Thanksgiving Eve sermon

  • Back in May, about 6 months after starting a new ministry here with First Congregational UCC and the Presbyterian Church in Oronoco, my husband, Peter, and I welcomed twin boys into our family … and we’ve never had a dull moment since.
    • Must admit … haven’t had a lot of sleep, either!
    • One of my favorite times with our boys = bath time
      • Love to splash in the water
      • Always so snuggly and good-smelling afterward
      • And I can tell that Luke and Ian enjoy bath time, too, because of the smiles that I get while they’re playing and splashing around in the water.
        • Happy
        • Trusting
        • Always an element of amazement
  • But no matter how much fun they have while they’re taking the baths, neither of the boys actually likes being put into the bath tub.
    • Always seem startled when I lower them into the tub
    • Doesn’t matter how slowly I lower them
    • Doesn’t matter how mild the water temperature is
    • Always have that moment of shock when being laid back in water –> What’s going on here? What’s behind me? Is there anything to catch me? What’s going to happen?
      • You know, sometimes we have moments like that in our journeys of faith. We feel an unexpected drop, and we experience that sense of anxiety.
        • What’s going on here? Where are you God? Are you going to catch me? What’s going to happen?
        • See these questions in both Scripture readings tonight
          • OT text: I will trust, and will not be afraid.[1] –> Isaiah may declare how he will stand against fear … but in doing so, he simultaneously recognizes the presence and reality of that fear in the first place.
            • Heb reveals what a gut-reaction this is – “be afraid” = tremble, be in dread –> Isaiah is talking about more than just a superficial fear. This is a deep-seated fear – the kind of fear that causes a physical reaction, sort of like the reaction that Luke and Ian have when I lower them into the bath water. It’s the kind of jolt that effects your whole being – your body, your mind, and your spirit.
            • Recognize this great concern in Peter, too
              • First, Peter is nervous about Christ’s action – sees what Jesus is doing and declares: “You will never wash my feet.”[2] –> Peter just couldn’t handle the idea that this extraordinary man before him was about to do something as lowly as wash the feet of his followers.
              • Jesus’ response = firm: Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.[3] –> admonition elicits another fear-response from Peter
                • See Peter’s pendulum swing in opposite direction: Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”[4] –> Peter is so afraid that he’s going to be left behind – that God is going to let him fall through the cracks – that he does a quick philosophical 180. Instead of protesting the Son of God washing his feet, he asks Jesus to wash all of him … just to be sure it “sticks.”
  • And when it comes to their baths, our boys are like this, too. First, they have that unpleasant jolt when I put them in the water. Then, after they get used to the water, they do their own total 180. They decide that they’re enjoying the bath so much that, when it’s time to get out of the tub, they get anxious again.
    • Their response: I’ve just gotten comfortable here. Things are good. I feel like I know what I’m doing, like I know what’s going on. Why are things changing? –> not so different from our own reactions sometimes – stems from …
      • Fear of something different
      • Fear of something new and unknown
      • Fear of change
    • Also sounds like Peter’s reaction in gospel story –> Jesus’ action = deviation from the norm – text: [Jesus] got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.[5]
      • Culturally: tying a towel around one’s waist = actions of a servant (not a guest at the dinner) –> We can begin to understand why Peter was so alarmed by Jesus’ actions! He wasn’t just doing something a little bit strange. He was going completely against what was culturally acceptable at the time. He was turning away from what was anticipated and creating a whole new experience – something different, something new and unknown. Jesus was changing things … big time! And it made Peter anxious.
      • However, as difficult as it may have been to take in, we see blessing in Jesus’ actions.
        • Blessing in Jesus’ e.g. of serving those he loved à serving with humility and grace
        • Blessing in acceptance modeled by Christ
          • Scholar expresses this: Jesus asks nothing of the disciples other than that they place themselves completely in his hands … He asks that they enter into relationship with him on his terms, that they allow their relationship with him to be defined by God’s love and God’s love alone. … The foot washing removes the possibility of distance between Jesus and his followers, and brings them face to face with the love of God for them.[6]
            • Expresses struggle of turning ourselves wholly over to God, to place ourselves completely in God’s hands
            • Also expresses joy-filled gift that awaits us: relationship defined by God’s love and God’s love alone
              • Not defined by our imperfections
              • Not defined by our past, present, future mistakes
              • Not defined by others’ perceptions of us
              • A relationship defined by God’s love and God’s love alone.
  • When it comes to bath time, we have two of those adorable hooded towels that we use to wrap up the boys when they’re done with their baths. After they’ve been scrubbed and have had some time to splash around a little bit, we spread the towels out on the floor, lift the boys out of the tub, lay them on the waiting towel, and quickly wrap them up in its all its glorious softness and warmth.
    • They love this part – cozy, dry, secure
    • And just as they relish the comfort and reassurance that they find when they’re all wrapped up in those towels, so we enjoy comfort and reassurance in the love of God that always surrounds us.
      • See constancy in gospel story: Jesus said to [Peter], “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.”[7] –> sense of permanence in this
        • Washing the feet of his disciples wasn’t something Jesus was about to take back. He wasn’t about to change his mind. Jesus’ words here are decisive and sure: “This is the kind of clean that cannot be stained. Once I have made you clean, you are entirely clean … for good.”
  • Tonight, we have gathered as a community, brothers and sisters in the universal Church (with a capital “c”) – the wider body of believers. We come from different traditions. We come from different background. We come bearing our own stories – hurts and joys, anxieties and triumphs, fears and celebrations. Like Luke and Ian’s bath time, like Peter before a humbled servant-Christ, we experience moments of uncertainty, fear, and apprehension throughout our journeys of faith, but there are also good times – moments when we get to experience the pure humility and grace of our Savior, moments when we get to luxuriate in the warmth and reassurance of God’s love. What a truly extraordinary blessing. Amen.


[1] Is 12:2.

[2] Jn 13:8a.

[3] Jn 13:8b.

[4] Jn 13:9.

[5] Jn 13:4.

[6] Gail R. O’Day. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 727 (emphasis added).

[7] Jn 13:10.

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