"What Happens at Jesus Feet?"
By Rev. James A. Splitt
Sermon June 14, 1998 Graduate Recognition Sunday
Galatians 2:15-21 Luke 7:36-8:3
I would like for all of us to say together the 20th verse of Galatians, chapter 2. I will speak each phrase of this verse first, then we will say it together: (RSV)
"I have been crucified with Christ;
It is no longer I who live,
But Christ who lives in me;
And the life I now live in the flesh,
I live by faith in the Son of God,
Who loved me and gave himself for me."
Now just repeat this phrase and commit it to memory . . . "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."
This can become your personal confession of faith. Come to the feet of Jesus Christ, and see what happens ... if you have never had a personal relationship with Christ and have never had a personal statement of faith ... this is a place to begin.
What happens at Jesus feet? I'm sure that you can bring to mind all kinds of images. For those of us who have been doing the Sunday School routine for years and have been through a couple of Bible studies and seen pictures of Jesus this will be easy. If you're new to the Bible and not as seasoned in the Bible stories of Jesus you are in for a new learning that captures a wonderful way to know Jesus.
There's a picture of Jesus with children gathered around him, sitting at his feet. To the disciples he speaks the often quoted verse, "Suffer the children to come unto me and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of heaven." The children weren't suffering when they came to Jesus, but in the King James version of the Bible that I first memorized this verse it uses
the expression suffer ... it means allow the children to come to Jesus where he welcomes them. Let them sit at his feet and he will pick each one up and bless them with his love.
We also remember the story of Mary and Martha. We sometimes confuse which one is which. Martha was busy doing chores and so was Mary when Jesus came knocking at their door for a visit. Mary stopped working and sat at the feet of Jesus to learn from him and listen to his teaching. Martha kept on working and rebuked her sister. It was not her place to be with Jesus. But Jesus kindly told Martha that it was OK for Mary to do this. He welcomed Mary and allowed her sit at his feet and learn from him.
In the Gospel text we have a story that unfolds into a most unusual incident and surprising ending. Jesus is invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee. The Pharisees are teachers in the synagogue and have a lot of power and authority among the Hebrew people. While Jesus is at the table, a woman kneels at his feet, begins kissing him, and anointing him with oil, and washing his feet. She does this crying. This is a woman of the city who has a reputation. She comes uninvited to the Pharisee's home and to the table where they are dining. She must have had easy access and she came with a purpose as might be detected in the fact that she was crying.
Simon the Pharisee is annoyed and shocked to say the least. It is most inappropriate; and, rumors, as you could imagine, might be all over town for this kind of association between Jesus and this woman. It has all the juicy makings for a kind of Monica Lewinski/Bill Clinton scandal.
Jesus is now put to the test. But indirectly. The test doesn't say that Simon the Pharisee addressed Jesus with his concern. No, Simon mutters to himself, he speaks in such a way that anyone could have heard him, but nevertheless, he said to himself ....
If this man (referring to Jesus) were a prophet he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." (vs. 39)
I would guess that it wouldn't take a prophet to figure this out. It is probably common knowledge. But what matters is that Christ responds to the Pharisee's concern. And in effect, put the Pharisee at his feet so that he might learn a lesson from Christ about love, grace, forgiveness, and kindness. There's no scandal here ... there's a transformation about to take place. Jesus tells a little story about a creditor who had two debtors, one who owed a lot of money, one who owed little. He forgave both their debts. Which one would feel a greater since of forgiveness? The Pharisee answered with the obvious choice. Now Jesus responds.
"Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
The Pharisee has to be humbled to his knees at this point as Jesus has his final word.
"Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many are forgiven, for she loved much; but he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace!" He wiped away not only her tears, but her sins.
What happens at Jesus feet? People come to grace! They confess Jesus as Lord and are able to say: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
When I first read this gospel text, I wasn't sure how to connect this to a theme for a graduation message. Maybe it would be better to choose a different text. But I read and reread this text and became captivated with the story and its message. Then it all made sense when I went to the Galatians text along with the Psalm 5 text that is our Call to Worship.
Graduation talks usually focus on some variation on the theme of:
What will you do now that you've graduated?
How do you fulfill your goals and dreams beyond graduation?
Congratulations on making the grade ... now what?
This morning's texts are about what to do with your life. The Psalm is about choosing to put God first in your life. The text from Paul is about living a life in faith. The gospel has a central message: come to the feet of Jesus, and graduate into a new life where Christ is the center. It took a woman weeping in the shame of her sin, to come to the feet of Jesus where she found real love. It took a Pharisee who thought his life was perfect in every way to come to the feet of Jesus and learn a lesson in humility.
What happens at the feet of Jesus? NEW LIFE! We confess Jesus as Lord and are able to say: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Graduation is certainly a time of celebration! Accomplishment, pride, success, personal achievement. The next step you take in your life is filled with choices and great opportunities. As children we are invited to the feet of Jesus to learn how to make the best choices. And, we can return to those feet of Jesus when the steps we take are the wrong ones and there are tears in our eyes of failure and guilt.
The message of Jesus is the same: Let me walk with you! Let me be in your life. We go from being at the feet of Jesus to walking in the footsteps of our Lord. Jesus not only welcomes us at his feet, but he wants us to follow in His footsteps. And to do that, we are blessed, forgiven, and graced by His love. And this offers us one other image that has to do with feet. Not the feet of Christ, but our own. This last image is one to reflect on .... it has an ironic twist, but one that fits. Remember, the Bible story of Jesus and the last supper in the upper room. Jesus washes the feet of His disciples. Not only do we go to the feet of Jesus, but Jesus comes to our own feet and washes them asking us to do the same for others.
What happens at the feet of Jesus? LOVE! At the feet of Jesus we experience grace and find new life. Embraced in the love of Jesus, we can say: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Amen!