Then [Jesus] poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
-John 13:5-10a, 12-17 (NRSV)
You probably know that before serving as your pastor I was the Associate Director of Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp in Lakeside, MT. During my eight years in outdoor ministry, at the risk of saying something gross, I saw a lot of dirty feet. The feet of our camp counselors were especially dirty on Thursday nights. After a week of leading children and youth on hiking trails and whitewater rafting trips, performing kitchen and maintenance duties, facilitating team building activities and games, and leading Bible studies in the grass and spilling paint in the art barn, the counselors’ feet were just plain dirty. To top it all off, the vast majority of counselors wore sandals, which made it obvious just how dirty their feet had become.
But, having dirty feet at the end of the week was a very good thing. It was a symbol of the miles upon miles walked to explore God’s creation with campers. It was a symbol of the hours singing and dancing, worshipping around a campfire. It was a symbol of sitting on the ground consoling a homesick camper or sitting on a rock with a fellow staff member creating memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Having dirty feet was truly a very good thing. I would even say it was a sacred thing.
Indeed, we all have dirty feet. As we journey through faith and life there are experiences, moments, memories, and epiphanies that cling to us. The dirt we carry shapes who and whose we are as children of God. We share many common stories while also carrying dirt that is unique to each of us. It is our dirty feet that Christ our Lord takes into his hands. It is our experiences and stories that Jesus holds close. He extends his arms to embrace our good dirt and bad dirt, our joys and our struggles. Everything that shapes who you are today is taken upon by Christ to claim you as his own.
When we are washed in Christ our identity is changed. We are united as one in his body, commissioned to become his hands and feet in this world. When Jesus instructs us to wash the feet of others he is heartening us to abide with our sisters and brothers in the midst of their own joys and challenges. All of this is for the sake of building Christian community and growing God’s kingdom.
Know that Christ’s embrace of you will never end, and be bold in embracing others in his name. Trust that the dirt on our feet from our journeys of faith and life are in his hands. And, may God bless you to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a world in need of his love, compassion, accompaniment, and salvation.