Sermon: “Love to the End”

LSB Series C; Maundy Thursday

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Gospel Reading: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The journey was near its end. The last thirty-three years or so of life had all come down to this. The hour that had not yet come in so many instances throughout His life was now here. The hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father. This is why He had been conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. It all came down to this…having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

There He gathered with His disciples one last time for one last Passover meal. But unlike the other times they had gathered, this one was different. As the other Gospels proclaim, this Passover was filled with words that had never been spoken. Instituting a new covenant, a last will and testament was established. In, with, and under bread and wine was the body and blood of Jesus. There in that meal was the forgiveness of sins.

During supper…Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus got down on the floor to do the unthinkable. He was their Teacher, their Master, and Lord. Foot washing was reserved for the lowest of slaves, usually a Gentile slave who worked in the household. Now it was apparent that Jesus and His disciples had not been afforded such service upon their entry into the upper room. So Jesus, in most unlikely fashion assumed the role of a slave.

We do not associate one who is called Teacher, Master, or Lord to assume the position of a slave. Think about those in high esteem throughout our land. Fortune 500 CEO’s, large company presidents, government officials. Rarely, if ever, do we hear stories of their assuming the role of someone of servant status. So it was in Scripture. We expect those with titles of high repute to be served by slaves and servants, not the other way around.

Yet, there is Jesus in humble estate, before His disciples. Dust, dirt, dung, you name it. Jesus carefully and lovingly scrubbed the sweat, stench, and soil off of His followers’ feet. It was an act of love that no doubt left most of the disciples dumbfounded.

Has anyone ever done something for you that you did not expect, or better yet, that you did not deserve? When I was in Kenya the first time, in the village of Duca Moja, I was awestruck by the hospitality. In both the evening and morning someone came to me and held a bucket of clean water before me and handed me a bar of soap so that I could wash my hands and my feet. They held the bucket of water while standing up as I washed while sitting down. Outside of the time when I was a young child when I was washed by my parents, I could not think of a time I had been treated that way.

When on one of the servant events with the youth to Wisconsin, during one of the evening activities, we gathered in groups in circles throughout the large room. One person in each circle of people was to volunteer. I raised my hand. Little did I know that I would soon be washing everyone else’s feet. It was something I also had done on another servant event with the youth in Idaho.

I can honestly say that washing the feet of others is a humble task. Feet are not the most appealing things. Quite frankly, I think they are rather gross. I think it’s why we wear socks and shoes.

The disciples, however, did not have socks or shoes. They wore sandals. Their feet must have been very filthy. Their feet must have been in great need of washing.

This is what Jesus does. But such washing goes beyond this break in the action of the Last Supper there in the upper room. It points to what was to come. The place Jesus told His disciples: Where I am going, you cannot come. Jesus humble act of washing His disciples’ feet was pointing them to Calvary.

A love that goes to the end doesn’t stop with one act of humble service. Jesus had loved them all the way up to this point, and He continued to show His unending love for them. He loved them as He prayed the High Priestly Prayer there in the Upper room on their behalf. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which you have given me, that they be one, even as we are one. He loved them even as He was arrested, as He protected ‘them’ from being arrested. He loved them all the way to the cross, and even to His very last breath.

It is as He would say later that night in the upper room: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

The very next day He would do just that. He would breathe his last loving breath for His disciples, for you and for me. In such love He would manifest His glory. He would allow Himself to be put on full display for all people. And there He would bleed and die. There He would show us what love really looks like. It isn’t about love and service of self. It’s all about love and service of others. It’s about putting the needs of others above our own.

Yet how many of us are absorbed with ourselves? How many of us only do something for someone else if there is something in it for us? How many of us when we are asked by a boss, parent, family member or friend for help of some kind are thinking in the back of our minds, “What’s in it for me? I better get something out of this.” Be it payment, applause, or accolade. We want the credit. We want the benefit. We want the reward. And if it isn’t there, then don’t come back asking for help again.

With Jesus, however, we see that He had nothing to gain by doing what He did. He made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. By wrapping a towel around His waist and assuming the position of a slave, He put His reputation on the line. But more than that, the love He displayed expected nothing in return. Notice He didn’t get done and ask the disciples to wash His feet. Yet, how sad is it that none of them offered either.

Like the disciples, we too have our limits on love. How often does our love fail? How often does our love end? Truth is, if we might have to do something that would risk our reputation or status in life, then we will most likely pass on the opportunity. Truth is, we make far too much out of what others think of us. And in doing so, we miss out on the beauty of serving others as Christ so served us.

This is why Jesus tells them: Do you understand what I have done to you? 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. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:12b-17).

Jesus wants His disciples and us to do what He did for each other. Not necessarily wash each other’s feet, but serve each other, and love each other. Put aside that reputation and love people to the end, with no limits whatsoever. Love them as He would display love the next day when He would humble himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.

And this is exactly what happened for many of the disciples. What He told them they would not understand until afterward, nearly all of them learned. Nearly every disciple would die a martyr’s death for the sake of sharing Jesus with others. The loved to the very end.

Jesus calls us to do the same. But like the disciples, He does not love us to the end with an empty love tank. No, He fills us to overflowing. The One who served His disciples by washing His disciples’ feet also washes you and me. He does so in our Baptism. And He does so here tonight.

The Master humbles Himself by wrapping Himself under bread and wine. Here He serves us His very body and blood. Here at His table He serves us His supper which washes us clean. Our conscience is cleansed of guilt, and He forgives us of all of our self-serving sins, for all of the times we put limits on our love for others, for all the times we haven’t loved to the end. Every last sin is gone, washed away forever.

The same blood Jesus shed on Calvary when that hour had finally come is what covers and cleanses us. We don’t need to fear what others think of us when we humbly serve as Christ served us. Our identity is not in what others may think or say about us. Because nothing separates us from His love, and we are not our own. We have been bought with the price of Christ’s holy and precious blood, and now we may glorify Him.

This is what we have been called upon by Christ to do…to sacrificially serve others. We put aside ourselves, our reputation, and our glory so that Christ may be glorified. We decrease so that He may increase. This is the love that is alive and well within us as we dine at the table of the Lord here tonight. It is a love that is never ending, steadfast and sure. It is the love of Jesus, the One who loves us to the very end. In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.