Thu, Mar 29, 2018

The Meal

John 13:1-17 by Doug Gunkelman

If you are here tonight as a visitor with very little knowledge of the Christian faith, then you are going to be baffled by “the meal.”

Our 4th grade first communicants, Sarah, Payton, Tessa, Kylie, Alyssa, Ethan, and Phoebe have learned names for the meal that describe different aspects of it.

The “Lord’s Supper” or the “Last Supper” reminds us that this was Jesus’ last supper with his closest friends on the Thursday night before his crucifixion.

“Holy Communion” reminds us that Christ comes to us and communes with us in the bread and wine. When we chew the bread and drink the wine, Christ’s presence is in us, forgiving our sins and strengthening our faith.

“Eucharist” is the Greek word for “thanksgiving” because we are giving thanks for Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross for our salvation so that his Easter morning resurrection becomes our Easter morning resurrection.

“The sacrament of the altar” describes our gathering around the altar to receive the gift of Christ’s strengthening presence as baptized children of God whose sins have been washed away at the baptismal font.

If this is new to you, you might ask, “Where are the helpings for this meal?” Are these people kidding themselves? Did the chef not show up? All I see are some miniature shot glasses and some weird looking bread. What does that gigantic cup have in it anyway?

Why is the pastor wearing a dress?

On the last night of his life, Jesus wore a loose-fitting outer garment. It was functional and common enough for the dinner portion of the evening, including broken bread and shared wine.

But when it came time to teach and serve, he took off his outer garment, then wrapping a towel around his waist, he got down to work. The towel was more fitting to the task of serving; more well matched to washing clean the feet of his followers; and more suitable to teaching his followers to serve each other.

What does the well-dressed Christian avoid wearing today? That is not an invitation to check out the wardrobe choices of those around you. Clothes may make the man, as Mark Twain said, but our outer garments are not of interest to God; God is rather concerned about how the inner person is clothed.

What clothes are ill suited for Christians bent on serving each other?

The classic text on this subject is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (3:12). Here is a five-point program for servanthood splendor: Any person will look smashing wearing these qualities openly and in abundance.

But what looks awful? Paul doesn’t pull punches: “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. . . . But now you must get rid of all such things — anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (3:5, 8-10).

Paul’s invitation is to imagine yourself standing in front of your closet — right now — surveying your wardrobe. If you find there anything on this list — impurity, greed, anger, malice, abusive language, lying, for example — you should give it the old heave-ho immediately as it is totally unsuitable for a follower of Christ. Looks hideous. You might as well wear a sleeveless flannel shirt and mullet haircut. I use to wear both. Now you couldn’t look more awful.

But Jesus himself helps us with the question of what not to wear. In the scene described for us in this text, Peter, particularly, is resistant to what Jesus proposes to do: wash his feet. In this action, which prefigures the crucifixion, Jesus teaches his disciples that pride; arrogance and defilement are moral qualities to avoid. Instead, Jesus teaches that humility, to serve rather than to be served, and cleansing are the virtues to which the Christian should aspire. Jesus, stooping to wash the feet of the disciples, models this important lesson privately, even as he will model it publicly when he is nailed to the cross.

He then tells them that the foundational garment itself is love. “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35 NIV).

As Francis Shaeffer has pointed out in his book Mark of the Christian, Jesus understood that if his disciples did not love each other, it was not likely they could love others, and that — further — the observing world would have every right to draw the conclusion — that the disciples, not loving each other, could not possibly have any knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Their love for each other was the “mark.” Without it, they were as ill-dressed as everyone else.

Vince Lombardi was once asked what it took to make a winning team. He said that there were three things: The first two, fundamentals and discipline, are not enough to win the game. The third element had to be present as well: “If you’re going to play together as a team, you’ve got to care for one another. You’ve got to love each other. Each player has to be thinking about the next guy and saying to himself: If I don’t block that man, Paul is going to get his legs broken. I have to do my job well in order that he can do his. The difference between mediocrity and greatness is the feeling these guys have for each other.”

Granted, no one’s going to be secretly filming our ill-fitting life. No one’s going to barge in on us on national TV to expose the ugly duckling aspects of our lives. No one’s going to go through our closed moral closet unless you’re the president.

But we gotta understand. The world is watching. Our friends are observing us. Our children and grandchildren notice. Most importantly, there are no secrets that are hidden from God.

Again, as Mark Twain said, and to complete the quote: Clothes make the man. Naked people have little influence in the world.

We are all naked before God.

God sees through the illusion of looking good, while not actually being good. What matters to God, what matters to Jesus is how we treat each other when we think no one is looking.

In a few minutes you’ll be seeing us wash our 4th grader’s feet and then they’ll gather around the altar to eat the bread and drink the wine of Jesus’ last supper for the first time.

May God bless each of our first communicants today, that each of you might become a loving servant, following the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.