Friday, March 29, 2013

Sermon: Wash and Be Washed

Sermon for Maundy Thursday, Year C
Washing Feet by Leszek-Forczek

St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, March 28, 2013
For Readings, click here ~ John 13:1-17, 31b-35

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, o Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

Recently, I have been steeped in the work of Brene Brown.
Brene Brown, a research professor at
the University Of Houston Graduate College Of Social Work,
is reviving the knowledge that our struggles make us who we are. 
The UK paper The Telegraph introduced her this way,
“Brene Brown is a shame and vulnerability expert.
I know – that was my reaction too.
I’m not really hard-wired for this stuff but bear with me…”[1]

Brene Brown says shame is,
“…that kind of warm wash that we experience of not good enough.”
And that really struck me.
It’s a kind of warm wash we experience.

She identifies shame as a primary emotion. Shame drives two kinds of mental tapes,
“not good enough” and “who do you think you are?”
Shame has a way of fueling us or paralyzing us in helpful or not-so-helpful ways. 

From social scientific research(of over 10,000 interviews and 1,000 research sessions)
Brene Brown found that despite experiencing shame,
certain people respond by engaging the world from a place of worthiness. 
That is to say, regardless of their vulnerability or struggle,
they still recognized that they were worthy of love and belonging. 
This got her thinking, how do they do that? 
Why are some people paralyzed, while others engage?

The answer arose in her one day. Attending an Episcopal church,
she heard the prayer of confession, the part that goes,
“we have not loved you with our whole heart…”
She realized that the people for whom shame did not affect negatively
were those who lived and loved with their whole heart. 

Those whole hearted people, expressed four patterns:
First, they had courage.Courage to tell their story, to be imperfect.
Second, they had compassion; to be kind to themselves first and then others.
Third, they had connections because of being authentic. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be themselves. 
And finally, they fully embraced vulnerability.  In fact, she discovered that vulnerability
was a large part of wholeheartedness. 

She concludes,
“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experience…
Vulnerability is about the willingness to show up and be seen in our lives. 
The moments when we show up are the most powerful meaning-making moments
of our lives even if they don’t go well. They define who we are.”

In her research, she asked people to define vulnerability.
Here are a few of the answers:[2]
·        Sitting with my wife who has Stage III breast cancer and trying to make plans for our children
·        My first date after my divorce
·        Saying I Love You first
·        Asking for a raise
·        Sending my child to school being enthusiastic and supportive of her and knowing how excited she is about orchestra tryouts and how much she wants to make first chair and encouraging her and supporting her and knowing that it’s not going to happen.
·        If Brene Brown had asked me, I would add washing feet.

I think that today/tonight is about feeling vulnerable. 

Today/Tonight, the sacred night of Maundy Thursday,
we begin the Triduum – the three holy days of Christ’s passion,
beginning at sundown on Thursday and concluding at sundown on Easter Day. 
It is sacred and vulnerable because on this evening our extended family of faith
gathers at table to remember the One whom we,
like the disciples in John’s Gospel,
have dearly loved – and are about to lose to death.
We are vulnerable because we are talking about death.[3]
Death of someone we love.

Tonight in the sanctuary, notice the collection of objects at hand. 
Check out how uncertainty arises in our throat…
uncertainty is a trigger for feeling vulnerable. Something is about to happen.
Look around:
Pitchers of water. Wash basins. Towels. Tables. Buckets.
Extra chairs. Communion setting. Bread and wine. Candles.

The foot washing – it’s awkward, it’s embarrassing and it, well,
sometimes comes off badly. 
Maybe it is because we don’t do it often enough to be good at it. 
Maybe it is not the actual foot washing
but the small acts of humble service we offer one another
on a daily basis that we don’t do often enough. 
Maybe that is why tonight we mark the “perpetual ordinance”
that Jesus instituted, which we Episcopalians do every week,
as we read from 1st Corinthians,
“…on the night when he was betrayed,
Jesus took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine,
gave thanks, broke it and said
do this in remembrance of me.”

In the gospel we heard about the disciples’ feeling vulnerable.
They were uncertain. They gathered for supper and at some point,
Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe,
tied a towel around himself, poured water into a a basin and
began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel. 

Peter’s responses – oh he is such a goof!
He says, “you will never wash my feet” and
“Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” These responses just highlight his sense of shame that warm washing over him. 
His vulnerability was palpable – first he wanted to deny it and
then he wanted to make a joke of it.

The thing is, as Brene Brown researched and writes about,
people who live whole-heartedly and fully engage their vulnerability
do not find that way of living comfortable.  
They “lean into” the discomfort, they practice being uncomfortable. 
Wholehearted people know that to feel this vulnerable means I am alive!
There is nothing flowery about becoming whole-hearted and
naming the warm wash of shame when it happens. 

Being vulnerable requires being gritty and tenacious. 
It means daring to show up in your life. AND it is contagious and powerful.
It makes the people around you a little bit braver.
It helps you get clear on the ideals and values that guide your life.
The thing is, vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.[4] 
This is the place of God’s grace, the source of life, the incarnate power of Jesus’ presence.

Knowing this, Jesus responded to Peter.
“Unless I wash you, you will have no share with me,
the one who gives life and gives it abundantly…
if you know these things, you are blessed if you do them…” 
Foot washing is a kind of eighth sacrament –
it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace –
that blessing that Jesus promised to Peter.

As we enter the foot washing this evening, I invite you into your most vulnerable self. 
As we enter the foot washing, remember that
Jesus also experienced that warm wash of shame and
blesses your whole-hearted, vulnerable self. 

Like yoga practice, heighten your awareness of what you are feeling and doing – 
every bit of it. 
If you are one who tends to prefer washing instead of being washed,
I invite you to be curious about that.
Perhaps you tend to prefer being washed instead of washing? Notice that.

Perhaps the most vulnerable act you can commit
is to simply sit there and witness others holding intimate, silent conversations
with their hands and feet. 
In these places of vulnerability, Jesus is filling you with blessing.

Tonight, Jesus invites us to engage wholeheartedly.  
It is Jesus who washes our feet, cleansing us from head to toe, loving every bit of us. 
It is the feet of all people (present or not) whose feet we are washing,
those who are broken and bruised and in need of a healing bath. 
It is Grace. It is Love.

It is in our vulnerability, in our weakness, that God’s power is made known. 
Jesus meets us here and invites us, as friends, to be mutually intimate. 
Get to know Jesus as he washes your feet.

Tonight, we learn and engage in this new commandment –
this near-sacrament – from our Lord and Teacher Jesus. 

Just as God, through Jesus, loved us first,
we are to love one another.
Just as God, through Jesus, saw us first,
we are to let ourselves be seen – deeply seen – vulnerably seen.
Just as God, through Jesus, loves our whole heart,
even the ugly, dirty feet part of us,
we are to love with our whole hearts,
even though there is no guarantee.

Through the cool waters of Jesus, know that you are enough.

You are worthy of love and belonging. 
You are worthy of love and belonging.
You are worthy of love and belonging.

By this everyone will know that you are Jesus’ disciples, as you love one another.   


[1]  Cited at on March 27, 2013. Included in interview by Krista Tippett of Brene Brown, November 21, 2012. Transcript, found at .
[2] Ibid.
[3] Feasting on the Word, Holy Thursday, p. 275
[4] Interview

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