Home > Back to the Sermons Index
April 5, 2012
The Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Sermon: "What Not to Wear"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
What Not to Wear
I’m something of a BBC America watcher. I suppose it’s because I’m an Anglophile. Watching the BBC, though, has changed some of my perceptions about the Brits. For instance, there’s that widespread perception that the British have fairly well mastered the art of polite conversation. Even in their fiercest arguments, the Brits have a way of sounding like they’ve just paid your mother the highest compliment.
However, if you’ve had the chance to watch the BBC show, “What Not to Wear”, you know that this image of our cousins in the UK is not all there is. Hosting this show are two women whose acid commentary about what women are wearing these days makes Simon Cowell sound like Mr. Rogers.
To be fair, their frank advice has helped scores of fashion-impaired folks. And they hand each of their makeover targets 5,000 Pounds to go on a personal shopping spree. The results: delighted victims and a growing audience.
So, what has this got to do our Gospel lesson from John on this Maundy-Thursday evening? Well, in all the times I’ve read this passage, I’ve focused on many of its facets, but this time I was struck by what Jesus wore, and didn’t wear. On the last night of his life, Jesus wore a loose-fitting outer garment. It was functional, common yet dressy enough for the dinner portion of the evening, including the broken bread and the shared wine. But when it came time to teach and serve, he took off his outer garment, and wrapped himself in a towel. The towel was more fitting to the task of washing feet, and teaching his followers to serve each other.
Which brings us to the question on this night: what clothing works best on us as followers of Christ, and what clothing is, “Not to Wear?” Now, this is not an invitation to check out the wardrobe choices of those around us. This isn’t about our outer garments at all; it’s about the garments God cares about, the ones that clothe our hearts.
So, what inner clothing doesn’t work for us? The classic text on this subject is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…get rid of all such things; anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth…seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and clothed yourselves with the new self. (3: 5, 8-10)
Paul’s invitation is to imagine ourselves standing in front of the closet of our hearts surveying our inner wardrobes. If we find anything there on the “Not to Wear” list, we are to give it the old heave-ho. In that poignant scene described for us in our Gospel lesson, Peter, particularly, is resistant to what Jesus proposes in washing Peter’s feet. By this action, Jesus shows his disciples that pride and arrogance are “Not to wear”. These, then, are inner clothes to discard.
So what inner clothing does work for us? Paul says, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (3:12) Those would make excellent wardrobe choices for inner sartorial splendor. Jesus, in stooping to wash the feet of the disciples, serving rather than being served, models these important virtues privately even as he will model them publicly as he is nailed to the cross. Jesus then tells them and us that the most foundational garment of all is love. “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13: 34-35 NIV)
Granted, no one’s going to barge in on us on national television to rummage through our moral closet, as per the afore mentioned BBC program. What matters to God, what matters to Jesus is how we treat each other even when we think no one is looking.
So let love be the foundational garment of the inner wardrobe of your heart; over that, put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Let this Maundy-Thursday evening be a reminder that the most important piece of clothing that Jesus wore on this night was a towel. It represented all of these inner qualities. He wore it in humility. He used it in service. Let us now do the same.