Before the pandemic changed everything, there was a once-a-year ritual for United Methodist pastors and leaders called Annual Conference. Several thousand people gather in a civic center for three days of business, worship services and reports. I always found it intimidating. As you can imagine, every moment of Annual Conference is scripted, and the keeper of that script is the Conference Director. He or she sits near the Bishop always ready to adjust the script.
One year, someone worked her way to the front and approached the Director’s table. She was crying and obviously distressed. The Director immediately walked her to a quiet place, listened and brought her to me. He outlined her situation and we worked out a way to help her. Then as conference was going on all around us, he reached for her hands and began to pray with her.
This extraordinarily busy and pressured church leader dropped everything to help someone in distress. He could have easily handed her off but sensed she would only be satisfied talking to him. This conference director had the heart of a servant, whose love for Jesus ruled.
Christians are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Today we have many churches and denominations offering different teachings, all claiming they are following the right path of Jesus. Which ones are right? My hunch is that all of us are mostly right and all of us could do better. Filled with human beings we are inevitably flawed.
When it comes to following Jesus, love must rule our hearts. To love is first a choice, then it grows into a commitment filled with joys and problems. At times love becomes a crucial responsibility but when the love of Christ truly leads and guides our lives, we become more unified than divided, filled with a faith that is stronger than our doubts.
Jesus’ love is best expressed through his actions as a servant. The idea of deliberately and consciously becoming a servant is a challenging concept for me. I have seen too many servants being mistreated and abused. People take advantage of servants.
Perhaps that is your reaction. If so, believe me, I understand but I also realize I am wrong. When love rules our hearts, we willingly take on the role of serving others.
- Jesus says in Matthew: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
- Romans: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
- Galatians: “You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature: rather serve one another in love.”
But the best example of servanthood is given to us by Jesus washing the feet of the disciples in the Gospel of John. It is one of the most remarkable symbols of Jesus humility and service.
Many churches reenact foot washing to teach this message. Unfortunately, most of us, including me worry more about taking off our shoes and socks in public than absorbing the critical lesson of Jesus demonstrating love in action.
When people walking hot dusty roads in sandals enter a house, someone is there with a basin of water and a towel to wash their feet. This was a practical part of living in that part of the world. But for whatever reason, there was no one around and no one volunteered.
One table surrounded by cushions… no chairs. The disciples are lounging with feet going in all directions. Wherever one sprawled, they were within inches of someone’s dirty feet. Ecch!!
But Jesus gets up, lays aside his robe, takes a towel and a basin of water and begins to wash their feet. Jesus? Their teacher, Jesus is doing what a servant, or someone else should be doing.
Peter loudly protests but Jesus answers: “If I don’t wash your feet, you can’t be my partner.” That is how important this lesson was for the disciples and how important this lesson is for us today.
After washing their feet, Jesus put on his robe, sat down, and explained:
- Do you understand? This is important. Pay attention.
- You call me teacher and you are right.
- Since I have washed your feet, you should wash other’s feet.
- This is an example to follow. Do as I have done.
- One person is not greater than another.
- God will bless you.
This is a critical lesson. Our testimony as Christians, as followers of Jesus is wrapped up in our willingness to express our love by taking on the role of servant in everything we do. Acts of caring as you take on the role of servant is the best way to show others how love rules your heart.
A pastor friend writes about her youth group, going to the nursing home to visit, sing, and give out small gifts. She wrote: “The nursing home was not a “good one”; it was in an old building, the patients were poor, old and sick, and alone.”
“As we made our rounds, we came across one small, confused woman lying in a bed picking at her covers. She had twisted around so that her gown was wrapped around her, and her bare backside had become exposed. Over and over she cried out.”
My friend wrote: “I remember feeling so helpless in the face of such need. How could I possibly be called to offer hope or love or service in the face of all that?”
“Then an aide appeared, speaking soothing words, and covered her again. Straightening her gown and the blanket, gently holding her until she was calmed.” That nursing home aid and our Conference Director demonstrated the heart of a servant guided by the example of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. There is nothing easy or glamorous about being a servant, but the reward is heavenly. Who can you be a servant for today?