus is our teacher and we his students and he has set for us an example of servanthood, in fact a form of humiliation as well. If you are going to be a disciple be ready to serve and serve in ways that might make you uncomfortable.
Have you ever heard of the Methodist Miracle? It's a story about a man who attended a United Methodist Church his whole life, both him and his wife attended there and raised their children there as well. Sadly the mans wife died and he returned to that church for the first time in over a year. He looked down the sanctuary aisle and saw the seat him and his wife shared for all those years. He walked forward and sat down. Another couple, who were new to the church, saw the man sitting alone looking sad and got up out of their pew and moved forward 6 rows in order to sit next to the man and comfort him. Now the miracle is two fold, the first part of the miracle is the miracle of a compassionate servents heart that was sensitive enough to see the mans need and compel the couple to move forward and comfort the man with the ministry of "presence". The second miracle is the miracle that Methodists actually left their familiar pew in order to move closer to the front of the church...willingly. :)
This week we complete our conversation on discipleship. The last step of making life long disciples is serving others. We cannot even hope to be the kind of disciples Jesus wants without serving others. This is the last stop in our house. We have invited and been invited into the foyer were we connect through worship, then the living room where we grow through studying God's word together and now we're in that place where all the action happens, the kitchen. It's where temperatures get hot, tempers flare and where things are made. Our main way of serving our community is through community dinner. My hope is that community dinner becomes more of an outreach and less of a fellowship. I believe in community dinner as being a prime way for us to serve and evangelize our community, after all it was at dinner tables where in Jesus ministry lives were most radically changed. Take Zacheus for example. He was a thief, a liar and a cheat, yet around the dinner table with Christ he repented and changed his life saying, "to whomever I have cheated I will give back double!" and "I will give half of all my possessions to the poor!"
This morning we will again meet at the table with Jesus Christ, many of us for the 1millionth time it seems, but for some of you, for the first time. This is where lives are transformed. If you have not yet made Jesus your savior I with the host of this meal, Jesus himself, invite you to discipleship.