If you knew this was the final week of your life and that by next Sunday you would be gone from this world, what would you say to your loved ones? What would be the final message to your family and friends? What would your final act of love for them? What lasting example would you want to leave with people? A few years ago Randy Pausch delivered what came to be known as the last lecture. He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and his final lecture was turned into a best-selling book. What I love about his lecture is that some of what he wanted to share was how to help others fulfill their dreams. He wanted to help others reach their potential and better their lives and that is exactly what Jesus wanted to do in his last lecture.
Jesus knew that he was going to be arrested, tried and crucified in just a few hours and so he delivers his own last lecture to his disciples. In the gospel of John it is called the farewell discourse and it is found John 13-16 and I would add in John 17 which is Jesus final prayer for himself and his disciples – you might call it our Lord’s Prayer – not the prayer Jesus taught his followers to pray but the actual prayer Jesus prayed. In this farewell discourse, Jesus not only gives his final message to the disciples, that we will look at next week, but he gives a final example that they should follow, an enduring gesture of love and service.
Now it is important to understand there is much for us to learn from Jesus during his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death and in many ways those events are also an example for us, but this is the final gesture of love Jesus gave specifically to his followers. This is what he chose to leave them with and we read it John 13:1-17.
John’s telling of this final Passover that Jesus shares with his disciples is very different from the details we get in Matthew, Mark and Luke. John doesn’t tell us about the breaking of the bread or sharing of the cup in the last supper because John has already talked about Jesus being the bread and wine. John already told us that Jesus said, I Am the bread of life and that Jesus came to be the bread that came down from heaven to deliver and save God’s people. When Jesus turned water to wine he was saying that he was making a new covenant by which people would be made clean and acceptable to God. In the old covenant people had to wash themselves and follow all the rituals and rules to be clean but in the new covenant we place our trust in Jesus. Jesus is the wine of the new covenant. His blood now cleanses us from sin.
So talking about the bread and cup aren’t important to John and what he gives us instead is an example and some teaching that is not found in the other gospels. These are the final moments Jesus spends with his disciples where he tries to prepare them for all that is to come and he speaks with a sense of urgency and passion. While the disciples may not know this is the last lecture – when they do realize it, they will remember the message and share it with others.
The final example of Jesus is a powerful one that in some way sums up all of Jesus actions while on earth. It is an act of humility, care for others, love and service. At the Passover meal, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Foot washing was supposed to be done by one of the lowest household servants and the reason was because it was a disgusting job. Walking around barefoot on dusty roads, muddy fields, and through who knows what would make everyone’s feet smell bad. Remember, they weren’t sitting at tabled with their feet tucked under chairs for this meal, they would have been lounging on the ground with their feet in close proximity to the faces of others. Imagine eating Easter dinner in a locker room or the closet of your 13 year old son who hasn’t done laundry in a few weeks. That’s what it would have smelled like – or worse.
There was no servant to wash their feet and the reason no one volunteered to do it and they reason they didn’t even wash their own feet was because no one wanted stoop down to do such a lowly job. No one wanted to admit that they were somehow less than someone else. In fact, Luke tells us that it was at the Passover meal that the disciples were discussing who was the greatest – Luke 22:24.
They all wanted to be the greatest and be served, no one wanted to serve others and no one wanted to wash their own feet because someone might ask them to then do all the feet and no one wanted to take that risk. While Jesus is watching them jockey for positions of power and argue about who is the greatest, he realizes that he has this powerful moment to show them what true greatness is all about. Jesus gets up and takes off his robe – serves the disciples by washing their feet – and then puts his robe back on. Then Jesus says 2 important things.
John 13:15 – Jesus has just set them an example. They are now to serve one another. Greatness will not be about being served but serving. It won’t be about taking up power and position but laying it down. This point will be driven home by Jesus on the cross where he doesn’t take up power and position but lays it down when he takes up a cross.
What’s interesting about this story is two details that John provides that really don’t mean a lot to us until we see the words that Jesus used. In John 13:4 it says Jesus took off his outer clothing but in the Greek it says Jesus laid his robe down and then in John 13:12 it says Jesus put on his clothes but the Greek says he took his robe up. This will be the same way John talks about Jesus laying down his life on the cross and taking up his life in the resurrection. This is just a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do on the cross. He would lay his life down – serve humanity by dying on the cross – and then take his life up again in the resurrection.
And this is the example Jesus gives us. We are told to take up a cross and we are told to kneel down to wash people’s feet. In both situations we are told to humble ourselves, which means laying aside our lives, our rights, our position and power and prestige in order to serve others.
The second things Jesus says is this – John 13:17. The word blessed has many meanings and one of those is being happy. Serving others actually will make us happy and recent studies have proven that this is true. A Syracuse University study showed that people who donated to charity were 42% more likely to feel very happy than those who didn’t and 24% were more likely to report excellent health. So to be happy and healthy we need to give of ourselves in some way.
When the researches wondered why this was true they went to the NIH and asked them to do a study to show why and what they found is that when people served or gave to charity it stimulated the mesolimbic system in our brain which triggers feelings of reward. This has been called this the helpers high and so now doctors and others are telling people that to feel better – serve others.
Not only does serving and helping release these feel good chemicals but serving helps us bond with others and makes us feel as if we are part of a family or community. Serving builds up our self-esteem which makes us feel better about ourselves and serving others makes us grateful. These all help us feel happy and healthy, we feel blessed. So Jesus doesn’t say this because he thinks it will motivate the disciples to do more, he knows that it is the truth. Jesus knows that serving will make us happier and more content and stronger and at peace. We will be blessed if we do this
I have been blessed with a great example of service from my parents. My parents spend 4 months in Hilton Head SC, away from the cold and snow of CT, and the first year they decided to stay there that long they knew they needed to do something and serve in some way. They started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and did that for a few years until they heard about an agency similar to our faith centre. Now every year when they are at Hilton Head they spend between 2 and 5 days a week volunteering and serving and helping others. They not only love what they do but they have met some wonderful people who now look forward to them being there. When they are back in CT they volunteer with meals on wheels, at the local food bank and at a soup kitchen. At 84 and 85 years old, it is what keeps them happy and healthy.
Serving others was so important to the life and faith Jesus was building in his disciples that his last act for them before he was arrested and taken from them to the cross was to serve them in a very personal and profound way. This, Jesus is saying, is what you need to do and this is who you need to be and this is the most important thing I can leave you with. In a world that continues to tell us it is all about our own pleasure and power and position, we still need to hear this message and see and follow this example.
Washing the feet of other people isn’t an act of humility and service we are given in our world today, but there are other ways we can serve. There are dozens of ways we can serve. We can Serve our Seniors on April 29. We can serve on the mission trip to VA. We can serve at the Faith Centre and food bank. We can serve by meeting the needs of a neighbor that we see or making a donation to help children or veterans or those in need around the world. Giving a donation to UMCOR can literally make you happy. There are so many ways to give and serve and humble ourselves and those opportunities are all around us if we will just open our eyes and ask God to show us.
All of the disciples had the opportunity to wash the feet of their friends. The opportunity to serve was literally right in front of them when they entered the house, but they didn’t want to do it. There are opportunities to serve right in front of us if we will open our eyes and see them. We don’t have to go looking for them – they are right here.
Serving others is the foundation on which our faith is built. Humbling ourselves and putting the needs of others before our own is what we see in Jesus and it is the very nature of God and it is so important to who God wants us to be that the final act of Jesus with his disciples was an act of service followed by this message, I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. It was Jesus final act, a last lecture and lesson, a final gesture of love and service for all of us to follow.
John – The Gospel of Light and Life
1. This week read John chapters 12-17.
Use the following questions during your reading:
• What is said in this passage about Jesus?
• In this passage, how does Jesus bring life to me?
• What response do these verses require of me?
2. At the Last Supper, Jesus sets and example of serving. Read John 13:1-17. What is Jesus saying by making this one of the last things he does with his disciples? How has serving always been a part of Jesus life and ministry? List other times Jesus humbled himself and served others.
3. Jesus says blessing comes with serving. Identify times when serving others made you feel blessed.
4. Studies have proved that serving helps make people feel happy and healthy.
• In what ways are you already serving?
• In what ways can you start serving others?
5. Serve others by taking part in one of the following:
• Helping with the Easter Egg Hunt (April 8)
• Run or Walk in the Faith Centre 5k (April 8)
• Help with organization of the Faith Centre 5k (April 8)
• Help with Teacher Appreciation Bags (April 23)
• Volunteer to help with Serving Our Seniors (April 29)
• Go on the Mission Trip to VA (April 23-30)
• Give to UMCOR
• Volunteer at the Faith Centre or Food Bank or other community agency