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Risking Living in Our Bodies: Our Embodied God- Message from March 21, 2021

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Scripture: John 13: 3-16

Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Message: Risking Living in Our Bodies: Our Embodied God


I want to begin this morning with a little pop quiz for Lent. What?! You’re saying. Pastor, why are you trying to stress me out? Don’t worry, this won’t be graded, and you’re likely in your own home, so your answers are just for you. Ok, are you ready? Here’s the question. What are the two sacraments recognized by the United Methodist Church? If you said, Holy Communion and Baptism, you are correct! Now here is the extra credit portion. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes seven sacraments. In addition to Holy Communion and Baptism, what are the other five? This is actually pretty hard. I’ll give you some time….. The other five sacraments recognized by the Roman Catholic Church are confirmation, penance which is more commonly known as confession, the anointing of the sick, marriage, and ordination.

In both the United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church, a sacrament is understood as a means of God’s grace. These are rites in which God becomes manifest to us. One important distinction between our two denominations is that in the United Methodist Church we believe that God’s grace precedes us and in sacrament, we are acknowledging that preceding or prevenient as it’s sometimes called, grace. There’s nothing we can do to earn it and it is an all-saving grace. In the Roman Catholic Church, there is a dual emphasis in the sacrament on both grace and the achieving of salvation with the sacrament operating as a means to this salvation. In the United Methodist Church that though there’s no way to earn salvation, we can RESPOND to God’s grace and this response can lead to its own kind of union with God. So these rites have much in common, but there are some important theological differences.

We all derive our sacraments from acts that Jesus participated in or commanded. We remember Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John and the descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove. At that moment the voice of God was heard, saying, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And we remember Jesus’ later command in the gospels, “Go therefore unto all the nations and make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit.” And of course at the last supper, Jesus commanded us to eat of the bread and drink of the cup, his body and blood, in remembrance of him. There are clear instructions here, and so we have the sacraments of baptism and communion as we remember, experience, and carry forward the presence of God through the commandments of Jesus.

But there is another act where Jesus gives clear instructions to do as he did, but this act we haven’t embraced as a sacrament. In fact we rarely practice it. Do you know what it is? If you said footwashing, you are right.

In our scripture for today from John, we are at the scene of the last supper with Jesus and the disciples. And the scripture tells us that Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer clothes, and wraps a towel around his waist. This is a very physical description of what is taking place, with a focus on the body of Jesus. Then he begins to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that had been wrapped around him. Peter objects: the idea of Jesus washing his feet is too demeaning. But Jesus says, no, to follow me is to be the servant of all, to care for all. And Jesus says, “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.”

Some have argued that this is a clear instruction and that foot washing should also be a sacrament. But this idea has never gotten traction. Even at the traditional Maundy Thursday service, the day in Holy Week when we remember this night of foot washing and the last supper, foot washing is more often than not left out of the commemoration. Why? I submit to you this morning that it is because we are uncomfortable with our bodies as much now as Peter was then. I think his objection to Jesus washing his feet was about more than just that he thought taking on the work of a servant was demeaning for Jesus. In Jesus’ washing of his feet, Peter had to embrace the fact that he himself was a body, first and foremost. Peter preferred to think of himself in more lofty ways than just a body. But rather than his ego-fueled idea of himself as an honored disciple of the messiah, the material reality of Peter, like all of us, was that of being a body.

Our bodies are what we have in common, but we find all sorts of ways to dissociate from this fact. We are connected through the material realities of our bodies, but instead of recognizing this commonality, we find ways to say our bodies are not the same. Racism is one of these manifestations, and in this week’s tragic shooting in Georgia, we see a violent manifestation of a fundamentally sinful and dysfunctional relationship to one’s body and the bodies of other persons.

What does it mean that our God became a body, flesh and blood, and dwelt among us? Why is that so important? As a body, in the person of Jesus, God shows us that we are actually one body, the body of humanity that cannot escape our embodied existence. AND, in becoming embodied, God is demonstrating to us the sanctity of our bodies. The apostle Paul says in First Corinthians, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?...Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Jesus often referred to his body as a temple, a holy and sacred thin, worthy of honor and care.

What we have been through in the last year has been a crisis of the body. Pandemics happen because fundamentally we are all bodies, bodies who bleed, bodies with hearts and lungs that are strong and resilient but also at risk through the sheer and simple act of living. We are bodies who feel happiness, fear, and hope, and we are bodies that are vulnerable to illness and suffering and death. One of my current favorite authors is Suleika Jaoud, writer of the New York Times column “Life, Interrupted” which chronicles her journey with cancer as a young adult. She has written, “We are all terminal patients on this earth—the mystery is not “if” but “when” death appears in the plotline.

The mystery and message of the incarnation is that God came to us as a body. Like other bodies, this body had a name: Jesus; he had a gender: male; he was born into a culture and religion and had a skin tone. These differences don’t change the fact that all bodies are sacred, and when we do not act in ways that reflect that truth, we are perverting the action and vision of God.

Last week I was part of a Zoom gathering that marked one year since the pandemic began. Those present were in California, New York, Florida, Maine and Massachusetts. The rich and joyful and reflective conversation meandered through various topics, and at one point we discovered that both my sister-in-law who is in a Masters of Social Work program at Fordham in New York and another woman in the gathering who is a college student at the University of Southern Maine in Portland both are taking a class right now on the social determinants of health. Think about that for a moment. The social determinants of health. In the eyes of God, all bodies are equal, but on this earth, bodies have different experiences, some suffering more, being more vulnerable, more at risk by living in their particular body. These are the social determinants of whether one body enjoys health and life and another does not. This fact of life is why we don’t say “All lives matter” though of course it is true in an existential theological sense. We say Black Lives Matter because some bodies, Black bodies, Brown bodies, Asian and Pacific Islander bodies, queer bodies, differently-abled bodies are in danger. Black bodies, Brown bodies, Asian and Pacific Islander bodies, queer bodies, differently-abled bodies are in danger because we have failed to see all bodies as having sacred worth.

This last week the global office of United Methodist Women sponsored a webinar on soul and body care. The guests were a yoga teacher, a certified aromatherapist, and a spiritual director. Now this is what I’m talking about! Care for the body is care for the soul! This is what Jesus is trying to communicate to us, too. Last week, we explored the scene of a woman anointing Jesus’ feet with the costly nard. The disciples didn’t get it, but Jesus praised her, and instructed the disciples and us to share her story of extraordinary care for the body all over the world.

And this week, Jesus himself takes off his outer garments, signifying that he is casting off any honor or protection his clothing might carry. He wraps a towel around his waist, kneels on his knees, and washes feet. Feet! A part of the body that gets dirty and stinky, especially when walking around hot dusty roads in sandals. But instead of being repelled by this, he holds each foot with extraordinary care, demonstrating the sacredness of bodies and our obligation to honor each one.

I wonder if we were more able to be like Jesus and love every part of our bodies how our lives and our world would change. No body is perfect though there are billion dollar industries trying to manipulate us to focus on the achieving of bodily perfection. All this does is to distance us from our actual bodies, and from the fact that we are all connected as bodies. All this does is distance us from Jesus who came to us in body to care for our bodies.

How are you caring for your body? How are you treating it and loving it as sacred? How do you remind yourself that through the mere fact that you have lungs, a heart, veins, blood, breath, you are the same as everyone, and worthy of extraordinary care? I’m reminded of the immortal words of the poet Mary Oliver in her poem, Wild Geese, “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

It was on the same night that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet that he gave to them and to us a lasting gift and reminder that the embodiedness of his presence with us matters, and that we are one in body. On that night, he took bread and broke it, saying to his disciples, this is my body which is broken for you. He took the cup and shared it, saying this is my blood, poured out for you and for many. When we take the risk to truly honor and love all parts of our and others’ bodies, our innermost and outermost parts, we are one with the embodied Christ. When we offer extraordinary care as Jesus did, we are living out what he said as he knelt and washed feet, honoring his words as he said to us, “Go now, and do likewise.” Amen.


Order of Service (Bulletin) - March 21, 2021


Gathering Music: “Give me Jesus" - Charles Lynch

Entering the Story - Rev. Kristin Stoneking & Annette Cayot

Prayer of Confession - Willa Seldon

Assurance of Pardon - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Opening Hymn: "He Knelt to Wash the Feet of Friends” (Tune: UMH #318) - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Carole Klokkevold


Listening for the Story: John 13: 3-16 - Willa Seldon

Children's Message - Susan Jardin

Anthem: “Don’t Wait For Me" by Josh Gerrals - Judy Kriege

Dwelling in the Story: "Jesus Washes the Disciples Feet" - Sharon Strachan

Message: “Risking the Loss of Friends" - Rev. Kristin Stoneking


Hymn of Response: "Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love" UM Hymnal #432 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Jonah Arreola-Burl

Call for Prayer -Orion Lacey

Special Music: “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" UM Hymnal #349 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Cathryn Bruno

The Prayer Jesus Taught (Lord's Prayer) - Willa Seldon

Offerings and Opportunities - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Offertory Music: “The Bread of Life for All Is Broken" UM Hymnal #633- Rev. Jerry Asheim & Jonah Arreola-Burl


Prayer of Dedication - Janene Kuan

Closing Hymn: “What Wondrous Love is This" UM Hymnal #292 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Carole Klokkevold

Benediction - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Postlude: “For Yours is the Power and the Glory Forever" comp. Mendelssohn - Rev. Jerry Asheim


Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Contributors: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Jonah Arreola-Burl, Cathryn Bruno, Annette Cayot, Susan Jardin, Carole Klokkevold, Judy Kriege, Orion Lacey, Charles Lynch, Willa Seldon, Sharon Strachan

Congratulations and thank you to our Stephen Ministers: Connie Adachi, Pat Anderson, MaAn Barcelo, Pat Bruce Lerrigo, Beverly Dance, Maria Gallo, Melanie Green, Shan McSpadden, Willa Seldon, Katherine Whitney, Becky Wheat.

Offertory photos courtesy Dre Berendsen

Video producer: Tai Jokela

Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey

Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt


Liturgy and Design © 2019, adapted by permission.

Prayer of Dedication © 2021 enfleshed

Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE # A-733809, CCLI Copyright license # 20022935, & CCLI Streaming license # 20476749. All rights reserved.

Art in "Entering the Story"

  • Le Breton, Jacques; Gaudin, Jean. Christ washes the feet of the Apostles, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 16, 2021].

  • Unknown Artist. Beaded tapestry of Jesus washing the discples feet. Photographed by Rev. Jerry Asheim

  • JESUS MAFA. Jesus washes his disciples feet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 16, 2021]. Original source: (contact page:

  • Paynter, David, 1900-1975. Jesus washing the disciples' feet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 16, 2021]. Original source:

​Art in "Dwelling in the Story"

  • Paynter, David, 1900-1975. Jesus washing the disciples' feet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 16, 2021]. Original source:


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