What’s Up With Church: Surface Conversations Over Relationships

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on May 30, 2021. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.

John 13:1-11

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to God. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that God had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” It’s a double meaning, loved them to the end. First, Jesus loved his disciples up until the very end of his life on earth. And second, in fulfillment of his mission, Jesus loved them fully, completely, unconditionally. Both of these claims he made were huge, because it demonstrated just how passionate Jesus had always been about relationships with those in his community.

If you knew it were your last day on earth, what would you do?

So Jesus, knowing that it was the end of his ministry here on earth, did his one last thing. He washed the disciples’ feet. This is an act of service that is incredibly intimate, the furthest thing from surface level. Jesus washing the disciples’ feet looks back to John 12, when Mary washed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. This was an extravagant act of love that Jesus understood as selfless in nature. 

A commentary by Elisabeth Johnson speaks of the nature of Jesus washing feet as this: “It is nothing short of scandalous that the one who comes from God and is going to God should take on the menial task of a slave. This act points to the even greater scandal to come in the dark hours ahead, when Jesus will lay down his life, crucified on a Roman cross, the form of execution reserved for rebels.”

Jesus’ service, in washing the feet of the disciples, shows the ‘scandal’, to use Johnson’s word, of the whole scenario. Jesus washes all of their feet, including Judas’, even though Jesus knows full well that Judas would betray him in hours. Even still, he chooses this act of service, the intimate act of washing his feet. Jesus’ love remains unwavering. 

Our topic today is the observation that church people value surface conversations over relationships, the third of our themes in our “What’s Up With Church” series. Upon hearing stories of those who shared this theme, I heard several people share their experiences of church people not actually wanting to know the real them, or to invest in understanding who they are as people. They named that they often felt like a number and not a human being, like they counted for attendance or offering, but didn’t feel valued enough to actually feel included. Perhaps you’ve felt this way too, in a church or in general. 

We talk about this with the scripture of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet because Jesus shows us that our call as people of faith is to invest in our community. It’s a call to get dirty and be a part of people’s lives and make an effort to be in relationship with them. It’s a call to ask people how they are in such a way that they feel like they can answer honestly. We have the opportunity to be honest about where we are at, so others can see that this is a space for relationships.

Sometimes, I think our expectation of church is that we walk in with our Sunday best, smile on, convenient conversation to be had, and that we have to be fine or good or have nothing going on. 

Here’s the problem with that. I think church can be a place where we can tune out the hard things every once in a while, a solace or sanctuary of sorts. And, I also believe that we are called to invest in our community like we would in any kind of a relationship, and that includes sharing the hard parts of life in addition to the things we’d put on our resume. 

I think about the close relationships I’ve been in, and there’s a point in the relationship when I feel a wall come down, not because I’m completely comfortable, but because I trust that person or people enough to risk being vulnerable with them. 

The church I want to be friends, is a church that is that place for each other. The church I want to be a part of is a church that allows me to bring my full self to worship every week, even when my full self feels hard to carry alone. The church I want to be a part of is a church that does not allow stigmas about mental health, money, disability, discrimination, or sexuality to be a part of the conversation, but instead embraces those ‘hot button’ topics because they are important to those in the community.

So this is my final question for you all to reflect on in this space. In the comments, think about how we can create a community that values meaningful relationships. 

What is one thing you can do to bring the spirit of generosity and openness like Jesus modeled into our space?

As we leave this place, may we be encouraged by the work named here that we are willing to put in so that our community can be a place for not just surface conversations, but relationships. 

May we be encouraged by one another’s willingness to go deeper and wash one another’s metaphorical feet. May we be empowered to do the work it takes to be honest and vulnerable, to let our walls down when it’s time for us to do that. And may we leave knowing that the peace of Christ is with us to guide all that we do. 

Let us pray: 

God of grace and mercy, we give you thanks for this story of Jesus, a moment of pause to explore the gift of vulnerability in relationships. Help us to go deeper and make space for honesty, even when it’s hard, knowing Christ’s example will guide us. In your name we pray, Amen.

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