It’s Holy week, which means our house is a busy one, two pastors preparing sermons for the best celebration of the year, Easter! This year, life on the farm provided a deeper understanding of the kind of love Jesus shares with us over and over and over again. Here is an excerpt from my Maundy Thursday sermon this Holy Week…
As a family, Grant, the kids and I all had the goal of adding some animals to our acreage this past year. We began with cats last March to help tend to the mouse population. Then, in July we added a pregnant dairy cow (who is due any day now). In August, we added one puppy to tend to the dwindling cat population because of the coyotes. That puppy died suddenly of unknown causes, so we replaced it with two more puppies (probably a husband’s mercy, or weak moment, to an insanely grieving wife)! And in August, we added two beef cows to keep the dairy cow company. That’s a lot! I’d say we did pretty well accomplishing our goal, don’t you think?! And I’d have to say it’s been really fun for all of us to have the barn full of our little and big friends. Our whole family enjoys chore time in the barn. Well, most of the time.
We purchased all of our animals while the weather was pleasant for a reason, so we could get used to taking care of them while the conditions were favorable! Because eventually, the temps started to drop, the kids had to pile on insulated overalls and chore coats. And that adjustment went ok, but I have to admit it wasn’t without its rocky moments. Right around January, the brutal cold and wind set in and they were enough to take your breath away. But the animals still needed fed. So, we had mercy on the kids, we made a deal with them, the deal was this: as soon as the temperature dropped below double digits, whether it was due to wind or just the plain temperature, Daddy would do the chores for us, keeping us all safe and warm and happy.
So, this little deal went over pretty well with the kids (and me), until we hit a really long spell of single digits and wind chill days. I don’t remember what part of winter it was exactly, late January, maybe February. But, what I do remember is that Grant did chores, by himself, twice a day without complaining, for I’m pretty sure what may have been at least a few weeks straight. We were all grateful, and warm, thanks to him. Until the day came when we all had to re-enter the choring routine.
The first day the temp finally reached the teens and we all headed out to put on our chore gear. And what do you think happened?! What came out of my sweet children’s mouths was NOT gratitude, like they had when Dad did chores for them, but complaint after complaint! “I’m cold” “I don’t want to go” “I don’t like this,” wah, wah, wah, lots and lots of whining (I guess I’m not the only stubborn one in the family)! Words that had rarely left their mouths before were pouring out like a flood! Forget any memory of all the days they were spared from the most brutal cold, there was not an ounce of gratitude. And I was mad at my little ungrateful bunch, just plain mad!!
Until I realized this was a perfect opportunity for a little lesson. A lesson on love. In a rare and wise mommy moment, that must have come from on high, I launched into an object lesson with hopes that something would stick, and maybe, just maybe the complaints might stop. Here is how it went:
“Hey kids, do you love those animals of yours?” And of course they replied “Yes, yes, we do!” “Oh good! Now, do you LIKE taking care of them in the cold?” Which, of course, I already knew the answer to this one, but they replied anyway: “NO way, we don’t!” So I continued: “OK, how about your daddy. Do you think HE likes taking care of the animals in the cold??” There was some hesitation to that answer, because Daddy of course never complains about it. So I chimed in…“Let me tell you what, if it wasn’t clear to you before….Daddy DOES NOT like taking care of the animals in the cold! But he does it anyway. Why do you think he does that?” At this point there were a few light bulbs going off, and the answers were approaching what I was looking for, so I continued…. “Daddy feeds the animals and scoops the manure in the bitter cold, and let’s you stay in here because he loves the animals, but even more so because he loves you and me! He does it to serve us, because that’s what real love does-real love serves others! So, let me recap. Your daddy DOES NOT, I repeat DOES NOT like choring when it is bone chilling cold outside, but because he loves us, he does it anyway. Love does things that may not be pleasant or enjoyable, because love, real love serves. So, kids, let me ask you again: Do you love those animals out there? OK, well then, let’s go serve them.”
Now, I wish I could tell you that my kids never complained again after that. After all, they are human, but at least we got a chance to talk about true love, the kind that serves the other. And if they remember one thing when they have to haul out to the barn the next time it’s miserable outside, I hope they remember they do it out of love. And maybe, just maybe that will translate to something else later in life if we are lucky.
This kind of object lesson about love is exactly what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples in The gospel of John chapter 13. Jesus knew he was about to die. He had had plenty of opportunities to teach his disciples, to minister to them and the crowds, to show them what his love and the love of his father looked like. But right about the time they will face the biggest challenge of their lives, losing Jesus to death and the grave, he does something remarkable. He gives the disciples this little object lesson on real love, the kind of love that serves the other. The kind of love that washes feet. It goes like this:
John 13:3-5 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table,took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
Now, before we glorify the whole washing feet thing, I want you to imagine what feet might have been exposed to back in Jesus time. What do you think the most widely used method of transportation was during Jesus’ time? You got it, your own two feet! Now, the climate in the area where Jesus lived and traveled was fairly mild. Low daytime temperatures in the Holy Land were around 50 degrees in the winter. So what kinds of shoes do you think people wore back then? Yup, sandals! And what kinds of materials do you think the roads were made of back then? Asphalt, concrete, gravel? Nope, just plain dirt!
So, NOW imagine, what kind of feet Jesus was about to wash. You know sandal season is quickly approaching, most people nowadays like their feet presentable, maybe even pedicured if they are going to expose them to others. But this was far from the case with the disciples! It was the norm that feet were one of the dirtiest parts of someone’s body back then, that’s why it was customary for a servant of the household to wash a guest’s feet before they entered someone’s home. Yes, that’s right, a servant, not the master of the household. They were the ones who prepared the food, cooked, cleaned, served and of course, washed the feet of the guests as they arrived. Not unlike today, when those who do some of the dirtiest jobs are the lowest on the pay grade.
Yet Jesus takes it upon himself to grab a towel and serve those He loved the most. We’ve already figured out that the job itself was a disgusting one, washing feet that had dirt caked on them. And now, it’s really clear that the role of the person washing feet wasn’t a high profile one either, it was a lowly servant. So I have to believe that Jesus himself didn’t pick up this towel and wash feet because he LIKED doing it, or because he really desired such a role. But he did it out of love-real love, the kind of love that serves!
The rest of the days of our Holy Week are filled with examples of Jesus taking up his cross, the undesirable, wretched roles all because he loves us! The story of the God who loves in the form of service, not power or coercion or even fame. I invite you to see this love show up, not just in the washing of feet, but in the many ways God serves us with a sacrificial love so that we might live! I hope this Easter you will see God’s serving love for you in new ways. John 3:16 says it well… “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that we who believe in him would not perish but have life eternal.”
Happy Easter from the Woodley family farm to yours!