In the 1950's it was my privilege to have Mr William Maldon Woodfull as my school principal at Box Hill High School. In the township of Maldon, Victoria, a huge crowd of people gathered to honour him today and to dedicate a memorial to him. Today is the centenary of his birth and at the request of the organisers, a paper written by me on memories of him, has been read to the gathering.
Bill Woodfull was the Australian Test Cricket captain. He was the hero of the notorious "body line" series against England. He once said: "There are two teams out there today, and one of them is not playing cricket." He was our opening batsman with Bill Ponsford. They became our most successful openers. Australia depended upon them in every test. His cricket career is well documented. I refer to one personal conversation with him.
Bill Woodfull was respected by students at Box Hill Boys High School. He was a great sportsman, scholar and educator. I told him towards the end of my career at school that I was planning to study for the ministry, and that during the holidays, I would be helping in the inner suburban Churches of Christ in Ascot Vale and Newmarket. He said to me, "I lived in the Manse there at the Flemington Methodist church where my father was minister. When I was in England with the 1930 test team, we were sitting on a lawn at Bournemouth when a wealthy gentleman came up and said, "Australians eh? What are you doing here? Well, you'll have time to have a bite to eat. Come on, all of you."" They went to a large house where staff prepared tea.
The man asked their names. When he came to Woodfull, he repeated it: "Woodfull. Did you say Woodfull? Do you know if your family is related to a Methodist minister in Melbourne?" Bill replied, "Why yes, Sir, he's my father. The man was so excited: "Boys! Had it not been for that young Methodist minister, father of Bill here, neither you or I would have sat at this table today."
He told them how he had gone to Australia, fallen upon bad days, and lost everything including his selfrespect. Grim despair had overtaken him. He told how one day, in misery, he was trudging along Mount Alexandra Road thinking perhaps to end it all, when a horse and buggy stopped by him. It was the Rev T.S.B.Woodfull who was driving. He had recently come from Maldon to Melbourne. He gave the man a lift until they came to the Flemington Methodist Church and the Manse. Rev T.S.B.Woodfull invited him into his home for a meal, but before the meal the minister asked him if he would like to have a bath. Rev. Woodfull led the man upstairs and ran a hot bath and gave him a clean towel.
"Boys, to think that young parson should offer me a bath and hand me a clean towel. Yes, it was the towel that did it. I came out of that bathroom a new man. From that moment on, new hope revived, courage, resolve, something in me lived again. I made good. See this house, this table, all the things about you? By the grace of God I owe it all to that young parson Woodfull. Yes it was the towel that did it!" Mr Woodfull gazed at me as he let the meaning of the significance of humble service sink in. He wanted me to become a minister like his father, for humble service is the means of remaking lives.
Humble service and remaking lives have been the two pole stars of my life ever since, and the focal points of Wesley Mission. A few years later, as a chaplain to the Flemington Girls School, I visited in that same parsonage every week. Bill Woodfull would have been pleased.
Each week we have examined what various scholars are saying about Jesus today. Many interpretations are too limiting, not taking into account the variety of the ministries of Jesus. Tonight we examine Jesus as a humble servant and a spiritual healer. Both those titles seem to be simple, but both are abused by people who are threatened by the presence and practise of Jesus.
1. JESUS WAS THE EXAMPLE OF HUMBLE SERVICE.
The Biblical example of humble service given by Jesus is beautifully caught by John. It occurred just after a dispute about which disciples were greater than the rest. John 13 "4 so Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" 7 Jesus replied, "You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand." 8 "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." 9 "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" 10 Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean."
"And you are clean, though not every one of you." 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13 "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."
He was acting out a parable. Its purpose was that we should serve others as He had done. One Chinese scholar declared Jesus washing the feet of His disciples was the greatest example of what Jesus meant by Christianity that the world has seen. However, even such acts of humble service can be twisted to evil ends. This week, a letter in to "The Parramatta Advertiser" (20/8) by Peter Hanna of Lidcombe says: "Jesus, if he existed, was found dallying with a "certain young man with a cloth over his naked body, and he left the cloth and fled from him naked" the night before his trial. Earlier Jesus was found in intimate contact with his disciples displaying his phileo and agape for each. On a festive occasion Jesus stripped naked and "girded himself with an apron and began to wash his disciples feet." I think that Bible Christian are riding on the backs of homosexuals for their own divisive ends." That letter is disgusting, offensive, untrue and mischievous! It is completely ignorant of the harsh attitude Jews took towards homosexuals, believing that homosexual practises were depraved. Even the beautiful truth of a Biblical event can be perverted and twisted by a sick mind.
Homosexuals within the Uniting Church twist scripture so that immorality is now called love and refusing to repent is called justice. Consequently the Uniting Church has been diverted from its mission, subverted from the Bible, and has reverted to sub-christian humanism. Jesus, the humble servant, weeps today for a hardened church.
2. JESUS WAS AN EXAMPLE OF A SPIRITUAL HEALER.
Marcus Borg sees Jesus the humble servant as a deeply spiritual man serving the needs of people and healing them of mental illness. Jesus was a deeply spiritual man. People were attracted to Him. He was utterly real. He prayed frequently and fervently. People asked Him to teach them to pray. He had deep spiritual experiences at His baptism, in His temptations, at His transfiguration, and during exorcisms. He also fasted, saw visions, and healed.
Matt 12:22-32 "Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." 25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God then the kingdom of God has come upon you."
Such a spiritual man then, was often the only person who could help those people, who like many sick people today, hear voices inside their heads and believe they are inhabited by demons. Sophisticated people today do not believe in demon possession. But try to tell that to people who suffer from voices and the feelings of demon possession! What matters in any attempt at healing, is not what you believe, but what the client believes.
Jesus healed people. That was understood by even His enemies. He healed demon possessed people by the power of the Spirit of God. 28 "If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." Marcus Borg shows that truly spiritual people had two characteristics: they were conscious of God as close and personal and Jesus was close to God whom He called by the most familiar term "Abba" "Father". The truly spiritual person also channelled God's power to benefit others, especially through healing.
It was the healings of Jesus that first caused his conflict with the religious authorities. They wanted to discredit Him as a spiritual person by attacking His integrity and His refusal to conform to the old patterns and rules of Moses, and then by claiming His healings were possible only because the power within Him came from Satan. Chad Myers in his remarkable commentary of Mark, "Binding the Strong Man" demonstrates the ideological war against Jesus is carefully documented by Mark, and reached a highpoint of opposition when official investigators came from Jerusalem to accuse Him of healing by power of Satan. The conflict was inevitable because Jesus exercised the power of God.
They were threatened by a really spiritual person who spoke with great power and effectiveness. They tried to discredit him, sever links with Him, ascribe other reasons for His success and neutralise Him by false accusations. These techniques are still used by religious bureaucrats today.
In the Gospels Jesus brilliantly defends Himself, turns the attack upon the Jerusalem scribes, and claims the source of His power is the Spirit of God, not of Satan, and that those who oppose the Spirit of God are in danger of not being forgiven. From this point Jesus "upped the ante". Conflict with the authorities was inevitable. To say Jesus was a "spiritual person" has deep implications which involved political action against entrenched evil and those who were not obedient to the Spirit of God.
Jesus is more than we can ever summarise. He fits into none of our little pigeon holes. He cannot be labelled by our simple phrases. He was a humble servant, and He was a Man of the Spirit. But He was so much more! How then can we describe Him? As an unknown German Christian wrote in the 17th Century:
"Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer,
None can be nearer, fairer or dearer
Than thou, my Saviour art to me.
Beautiful Saviour; Lord of the nations;
Son of God and Son of Man.
Glory and honour, praise, adoration,
Now and evermore be Thine"
That's my Jesus! May He be yours also! He loves you and died for you. He calls you to belong to Him.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
BINDING THE STRONG MAN C Myers Orbis 1994
JESUS UNDER FIRE M J Wilkins Zondervan 1995
THE JESUS QUEST B Witherington 111 IVP 1995
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