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A Sermon for Maundy Thursday

March 26, 2016

In the name of Jesus, the Son of God. Amen.

  1. Several years ago, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, NC, acquired a new statue of Jesus and placed it out on the grounds. It’s an odd statue, showing neither Jesus in a posture of power and glory nor Jesus in his crucifixion. This statue, entitled Jesus the Homeless, depicts the Son of God as a vagrant, lying on park bench and covered from head to ankles in the blanket of a bum. The only reason you can tell it is Jesus is because his feet are exposed, still bearing upon them the nail holes that remain even in his resurrected body. The reaction to the statue was immediate. Some loved it, while others hated it or simply didn’t get it. For one thing, St. Alban’s is located in a fairly toney neighborhood, perhaps not so different from River Forest; the people there aren’t accustomed to seeing homeless folks sleeping near their churches, and the residents there probably don’t like to see such human suffering up close. One woman in the area mistook Jesus for an actual homeless person and called the police so that they could deal with him. Yup, somebody’s always calling the cops on Jesus! But there was distaste among even those who understood the statue for what it was. The local paper received a letter from a neighbor insisting that the whole thing creeped her out. Some neighbors felt that the statue is an insulting depiction of the Son of God, and that what appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench demeans the neighborhood – and that it demeaned Jesus by showing him in such a state.
  1. This all just goes to show that poor Jesus will never measure up to our standards. Oh, we’re fine with the power and glory. We like the stories about miracles and healings and exorcisms, even if it all does seem a bit old-fashioned to our enlightened minds. But that, of course, was never the main point for Jesus, not what his life and ministry were really about. He never kept to the right neighborhoods or hung out with the right kind of people. Come to think of it, what was he doing down here anyway, slumming it with us when he could’ve lounged about in a heavenly townhouse? This is not the sort of fine, upstanding behavior of a proper Savior!
  1. And yet, tonight and throughout the Triduum, these great Three Days that stand at the center of our faith, we are presented with an odd God and a homeless Jesus, entering into our sorrow and sin and doing all the wrong sorts of things. Claiming that some bread and wine could be his body and blood; letting himself be arrested when he could have called upon legions of angels to rise up; letting Herod and Pilate, two-bit players on the world stage, claim power and authority over him, the King of Heaven. Are you serious, Jesus? This is not how we do things around here!
  1. At the center of it all is the scene from the Upper Room on the last night of Jesus’ life, a narrative that is both easier and harder for us to understand, just as it was easy and challenging for Peter to understand as it unfolded. Jesus, surrounded by his closest friends as well as his betrayer, strips off his outer garments, grabs a basin and a towel, and proceeds to wash his disciples’ feet. This is easy to comprehend because there is nothing supernatural or metaphysical occurring here; it is a man, kneeling and washing his friends’ feet. Yet it makes it all the more oddly disconcerting, all the harder to comprehend. This Jesus, the one they had followed, the one whom some had seen transfigured, the one in whom they saw God’s hope for the world; this Jesus takes their dirt encrusted, blistered, sweating feet in his hands and washes them. This is the work left for a servant, not a master, and certainly not work fit for God’s Son! Peter objects; who wants a Savior like this? But Jesus knows what is needful and doesn’t much care how a respectable Messiah would do things. He knows that our lives are caked with sin and chalked with death. He knows we need washing and, because he loves us, he washes us. We have become homeless in our wandering away from our God, so Jesus becomes homeless to be with us, and being with us, restores us to God. This Jesus, this Savior, this only Son of God pours waters of grace and healing upon us, just as he will soon pour out his very life for the sake and salvation of the world. Jesus is not the God we’re looking for, but he is the God we get, all the way down to the dirt between our toes and the sin within our souls.
  1. It only gets worse from there. Not only does Jesus demean himself for our sake, he goes ahead and asks us – commands us – to go and do likewise. No promise of power, no summons to status, no guarantee of grandeur. Simply a call to be like him in love, we who have received this love now beckoned to kneel down into the dirt of this world, even and especially for those that the world tells us have neither worth nor merit. For they are beloved in Christ’s eyes and saved by Christ’s death, and it is no longer for us to judge or shun but rather to love and serve. On Maundy Thursday in 1529, Martin Luther preached to his people, saying, “Do you want to carry out Christ’s example? Then wash the feet of the poor beggar who comes to you, give him food and a bed, and attend to him! Yes, this is our responsibility!” So if you see a figure under a blanket and you’re not sure if it’s a statue or a homeless person, don’t call the police. Go to them – and if they’re not a statue – respond with love and mercy and actual help. Who cares if they don’t belong in this kind of neighborhood? Neither did Jesus, yet in love he came to you. Go in his name, serve in his love, kneel down into the pain of another – another who is beloved by God every bit as much as you are.
  1. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? So tonight, simply marvel and worship. Marvel that Jesus would become one of us, slumming it in our midst where he never needed to be. Marvel that Jesus would make himself bread and wine and give himself to you. Rejoice to know that Christ let himself be overcome by this world so that it could be saved. Stand at the foot of Christ’s cross and see in this carpenter’s kid the Savior of God’s people, wracked and wrecked, loving us to the end. See Jesus at your feet, cleaning out the dirt of this sinful world that’s caked upon them. Know that Jesus has become homeless so that you and all people need never be away from home again. Look upon Jesus, this sad excuse for what we would imagine God to be, and see just how much God loves you. See this Jesus, this One we would never expect, who does all the wrong things, and worship him. Amen.

And now may the peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus forever. Amen.

From → Sermons

  1. wshoup permalink

    Thanks Pastor Dave. Have a blessed Easter!

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

  2. Bob Lyle permalink

    Happy Easter! He is risen indeed!!

    So, I got curious and went looking for a picture of the statue. Tripped across this website. Second video on the page is the sculptor explaining his thought process. Thought you would enjoy it, if you haven’t already seen it.

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