The Foot-washing God
Maundy Thursday 2019
In a series, “The Shadow of the Cross”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text is the first reading, from John 13. “You call me Teacher and Lord and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s’ feet.”
This is how the meal starts, with Jesus washing their feet. Then Jesus says, “If the Lord of the universe decides that it is the supreme act of the One Who Is Love to wash your feet, you go and do likewise.
Just as I do, so you do.
I had a friend, his name was and is Kurt. His children are all grown up now. But when he was younger, he was a little bit rough around the edges. He told me a story of when his son was 2 years old, when he was working on the plumbing in the bathroom. It was a Saturday afternoon. It was hot. He had been drinking a few beers. He hit a roadblock. He got frustrated.
So, he started yelling at the toilet. He threw his drink. He gave the toilet a few good whacks with the wrench, and then he sat down.
Then his little son John comes into the bathroom. And what do you think he did? He started yelling at the toilet. He threw his drink. And he picks up his little toy wrench and gives the toilet a few good whacks before he sits down.
Kurt stopped. Wait, is that what I do? Is that who I am? Wait, he is hearing and seeing everything that I do.
Just as I do, so should you.
I can tell you that these days in the Muther household, Benjamin likes being around me. I can tell you that because I very well know that there will be a day when he can’t stand being around me, but still in this moment, he’ll say every once in a while, “Papa, one day when I’m big and you’re little, I’ll be the one putting on tall socks like yours.” “Papa, one day when I’m big and you’re little, I can drive the fast car like you.” “Papa, one day when I’m big and you’re little, I can help people like you do.”
Just as I do, so should you.
Today we consider Jesus as the one who serves his disciples. We hear the story on the night when he was betrayed. We hear how he serves them his body and blood in the bread and wine for the forgiveness of their sins.
But before that, he takes off his outer robe; he puts a towel around his waist. He stoops down before them, and he washes their feet. Why does he do that? Now, know this, he was doing the work that was so low that Jewish households wouldn’t even allow their Jewish servants to do it. It was beneath them. They asked their Gentiles servants to do it.
Why does he do that? And yet here is the Lord of the universe, stooping down at his disciples’ feet, washing them, and then he says... Just as I do, so should you.
The meaning is clear. “A servant is not greater than his master. Nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If I, whom you have confessed to be Lord and God, master and teacher, if I have washed your feet,” what do you think you’re supposed to do?
Chad Bird says it like this. “Jesus’s greatest delight is in serving us, washing us, feeding us, cleansing us. His power is cloaked in weakness, for in these acts of love he opens our eyes to see his heart...” Today, “we see what kind of God we have: the one who goes as low as it takes to lift us up to the Father’s throne.”
He served his disciples by washing their feet, and more than that, he served them by opening up to them the Word of God, and more than that he served them by dying for their sins on a cross, by being laid to rest in their tomb, by rising from the grave on Easter morning in glorious fashion as the first fruits of the foretaste of an even greater heavenly banquet feast.
And it doesn’t end there.
In your baptism, Jesus has washed you from your head to your toes. In the Lord’s Supper, he gives you strength for the week.
In Baptism, he has scrubbed you clean in body and soul. In the Lord’s Supper, he who has already washed you clean scrubs the dust off of your feet.
In Baptism, God has once for all called you his beloved son and daughter, bought by the very precious blood of Christ, given the new birth into the kingdom of God. In the Lord’s Supper, he feeds you. He grows you up. He leads you on. He gives you an unearthly peace and a godly strength so that as he has done, so should you do.
So, a few questions to conclude this sermon for tonight. Would you find delight in the meal that God delights to give you? Do you see the God who goes as low as it takes to lift us up to the Father’s throne? If Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, whose feet is he calling you to wash?
One last question. If Jesus picked up his cross and laid down his life for you, for who, are you called to lay down your life?
Come. The feast is set, for your strength and hope.
Amen and amen.
The Hour Has Come
Palm Sunday, 2019
John 12:20-27 Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. Then a voice came from heaven, I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Why are you crying?
Years ago, when we lived near Lewiston, MN, a dear neighbor of ours was dying after a long and uncomfortable bout with cancer. Her name was Ida, she was a kind a jolly sort of a person with a lifelong history of trusting in and serving her Savior. Her husband Marlo called me up one day and indicated to me that if I wanted to say my good-byes, I should come on over. We talked for a bit about her family and the weather and how the dairy farming was going, I suppose, and as I opened my Bible and began a devotion, you won’t be surprised with this, I began to cry. She looked me in the eyes, and asked, “Why are you crying?” I replied something along the lines of “because you’re a really nice person and you’re dying.” At which point she scolded me for crying, she reminded me that she would soon be seeing Jesus, and maybe if I would eat a couple of chocolate chip cookies, I would feel better.
At least outwardly, it seems as though my soul was more troubled than hers. In today’s text, Jesus admitted that his soul was troubled, and he wondered out loud if he should be asking his father to spare him from what was about to happen. Quickly he answered, “No, it was for this very purpose that have come to this hour.” It was for this very purpose that Jesus had passed through his mother Mary’s womb, it was for this very purpose he was born, it was for this very purpose he had subjected himself to the law, it was for this very purpose he had put up with sin and decay and lived the perfect life.
Up until this point, Jesus kept saying, “My hour has not yet come.” When enemies tried to catch him and kill him, he always managed to escape. Now that his hour had come, he would allow the world to have its way with him. He would enter his passive obedience. In these next hours he would not be using his divine power. He would be passively allowing the crowd to arrest, beat, whip, and nail him to the cross.
Two truths we want to learn today as we fix our eyes on this turning point in human history. First of all we learn what it meant for Jesus, and secondly what it means for us.
First, what this meant for Jesus, “The hour had come for Jesus to reproduce by (dying).” The context of this teaching from Jesus was that a Greek man named Philip had expressed a desire to see Jesus. In response, Jesus announced that the hour had come for him to be glorified. That’s another way of saying that the time had come for Jesus to be lifted up on the cross, much as a bronze serpent was lifted up in the wilderness as salvation for Hebrews getting bit and poised by snakes. But it was more than Jesus just getting crucified, it was about him rising up on the third day and after 40 days of proving to eye witnesses that he was in fact alive and well, he would ascend into heaven.
Much as a grain of wheat needs to be buried into the ground and die before it can be rising up again and producing grain, so did Jesus need to die and be buried before he could rise up again and give us new life. It was for the joy that was set before him that Jesus suffered all that he was appointed to suffer and was crucified until he was dead and buried. It was for the joy of spending eternity with Ida and with all baptized believers who die in the Lord.
(Story of a children’s lesson where I was making the point that our good behavior would not be getting us into heaven, but rather believing in Jesus. Several times I asked the question “what do you have to do to get into heaven?” wanting the answer that there is nothing you can do, only by faith in Jesus can you be saved. Finally after I had asked the question for the third of fourth time, what do you have to do to get into heaven, little Ladonna, or maybe it was Deanna answered, “you have to die.”)
When Christians sing about how it is in the cross of Christ that we glory, the world would thinks, as Gail Wynnemer would say, we’re a little bit cuckoo. That our elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor, that we’re a few French fries short of a happy meal, that our driveway doesn’t go all the way to the street!
But especially in this Lenten season, we Christians keep on insisting that the chief glory of our faith is in Jesus Christ crucified on a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. That’s exactly what Jesus meant when he prayed for the father to glorify his name. He meant that the only way to glory was for him to endure the cross all the way into the grave.
Few Passover pilgrims seemed to understand what needed to happen. Their cries of hosanna and praise were good, valid, and sincere. They knew that because of Jesus the blind had received sight, the deaf had received their hearing, and lame people were now walking. Many of them had seen Lazarus walk out of the tomb. Yet few of them seemed to understand that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.”
The Pharisees didn’t understand this either. They saw the glory of Jesus in his popularity, and they were jealous. They were interested in the glory that gave them fame, honor, and respect. Their desire for their own exaltation drove them to plot against Jesus, their desire to gain worldly comforts and wealth for themselves nudged them towards doing away with this Jesus. As we enter yet one more time the holiest of weeks, we recognize that the hour has drawn near. First, the hour has come for Jesus to reproduce by dying, rising again, and ascending into heaven.
Secondly, what this means for us today, The hour has come for us to gain by (losing). Jesus says it this way, Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Two truths Jesus would teach us this mornings, and both of them go contrary to, as Pastor Muther might say, normal thinking.
Truth number one is that whoever loves his life will be losing it. That’s another way of asking what a man profits if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul. Woe be to the husband who loves being right but keeps on damaging his wife’s spirit. Woe be to the wife who loves her house clean but keeps on being too busy to spend time in God’s Word and prayer. Woe be to the teenager who accomplishes great things in athletics and academics but has strayed away from her confirmation vow. Woe be to the well to do couple who never misses a house payment but often misses out on confessing their sins, that God’s grace might be sweeping over their souls and ruling in their hearts.
Truth number two is that whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. That’s another way of saying that blessed is the person who daily drowns his old sinful nature through contrition and repentance, that a new man, a new woman might rise up and walk in the newness of life. Blessed is the man who hates the wrong he has done and the good he has failed to do. Blessed is the woman who confesses her faults and failures instead of defending and making her case. Blessed is the teenager who finds simple joy in the forgiveness of his sins. Blessed is the church member who denies himself worldly pleasure that the mission of the church could be supported. Blessed are they who know the joy that comes in serving and giving. Blessed are they know keep on experiencing the peace of God that goes beyond human circumstances. Blessed are they who keep on humbling themselves so God doesn’t have to do it for them. Blessed are they who understand that even as Jesus willingly submitted to his Father’s will, even when that is painful, so it is their assignment each day to be ready to go contrary to natural inclinations, it is their assignment to pick up whatever crosses are coming their say and to carry them.
It is in our very nature and in our upbringing to work hard and to play hard, in that order. Jesus would invite us first of all to rest in all the hard work he has already done, and to go from there. It is our inclination to seek out glory by picking ourselves up by the bootstraps, by standing on our own two feet, by setting worthy goals and going hard after them. And to be sure, there is much to be said for all of that. But this week, we would see Jesus. We would see him getting down on his knees and washing feet, we would see him emptying himself, taking up the form of a servant, and being obedient even unto death. This week, we would see Jesus love others more than he loved himself. This week we would wonder together what it means for us to walk in his footsteps, what it means for us to be denying our own inclinations, and what it means to be helping each other bear our crosses.
This is it.
Those were the words of a dear matriarch of this church named Agnes, as I visited her on the third floor of Mankato Hospital years ago. This is it, she said to me, meaning that she was pretty sure she would be passing away that day or the next. When I understood what she was saying to me, you know what I did. I didn’t do anything, my eyes started to water, and one more time, Agnes, the daughter of long time former pastor Martin Winter, one more time, Agnes gave me a talking to. She reminded her pastor that she had a good life, that she knew where she was going, and that the hour was near. Her work was soon to be finished, mine was not.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where more and more folks realize that this is it. Today is their day. Now is their hour to wonder what it means to be hating their lives, now is their hour to wonder which sins they should be admitting, now is their hour to wonder what it means to empty themselves for the glory of God. Or to say it another way, to gain by losing. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The Hour of Condemnation
Luke 20:9–20 // Isaiah 43:16–21 // Philippians 3:4b–14
Fourth in a series of five, “The Hour Has Come”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is this parable of judgment, this parable of condemnation that Jesus tells in Luke chapter 20, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them...”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We see these critical hours, these crucial teachings of Jesus in our sermon series, and in the hour today, we find Jesus condemning the scribes and Pharisees, and we see in that very hour they are looking for a way to kill Jesus, and to that end, Jesus tells a story. To frame our conversation, I want to tell a story too.
I can remember when I was in 5thgrade. I took piano lessons from 3rdthrough 8thgrade. Looking back, I should have loved them, but at the time I didn’t necessarily like to practice 30 minutes, every day. There was one week when I had been avoiding my piano lessons, and they started to build up, from 30 to 60 to 90 minutes. My brother John, on the other hand, had kept up with it.
And so, when my mom went to a meeting one evening, she told us both to practice our piano, John did, but I didn’t. He tried to get me to do it, but I still didn’t. And then my mom came home. Can you guess what she did when she found out?
Condemnation and Salvation fall in the same (stroke).
What was salvation for John was judgment for me. What was vindication for John was condemnation for me. In either case, my mom’s action didn’t change; the relationship to her did.
So it is in our parable for today. The parable that Jesus tells to the Pharisees, a parable of judgment. It’s an easy parable to understand. The renters are the scribes and Pharisees. The servants are the prophets that went before Jesus. The son is Jesus himself. But when does it become a parable of judgment, a parable of condemnation? It becomes such when the Pharisees reject it.
Both judgment and salvation fall in the same stroke. What if the scribes and Pharisees would have repented of their ways? Then God who is faithful and just would have forgiven them and cleansed them from all unrighteousness. But in either case, God’s action doesn’t change; the relationship to him does.
And Jesus looks directly at them and says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces. If it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
The one who crushes is the (cornerstone). What in this world today is being crushed by our cornerstone? It is the sin in this world. It’s the idea that church doesn’t matter, that it’s just an old-fashioned bygone.
It crushes the idea that Christians are called to obey the letter of the law. We’re not. We are required to obey something far, far more than that -- the law of love, the law that fulfills all of our neighbors’ needs before they know them, the law so high and far above what our legislature would put in the books that it does all it would require and more. There is no law against love. And by love, I mean laying down your life for your neighbor.
The cornerstone crushes the idea that there’s too much to do, too many things on our plate to slowdown and be served the most precious thing ever by the master of the universe.
It crushes us when we have the tendency that so many of us have to be unkind for no particular reason at all, to be unloving because we didn’t feel loved by that person, to avoid telling the truth because it’s going to be hard, to avoid caring for and pursuing someone whom we’ve hurt because we’re scared of what they might say.
And it all comes back to the first commandment. You shall have no other gods. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The cornerstone crushes anything that is set up in our lives above God. He breaks to pieces every evil design of the devil, of the sinful world, of our very own nature.
But he was (crushed) for our iniquities. That’s Isaiah 53 language. “He was crushed for our iniquities, he was pierced for our transgressions, and upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
He’s crushed for our sake. He takes our punishment. All of the wrath of God, all of the judgment of God, all of the brokenness of sin is poured out onto Jesus – our sins, the sins of the Scribes, the sins of the Pharisees, the sins of the whole world are given to him, and in exchange, he gives us his righteousness.
Three questions in closing today, as we consider this parable.
In view of Jesus’s words today, what do you need to count as loss? That’s the saying of St. Paul that’s paired with our Gospel reading. What do you need to count as loss against the surpassing greatness of what you’ve been given? I count it as rubbish.
Who do you need to look at and love? I think of Jesus looking at these Scribes and Pharisees, he looks directly at them, and he gives them what they need from him. But so I ask, who do you need to look at and love? Who needs you to do what they need, not what they deserve, not necessarily what they want?
Where and when do you need to repent? Where and when do you need to hear the voice of Jesus, to fall on your knees, and to ask for forgiveness?
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that love their Lord, but oh-so-often, they find their hearts wandering during the prayers, oh-so-often they find their ears wandering during the sermon, so so often they need their savior to look them directly in the eyes. It is their prayer on their best days that their savior would be chasing after them, would be feeding them everything they need to eat, and would be holding them close.
Amen and amen.
The Shadow of Fear
We’ve been working our way through our sermon series, The Shadow of the Cross, seeing the different shadows that fall on us in this life, and today, we consider the shadow of fear.
So, my first question is, What is fear? Id didn’t know, so I looked it up.
Fear is an emotional response to danger, pain, or threats.
What are you afraid of?
Sometimes, maybe half the time, we are afraid of something that isn’t real.
When I was young, I was afraid of bees. In a field covered with clover... with bees all around. I’m not allergic. Bees aren’t mean. They mostly just leave you alone, but I was scared and called for my mom. But I wasn’t afraid of something real.
When Jesus tells you not to be afraid, sometimes he tells you not to be afraid of things you shouldn’t be afraid of anyways.
That’s the first thing that happens in our text for today. Jesus comes out on the lake and the disciples get the wrong impression. They are scared, but they are scared for the wrong reasons. They are afraid but they are afraid of something that isn’t real.
What does Jesus do? He shatters the illusion. He says, I will show you what is real and what isn’t. What you think is out there isn’t. It is I.
What are you afraid of?
Sometimes, maybe half the time, we are afraid of something that we should be afraid of.
I’m 2 for 2 on boys getting carted up to Children’s in the cities the day after they were born. Amos and aphasia, where the skin didn’t form right. And my fears were real. It could reach deeper. It could need surgery. Afraid that it would reach down into his brain.
That’s the second thing that happens in our text for today. Jesus comes to the boat and dispels their fear that he’s a ghost, and then Peter, in a move that is questionable at best – but that’s the subject of another sermon – he comes out to Jesus on the water. But. Then he saw the wind. He realized that this is the kind of wind that could capsize the boat. Then he felt the waves. And I could believe that trying to stand on a wave would be hard, especially if you started imagining that this wave could carry you off into the middle of the sea to drown. The point is that he was afraid of something he should be afraid of.
But do you see what Jesus does? He grasps Peter. As soon as Peter cries out, Jesus reaches out. As soon as the gravity of the very real and legitimately dangerous situation becomes evident, Jesus steps in. He doesn’t say (like he said above) that your fears are an illusion. He does say, Your fears are big, but I am bigger. Your fears are legitimate, but I have defeated enemies far bigger than you could understand.
Where does courage come from?
Look what Peter does. He cries out. He prays.
Courage comes from resting first in the knowledge that Jesus has defeated enemies in our life far, far bigger and badder than wind and waves, far far bigger. Courage comes from crying out to him in prayer and resting where he promises to give strength. Courage comes from focusing on what Christ has done for us.
So, where do you need courage today?
Amen and amen.
The Shadow of Sadness
Fourth in a Series of Six, The Shadow of the Cross
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What is the point of life?
That’s a question I remember begin asked once last year. I remember it was a Sunday, and we were doing worship service on Sunday morning. There was a gal, a young gal, who had come into the office. I was finishing up service and Pastor Griffin was told that she was back there. He went and I stayed, and we agreed that when it came time for the sermon, he would come back and I would go.
You see, this gal, she had lost the man she loved, the man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with, and she didn’t know what to do. She was lost in the shadow of sadness. I remember coming into the office area, her with tears running down her cheeks, weeping, until she looked up and asked... Will I ever laugh again? Will I ever feel again? What is the point of life?
Have you ever felt like that? Perhaps you lost a loved one, who was very dear to you and you came to this question, what is life without them? Perhaps you lost your way and came to this question, What is the point of all of this busy-ness? Perhaps you came to a day like any other day and still you asked this question, “What’s the point to life?”
You see, we can be tempted on our good days to think that the point of life is to be happy. Don’t get me wrong, I want you to be happy as much as you can be, but the point of life is not to be happy-dappy holly-jolly all the time. No, if the point is to aim at happiness, then you will be questioning your reason to exist in any number of chapters of life. The point isn’t as simple as happiness. How do I know that?
We go to Isaiah 53:3. Now, remember that Isaiah is speaking this with the voice of God as a prophecy about the Messiah. He – and we know him to be Jesus – he was “a man of sorrows.” He was “acquainted with grief.” Read that – that even God himself come to earth was not happy all the time, and that’s not even the deepest meaning! We can go further, that he is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was acquainted, he was familiar with our grief. He knows it intimately, even better than we know it ourselves, and then we go one step further.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Not only has he known sadness himself, not only does he know our sorrow, he also has borne them for us. Not only does he weep with this gal in my office; he bears her grief for her. He has borne it to the cross.
And you see what you’ve already known, dear Christian friends, that this is the point of life, this is the point of our existence, this is the point of life – to know that Christ knows you and loves you in sadness and happiness. To know that you are cared for and that he picked you up in your baptism, he bears you now, carrying you forth in his word, and that he will one day gather all the lambs of his flock into the arms of his mercy and bring them home.
My dear second son, Amos, is far more of a cuddler than Benny was. Benjamin, when he woke up, would sit straight up and be ready to go go go. Amos, on the other hand, when he wakes up, he likes to snuggle. He’ll wake up, want to be in your arms, eyes bright, hands tucked in, just to be there with you.
Here’s the point – the point is that he knows who is holding him. He knows who is with him. He knows the one who bears him will look out for his good.
Happiness will come and go. Sadness will come and go. Laughter will come and go. Grief will come and go. But the man who has borne your griefs also bears you, now and into eternal life.
Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther