Walt Disney once said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” But the truth is, well before his death in 1966, Walt Disney had turned his imagination away from Disneyland. That’s because it didn't take long after Disneyland first opened its gates in 1955 for Walt to realize that it would never be the magical kingdom he truly imagined.
You see, the piece of property that Disneyland was built on was never going to be big enough to hold all of Disney's dreams, and the population boom occurring around Anaheim, California at the time made it impossible to expand the park. Plus there were logistical matters at Disneyland that drove Walt crazy, like when he saw an employee wearing a cowboy costume walking through the futuristic Tomorrowland to get to his station somewhere else in the park. Walt was terrified that seeing a cowboy in that futuristic world would disrupt the magical experience of his guests, but there was nothing he could do about it…unless he built another park.
And that's exactly what Walt Disney turned his attention to in the early 60s. In what Disney dubbed “The Florida Project,” Walt went about building the place he had always dreamed of. He purchased 40 square miles of land in central Florida, which is about the same size as the city of San Francisco. And over the last 60 years, Walt Disney's dreams have taken on a life of their own in the sunshine state.
To date, the Disney company has opened four theme parks in central Florida covering 1,100 acres. They employ over 77,000 “cast members” to work in these parks. And they welcome over 58 million people to the most magical place on earth each year.
Now, most of you know that my family are pretty big fans of Disney World, and we have visited Disney World about a half dozen times. But back in 2011, Ashley and I made our very first trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth. But long before we ever set foot in a Disney Park, we realized that you don't just visit Disney World. And that’s because if you just visit Disney World for a day, you'd probably be able to enjoy about nine of Disney's attractions...the problem is that Disney has 165 different attractions to experience. And when you realize that a daily ticket to one of the theme parks will set you back more than a hundred bucks, you want to pack in a lot more than nine rides.
So Ashley and I knew we needed to prepare for this vacation like we had never prepared for any vacation before. The truth is, I probably spent more time in front of my computer planning my first trip to Disney World than I spent studying during my first semester of college. There's just so much to see and do, and experience at Disney World and I didn’t want to miss any of it.
Even things that would be easy to plan for most vacations can take a lot of time to plan when it comes to Disney. Like booking a hotel room. If you're going to stay on property at a Disney-owned resort, there are 32 different resorts to choose from with more than 36,000 rooms available. And figuring out where you'll eat is just as challenging. During our first trip, Ashley and I were spending 6 days at Disney, which gave us the chance to plan out 18 meals...but Disney has almost 400 restaurants that cover everything from classic Americana to African cuisine.
And if picking out a hotel room and making dinner plans – things that you have to do with every vacation - are this challenging at Disney, imagine what it's like when you finally turn your attention to the theme parks. And to be perfectly honest, when Ashley and I finally began preparing for our time in each park, it felt like we needed to consult Neil deGrasse Tyson or at least Bill Nye the Science Guy. Over the course of six months, we learned about behavioral patterns and which rides people tended to flock to first. We learned about the Fast Pass system Disney had at the time, and how to minimize the time we spent in line. We learned about the most popular rides, and how to beat the crowds. So by the time we were finished, I felt like I had earned a Ph.D. in Disney.
Now, you may not be as big a fan of Disney as my family, but you've probably found yourself in a situation like the one Ashley and I did before our first trip to Disney World. You’ve found yourself in a situation where you had to put in the work to get the results you wanted.
If you’re the hyper-organized vacation planner who pores over every detail of your trip, you’re used to putting in work so you can really enjoy your vacation. So you don’t have any problem comparing hotels, checking out restaurant reviews, and coming up with an itinerary to make sure you get the best bang for your vacation buck.
Or you may have put in a lot of work before you bought your last car to make sure you got exactly what you wanted. So there were makes and models you had to compare. There were questions you had to be able to answer about fuel economy. Then you had to figure out which dealership you wanted to buy from so you could go out and test drive a couple of different options. But you were willing to put in the work to get the result you wanted.
Or maybe you put a ton of effort into picking out the last Bible that you bought. Now, if you've ever searched for a Bible on Amazon or even casually glanced at the Bible section at Barnes & Noble, you know how big a task choosing a Bible can be. The Bible has been translated into over 700 different languages, and there are over a hundred different English versions alone. Some of them attempt word-for-word translations from the original Greek and Hebrew while others prefer to paraphrase. Some are published in large print, some have red-letter editions. You can choose from paperback, hardback, or leather bound. So you can put a lot of work into picking out a Bible.
But what does any of this have to do with us? Well, we are currently in a season that we, in the church call Lent. And I personally like the way that the author Sarah Parsons describes Lent in her book A Clearing Season when she writes that Lent is a time when we:
look at our lives and ourselves, not so we may criticize ourselves more harshly but so we can identify the obstructions that keep us from following God.
Now, if we’re willing to do what Sarah Parsons says – if we’re willing to look at our lives and identify the obstructions that keep us from following God – then we have to admit that even though we know it takes work to plan a vacation, or purchase a new car, or even pick out a new Bible…we forget that it takes work to follow Jesus.
We forget that it takes work to follow Jesus.
I mean, just stop and think about it for a second. The word follow is a verb, and verbs express action. So, if we’re going to follow Jesus it takes action. And that’s something that Jesus is going to show us in the scripture passage that I want us to take a closer look at today. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn with me to John 13. And, as you’re finding John 13, let me give you a little bit of background on this passage.
So days before this passage begins, Jesus and his disciples had entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. During their time in the city, Jesus had appointed a few of his disciples to prepare a place for the group to share the Passover meal. And at the appropriate time, the group began to gather in that upper room, each one entering and taking his seat at the table...and that's all that they did.
None of the disciples were down in the kitchen helping roast the lamb. None of the disciples were at the china cabinet getting ready to set the table. None of the disciples were down in the cellar picking out the perfect wine to go with their meal. None of the disciples had even bothered to wash up before dinner was served. They were all just sitting back and relaxing.
And that was a problem because in the first-century people ate differently than we do today. In the first- century, people didn't sit on couches, bar stools, or dining room chairs...they sat on the floor. And that meant that their sweaty, dusty, nasty feet were well within sniffing distance of everyone else sitting at the table.
That's why it was a custom to provide water and towels and usually a servant to anyone who came over to dinner. Everyone needed to clean up but no one wanted to do it. So the lowest servants and slaves in the household usually ended up with the task. But when it came to Jesus's meal with his disciples in the upper room, there was no servant to undertake this unpleasant task.
So the disciples skipped washing up, preferring to smell each other's stinking feet to actually serve one another. And that's where our scripture reading for today begins. So let's take a look at John 13 and we’ll start reading in verse 2. It says:
2 Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal...4 [Jesus] got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. 6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”
8 “No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”
9 Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
10 Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”
12 After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.
John 13:2-15 (Common English Bible)
As this passage draws to an end, Jesus asks his disciples “Do you know what I've done for you?” And that seems like an easy question to answer…Jesus has washed their feet. But what Jesus did for his disciples that evening goes so much deeper than that.
On that night, Jesus did something that as best we can tell no other leader, teacher, or ruler in that era ever dared to do. He humbled himself to the position of the lowest servant...and he served the people who called him master. And that clearly made his followers uncomfortable, even the great Simon Peter told Jesus he would never wash his feet.
But why did it make them so uncomfortable? It made them uncomfortable because we live in a world that looks down on servants. I mean, just pay attention the next time you’re eating at a sit-down restaurant. No one will make eye contact with their waitress or waiter...because they're only a servant. Or watch the next time you're standing in line at Kroger and you'll notice that no one ever takes their eyes off of their groceries to interact with the cashier. That's just not the way the world works. We live in a world that celebrates the ones who are served…not the ones who serve.
But just by getting up from that table, taking off his robes and replacing them with a towel, and kneeling down to wash his disciple's feet; Jesus changed that. By washing his disciple's feet, Jesus not only prepared his disciples for the meal they were about to share together, but Jesus also showed us what it takes to follow him. If we are going to follow Jesus we have to serve.
If we are going to follow Jesus we have to serve.
But to steal the question that Jesus asked his disciples, do we know what Jesus has done for us? Do we understand the example he showed us? Do we get what it takes to follow him?
It's kind of like when Ashley and I planned our first Disney vacation. All of the hours we spent researching hotels, restaurants, and park attractions meant absolutely nothing...until we put it to work. Sure, we may have known what attractions filled up first, but that didn’t matter until we were racing to attractions to try to beat the line. And we may have known exactly what restaurants we were going to eat at, but that didn’t matter until we showed up for our reservations.
What Jesus did at that table doesn’t mean a thing, unless we follow his example. And that brings me to back to what Sarah Parsons had to say about Lent, because after she said that Lent is a time when we identify the obstructions that keep us from God she goes on to say:
Lent gives us a chance to look at such obstructions and to move them gently away so that we can come closer to the one that gives us life, the one whose triumph we will celebrate on Easter morning.
So Lent isn’t just a time when we realize that there are things that keep us from God…it’s also a time when we recommit ourselves to following God. So throughout the season of Lent, we’re talking about what it really means to follow God. But that’s not all we’re doing.
During this season, we’re working our way through a series of sermons called Follow Me? And this series title isn’t a statement it’s a question. Because following Jesus is a choice.
Following Jesus is a choice.
So today you’ve heard what it takes to follow Jesus. You’ve heard that you have to put in work, that you have to serve others to follow Jesus. But it’s up to you to decide if you’re going to put in the work. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to serve others. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to follow Jesus. But if you’re going to follow Jesus you need to be ready to work.