Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




Doing What We Know

Maundy Thursday

Thursday, April 13, 2006



John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

Rev. Dean Snyder


Jesusí disciples are so ordinary, so human. They were not saintly or meek or humble. They were a relatively ambitious group, struggling to see who would be considered the greatest and highest. You remember that the apostles James and John sent their mother to ask Jesus if they could sit on his left and his right when he came into his kingdom.


And there are all these battles between the lines, if you read the gospels, suggesting which of the disciples Jesus loved the most, more than the others.

The disciples, when you read the gospels, come off looking pretty petty.


So Jesus decides to teach them a lesson about humility. Jesus loved to tell stories as his way of teaching, but now he turns to drama and he acts out a parable for his disciples.


In Jesusí time, the primary means of travel was by foot, and so feet got very, very dirty and unpleasant. In the Middle East, the foot was the most offensive part of the body, which is still true today. This is why you remember when the statue of Saddam Hussein tumbled, you saw people beating it with their shoes because the shoe is next to the foot and it is the greatest insult that people can imagine: to hit something with the shoe which is next to the foot.


When people came into the home of someone of means, one of the first things that would happen would be a servant or slave would wash the feet of the guests. This was the job usually assigned to the servant or the slave who was at the lowest of lowest of absolutely lowest of places in the pecking order within the household.


The point of Jesus, the disciplesí master and lord, washing the feet of the disciples was a lesson in humility for a group of disciples who were attracted to status. The disciples, Peter for instance, had a visceral, physical reaction to seeing Jesus washing feet. It was so disgusting to see their lord and master washing the feet of the disciples. It was a very pointed, dramatic object lesson about Jesusí willingness to be humble and his expectation that his disciples would be humble.


What I would like us to think about tonight for just a moment is verse 17 of this lesson. At the end of Jesusí dramatic object lesson, he issues a beatitude of sorts to his disciples that Jesus uses to end the drama. He says: ďIf you know these things that I just taught you, if you know these things, you are blessed (or happy) if you do them.Ē ďHappyĒ is really a better translation than ďblessed.Ē If we know something and then do it, this makes us happy.


Conversely, then if we know something and we fail to do it, this makes us unhappy. If Jesus, if life, if the world has taught us something and we know it, and we fail to practice it or behave that way or live it out or do it, it makes us unhappy. So the only way that we are able to continue to do what we do without becoming unhappy is to make sure that we donít learn new things.


Living contrary to what we know makes us unhappy. One of the ways to keep living the way we live is to make sure that there are truths that we avoid knowing.


I am thinking about this right now because we are one of three churches in Washington, DC who next week will be hosting the United Methodist Large Church Initiative. About 400 pastors of large churches will be coming here to Washington. On Thursday evening, they will be coming here to Foundry Church. Most of these churches are from the South and Southwest, from parts of the country where there is a certain flavor to United Methodist thinking. I have been asked with the rest of the staff to take an hour on Thursday evening to talk about Foundry Church, our heart, what we are committed to and what we believe in.


So, Eileen and I are going to talk for 15 minutes about worship and music which is at the heart of our life together. Jana and some of our mission people are going to talk about 15 minutes about our commitment to mission and to our community because that is at the heart of our life together. Then some of us are going to take the third 15 minutes and weíre going to talk about being a reconciling congregation because that is so much of our identity and the meaning of our life together. There are going to be some people, I promise you, who will absolutely not want to know that about us.


One of the reasons people sometimes work so hard not to learn that some of us who are Christians and United Methodists are gay and lesbian is because, if they knew about the caring, faithful, committed service of gay and lesbian Christians and United Methodists, it would cause them to have to do something differently in order not to be unhappy. So parts of the church and society work hard at not knowing, at living out of stereotypes and myths because once we know something, we have to change our behavior in order not to be unhappy.


I donít know how many churches I have worked with in my ministry that have said to me that gay and lesbian people are welcome here in our church. We just donít think we need to talk about it. Itís OK for folk to be here as long as we donít have to know about it, because if we know about it, then we have to do things differently.


But thatís only an illustration. The same truth applies to much of our life together. This is why any nation kills its prophets. Because if we took an honest look at the injustices in the life of a nation, then, in order for us not to be unhappy, in order for us to be happy, we would have to change what we do as a nation. So, we work hard to live out of national myths and fantasies in order to avoid facing the truth of our history and our present day life. You cannot live differently from the truth that you know and be happy.


It is also the reason that we need Lent and that we need Good Friday. These are seasons of the year when we intentionally focus on self-examination, knowing ourselves, knowing ourselves honestly, facing parts of ourselves that we try to avoid facing, listening to the criticism that comes from our own hearts. If we know the truth about ourselves, then we cannot continue to do what we do and be happy. The reason that Lent is so hard is because we donít want to look at our own truth. We want to live out of our untruth and stay happy, rather than face the unhappiness and be healed.


I have had a lot of respect this Lent for our youth minister, Matt Smith. We were sharing at the beginning of Lent in our weekly devotions what kind of practice we were doing for Lent, what we were giving up, what we were taking on.


I shared that I gave up situation comedies for Lent: no M.A.S.H., no Friends, no Seinfeld. But Matt Smith really blew me away. Matt Smith has been reading Theresa of Avila. In her writings, she talked in a section that Matt read to us about how she worked, as a spiritual practice, not to be defensive, to not defend herself, to not defend herself from others but also from her own self.


So Matt gave up defensiveness for Lent. Itís a tough thing for a seminary student, taking a preaching class, to give up for Lent: defensiveness. Anything that someone said that he was tempted to become defensive about or anything that arose within himself that he was tempted to defend himself against, he made it his spiritual practice this Lent to just receive it and sit with it.


Itís the only path, finally, that takes us to knowing ourselves. Knowing our self means that we have to change our doing, or else we choose to be unhappy. If you know, happy are you if you do it. It is the path of the cross, becoming vulnerable to knowing our own selves. It is the path of the cross and the only way to the joy and hope of resurrection.