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21st Century Foot Washing

Years ago when I was pastoring, we had a group of people who would go to a particular place where the homeless in Cincinnati would meet and serve a simple lunch with everyone, hang out, talk, play cards, and pray with folks. Every Saturday—rain, sleet, snow, or hail.

One summer morning, the homeless community pulled a surprise on them. A friend of mine emailed me about it. He wrote: “When we were through, we packed up as usual. But then the team was asked to stop over across the street for a minute. As we walked over there, someone directed us to sit on the cement wall. There were the people we had just served. As we sat down, we noticed they each had a bowl and a cloth, and we thought, ‘What’s going on?’ “They each began to read from a note in their hands. ‘Silver and gold have we none, but what we have we give to you.’ Yes, these were people that didn’t have silver and gold – these were the ‘poor and homeless’ and they had nothing. But ‘what we have we give to you’…what did they mean by that? Then they began to read some scriptures about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, and how we should do the same. They were going to wash our feet! All of a sudden my mind began racing. I was used to serving them, but here they were, turning things upside down. “A maze of emotions hit me. A cloud of bewilderment and humility fell on me. Standing in front of me was a tall, muscular man with a gentle smile on his face. His gold tooth sparkled as he continued to smile while kneeling down at my feet. He gently lifted my ankle over the basin, dipped the cloth in the water, and lovingly washed my feet as if they were a precious gem he was handling. Then he poured some oil over them, looked at me and said ‘May you always walk with Jesus.’ At this point I could no longer hold back the tears. “He stood up and leaned over and gave me a hug. Then he gave me a card that said ‘______ is praying for you today.’ He had forgotten to write in his name so I’d know who was praying for me. But I know I will never forget his face as long as I live. The love, joy and humility I felt will always remain with me. And I thank God that I was chosen to be one of those receiving such a precious gift, that ‘all they had, they gave to me.’” Powerful, eh? Foot-washing has, of course, lost its meaning in our culture. Centuries ago, it was the job of the house-slave to do that for guests with dusty, sandaled feet. In today’s churches, that would freak everyone. So we attempted to find the jobs outside the church that were the “lowest on the food chain” and then do them for others. If you’ve ever worked a summer at a car wash…or had the gig of cleaning the bathroom at your place of employment…you understand what a shock that is to have someone offer that for free. Once I was speaking to the volunteer leaders of our prayer team ministry and after I had prayed for them, they asked me to sit down and remove my shoes. I got very, very nervous and uncomfortable. Then they brought a basin out and washed my feet and poured oil over them. I can’t express how humbled I was by this. It made me speechless…and I cried on the drive home. As out-of-place and awkward “foot-washing” is in our culture, I had never experienced anything like that. An act of humility on their part triggered a flood of humility in me. I felt unworthy but strangely loved at the same time. I really can’t explain it. If humbling ourselves is the way into the Kingdom, what a pathway that is to someone on the outside. I’m not inferring that we introduce foot-washing in the church. But I am suggesting that as leaders we must build a servanthood mindset into our church culture. It's a vital part of the discipling process. And not just serving internally—I mean particularly serving those outside the four walls, perhaps expressing that in unglamorous works of service. It has a powerful effect on the one served…and the servers themselves. Dave Workman | The Elemental Group

Foot Washing in Cincinnati Ohio in the 21st Century...


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