Waimea United Church of Christ


John 13:1-20                   “Set An Example”


            Some years back I went into a local coffee shop to order a cup of coffee. While I was standing in line to place my order, I noticed under a glass dome cover some baked goods that looked very fine indeed. The shop had a brownie, a croissant, and a breakfast roll on display. As it was now my turn to place my order I asked for my cappuccino and if I could not add that fine looking breakfast roll as well.

            The barrista apologized and said that they were out of the breakfast roll. I looked at her for a moment. Then, I asked if I could have the one that was under the glass. She gave me a quizzical look and asked, “Really, you want to eat that one?”

            “Why not? Is it stale?” I asked.

            “Go ahead help yourself, if you can eat it I will not even charge you.”

            I lifted up the glass dome off of the plate and grabbed for the roll. It was a cleverly painted piece of plaster artwork. You see, it was not a “roll” but only a “roll model.” And, that is what we are talking about this morning: roll models!


            How would you know it, if you had made it to the status of being a roll model in this day and age? How would you know if others are looking at your life and have decided to set your life as an example for their own living? This last week in the Garden Island Newspaper the answer popped up at me. I read the article about how First Hawaiian Bank raised over $100,000 dollars for charity by selling Marcus Marriota dashboard bubblehead dolls.

            You know that you have made it as a roll model in this world when your head is bobbing on somebody else’s dashboard. So, I checked the internet to find out who was the most popular bobblehead right now. Who do you think it is? I know that usually when I ask such a question you all are supposed to answer “Jesus.” The most popular bobblehead is actually a grinning Chihuahua. The Hawaiian hula dancer girl is in the top five. Okay, I think we are in trouble in our modern society!

            I am happy to say that I have seen many a Jesus bobblehead on a dashboard in my day. I do not own one, but I am encouraged that people would still choose Jesus as a bobblehead for their dashboards! In our scripture for today, we read Jesus’ telling His disciples that “He sets an example for them to follow.”


            You see, a roll model is different than being a teacher. With a teacher, you are graded on what you hear and what you are taught. You do as you are told, and you are rewarded. With a roll model, you try to do what that other person is doing. You take on that person’s life as an example for your own.

            For us Christians, that means our going way beyond simply internalizing the teachings of Jesus. We must look to the life of Christ as the model of our own lives here and now.

            Whoa, how do we model Jesus’ life? How do I live the way that Christ lived? This is incredibly important because our Christian understanding is that “We are the body of Christ today in the world.” WE read that again and again in the Bible. There it is in Romans 12. Again we read it in I Corinthians 12, and so on with reference after reference that WE ARE Christ in the world today. People are supposed to look at us, and see Jesus! How do we do that?

            Romans 12:1 “. . . Present our bodies as a loving sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship.” We can continue to read in Romans 12 how Saint Paul views this task of presenting Christ to the world through our own bodies, but I want to focus on what Jesus said in John 13.

            Jesus bent down at the feet of his own students and washed their feet at the time of the Passover, just before his betrayal and crucifixion. He then told his students, “You must do this if you want any part of me.” “You have to do this to one another.” Despite protestations, they then allow their master to set this example of service and humility with their own feet being washed by Jesus.


            You see, Paul’s understanding of being the “body of Christ,” may be a bit too ethereal. Jesus just gets down on his knees and busy with the dirty work of blessing others! Mike Vidinha share an incredible example from his own life during the Tuesday Bible Study. He gave me permission to share it. Thank you, Mike.

            Mike, of course as many of you know, is a plumber and used to work for Gay and Robinson. One day he had the job of re-plumbing one of their buildings. To do this job, he was given an assistant by the company. So, Mike crawls under the building and asks his newly appointed assistant to hand him the lengths of new pipe from outside. One-by-one all of the pieces are in brought into place under the building, so Mike calls for his assistant to now crawl under the building with him to help with the joining and soldering of the copper.

            “I am not crawling under the building!” replies the new assistant. “It is dirty under there. I am not getting dirty.” Mike calls to him that one cannot do the job of a plumber without getting dirty. This is a truth that I will attest to myself. Most pipes are to be found in dirty places. It is just part of the job to get dirt on you.

            The assistant refused to get dirty. So, Mike told him that he was worthless as an assistant told him he was off the job, that he could simply go home. The assistant responded, “You cannot fire me! I was hired by Gay and Robinson to be your assistant!” Ha ha! We all know what happened after that. I do not have to complete the story.

            So, it is the same with Jesus and his disciples. The disciples up until this point have been Jesus’ assistants standing outside of the ministry handing him things that he needs. Now, as the hour of his passing draws close, he tells the disciples that it is time to get down and dirty in the ministry. No more just standing around! “You do what I am doing, or you are out!” says Jesus. Then, Jesus gets down to clean the feet of His disciples. He gets dirty.


            Do the disciples get the message? Do they understand what they are to do now? To be sure, the bible does not mention ever that the disciples do what they are told to do in that moment. They are supposed to wash one another’s feet. Do they? No mention of this in the bible. It is in fact interesting to note that the best that we can tell from our reading is that everyone’s feet in the upper room at that Passover time were washed with the exception of Jesus! You would think that the disciples would be quick to understand the message and start washing one another’s feet right there and then. Nope, this does not happen.

            According to the bible, who does wash Jesus’ feet? It is none other than Mary of Bethany. We can read this story in the previous chapter (John 12). She breaks open the alabaster jar of perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet with own hair! As usual, the women get it, and the men do not. That is a strangely recurring theme in the Bible! Mary does this even before Jesus admonishes his disciples to do this! Go women!

            Interesting to note is that it was only last year (2016) that the Roman Catholic Church officially allowed the washing of women’s feet as an acceptable rite (but not a sacrament) of the church! This allowance for women came three years after Pope Francis washed three Muslims’ feet in 2013, and one of those was a woman! Yes, it seems as if it has really taken us two thousand years to get to that point of actually following the example of Christ in the church!


            I have used this example before and have told this story before with all of you, so please indulge me once again: This passage about foot washing is that in fact the last sermon I preached as a missionary in Thailand. It was a Friday morning chapel service at the Chiang Mai Christian School. I had asked twelve very fine students to set on the steps in the old church and allow me to wash their feet before I and my family would leave the country.

            In Thailand, the culture says that the feet are never ever to be touched. Pointing the foot at someone is itself an insult. There had been a missionary before who had put his feet up on the desk of a classroom and was therefore told to leave the country. Now, I was going to do the unthinkable and actually wash students’ feet in public. Well, we were set to leave the country the next week anyway, and I had been waiting four years to just preach this sermon.

            When I got down before the school and began to wash the children’s feet there was a gasp from the teachers and administration. I read the scripture, that many had never heard because it was generally skipped over in Thailand as being too radical. I could see the anger in the eyes of staff. I had truly insulted their cultural sensibilities.

            The last week that we were in Thailand, a lot of people did not talk to us. Only a few came to the airport to see us off. Yet, I had to tell the children that this is what Jesus told his followers to do. For the children, I am glad I did it!


            That is what it means to get down and dirty with Jesus. That is what it means to set that example that Jesus told us to set for the world. When people see us, they are supposed to see Jesus, His humility, and His sacrifice.