One Last Thing

I think Carl Honore observation is my everyday experience –

“In our fast-moving modern world, it always seems that the time-train is pulling out of the station just as we reach the platform. No matter how fast we go, no matter how cleverly we schedule, there are never enough hours in the day.”

We use words like, “I feel lost”, “he just lost his way”. Of course, everywhere we go, there we are. What we are trying to articulate is that in the midst of a confusing, hectic, complicated world we lose clarity, the main thing is pushed to the peripheral and we get swamped with the insignificant. We even use mind-games to help regain perspective, clarity-

  • If you had only $50 for the rest of the week with no food in your house, what would you spend that money on?
  • If you were stranded on an island and you could only take 5 items, what would you take?

We’re familiar with such questions, but what if we were to go a bit deeper and ask –

“If you had one day left on this Earth, what would you do?”

It’s a sobering thought. What I find astounding is that scripture describes this exact scenario in the life of Jesus. If I had one day left, I’d make sure I see its sunrise and sunset, I’d be with family, I would eat as much food as possible. Jesus, on the other hand, decides to wash some feet.

John 13 describes this moment, we call it the Last Supper. What John does not do is explain what brought this seemingly strange action of Jesus about. Fortunately for us, we have the other Gospels to fill in the gaps.

Luke 22 lets us know what was the happening at that Last Supper.

Luke 22:14-16 (NLT)

When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table.  Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins.  For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

You can hear the anguish in Jesus tone, “I have been VERY eager to eat this Passover meal with you BEFORE my suffering…” Jesus is aware that His time had fully come. I would have thought that the disciples would have enough emotional intelligence to pick up that Jesus is not Himself, there is discomfort in His tone as He contemplates what is about to occur. However, the disciples are fine to form even in this moment.

Luke 22: 24 (NLT)

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them.

This is not the first time that this conversation had come up. In fact, James and John’s own mother was part of this same argument when she requested her two sons sit on Jesus right and left in Glory.

Now at what we call The Last Supper the scenario is incredible. Jesus has one night left, one meal left, one lesson left and the future leaders of the Church are bickering, arguing about who would have the greater accolades, who would be better known, who would be the greater and who would be lesser. The disciples are completely lost in their own arrogance and pride, seduced by a cultural norm that contradicts everything that they have observed and learned from their teacher.

On this last night, Jesus gives one last lesson, before He must endure the cross there is One Last Thing.

He disrobes picks up the basin and towel that had been in the room the entire time. Silence grips the room and the atmosphere changes. The washing of feet was a task reserved for the lowest of slaves, many in Israel thought it not appropriate for even Jewish slaves, no, this task was only appropriate for Gentile slaves. And here is the teacher washing the feet of the future leaders of the Church who are childishly bickering and arguing about greatness…one last thing.

Of course, the lesson is profound and Jesus words following this release any follower of Christ from simply being an ‘admirer’ of Christ and being a true disciple,

John 13:16-17 (NLT)

I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.

We can know what to do and not do it, we’re blessed not because we ‘know’ but because we ‘do’. Jesus example also demonstrates a challenge when He washes the feet of a man who He knew was hours away from betraying Him. Evidently, we don’t get to pick and choose who we serve.

William Barclay made a challenging observation –

“It is easy and so natural to resent wrong and to grow bitter under insult and injury; but Jesus met the greatest injury and the supreme disloyalty, with the greatest humility and the supreme love”

We too get lost and consumed in a culture and system that runs in contradiction to our true home. We too enter that upper room and like those original disciples walk straight past the basin, the towel, and water, the equipment for service. Clarity gets lost, pride rises and then in a moment our beautiful Lord reminds us about one last thing…

“And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. “

Clarity found.




Yesterday’s Sling and Stones aren’t Enough

Possibly the most well known biblical story is David and Goliath. David, a ruddy young shepherd’s boy fights a Philistine monster who from his youth had been trained in the art of war, his name sounds as threatening as his cruel, ruthless vocation…Goliath.

We know the story well, David fights on behalf of an entire Kingdom with nothing more than five stones selected from the location of the pending battle (this could be a sermon in itself) and his well-used sling. Despite the concern of others, David was extremely comfortable and confident with his chosen weapons –

But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death.  I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God!  The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!” (1 Samuel 17:34-36)

We know how the story ends, the pivotal point…David cuts off Goliath’s head with Goliath’s own sword and suddenly momentum changes. The Israelite’s who were previously filled with fear are suddenly inspired with courage, they charge the Philistine army and the rest is history. David wins his fight.

But what about David’s next fight?

If life was all about one struggle, one conflict, one challenge then maybe we could live off the virtue of this one story, but life is not that simple. Life is made of a series of consecutive struggles, victories, and losses that do not relent, in fact, they tend to escalate in complexity and intimidation until we leave this Earth.

David’s next assignment rendered his sling and stone approach impotent.

Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike. (1 Samuel 18:5)

Yesterday’s slings and stones won’t work for today’s assignment. They worked for David when confronted with the lion, the bear, and even Goliath but now there is a new assignment, an opportunity that David would never have even dreamed of stepping into. The verse preceding this tells of a covenant made between Jonathan and David and an interesting transfer that occurred.

Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt. (1 Samuel 18:4)

In a single day, David had gone from a sling and five stones to acquiring the finest sword in the Philistine army, that of Goliath’s as well as one of the finest swords in the Israel armory, the sword belonging to the son of the King. Imagine the symbolism when David wore Jonathan’s tunic, clothes reserved for the heir to the throne! And from this place, he steps into his next assignment.

It is not written in the text but I can only assume that the process and discipline that allowed David to become efficient with his sling are the same virtues that made David efficient and skillful with his new armory.

Killing any Goliath is a moment worthy of celebration and honour…but what about the next battle. It is admirable that we became efficient with the skillset that made that initial victory possible…but there is the next fight to consider, a fight that more than likely requires new armory.

So put down that sling, to pick up that new sword and then apply the same discipline that made the past victory possible.

Yesterday’s sling and stones aren’t enough.

Armed with Burning Patience

Patience is not just a waiting game.

In 1971 Pablo Neruda quoted Arthur Rimbaud when he used these words as part of his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature –

“At dawn, armed with a burning patience we shall enter the splendid cities.”

Neruda’s vision of the splendid city differs radically from us who profess faith in Christ though one cannot help but be captivated by the language used to underscore this common pathway, this common quality or virtue demanded in any endeavour. Not just having patience, rather being,“…armed with a burning patience“.

As Jesus followers we live on the side of the Cross that points to and declares an empty tomb, the disarming of sin and death. This is the side where the power and grace of God’s Heavenly ‘Splendid City’ are ours and we are invited to appropriate and implement  these measures in our present world, this demands being ‘armed with a burning patience’.

It may help us to reconsider patience as not being passive, but being an extremely active virtue and asset of life.

Patience is firmly anchored in a captivating hope that empowers us to keep moving, to keep loving and to remain faithful even when we are not seeing runs being scored on the board. Patience is the essential quality that allows us to be the Church, (those who are ‘called out’ to look upon and consider the polis). Patience looks at the complexities, confusion and challenges of the regions we are called to, to hear its hearts cry, to observe its ebbs and flows and still believe that the Gospel works and is making a difference.

A burning patience empowers. It enables us to see and act for the ‘one’ among the masses and also empowers us to strive beyond the opposition that often comes from doing what is right and just.

John 5 recounts a story where this virtue is outworked. In this story Jesus leads his disciples to the pool of Bethesda. Now, ‘Bethesda’ is an interesting play on words, it literally means, ‘House of Mercy’ or ‘House of Grace’, yet because of the people and issues associated with it this place took on an alternate meaning. The words ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’ were replaces with the words, ‘shame’ and ‘disgrace’. Scripture tells us why –

John 5:3 (NLT)

Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. 

Jesus leads His disciples to a place of misery.  Imagine a place of mess, smell and addictions. Imagine a crowd of people who by their mere existence shocked middle class sensibilities, well this is where Jesus took his disciples. Among this miserable collection of ailments and disease Jesus sees to a man who had been sick for 38 years, that is –

  • 38 years of being largely ignored.
  • 38 years of being seen as and treated as less than human.
  • 38 years of having ‘Imago-dei’ smeared, smudged and erased from his life.

Jesus demonstrates this virtue of ‘burning patience’ in a couple of ways –

  1. Out of the multitude He sees and heals only one (John 5:5).
  2. Jesus bypasses this mans poor understanding/theology of God to heal him – the man thought that in order to be healed God had a ‘first in, first served’ policy (John 5:7).

Possibly the most uncomfortable point of this story is seen in how inappropriate this man’s response was to receiving his healing. We’re familiar with Jesus healing people and there has been worship, praise to God and gratitude – that seems appropriate. In this story the tone is very different, instead of thanks this man betrays Jesus by running to the Jewish rulers to call Jesus out (John 5:15).

Jesus Kingdom act of healing this man results in an inappropriate response by this man which in turn results in this –

John 5:16-18 (NLT)

So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

Talk about doing the right thing, a just thing, restoring dignity and worth on a man who had been dehumanised for 38 years and instead of a ‘thank you’, the man betrays you and now your life is on the line. This is where being ‘armed with a burning patience’, really kicks in. Jesus keeps moving towards the cross, undeterred and absolutely resolute is His missional posture and journey.

Scripture lets us know that Kingdom endeavours can result in negative consequences. Bad things can happen when we do the right things but being armed with a burning patience  keeps us moving forward, believing for the best, loving and remaining faithful.

A burning patience is necessary if we are to continue in our vocation as the resolute prophetic Church of Jesus that seeks to be a liberating agent of the Spirit of God in our world, a true sign of God’s Kingdom as God’s reign breaks in and among us.

Patience is not just a waiting game…it is an armament in life and being armed with burning patience will enable us to see with our own eyes this most beautiful, splendid Heavenly City that our faith promises us.