John 13:1-17, 34-35
How Do You Measure Your Life?
Some of you may have heard of this little thing happening in our church right now. The RipIt Ministry, which just continues to blossom in new ways, has just kicked off its annual challenge. This year, seasoned mentors are pairing up with folks who are trying to reach some fitness goals to help guide and support them in their journey. I decided, with a little convincing from Amber Ormasen – have you ever tried to refuse a request from her? – to take part. One of the first things we had to do was get weighed and measured. It’s not my favorite experience, for sure. But it’s hard to measure your progress if you aren’t really sure where you started. I’ll be able to measure my progress in pounds lost, but also in changes in inches. Of course, those measures aren’t the only measures that are valuable. Folks might measure how many seconds they can hold a plank position before and after the challenge, or whether their cholesterol has improved after eating healthy for a few months, or whether they just feel better. But whatever way we do it, I know folks talking part in the challenge will be looking for ways to measure the impact of what we’ve been working on.
We’ll be thinking a lot about how we measure things as our worship focus for the next few weeks. I think we’re busy measuring most areas of our lives. We want to know – how do we measure up? How do we compare? How are we doing in life? How do we stack up? Our question for the next three weeks is this: How will we measure our life? The question isn’t whether we will measure our lives or not. We’re all measuring – whether we’re aware of it or not, whether we know how we’re measuring our lives or not, whether we’re happy with our measurements, or not. We do measure our lives. So for the next few weeks, we’ll ask ourselves: How do we measure our lives? We’ll ask how we do it now. How do you measure your life right now? What measure are you using? What results are you looking for that tell you you are “on track” or not? And we’ll ask how we should be measuring our lives. How does God measure us? How does God ask us to measure our lives?
So how do we typically measure our lives today? We might measure our lives by what salary we earn and how successful we are at work. That’s where we spend the bulk of our time, most of us, and a lot of our sense of self-worth can come from being measured at work. We might get bonuses or raises or a good review or be rewarded for being employee of the month. We might be in positions of power that give us status. We might get a new, prestigious title, or measure our worth by the size of our office. In sports, we keep track of how many points were scored, or how many yards someone went, or how many homeruns someone accumulates, or how fast or how high or how far someone could go. We give awards for best acting and best directing and best writing and if you don’t qualify for any of those, you might win best dressed, at least. We’re measured in school by our grades and our scores on standardized tests, by our attendance records. We’re measured by our appearance – how much we weigh, how tall we are, what brand of clothing we’re wearing. I think more and more we’re measured by how happy we can make ourselves look in facebook photos and Instagram pictures. So many ways that we add up and measure the value of our lives. How do you measure your life?
It’s not just out in the secular world that people try to measure success like this. I have to tell you: when pastors meet, typical questions are: How big is your church? How many people are in worship? What’s your budget? How many people are on staff? There’s a tendency to think that bigger is always better, and that success in ministry means getting appointed to larger and larger churches. It can be pretty toxic, pretty stressful, this culture of measuring each other’s worth in this way. I wrestle with the allure of wanting to measure up. I would argue that meaningful ministry is about so much more than numbers, but I also get excited when we have more, and I also feel acutely aware of how much we have, or don’t have, of everything. When we measure, I feel like we set ourselves up to be disappointed with our results.
How will we measure our lives? Rev. Adam Hamilton shared that when he meets with families to plan a funeral for a loved one, most people don’t talk about the achievements their loved ones racked up at work. Few people pull out the plaques or trophies or awards that their beloved had accumulated. What they talk about is how loved they felt. They talk about the time they got to spend together. They talk about the times they laughed together or cried together as a family. They talk about the quality of their loved one’s character – how kind or brave or caring or compassionate they were. (1)
How will we measure our lives? No matter how much time we spend pursuing other aims, it seems that what really matters is who and how we love one another. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments are that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and that we love our neighbors as ourselves. But how on earth do we measure love? In the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, the writings speak of loving-kindness, of steadfast love. In the New Testament, the gospels and letters use the word agape for love, a word that has the connotation of a selfless, self-sacrificing love. In other words, just claiming that we love someone – that we love God, or that we love one another – isn’t enough. Our love has to be demonstrated in real action. Our love has to show in what we do and how we live. Jesus talked about this as bearing good fruit. We heard John the Baptist mention in the text we read just last week – we’re called to bear fruit – the fruit – what we have to show for our lives – is how we’re measured. Again and again Jesus shares parables suggesting that God looks to make sure we’re growing good fruit in our lives. So how do we love in a way that gives us something to show? How do we measure our lives by who and how we love?
Our gospel text today shares a scene that we typically hear on Maundy Thursday, the night that Jesus celebrated what we call “The Last Supper” with his disciples, the night that he was betrayed and arrested. The word “Maundy” is from a Latin word that means commandment. Jesus gives us in this passage what he calls a “new commandment.” But of course, the new commandment Jesus gives is one that is actually not new at all: He commands us to love one another as he has loved us. So that leads us to the question: How has Jesus loved us?
Where Matthew, Mark, and Luke all write about Jesus sharing a final meal with his disciples during Passover, John focuses on something entirely different: a foot-washing. During supper, Jesus gets up, prepares, and sets about washing the feet of his disciples. Some of you may have participated in a ceremonial foot-washing as part of a Holy Week service before, or in some other setting. When I was about to be ordained, our bishop at the time Bishop Violet Fisher washed the feet of all of us who were in my ordination class. It can be a deeply moving experience. But I also think it is one that’s a bit hard for us to translate into contemporary culture. In Jesus’ day, foot-washing was a common practice. People walked in sandals on dusty roads, and whenever you entered a home, it would be common to wash your feet. But you would wash your own feet or it would be the task of a slave to wash your feet. If you weren’t a slave, you would never wash someone else’s feet. And if you were the higher ranking person, if you were the teacher for example, you certainly wouldn’t be washing the feet of your disciples. Jesus was taking on the task of a slave. When he washed their feet, it was an act of humility, service, devotion, love, an act of love he offers on the night before he will even give his own life as a demonstration of his love. I have a hard time even finding an act we could offer someone today that would compare to what Jesus offers the disciples.
No wonder, then, that Peter reacts how he does. Disbelieving what is clearly happening, he asks Jesus, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” He insists that Jesus will never do such a menial, humbled act for him. But Jesus tells Peter that if Peter wants to have a share in Jesus, he needs to receive what Jesus is offering. And then Peter is in, whole-heartedly! Once Jesus has finished washing the disciples’ feet, he says to them: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord … 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.” And it is then, in this context, that Jesus says “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.”
Jesus has demonstrated what he means by loving one another. When Jesus shows love, it means that he’ll trade in his status as teacher for that of a slave instead. When Jesus shows love, it means he will serve others in ways that most people would consider beneath them. When Jesus shows love, he humbles himself, that the other person might be lifted up. He offers his very life as an act of love. This is what I mean by loving as I have loved, Jesus says.
How will we measure our lives? By who we love and how we love. We are God’s strategy for loving the world. We are God’s plan for redeeming the world with love in action! (1) That’s an amazing responsibility, an amazing gift that God entrusts to us. We can measure our lives by the fruit that our love-in-action grows. And we love-in-action by loving like Jesus – by forgetting about our status and instead thinking of how we can serve others, by humbling ourselves so that others can be lifted up, by putting others first, by sharing with them the valuable gifts of our time, our attention, our heart.
I challenged the children to think about how they would put their love into action this week, and I want to challenge you to do the same thing. Love might seem like a hard thing to measure, but Jesus says we can see good fruit, a sign of love’s presence. I want you to pay attention, to keep track this week, and challenge yourself. When can you demonstrate love for someone? When you are at school, at work, at the store, at a meeting, out for a walk – how can you – how will you – practice lovingkindness this week? And be on the lookout for ways that others are demonstrating their love for you! When you see good fruit in someone else, when you notice their loving actions – take note! Next week we’ll talk about what kind of fruit we saw this week.
How will we measure our lives? By who and how we love. Jesus shows us the way, as he washes our feet. How will we love? Like Jesus does. Amen.
(1) Hamilton, Adam. Sermon,