Servant Leaders, Servant Followers
April 09, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Why is the Last Supper important?
Clearly, whenever we read the story of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, we remember that this is the moment when Jesus institutes the command to share our eucharistic meal, or the Lord’s Table, or the communion meal together at a gathered body of believers to celebrate our new covenant through Jesus Christ. And, in this setting, our communion feast is connected to Moses and the people of Israel, the first covenant, and the celebration of the Passover.
But there’s more than that.
The story of the Upper Room is about communion, but it’s also about us, and about our calling, our role as believers and as followers of Jesus Christ. Why? Well, let’s read the story in John 13:1-17, 31b-35 and see for ourselves.
13:1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
As Jesus addresses the disciples, he knows that he is speaking to the people who will become the leaders of the church, but he is also speaking to us. Many people want to advance their careers, and to climb the corporate ladder, and to accumulate more power and authority in whatever job they do. But Jesus says that for us, for the people who follow him and use his name to describe ourselves, we are called to have an entirely different frame of reference. We are called to remember that God’s own Son, the savior and rescuer of all humanity, found it important, even critical, to take upon himself the role and responsibility of the lowest servant. Foot washing just wasn’t done by important people. It wasn’t even done by important slaves if it could be avoided. It was done by the lowest ranking. It was the lowest servant, or the least important, or at least the humblest, family member. But Jesus reframes it and explains that anyone that wants to be important, must be willing to serve the humblest, most demeaning, needs of everyone else.
Leaders must be willing to care for their followers. And, at least for us, the concept of “servant leaders” or “servant leadership” comes from this story.
But this isn’t just about leaders.
Jesus speaks to all of us when he says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Jesus says that this demonstration was an example that was intended for all of us. Every follower of Jesus is called to be a servant of others because Jesus was a servant of others.
And so, as we move ever closer to Easter, as we continue our social distancing, as we wrestle with what it means to be a virtual church, and to have virtual worship, we are also called to ask ourselves the question that Jesus has been asking for two millennia…
“How are we serving others?”
“How am I serving others?”
Following Jesus isn’t just an act of faith. It isn’t just an act of church attendance. It isn’t just participating in communion. As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to live lives of service to others.
To be the servants of others.
Because we remember that Jesus said…
… “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
You can find the video of this message here: https://youtu.be/TeEQy2-Wnxc
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