Hands and Feet

First United Methodist Church — Omaha
Dr. Jane Florence
September 10, 2017
Scripture: John: 13:4-5, 12-16
Sermon: “Hands and Feet”

Your hands were calloused. That’s what happens when hands haul heavy fishing nets into the boat and heave them over the side into the water and haul them up the side back into the boat and drag the wet heavy nets off the boat and spread them on the sandy shore to clean and dry. That’s what happens when your hands grasp the oars and pull hard away from the shore into the wind as the sun rises each day and back again as sun sets. Thick brown calloused hands form from hard work day after day, year after year, after year.

Your hands have hauled nets all night long. The nets now are stretched out to dry by morning sun. Your back aches. The Teacher climbed in your now empty boat that morning and called to you, “Come. Push me out away from the shore a bit.” Your cramped callous hands pulled against the oars again. The Teacher spoke from the boat. His voice bounced off the water’s surface, so the people on shore could hear his words clearly. With your calloused hands guiding the boat, you heard the words too and sitting so close you saw the sweat of the Teacher’s brow as the sun rose high and beat down upon you both. The Teacher was a good man. You have heard him before just not so close beside you. After that day with the Teacher so near, your calloused hands were never the same again. Life changed that day; forever you turned to follow him.

For three years since then, your feet grew as calloused as your hands had once been. You followed the Teacher. You listened to his words spoken on a hillside grass soft beneath your brown feet. You heard his stories about grains of wheat and pearls of great price while walking down a stony path’s sharp edges. You followed him down sandy banks to other shorelines and up dry and dusty roads to village after village. Mile after mile, month after month, your feet carried your weight on the journey that turned the Teacher into your Friend, made the Man into Martyr, pressed the Ordinary into the Sublime.

All the while your head spun with his new ideas and your feet bore the pain: calluses, bunions, blisters, cracked skin of your heels, the ragged toenails, fungus, dirt so pressed into crease and crevasse like tattoos of life. It was so worth it.

Love emanated from Jesu. There was a Spirit about him that was so genuine, so compassionate, so sweet and kind and magnetic. There was a passion that filled every day, every space. He lived differently and taught others they could too. His teaching was radical- exciting- challenging – confusing – hard- simple. He taught:

Love your enemies. Welcome the strangers.
Heal the sick. Challenge the system of your culture that oppress.
Speak to the women and listen to them too. Touch the diseased.
Feed the hungry. Pray. Pray Pray
Ask, seek, knock and God will answer, reveal and open.
Tell everyone: all are loved, sacred, whole.
Go! Share this revolution of understanding.

On and on, one step after the other, you went and did. You were always moving, growing, loving, serving, and asking others to follow and do the same! Your once calloused hands became tender; your feet now took the brunt of your work.

When he told you he would die soon, you protested. You adored him. You loved him. You worshiped him. You couldn’t imagine life without him. Life on the road beside him was your life, your heart. All you wanted. There was so much more to learn from him. So many questions still burned within. There was so much more to witness. But you knew what he said was true. You heard the religious leaders fear the changes he was announcing. You heard them challenge his teaching, “who did he think he was?” they said. They grumbled and mumbled when crowds pressed close to him. As he gained popularity, you knew they were plotting to kill him. Still his words of his death, spoken aloud, made your heart sink.

Your calloused feet walked beside that donkey as he rode into Jerusalem one last time. Your tired feet crunched on those palm branches the cheering crowd waved at him then lay on the ground before him. Your feet moved you forward even when your heart wanted to hang behind. The week passed quickly. Everything happened too quickly.

On his last night with you and the others, Jesu rose from the table after supper, took off his outer robe, and tied a slave’s towel around his waist. You couldn’t imagine what he was doing until he poured water into a basin and came to kneel before you.

He, the Master Teacher, the one you idolized and loved beyond all else, knelt at your feet! His hand moved to wash your feet. He knelt down before your road weary, calloused, blistered, dirty feet. You thought about all the places your feet had taken you right beside him. Places you never would have seen but for him. People you served because of him.

Carefully, tenderly, lovingly, he took your foot into his hands. Kind, warm, gentle brown hands held your hard-calloused feet. He spoke no words in this intimate moment. None were needed. He looked into your eyes and peered into your soul. Hearts met as one. He smiled at you and nodded. He washed your feet. With the towel about his waist, he patted your feet dry. The tears in his eyes spoke his love.

Then he stood and said, “Do for others as I have done for you.”