Articles from the July 1997 Unification News

The Foot-Washing: Meeting With God

by Martin Herbst

This is the second of two excerpts from the Sunday sermon given at Unification Theological Seminary, April 20, 1997. Martin is currently at UTS and was the church leader in Slovenia for the last three years.

A second lesson we can learn from the Biblical story of Jesus washing his disciples feet is that God's love is given for history and the entire world. It is, in other words, universal. Whenever God does something, His motivation is universal. When God created the very first human beings, Adam and Eve, it was with a universal purpose in mind. If Adam and Eve had understood the cosmic significance of their existence and relationship, would they have fallen?

To connect truly to the vibrating love of God, our motivation and attitude must resemble that of God. When Jesus bowed down and washed the dirty feet of the disciples-even the feet of the one who betrayed him-he did it, not just for them, but for all mankind. Jesus saw in them the representatives of all mankind and all human history. This heart of universal love created a very solemn atmosphere, which made it possible for them to sense the presence of God. But at first Peter does not really catch this aspect of Jesus' heart. Peter exclaims, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet? ... You will never wash my feet" (John 13:6-8). And when he finds out that his connection to Jesus depends on this act, he changes and says, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" (John 13:9) Again Jesus has to correct him, for Peter has entirely missed the point. For the point is not just little Peter-it is the whole world. It is not just a question of individual salvation, but a matter of universal restoration; it is a matter of setting a tradition of love.

My concern is not to judge Peter, but to share a lesson with you. If we just look at Christ from our own personal perspective, we will-simply speaking-not catch his heart, and might even lose our connection with him altogether. Many people have lost faith in Christ out of personal reasons, but our connection to the Messiah must be historical and universal beyond everyday reality. Here Jesus is revealing a fundamental aspect of God's love. In order for us to connect to it, we must likewise look at our spouse, children, neighbors, friends and strangers with more than just personal viewpoints.

When I came to America, I realized that many brothers and sisters have lost their faith or inspiration. But when I analyzed the matter more deeply, I found that usually these breakdowns were motivated by personal reasons. Personal reasons and emotions are important, but they must not rule our relationship to God's Providence and True Parents. Many times we have to go beyond our own personal perspective and see the Messiah and our lives from an historical perspective. We are historical beings with historical motivations.

Today I came here to deliver this Sunday sermon. But the real question is: to whom am I speaking? Am I speaking to a group of faculty members, students and guests who are more or less supposed to be here? Or am I addressing the very representatives of all mankind, God's holy sons and daughters, my beloved elder and younger brothers and sisters? With what kind of mind-set did I prepare this sermon? And when I come home, do I look at my wife as a representative of all women, even of God, or do I just see my wife? That is the question, isn't it? And only I can answer it. Each one of us is called to decide. It is a decision made in secret within your own mind, but it makes a world of difference. To truly encounter the explosive, liberating sensation of God's love, we cannot drag Him down to our level. Instead, we must take a step into the darkness, over the cliff of our own limited world, into a realm of a different mind-set-a universal motivation. As much as Jesus saw God and the whole world in his disciples, so must we attempt to do the same. This is the way of a disciple of Christ.

A passage of Principle concerning Abraham's offerings states: "These three sacrifices symbolized the cosmos, which was completed through the three stages of the growing period" (Exposition of the Divine Principle, 1996, p. 209). How on earth did Rev. Moon come to the realization that these three offerings actually represented the entire cosmos? Did he read it somewhere in a theological journal? I doubt it. Or did some angel whisper it into his ear during an early morning prayer? I don't think so. The reason he could sense this motivation behind God asking Abraham to bring the offering is that he lived precisely with this motivation himself. Living with this motivation made it possible for him to discover God's universal heart in the smallest of things. It is the same for you and me. Our motivation and purpose must be for more than ourselves. We too must live our lives with a sense of history and for all mankind.

A Deeply Personal Level

The third and final lesson we can learn from this story is that as much as true love is universal, it is also shared on a deeply personal level. The love of God is universal but the universal finds its expression in the personal. There is no contradiction. Here in our story, there is a moving conversation between Jesus and Peter. Jesus is very well aware of Peter's character, but in a loving way he guides him to the proper perspective: "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me" (John 13:8). Jesus then continues: "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" (John 13:14-15). It is interesting that Jesus criticizes Peter. It is often through criticism that our personal relationships are developed, for it takes both courage and personal concern to point out a friend's mistake, as well as humility to receive the guidance. Despite Peter's obvious lack of understanding, let us not forget that he of all the disciples was the only one who had the trust and courage to speak out what the others might have felt.

Again and again I have come to the conclusion that what really makes a relationship or organization efficient is the depth of the personal relationships, not just the loyalty to abstract positions. There in the personal exchange of ideas and feelings, we make it possible for God to work in the most profound way. Think about how True Father would care with all his heart for each single member in the early days in Korea. Through these personal bonds, the roots were made for what we know see unfolding on the world-wide level. We must remember this element in True Parents' ministry and apply it in our own lives.

During my years as a pastor, I have had a recurring experience which perhaps you may recognize in your own life. It has to do with counseling. Often I would counsel a person, and sometimes the person would thank me ever so much for my advice, which he had never heard before-he claimed. But the point is that I had been repeating exactly that advice at least a hundred times during my sermons! Why was he never able to catch it before? Because sometimes, indeed many times, we only discover the truth when it is brought to us in a deeply personal way.

We need to nurture heart to heart conversations; otherwise, we will not be able to create the environment for things to grow and bear fruit. This is especially true if we want to be vessels through whom God may work to fulfill His plan to save the world. Let me illustrate this with an example. Do you sometimes watch action movies? Most action movies follow a similar pattern. We have a hero or heroine, a terrible devil of some sort, and usually the world-perhaps even the entire cosmos-is at stake. Naturally, our hero must have universal, unselfish motivation, but when you watch closely you will find that his real strength lies in his abilities to establish a personal connection to someone, be it a friend, a son, a father, or even an animal. In other words, the final power and secret to win the victory over evil and the liberation of the cosmos lies in his personal commitments and relationships. This is also true in our daily lives. When someone remembers us or discovers aspects of our character which we thought only we knew, we feel moved and invigorated.

I want to share a little story with you; you may find it silly, but it means a lot to me. Just recently I had a birthday. It was remembered by some friends but, given my modest reputation, it was-as you might suspect-forgotten by most. But then this little letter came in through the letter box. It was a birthday greeting from the president of the European Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. I was actually moved, for there is no reason why he, who is responsible for so many projects and people, should remember my birthday. My critical mind began to operate, and I felt compelled to check whether this was just a print-out from the computer. But, after having scrutinized the letter and the signature, I came to the conclusion that this was indeed a real card with an authentic signature! I think all of us have similar experiences. Yes, we humans are sensitive beings, and we will never forget it when we are loved in a personal way.

So, to truly meet and live with God we must remember these three points: 1) We must not be afraid of going to the lowest possible place. 2) When we give, we must give to God and all mankind with a sense of history. 3) We need to practice this in a deeply personal way.

The final question you might ask is: "But where? Where can we practice these three dimensions of love?" Can we do it alone? No. A person working alone might feel he has an historical mission or responsibility, but he will find it hard to develop personal relationships, and he is in constant danger of being swallowed up by arrogance and pride, especially if success comes his way. Both Karl Marx and Rousseau felt they had an historic calling, but lacked humility and depth in their personal relationships. On the other hand, if a person is too centered on personal relationships and opinions, and little else, he might never get started. He might never discover his true potential.

The only place where these three dimensions of love can be completed and balanced out against each other is not in some formal organization or church, but in a married couple and family which truly lives for a God-centered public purpose. In such a family, we have the ideal training ground for all three dimensions of love. In the day to day reality of family life inspired by a higher purpose, we find ample opportunities to go to the lowest possible place, to look at our spouse and children from a universal and historical perspective, and to do this in an atmosphere of personal trust and intimacy. The continuous practice of such a way of life will lead you and your family closer to the love of God.

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