Into the nooks and crannies
John 12: 1-13 & 13: 1-17.
Today's sermon is a bit all over the place. So just in case you’re lost before the end I will just tell you the point now...God is on our side, we can get it all wrong and misunderstand everything that is going on. We can then act all wrong and feel really bad about it, but it doesn’t matter in the end, as long we remember in the end that God is on our side.
I always feel a bit sorry for Peter when I read this passage.
There is always the feeling that Peter is a bit of a numpty, that no matter what he does it is the wrong thing.
‘Don’t wash my feet Jesus, that’s just wrong.’
No that’s the wrong thing to say.
‘Then wash all of me.’
No that’s the wrong thing to say as well.
Sometimes it just feels that no matter what we do it’s the wrong thing.
Like me on Valentines' Day.
Roseanna was in a huff with me on Valentines' Day.
Was it because she discovered that I had sent a Valentines' Day card to someone else?
Was it because I had forgotten Valentines' day completely?
My sin was even more unforgivable than either of these two evils.
Let me give you the scene.
She opened up my card which was a romantic card with lots of romantic stuff that women like.
I know I am not a people person. I know that in this kind of thing I am out my depth.
So I do research on this kind of stuff.
And I discovered that my wife likes to feel that she is special, that we have some kind of romantic bond that both of us thinks is important. Who would have thought?
Anyway, I do my research I carefully pick the card, and miracles of miracles, I get it right.
That’s what I did wrong. That was my mistake.
You see Roseanna opened my card first. And she opens it and as it unfolded she sees and reads lots of gushy stuff that tells her how special and wonderful she is.
She feels wonderful and special and nurtured and cared for.
And then she remembers the card she has bought me.
Her card is not romantic or special.
Her card is a picture of a wee gerbil with glasses and heart underwear on, and the caption, ‘On Valentines’ Day I fancy the pants off you.’
Personally I just felt objectified, yet again she just sees me for my body and not my brains.
Anyway, in Roseanna’s head, she feels guilty because her card isn't as good as my card. And who is responsible for this...ME!!!
How could I do that to her? If I loved her I wouldn't have done that to her.
So now she is in a huff with me because I didn't make sure that my card was worse than her card.
Which would be fine, except that if I take that into my research and next year get her a rubbish card so that she won’t feel guilty, then she will be in a huff with me because my card shows that I don't take the relationship as seriously as she does.
I think that is where Peter is with Jesus.
Let me give you the scenario.
Last week we read about Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life. Mary and Martha were obviously over the moon about that. In today's first reading we see Mary’s response. She anoints Jesus with very expensive perfume. This is just before Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey.
Now that may be all disconnected to us. But in Jesus’ day that is all very connected.
Last week when Jesus is about to heal Lazarus Martha states, ‘I do believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.’
‘Messiah’ literally means, ‘anointed one’.
There were only two types of people that were anointed...kings and priests. And the Messiah would have the roles of both. And the anointing part was important.
You know how sometimes you get people that are so charismatic that they have a presence, that as soon as they walk in the room you know they are there. In Jesus day that was literally true of kings. Because they were the only ones anointed with perfume, as soon as they walked in the room, you knew they were there.
The king walks into the room, the king walks through the town, and people know to look, to move out the way, because they can smell him coming. His smell is declaring that he has power and influence and command.
Everyone knew that.
So the day before Jesus goes into Jerusalem Mary anoints Jesus with this perfume, a declaration to everyone that she is preparing him for kingship. And Jesus doesn’t rebuke her. Jesus states that what she is doing is right. Others may have forgotten even to wash his feet as was the custom, but Mary has seen Jesus for who he really is.
And the next day as Jesus is going through Jerusalem on a donkey the people can smell him coming. This is someone declaring that he is king and the people respond.
So Jesus has made his move.
And later that night they all sit down.
Jesus has accepted anointing as a king.
Jesus has entered Jerusalem and heard the people declare him to be king.
And he hasn't rebuked anyone about that.
And there they are lying there, the chants of the crowd still ringing in their ears, Jesus still smelling all kingly.
And the disciples are processing all of that info.
If Jesus is going to raise up an army, if Jesus is going to be king, then he is going to need trusted people beside him. People to run the treasury, people to organise the army, people to be advisors. The higher up the totem pole you are the move power and influence you have.
And in the middle of this is Passover, when God showed his power and destroyed the Egyptian Empire to release the people from slavery into nationhood.
Obviously this would be the time when Jesus would rise up the people, destroy the Roman Empire and create the new nation of Israel, run by himself; the anointed one, the Messiah, the Priestly King.
You see how it is all building up?
And then in the middle of all that someone realises that no one has washed their feet.
They have been out all day; dust has gotten all over the place.
But before they got to the house they would have gone through ritual cleansing at the temple.
Which was fine.
Except that in those days people ate horizontal on couches, which meant that someone's feet would be close to someone else's face. So the custom would be that even though you had washed yourself, your feet would still be mucky from the walking so servants would wash the feet of guests before they ate. But in a group like Jesus' group they wouldn't have had servants, so they would rotate round who washed the feet, that way they all shared in the humiliation.
Only this time someone hadn’t done it.
I suspect, and there is no proof of this, but I suspect it was one of the big disciples, maybe even Peter himself. You see the disciples would have worked out that IF Jesus was proclaiming himself to be king, and IF this was the time he rose up and defeated the Roman Empire then THIS was the meeting Jesus would be picking those who would be the most powerful figures in his new regime. So looking powerful and authoritative was important. And if your last act was washing the rest of the disciples feet like a mere servant then there is no way you look like a leader of men.
And so Peter gets it all wrong.
And that’s OK.
Personally I think I spend most of my time getting God wrong.
There is this way I see life going.
The way I see my life going. The way I want the life of my family to go.
The way I want the church to go.
The way I want the church organisations to go.
And for some reason God never seems to see it that way.
And the weird thing is, God always seems to know better.
That is what this passage is about.
This passage is that moment that Peter realises that what he thinks should happen, and what God thinks should happen, are two different things, but it is OK...because God’s way is better, and hopefully Peter can trust that because he sees God uses all his power to help us.
Jesus had all that power, all that authority, and yet he doesn't use all that power and authority to demand that people serve him, Jesus uses that power and authority to serve the disciples.
Let me give you a personal example.
Two years into my ministry here my session clerk comes up to me and tells me that he is resigning his post. In fact it is worse than that, that he has been planning this move for years. You see the previous minister had made a deal with that session clerk that the post of Session Clerk was only five years. But no one had told me that.
This was wrong.
It was wrong because I wasn't prepared.
It was wrong because churches need continuity and changing Session Clerks all the time is very disruptive.
It was wrong because if I gave into this then every five years I would have to do the same thing over and over.
This was a disaster. This is not the way things are meant to happen. This was not the way church was meant to work.
When other ministers hear that in my time here I have had 5 session clerks they think that is a terrible record.
Compare that to the March (2018) Life and Work magazine when they celebrated a Session Clerk, William Windram, who had been Session Clerk for 37 years.
Trust me, if I needed to find a session clerk every 37 years my life would be a lot easier.
And yet, and yet even though it is not the way I would have wanted it to be, the way God has chosen the session clerks is better than I would have chosen.
There is so much of my life that is not the way I would have chosen it to be, and yet, somehow it is better than I would have done it.
And it doesn’t matter if it is in my professional life as a minister or my personal life as a husband or father. Trust me, if Roseanna had a real choice she would never have chosen me as a husband, yet that has worked out really well for me. (That’s a joke)
This weird passage has two unusual truths.
The first is that Jesus declares himself as ruler over us.
We might fight that in our life and try to claim ownership of our life, we might resent it and work against it a lot of the time, but that is the truth...Christ is Lord and claims lordship over our life.
The second is that Christ uses all the power and influence of his Lordship to make our life better. Christ doesn't use all that power so that we have to serve him. Christ uses that power, so that if we follow, if we obey, then our life will go places we never suspected, never dreamt of...but will so change us, enrich us. We will be more compassionate, more patient, more forgiving, more understanding, even more generous.
That was the insight Peter had to see.
Jesus was offering to be his servant, to use all the power of his lordship to change him for the better. But would Peter let him?
But now that’s our insight.
Jesus is offering to be our servant, to use all the power of his lordship to change us for the better. But will we let him?