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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Friday, April 23, 2004


Last evening, I got to be part of a discussion about a different sort of church plant-- coming out of more than a single faith tradition, and remaining connected to them. Not non-denominational, but multi-denominational. Federated church, was the term we used.

Worship was part of this meeting, and I was given the opportunity to do a wee bit of preaching; a reflection on John 13:1-17. Here it is.


I love Peter. Impetuous, impulsive... he has a real knack for blurting out right what’s at the top of his mind in the moment. Sometimes he takes a bad rap for this-- for being foolish, and clueless. And sometimes he is. But this time, I don't believe that's the case. In fact, quite the reverse. It's not that he doesn't understand. He understands only too well.

Remember, he's been traveling with Jesus for a long time at this point. He knows Jesus, as well as any one. And he's got a clear picture in his head of what their relationship is.

I think that if Jesus had asked him to wash the other disciples' feet-- to take on the duty of the most menial of servants-- he might have been startled, but he'd have done it, and without the quibbling that you might have heard from James and John.

But to accept that service from Jesus-- from his Lord-- for himself, is another matter entirely. That's unexpected, and uncomfortable, and inappropriate. He should be serving, not served.

We still have the same conflict today, don’t we? It's certainly the message that we get in secular society, in a culture which honors prosperous individualism. I can do it myself.
I'm willing to help others, but I shouldn't need help from anyone.

And even as Christians, we are consistently taught that this is how to follow Jesus' example. To serve, to give up one's life, to offer oneself in the name of God. In the Episcopal church, we promise at our baptism "to seek and serve Christ in all persons."

But I think we need to remember that the Jesus we see here, willingly taking on the most base of servant’s tasks, is the same Jesus who gratefully accepted a sinful woman falling at his feet, and washing them with her hair, and drying them with her tears.

Service works both ways. Sometimes it means offering-- and sometimes it means accepting what others have to offer.

I think this, in part, is what the idea of a federated faith community is about. Trying to be as Christ to one another, and in the world, in ways that stretch us beyond the barriers that we sometimes erect in the name of denominational loyalty.

Learning, as well as teaching.

Serving-- and being served.

Sometimes being the sinful woman-- and sometimes, being Peter.


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