The Illusion of Self-Sufficiency

Sermon for Thursday, March 29, 2018 || Maundy Thursday || John 13:1-17, 31b-35

I don’t normally ad-lib in sermons, but this one has quite a bit, so I would suggest watching the video instead of reading it.

(The Story)
Jesus’ hour has come. He knows he has come from God and is going to God, and he knows the Father has given all things into his hands. He is at table with his disciples, whom he will soon call friends. He gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around himself. Rather than setting himself over his disciples as his position of Lord and teacher dictates, he takes the place of a servant and washes their feet.

(The Flu)
Ten years ago this month was the last time I got the flu. It was the Thursday before Palm Sunday. It was late in the evening, and I was sitting on the futon in my dorm room at seminary. I was doing what I always did in my free time, which was playing World of Warcraft on my computer. But something was wrong. I felt feverish and sluggish. My reaction time in the game was super slow, and I thought I might throw up on my keyboard. I closed the laptop and went to bed. I slept fitfully and awoke Friday morning with the flu. A full blown case: even blinking hurt.

(The Story)
Jesus pushes his basin along the floorboards and crawls after it. He comes to Simon Peter, who still has his sandals strapped to his feet. “Are you going to wash my feet?” Peter asks. He knows how odd this scene looks. Last year, after Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people, Peter called him the “Holy One of God.” And now this Holy One wants to do the duty of the lowliest servant? This is completely upside-down, Peter thinks. “You will never wash my feet,” Peter says.

(The Flu)
For three days, I lay in my room, trying to move as little as possible. Fortunately, my complete series of Star Trek: The Next Generation had arrived from Amazon just in the nick of time. I propped up pillows on my bed and sipped hot tea. I watched Star Trek and thought about all the work on my thesis I wasn’t doing. But that was the least of my problems. I had no medicine. My one box of generic DayQuil had expired two years prior. I also had no soup or crackers. I could barely stand, let alone dress and drive to CVS and the grocery store. Now, asking for help had never been a favorite pastime of mine. I had always thought of myself as pretty self-sufficient. But, on that Friday morning, I had no choice. The flu took my self-sufficiency and tossed it in the trash with all of my used up tissues.

(The Story)
Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” In other words, Jesus says: Unless you let me wash you, your destiny does not lie on the same path as mine. Unless you give up the illusion of your own self-sufficiency, you can never truly be one of my friends.

(The Flu)
I called my friend Dean. He brought me Theraflu. I called my friend Robert. He brought me NyQuil and more tissues. Bret brought me soup and crackers. And Sven, God bless him, brought me a vaporizer and VapoRub. They each knocked on my door. I opened it and they held out bags at arm’s length. I took the bags, they wished me well, and I closed the door. I poured the Theraflu powder into hot water and sipped the lemon-flavored drink. I made chicken soup. I used the whole box of tissues in one day. I popped a couple of NyQuil before going to bed. I ran the vaporizer day and night.

(The Story)
Jesus finishes washing the disciples’ feet, puts his robe back on, and returns to the table. I have washed your feet, he says. I have washed your feet not in spite of my role as your Lord and teacher, but because of it. If I can wash your feet, then you should definitely wash each other’s feet.

(The Flu)
By Monday, the flu had subsided. I was still weak, and the cement in my throat still needed sanding down. But, I could move and smile and blink pain-free. I think now about that need to be self-sufficient. What a destructive and dangerous need it is! Self-sufficiency is an illusion. I am not self-sufficient. I never was and I never will be. I rely on so many people, from the mother who nursed me as a baby to the friend who brought me soup to the person who collects my tissue-filled garbage.

(The Story)
Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

(The Flu)
Life is only worth living when it can be shared with others. This sharing is another word for love. We are Jesus’ disciples because we have love for one another. And love shatters the illusion of self-sufficiency. There is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Rather, an inability to accept the service of others simply masquerades as self-sufficiency. But this masquerade is a dismal half-life. Jesus Christ came that we may have life, and have it in abundance. When the flu knocked me out ten years ago, my friends served me. I had no choice but to let them serve me because I could not serve myself….And I am better for it. They showed their love for me by bringing me medicine and food. In their act of loving service, they washed my feet, as we will do with one another in a moment. In the love of God, I have a share with them, and we all have a share with Jesus Christ, who said, “Love one another, just as I have loved you.”

One thought on “The Illusion of Self-Sufficiency

  1. Your thoughts, words and examples help me, and I’m sure many others, experience more deeply, the meaning of Holy Week. Thank you.

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