Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jesus' Way: Judgment and Grace

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 20:9-18
When my youngest sister, Nanci, was little, my parents subscribed to a book series for her. It was the Dr. Seuss series. There was “Yertle the Turtle”. There was the “Cat in the Hat”. There was “Green Eggs and Ham”. “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam-I-Am. Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox? I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam-I-Am.”

My sister knew every line by heart. My Uncle Eddie had a knack for making up Dr. Seuss rhymes off the top of his head, and he would try to slip them in, when he was at our house and Nancy would ask him to read one of those books.

But you couldn’t fool Nanci. The words formed a pattern in her head, and she could recognize any deviation from the pattern.

This is just one example of how, even at the age of four, we get many patterns laid down in our head and we become creatures of patterns and habits.
The Bible teaches us important things about the patterns of God’s judgment and God’s grace. The “Song of the Vineyard” in Isaiah and Jesus’ parable of vineyard tenants are, both, about patterns of judgment and grace.

We need to know about both God’s judgment and God’s grace, even as Christians. Christians are correct when they talk about being under God’s grace and not his judgment. But this is how it is.
Grace is God’s unconditional love. That love is always unconditional, but Christians may build poorly on that foundation of unconditional love. We can build ungracious patterns into our lives upon the grace of God, and nothing that is ungracious will last. We will live forever in the grace of God, but we cannot keep anything we build ungraciously, unlovingly, or unfaithfully. Those things will be taken away and lost. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 & 4:1-5; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

We need to know about both the judgment of God and the grace of God. Jesus, the way he elaborates on Isaiah’s song of the vineyard, shows us that things such as God’s judgment and God’s grace are not arbitrary. They are not shallow, or petty, or picky, or mean-spirited, or narrow-minded. There is no trick and no loophole about them.

The grace and the judgment of God both come from God’s love. Grace and judgment are both bold and clear patterns of how a wise and perfect love will respond to ungracious patterns in our lives.
Jesus tells the story in such a way that we see the patterns in God and in ourselves. The patterns are in the repetition of behavior. God’s pattern is to show himself to be more and more gracious and forgiving. The pattern of the tenants is to show themselves more and more resistant and rebellious. The pattern of the tenants is a warning to us, just as much as God’s pattern is an assurance to us.

I remember once, when I was a kid, that my Uncle Eddie (again) was playing catch with me and trying to give me some pointers on how to throw well, and I was in a deviant mood, and I deliberately messed up more, because (for some strange reason, at the time) I thought it was funny, and I suppose I was testing him.

After a while, my uncle gave up on me, and that wasn’t fun any more. But it wasn’t any more than what I deserved. In that game of catch, my uncle was very gracious, but I was not.
That was only a game of catch. Life is much more serious than that. And the grace of God in our lives, and our playing with ungracious living, is much, much more serious.

The fruit of the vineyard, that the Lord came to find was justice and righteousness. Now the vineyard stands for God’s people. God’s vineyard consists of the people who have heard his call; who have learned of his love.

No one gets into that vineyard by performing at a certain level of justice and righteousness. We are planted in God’s vineyard, in God’s fellowship, by his love, but God’s love always bears fruit when it is thankfully received.

Justice and righteousness are the fruit of our relations with others. They have to do with how we live in this world. They have to do with the part we play in the big, wide world that gets in the news. Justice and righteousness have to do with how we relate to issues in our society. They have to do with how we live with the issues in our community and the people who are part of our community. Justice and righteousness have to do with how we live with our families, and with our neighbors.
Justice has to do with making things right between other people, with making good things happen between others, or with stopping certain things from happening between others. Righteousness has to do with the rightness of the way we live toward others and toward God.

When you walk through a vineyard, as the grapes grow close to harvest, and the bunches are hot in the late summer, or the early autumn, sun; then the very air in the vineyard is sweet. That is a righteous aroma. There is joy and pleasure in bearing fruit.

But we form unjust and unrighteous patterns. There was a mother driving her kindergarten aged child in a crowded city. As the mother struggled with the traffic her child asked, “Mommy, how come it’s only when daddy drives that the idiots come out?” The father and mother had different patterns of dealing with traffic.

We form patterns.
The tenants of the vineyard would not turn over the owner’s share of the harvest because they did not accept his ownership of the vineyard. They did not accept their own promises and commitments to the owner.

We form patterns that deny God’s ownership of us. We form patterns of anger, and grudges. We act out old conflicts that have nothing to do with the present. We act out negativity. We do not see each other as beloved children of God. We think about what others owe us instead of owing others a debt of love.

As Christians, and as a church, we may stop living as if we had confidence in God to care for us. We may put our desire to protect ourselves, or justify ourselves above God’s call to forgive, and to reach out to others in humble, self-forgetting ways.

The problem with patterns and habits is that they tend to build on themselves. The good patterns get stronger and the bad patterns get harder.

The repetitions in the story tell us that God speak to us over and over and over again, in many ways (just as he sent many prophets to the people of Israel). God speaks over and over in an effort to remind us of the claim his love has over us. God speaks in order to break our struggle to own ourselves.

God speaks in his word, and in prayer, and in our worship and fellowship together. God speaks his word to us in the look in someone’s eyes, and in the patience of a Christian who really is Christian through and through.

Our owner says “What shall I do?” and then God reaches into the strength of his pattern of grace; and God shows us his Son, Jesus. God claims us with Jesus.

There are Christians, there are people who belong to God, who will not be owned by God, except on their own conditions, or on their own reservations. Each of us has issues like this. There are Christians who can look at Christ on the cross and say, “Yes, but I will not forgive so-and-so. Yes, but I will not show I am wrong by showing signs of change. Yes, but I will not confess. I will not admit. Yes, but I will not say I am sorry.”

The Lord’s pattern of grace is strong and he is absolutely committed to us. But the Lord, because he is love and grace, will not let a contrary pattern come into his work. He will not let anything unloving or ungracious stand.

Here comes Jesus, up the road to that piece of ground we will not yield. God comes in his Son to humble our resistance and claim our love, deeper than we’ve ever let him before. He comes with no weapon but nails in his hands and feet, and a wound in his side. He comes with no weapon but the cross.

When we truly see him as he is, coming down that road to us, we judge ourselves. The pattern in his cross reveals the pattern in our own lives, for good or bad. It is nothing but his grace that has done it. The contrast between what he is and what we are judges us.

But he does this in grace. This is our opportunity. This is what he offers when he asks himself what he will do.” He offers us Jesus. When we really see Jesus, it is for us to ask, “What will we do?”

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sermon: Jesus' Way: A New Mind and Eternal Fruitfulness

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9

Our reading in Luke begins with the report of a story of outrage. The report told that Roman soldiers had entered the Temple in Jerusalem and slaughtered a crowd of worshippers there as they offered their sacrifices to God. Luke is the only historical source of this incident, and we know nothing more about it.
Surely those who brought the report wanted to hear Jesus say, “Curse those Roman dogs!” It didn’t matter what else Jesus might say, just as long as it started with, “Curse those Roman dogs!” That is what any loyal Israelite was expected to say.
The fact that Jesus said nothing of the sort really underlined the way he finished his thought: “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
What Jesus said was completely unacceptable in every way. Jesus drew the attention away from the perpetrators, and away from the victims, and pointed directly at the people who told the story, and told them to repent or perish. That was a shock!
As far as we know, Jesus is the one who brought up the collapse of the Tower of Siloam, which formed part of Jerusalem’s fortifications. The collapse of the tower was not an act of atrocity by the enemy; it was an act of gravity.
The two incidents were unrelated, but both the Roman atrocity and the collapse of the great tower had something in common. They would both be news headlines, if the world of that day had had headlines. I think that Jesus turned the report on its head because he wanted to cure the people who came to him from a kind of headline fever.
Even though the Romans had brought a considerable amount of peace, and order, and stability to their world, the Romans had also brought pagan influences; materialism, a culture of broken families and marriages; a culture of pride, and cruelty, and immorality. The overpowering presence of the Romans brought alarm, and anger, and indignation to God’s people.
Their reaction is perfectly understandable, but it was like poison to their life. It was like poison to their faith. Their problem with the Romans felt so wrong that it seemed like a betrayal of their faith (a betrayal of the Lord himself) to live quietly under such circumstances. And so they lived with a continual sense of crisis. They lived in a constant state of alarm.
Crisis and alarm focus all our attention on the headlines that happen in the outside world, or even in the world right around us, until we become blind to the changes that need to take place on the inside. Anger and indignation make us obsess about what other people are doing, and what other people deserve, instead of on what we need to do, and on what we need to give to others.
The Greek word for repentance contains the thought of a new mind. You could say a new heart and mind. We can receive a new heart and mind from Jesus that enable us to live in a way so that we can bear good fruit, and live fruitful lives, in a world full of the headlines of violence, and injustice, and unrighteousness, and disaster.
In the chapter that leads up to these parables, Jesus spends time encouraging us to live with a kind of attention and watchfulness that is steady, faithful, calm, and unworried. Knowing Christ is like having a new heart and mind that free us from the panic and the alarms of the headlines, and this teaches us to pay attention to what is truly important. A new heart and mind can teach us how we are to live in such a world as ours.
Then there is the really odd thing about what Jesus says about death: “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” As a general rule, we cannot escape death. Death comes to everyone. Even Jesus died, for our sake, and then rose from the dead.
But, according to Jesus, there was a kind of death that could be avoided. The way to avoid that death was repentance. The third parable, the one about the fig tree, helps us to understand the meaning of repentance.
Now the Hebrew word for repentance carries the idea of turning, as in turning around; as in going back to where you were before you went off course. It is like turning 180 degrees.
Every few years I visit relatives in Southern California. It’s crowded down there, and getting from place to place is complicated, tricky, and sometimes a bit scary. I always plan to get lost, at least once, while I am down there.
It may seem odd but, as long as getting lost is part of my plan, it doesn’t seem quite so upsetting. I also find that I have an odd way of dealing with being lost. Sometimes I get the funny idea that, although I am lost, if I just keep on driving, I will find another way to my destination. But this is usually wrong. The way to my destination is generally behind me. And, so, I must turn around.
But the parable of the fig tree gives us another kind of turning. It is the turning of an unfruitful tree into a fruitful one.
Jesus was looking for that kind of turning in his people. Jesus wanted his people to live lives that would bear fruit by being like him.
He talks about this all through the gospels. In the fruit bearing life you love your enemies. (Luke 6:27) In the fruit bearing life you give without expecting anything in return. (Luke 6:35) In the fruit bearing life you refrain from judging others. (Luke 6:6:37) In the fruit bearing life you not only listen to Jesus, but you actually do what he says. (Luke 6:46) In the fruit bearing life you are willing to carry a cross to follow Jesus. You are willing to die to yourself; to lay yourself down. (Luke 9:23) In the fruit bearing life you create neighbors by being a neighbor yourself, and having mercy on them. (Luke10:36-37) That is quite a change.
There was a bride who was very, very nervous on the day of her wedding. She didn’t look like she would get through it without getting sick, or fainting. Now it happened that the wedding was taking place in the same church building where she and her family had worshipped all her life. So her Pastor gave her this advice. “As you walk down the aisle, remember you have walked down that aisle almost every Sunday of your life. Concentrate on that aisle. As you go forward, look at the altar that you have seen almost every Sunday of your life. Concentrate on that altar. Then look at your husband-to-be. You love him. So concentrate on him.” The bride walked down the aisle, and she stayed calm, but those who were sitting close enough were surprised to hear her chanting three words, over and over. “I’ll alter him. I’ll alter him. I’ll alter him.”
Repentance is a gift. We cannot alter ourselves. But the work that Jesus does for us (through his living, and serving, and loving, and dying, and rising); alters us. He transforms us. Jesus bears his fruit in us. This transformation is a repentance that is beyond our abilities, and it comes to us from outside ourselves, and it saves us from the deadly life of fruitlessness. It is a life that is truly alive because the life from Jesus.
In the parable, the master who looks for fruit, and the vineyard keeper who pleads on the tree’s behalf are both Jesus. Jesus is where the judgment and mercy of God meet.
The cross is the really fruitful tree. Receiving the love that is poured out on that tree is what gives us an altered life, a fruitful life, a Christ bearing life. That is the life that will never be alarmed or overwhelmed by the headlines, because it is a life that knows that, in Christ, it will never be fruitless and that, in Christ, it will never die.

Monday, March 9, 2009

SERMON Dennis Evans 3-8-2009
“Jesus’ Way: Temptation”

Scripture Readings: Psalm 91; Luke 4:1-13

When we read about Jesus being tempted or tested in the desert we hear some voices speaking. We hear the devil’s voice speaking to Jesus; trying to get Jesus to give in, trying to get Jesus to compromise and fail. Then, we hear Jesus’ voice answering back; resisting, remembering scripture and the message of the scriptures. We hear Jesus persevering and winning.
Those are two voices. If we listen closer, though, we will hear another voice. We will hear the quiet voice that Jesus also heard. It was a voice just as clear to Jesus as the doubts and the fears that the devil tried to use to make Jesus stumble. Jesus heard a voice that made him strong and kept him centered and focused.
Jesus heard the voice within the scriptures. He heard the voice of his Father there. Jesus also heard his Father speak loud and clear when he went to be baptized in the Jordan River.
John the Baptist was there on the banks of the Jordan calling on God’s people to repent, to get a new heart and mind from God, and receive forgiveness. Word of this had an amazing affect. People were moved. Crowds from the towns and villages went to John for that new life. Jesus went to John the Baptist along with the others; not because he needed forgiveness, but because he loved what everyone was doing by going there.
Jesus is God in human flesh and blood, and so he was very good at being human. He was absolutely normal, in every possible way, except that he never went wrong. Maybe the only thing that made Jesus strange was that his passionate goodness was perfectly mixed with a passionate love for human life and for other people.
So Jesus went to the river to be baptized, not out of need, but out of gladness. And the voice of his Father spoke to him, loud and clear, not out of forgiveness, but out of the same gladness. The voice said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) “You are my Son, my beloved.” “You are my beloved.”
This is the voice that Jesus heard, that spoke within the scriptures. This is the message that Jesus remembered, and used to keep from going wrong. “You are my beloved.”
“Man does not live on bread alone,” when he knows he is beloved by God. (Luke 4:4 & Deut. 8:3) You “worship the Lord your God and serve him only” because you are beloved. (Luke 4:8 and Deut. 6:13) You “do not put the Lord your God to the test” because you are beloved. (Luke 4:12 and Deut. 6:16) I mean that you do this because you are beloved, if you are Jesus.
But what do you do when you belong to Jesus? If you belong to Jesus, you are a part of him. You are his hands and feet in this world. You live in Christ, and Christ lives in you. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart form me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Jesus came into this world to make you beloved. When you are beloved your temptations are like Jesus’ temptations.
Now that might seem strange. How could you be tempted to turn stones into bread, or be tempted to worship the devil to get all the nations of the world to serve you, or be tempted to throw yourself off a high place so the angels could catch you and fly with you? You will never experience any of these things; unless you go crazy, or unless you take some really potent drugs.
The infinite and everlasting God; the abundant God; God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit loves you. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit love you infinitely and everlastingly; with a creating love, with a sacrificial love, with an animating love. You were created for love, and you were created to be a fountain of this love: a receiver and a giver of this love.
This is your purpose. Everything in life finds its place somewhere in this love. Happiness and fullness of life come from receiving this love and giving this love. Knowing the love of God in Christ is what opens up the knowledge and the enjoyment of this love. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)
Our lives are full to the extent that we know this. Our lives are empty to the extent that we do not know this. There is no greater damage, and no greater loss, and no greater tragedy, than to lose the knowledge of this love, or to never have found it in the first place.
We will not be tempted to turn stones into bread, but we will be tempted to doubt that we are beloved. But we can only be so tempted if we do indeed know this love and what it means to be the one who is beloved.
All of the ways we can go wrong when we are tempted; everything we can think, and say, and do when we part ways with Jesus: these are the result of our decision to act as if we were not beloved. When we go along with the crowd just to please others and impress them, it is evident that we want their love because we have forgotten the love of God. When our finances, or our families, or our peers tempt us, it is because we forget that we are always, truly beloved by the one whose love matters most.
The tragedy of this world is that there are people who have never learned that they are beloved. There is a sense in which such people are never tempted. At least there is no contest in such a temptation. The person who has no awareness of their value, because they do not know that they are loved, has nothing to stand on.
You can only be tempted if you know you are loved. You can only be supremely tempted if you know you are supremely loved. (Hebrews 10:29-31)
This is why the devil tempted Jesus with the words, “If you are the Son of God.” He calls Jesus’ relation to his Father into question. “Is it true? Did you really hear your Father say, ‘You are my beloved’?”
“Well Jesus! If you are beloved, why are you hungry? If you are beloved, why don’t you take more of an interest in looking out for yourself?”
“If you are beloved, why must you win the world at the cost of death on a cross? Why must you die for love?”
The devil says: “Only look at the world; and you can see that the world is mine. It serves me. It follows me. I can give you the world if you do the same: if you bow to me; if you serve me and follow me.”
What a contradiction we see! The Son of God is beloved, but he is hungry, and weak, and weary. The Son of God is beloved, but he is not loved with the same love he gives. The world returns his love with torment and a cross.
Do you know that, knowing that you are beloved, when you love sacrificially, you also might not be loved back the same way? Jesus went there and did that, and that is part of the fullness of his life. And that is precisely what you do when you are beloved.
Do you know that, even though you are beloved, that you might find yourself in need, and be hungry, and weak, and weary, and full of desires and longings; and have no legitimate way to provide for yourself, or satisfy yourself, except to remember that you are beloved, and hold on to that? Jesus went there and did that, and that was part of the fullness of his life. That is what enabled him to give us what we need to truly live. That is what you do when you are beloved.
There is this question: Is it enough to be beloved? (Craig Barnes) The mission of the devil was to get Jesus to say, “No, it is not enough to be beloved.” But Jesus did not give in. In the desert, and on the cross, Jesus said gave his “yes” to the question. “Yes, it is enough to be beloved!”
Luke abbreviates Jesus’ answer to the first temptation. The full answer of Jesus is given to us, by Matthew. In the full answer Jesus quotes a whole thought from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (8:3): “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (See Matthew 4:4)
What we need, even more than food, is to hear the word that proceeds from God and tells us that we are beloved. Love can exist without food (and a great many other things), and sometimes it must; sometimes we must.
If the angels could catch Jesus in mid-fall from the top of the temple, why did they not save him from the cross? When the disciples proposed fighting to save Jesus from his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) Or, as Luke will tell us (in the story of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, while he was waiting for his betrayal and his arrest); the Father protected his son by sending an angel came to strengthen him. (Luke 22:43)
Psalm 91 tells us about the faithfulness of the Lord’s protective love. “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” (Psalm 91:3-4) Think of the deadliest snare as the trap of the fear of separation from the love of God. Think of the feathers of God’s comfort as the symbol of intimacy and not of insulation.
What the Lord cares most about is to faithfully create and protect our sense of being loved. This is what the cross is about. This is what Jesus’ own temptation was about.
Surely this is what a mother’s or father’s love is like, at its best. A parent will not love their child in such a way as to protect that child from all risk and danger; or to protect them from everything that might hurt them. But a parent’s love will jump, in an instant, if it can, to spare that child from the worst hurt of all; the hurt of losing the confidence and the freedom that comes from being beloved.
The protection that a husband and wife give to each other has the same mission. You cannot protect the people you love from every hurt, but you can spare them from the hurt of not being beloved.
Jesus went out into the desert, seemingly alone, with the invisible presence of the Holy Spirit, and the unheard voice of his Father. We go into our temptation seemingly alone; but we go with Jesus, the beloved who makes us beloved. We have our deserts to cross, but we are not alone because we share them with Jesus; and Jesus shares his desert with us.
We are in him and he is in us. The book of Hebrews tells us this: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18)
The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the greatest desert and the most lonesome valley that Jesus walked through, and that was the darkness of the cross. On the cross, Jesus was forsaken by his friends, and he felt forsaken by his Father. He cried out, “My God, my God; why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
But Jesus did this out of love for his Father, and out of love for us. His willingness to walk that desert is what saves us and sets us free. It is food for our very lives. Whatever desert we walk through is full of the food of Jesus who is there with us and makes us beloved.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Biblical Sexuality: The Peace, Unity, & Purity of the Church

SERMON Dennis Evans 3-1-2009

“Biblical Sexuality: The Challenge of the Peace, Unity, & Purity of the Church”
Readings: 1 Kings 11:26-40; 1 Corinthians 3:1-15; John 13:1-17, 34-35

A man fell overboard from a cruise ship, in the middle of a storm, and he found himself alone, on a deserted tropical island in the Pacific. The good luck was that he was very handy and resourceful. And even luckier, he found the remains of an old military camp and some hand tools.
A few years later, the man was discovered, and he showed his rescuers what he had done to survive, and how he passed the time. He was a carpenter and, to keep himself sane, he constantly built things. He showed them his house. He showed them his post office, and his bank, and his grocery store.
He showed them a building, with a steeple and a cross on top, and he said, “And here is my church.” One member of the rescue party pointed to another building with a steeple and a cross. What is that, over there? And the man said, “Oh, that’s the church I used to go to.”
Anyone who has been part of the church for any length of time knows that the church is not a building: the church is a people. And, where you have people, you will have the church that someone used to go to. You have frustrations, and disagreements, and conflicts, and faithfulness, and patience, and encouragement, and judgment, and grace, and expectations, and love.
Some of these things don’t go well together: for instance judgment and grace. For instance, I see good judgment as the ability to not only see when something may be going wrong, but also as the ability to stop what is wrong, in a timely manner, and make things go right, and not let innocent people get hurt.
That is a tall order. It is not easy. And there are gracious ways to do this, and ungracious ways. There are ways to exercise judgment that show the glory of the gospel, and there are ways that show the ugliness in our own holy hearts, and violate the very grace of God. This is why Jesus warned us about judging others.
One of the ordination questions for elders, and ministers (and deacons) is about things that are not always easy to fit together. The question is this: “Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?” This is not an organizational question. It is a biblical question. Peace, unity, and purity are biblical things.
Unity is biblical in this way. Jesus prays for the unity of the church. In the seventeenth chapter of John (17:21), Jesus prays this for us, with these words: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” Jesus prays that you and I, and all Christians in all times and places, possess a powerful oneness that is just as real as the oneness between the Father and the Son.
There is belonging in that oneness. There is unbroken and unbreakable fellowship, and appreciation, and communication in that oneness between the Father and the Son. There should be unbroken and unbreakable fellowship, and appreciation, and communication between Christians, and congregations, and organizations of congregations, and denominations of congregations.
There should be.
But there isn’t.
But there should be; because Jesus wants it, and expects us to live it out in our Christian lives. Jesus tells us this. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” How does Jesus love you? He loves you enough to call you his friend and die for you. (John 15:13) But he doesn’t call you, alone, friend. Jesus’ friends are plural. Jesus has a people (plural) (1 Peter 2:9), a body of many members (1 Corinthians 12), a family (Ephesians 2:19).
Jesus died for the whole family, for the whole gang of friends, and for all. It killed Jesus to love us, and we complain because it just about kills us to love one another.
We want a warm fuzzy love, but we are often not warm and fuzzy ourselves. We get mad. Other people deserve for us to get mad at them. And we deserve it too; right back. Jesus often looked at that huddle of his disciples and was just so angry at them.
Love is not all about understanding, and having substantial agreement about things, and getting along. The disciples of Jesus had very little of that between themselves. And they often disagreed with Jesus, himself
In a way, the dying part of love is what Jesus took upon himself; and he gave us the foot washing part of love. Jesus talks about having given his disciples a complete bath, already, and, by this, he means that he is dying for them. Since Jesus bathes us with his blood on the cross (that strange blood that mysteriously makes us clean), our job is to be foot washers.
Now, in the ancient Middle Eastern world, feet were dirty, and feet were obscene. People wore open sandals as they walked on dirt roads that got plenty of traffic from donkeys, and camels, and horses, and goats, and sheep, and chickens. When people came into a house, they took off their sandals and washed their feet: because they were really dirty. They could be just plain foul and rank.
Wealthy people might have a servant, or a slave, to wash the feet of worthy guests. But a foot washer would be, in the pecking order of a house, the lowest of the low. That is why Peter wanted Jesus to wash more than his feet, so that Jesus wouldn’t bear the shame of being nothing more than a foot washer.
Feet were considered an obscenity. To point the sole of your foot in the direction of another human being was the same as any obscene gesture.
So for us to love one another, as Jesus loves us, means that we have been called to the sort of ministry in which we are to gently, kindly, humbly face human stink, and dirt, and even obscenity (the outrageous).
Foot washing is not just for people who have the same priorities and are going in the same direction. Foot washing is not just for those who are faithful. Jesus washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him to death.
This ministry does not degrade us, and it does not require us to be victims, or to allow others to be victimized. This ministry requires us to be prepared to face hard, awkward, embarrassing, complicated issues with other people as if we were equipped and ready to go at it with spiritual water and spiritual towels.
It requires us to be always ready to deal with things; and be ready to wash them. It requires us to restore things, and make them clean, and sweet, and fair.
Love requires us to deal with feet all the time. We make others face our feet every day.
Families do this. Feet are an inevitable part of life. Feet are diapers to be changed, and children squalling and screaming, “I hate you!” Feet are lovers’ quarrels, and old bad habits, and insensitivity lived with for decade after decade.
The church has to do this. Feet are an inevitable part of life in the church. Even thankful hearts become feet, when they give credit to the service of others, only to give that credit to the wrong people, or to neglect to give it to the right people. Feet are different visions for the mission of the church, and how to carry it out. Feet are styles of music, and the manner of worship. Feet are how we use the English language, and what translation of the Bible we read from. Feet are what someone said or did thirty years ago, or only yesterday. Are these little feet or are they big feet? It depends on who is looking at them and who is doing the washing.
And there are the feet of how we describe our faith and the work of God in our lives, because God works in each person in a different way; or does he? When we differ on this, we experience feet in the church.
We see feet in the church when Christians want to decide between who is right on the basis of what the Bible says about grace and what the Bible says about holiness. And, just like feet, this argument can be stinky, especially when it goes on, and on, and on.
We should not have to argue about such things. We should just all agree because the answer is so obvious. But the other side says that their side is obvious. Gosh, the church is such a feety or footy place.
To me, it is obvious that some of the stinkiest feet in the church are the debates over the boundaries of sexual identity and orientation, and the issue of whether to ordain practicing homosexual people to ministries in the church. I believe that homosexuality is not God’s design for human life. I believe that celebrating homosexuality within the church is not the way to help people find God’s truth for human life, or marriage, or family, or even God’s truth for our individual identity.
The current standard of the Presbyterian Church USA, related to sexuality and marriage and leadership, is as follows: “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” (Book of Order, G-6.0106 b.)
There has been a change proposed that would eliminate this standard.
The presbyteries of the church are voting on this change. Our own presbytery, the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, has voted against change in order to support the present standard. The vote was 76 to 44 to leave the standard unchanged. So far 92 out of 173 presbyteries have voted, and the vote to keep the present standard stands at 56 to 36 presbyteries.
This issue has come up for a vote by the presbyteries twice before. If the remainder of the presbyteries votes as they did the last time, we will preserve our standards by a vote of 112 to 61 presbyteries. The vote may well be narrower than that, this time. Still, the standard will surely not be changed this time around.
For me, the mere fact that we have to debate this at all is a stinky thing. It is the stinky feet of the church.
Some people advocate splitting the church over this controversy. Some people will try to work for what you might call an “amicable separation”. Some people will try to separate at any cost.
To me, this separation is wrong and unbiblical. In the New Testament, it is not strange to find doctrinal error in the church. It is not strange to find a mixture of moral integrity and the condoning of immorality. Where there is such a mixture the apostles never tell the people who are right to leave. John, in one of his letters, observes that the way you can tell someone is teaching what is false is that they inevitably split off, and go their separate ways. (1 John 2:19)
In the Old Testament, we can read that God stepped in to divide his people. However that division was not a blessing to either side. It was God’s judgment upon both sides. Their division was part of a long, slow, sad, violent decline.
Not that good things didn’t happen, too, as a result of it. The irony is that the northern tribes became even more corrupt than the kingdom of the tribe of Judah that they sought to leave because of its corruption and injustice. But they had great things happen among them, too; like the stories of prophets, Elijah and Elisha; like the 7,000 who never bent their knee to the false god Baal; like the healing of the enemy general of his leprosy (2 Kings 5); like the chariots of fire that protected the city of Samaria (2 Kings 6:17).
Because our particular church was founded as a Presbyterian mission, we have our roots in the Protestant reformation of the sixteenth century. We have our roots in a divided church. But Luther and Calvin (the reformers who helped us come into existence) did not set out do divide the church.
They said, in any number of ways, that they did not separate from the Church of Rome, but that Rome separated itself from them. After all, Luther and Calvin didn’t try to kill the Pope. But the Popes used their power to try to destroy them.
Luther and Calvin wanted to reform the church, which means to transform it from the heart. The truth is that, with the Protestant tradition emphasizing salvation by grace, our tradition is about transformation and not separation.
Much good came from the Reformation. But so did more than a hundred years of savage warfare, which tore Europe apart. And there was the war between the Protestants and the Catholics, in Ireland, just a few decades ago. Separation is not the blessing some people make it out to be.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes that teachers and leaders in the church can build on the one foundation of Jesus Christ with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw. (1 Corinthians 3: 11-15) This means that, in the family of God, in the church, the body of Christ, we can teach and do good things, and we can do junk and garbage.
In the end God will judge it all, and either reward it or burn it to the ground. But it is all part of one thing. It is all part of one inescapable thing. It is all part of the story of the Lord’s people. It is all part of your story and mine, whether you or I actually to the good stuff or the junk.
Some people say that there is nothing wrong with making a new denomination, or changing allegiance to another denomination, or separating into something that is so-called non-denominational, because denominations are not the church; because the church is spiritual, and organizations are not spiritual. But those organizations are made of people, and the divisions are divisions between people, many of whom are just as genuine (as Christians) as anyone you know. It doesn’t matter if they are misguided, or if you are.
It is the same as saying, “We are not going to deal with you any more. And we can justify our division from you because the church is a spiritual thing.” It is the same as saying, “Because our real relationship with you is spiritual, we can distance ourselves from you.”
This doesn’t make sense. Even when Paul told people in the church to discipline members who had gone astray, he never let them forget that they had an enduring obligation to those people that they could not put to an end. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)
As far as denominations go, the only reason that I have ever been glad to be a Presbyterian is that I know, with all my heart, that it would be just as hard, and just as stinky, or worse, in the long run, to be anything else.
The other thing I know is that Jesus has put me where he has. He made me first a Methodist, and then a Presbyterian. And I have seen the grace of God where he planted me.
Since God did not disdain to teach me, and discipline me, and sufficiently humiliate me, and abundantly bless me in the setting where he did, I will not disdain it either. And I will not turn my back on it: and neither should you.
This faithfulness is part of our mission to serve the peace, unity, and purity of the church. This faithfulness is our mission as feet washers for Jesus.

Some extra notes, used and unused:
The Bible teaches us the discipline of the oneness of the people of God.
Physical division is not an expression of love. Members of a family who get up and leave the room in disagreement may make a bigger gap than members of a family who are united but go to live at opposite sides of the earth.
Love is expressed in faithful persistence and not in withdrawal. (Example: my mom’s role in her family)
Love is expressed in faithfulness, even to the unfaithful. Jesus washed Judas’ feet.