Will You Let Jesus Wash Your Feet?

February 18th, 2012

Text: John 13:1-17

Theme: It takes courage to risk being open with Christ.

Sermon Outline


Set the stage by retelling the story from the perspective of Peter. Jesus and the Twelve have just eaten the meal we now call the Last Supper. After dinner, Jesus gets up and takes a towel and a basin of water and begins to wash feet. He moves around the circle and has washed several feet, maybe those of everyone except Peter. As Peter is watching, all kinds of thoughts go through his head. Perhaps he wonders if he should be helping Jesus. Maybe he wonders, "Is he going to wash my feet?"


Peter was being confronted with all kinds of assumptions and all kinds of ideas. This one act was turning Peter's world around, maybe even upside down. Could he let Jesus wash his feet? He wasn't afraid of being intimate with Jesus, for he had gotten used to eating with Jesus, and eating can be a sign of intimacy. You generally don't eat with just anybody. Foot washing was different. It was a place of vulnerability that Peter had not been before; it was a different level of their relationship. Here the leader was willing to serve the followers. It was blowing Peter's mind!


Will we let Jesus wash our feet? Are we willing to allow our leader, the Lord, to wash our feet? The easy, automatic response—since I am in church and know the right answer to give—is yes, the Lord can wash my feet. But stop and freeze the frame and invite the congregation to put themselves in the story. Imagine you are Peter, and walk in his place around the text. Does it feel different? Can you understand how awkward this made him and even makes you feel? It is so contrary to all we are taught, we are to serve the leader and not have the leader serve us. Even in groups that say there are no leaders, there tend to be unofficial leaders. Somehow whether official or unofficial, the leader is supposed to behave in a certain way, in a certain manner that does not include washing the feet of the followers. Will you be so open before Christ that nothing is kept back—that he sees your best sides and your not-so-good sides, that he gets all of you?

Even though we know that God knows all about us, we still in our humanness often try to protect ourselves, and even try to protect God from us. And to get this close, to allow Jesus to wash my feet is scary. Peter knew that the real story was that he was not deserving. Would we feel deserving? Jesus washed feet so they and we would understand grace. The great triumph and joy is that it's not about what we deserve, but what God offers— just because. The triumph continues as we go and wash the feet of another.

Consideration and Resources

  • This sermon could be ended in a variety of ways. A traditional way would be to have a service of foot washing. Leaders of the congregation could gather and take a towel and a basin and go into the congregation and wash the feet of those gathered. There are many variations on this, from having people come forward and the officers wash their feet, to having people come forward to place their hands over a bowl and have water poured over their hands as a symbol of having their feet washed. This is also good practice for those who are unable to take their shoes off for physical reasons, or for those who have amputated limbs or are in a cast.
  • Conclude the sermon by inviting the congregation to continue reflecting on the message at a later time. Encourage them to do a self-guided meditation:
    Find a place where you can be alone. Read or reflect on this passage and then get still. Be at the table with Jesus, laughing, talking, and enjoying the meal. See Jesus get up; see Jesus pick up a bowl and begin to wash feet.
    Now see Jesus in front of you, see him kneel down, feel his eyes as they lock into your eyes, feel him reaching to take off your sandals. Stay in that moment; don't run from it or rush it; allow Jesus to wash your feet.
    As he washes your feet, believe that all the things you are trying to keep hidden from the world are being washed away—all the secrets, the hurts, the pains—things that he already knows about, you no longer have to keep from him. See how free you feel, how new, how strengthened.
    Slowly come back to the space where you are and take a few minutes to thank God for what you experienced.
  • Children might not think it such an odd thing that Jesus is washing their feet, because they are used to adults washing them, no matter how dirty they might be. So the challenge may be to ask them if there is someone they can be kind to, but who doesn't expect them to be kind.
  • While this sermon could be used at any point during the Lenten season, it would be especially appropriate on Maundy, or Holy, Thursday. Consider a live sermon, in which you act out the text. Have a table set up, with individuals reclining at the table and not objecting as Jesus washes their feet. Peter could develop his role even more to include part of the dialogue of the sermon.

From The Abingdon African American Preaching Library Volume 1, Kirk Byron Jones, Editor, Copyright © 2006 Abingdon Press.

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