Monday, October 12, 2009
Called to Serve Sermon
October 11, 2009
Called to Serve
Last week, after my first full week of work after sabbatical, I got to go to one of my favorite places in Tennessee, Bethany Hills Camp. In the fall and the spring our regional youth leadership team made up of high- schooler’s across the state plans a retreat for their peers. This year’s theme was “called to serve”. They picked an excellent topic. After a Bible Study on the topic, the campers rotated to three “service stations” to learn about three different organizations that serve people around the world. Called to serve is an amazing theme for a weekend of a Christian retreat- can you believe they came up with that even without me present for the planning retreat? Yeah, I can too, teenagers can be very wise! The reason called to serve is such a great theme is because it gets to the heart of the gospel, it forces us to take a look at the very nature of our beloved Jesus Christ.
Let me take you to an earlier seen in my life, before I went to seminary I was attending Community Christian Church in Kansas City where I was ordained. I was an exhausted, fragile elementary teacher and I often slipped into the Wednesday evening service at Community because I liked the small crowd, the less formal setting and the interesting topics that were covered. One Wednesday during Lent I slipped into the chapel and found out that we were going to be doing a foot washing. Some of you who did this with me in Vacation Bible School this year are already laughing or groaning! As a young adult with a call to ministry I was trying to run from, I was eager to soak up new spiritual experiences, but this was one that made me very nervous. There weren’t many of us there- so when we stood to get in line I quickly tried to calculate whose feet I’d be washing. Well, I ended up on my knees, with my hands in a bowl of warm water, washing the feet of the senior minister! This person who I consider to a mentor in ministry, this person who preaches some of the best sermons I have ever heard- I was washing his feet! It was intimidating! But guess what, he was washing feet too. And all of a sudden the scripture from the Gospel of John became a little more real to me.
According to John, before Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples, he took off his outer robe, bent down and washed each of their feet. Foot washing was very much a custom, as people traveled from home to home in the ancient world, they traveled on dirt roads, and they wore sandals. Feet were filthy from travel and as a traveler entered a home, a servant or slave of the house would wash the traveler’s feet so they might feel refreshed. But this night it was important that Jesus be the one to wash their feet. Jesus was teaching a lesson in service, Peter tried to resist saying that he was the one who should be doing the washing, but Jesus insisted. After Jesus served his disciples by washing their feet he told them this, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13: 14-17)
What kind of savior bends down and washes the feet of his followers? What kind of messiah humbles himself to the role of a servant? In a little over a month we will begin our journey of Advent, that time of waiting before Christmas. At that time, we remember what it is like to long for a savior, and to await his birth. Before Jesus came into the world the people of God were longing for release from the oppression they had long faced. But what kind of savior were they expecting? If we look at the words of the prophets it seems as though they were expecting a king, or a powerful warrior, or someone to take over as a political power so that God’s people would be on top, in charge and in power.
Jesus Christ was not exactly the savior they were expecting. Jesus is a different kind of savior, the kind Paul describes so beautifully in the book of Philippians. Paul loves the believers at Philippi and wishes for them to be unified as the body of Christ. One way they can be unified and “make Paul’s joy complete” is by tuning their minds to the mind that was in Jesus himself. Paul describes the nature of the messiah the world got when he says, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2: 6-11- NRSV)
The savior the world got was not a king or a ruler in earthly terms, but he was a servant. One who got in trouble by walking humbly, challenging authority and speaking the truth to power. Jesus served by talking with those the rest of society wouldn’t talk to, by eating with sinner, by washing the feet of his own followers. Jesus was servant, obedient to the will of God, willing to humble himself to be human and willing to take that obedience even to the cross. What did this servant-savior ask of us? Only that we serve God and serve one another.
We seem to have taken Jesus’ call to serve pretty seriously here at First Christian. In our mission statement, the statement that guides all we do here, service is a big part. Our mission statement reads, “We celebrate Christ’s unconditional love by welcoming, loving, serving and teaching all.” So, we have the words down- do we follow through?
There are the big ways that we serve- right now we have a group on a mission trip in New Orleans. And there are many of us here who wish we were with them. Circumstances don’t always allow us to take a week away to go and rebuild houses, or counsel church camp or work with kids with disabilities or some of the other things that we would love to do that exemplify service. Whenever I am able to serve in a huge capacity like this I always come away feeling like I’ve been on a spiritual high- like I’ve done the work of God and that it can’t get much better than that. And next week we’ll hear from the mission trip group and I know they will feel the same way. But, I want to let you in on a little secret- and DO NOT TELL THE MISSION TRIP GROUP! It would burst their bubble, it would break their hearts- so promise me you won’t tell them! The secret is this: you do not have to go on a mission trip to change the world! You do not have to drop everything and go to New Orleans to be a servant with the same servant-mind as Christ!
There is plenty of servant work to be done here at church. Visit the sick, call someone you haven’t seen at church in awhile. Welcome a visitor- make sure they get a meal on Wednesday night- or they can find a Sunday School class on Sunday morning. Say yes when someone sees a gift in you and asks you to volunteer with a ministry. Pray for our amazing youth group. Make contact with one of the young adults who isn’t here. Take out the trash, drive the church bus to pick someone up, visit a shut in. You could name a hundred more things. Think of the thing no one else wants to do and do it! That’s how Jesus served.
But don’t stop at the church- look around your family- how can you be a servant there? Wash the dishes, do something the first time you are asked, or better yet before your mom or your spouse has a chance to ask. Be sneaky and leave some flowers or a homemade treat for your neighbor. Help your brother with his homework, pack your sister’s lunch for school. Look around your house at the job no one else wants to do and then do it! That’s what being a servant is all about- washing feet- no one wants to do that!
I promise you that if you try a few of these things that you will start to experience just a little of what Christ was trying to model for us about the kingdom of God. I cannot promise all of these things will be fun, but I can promise that being a servant will earn you a place of honor in the kingdom. Jesus said that we should strive to be last of all and servant of all, humbly putting the needs of others before our own needs.
So I challenge you to be an everyday servant. Do a little mission work of your own this week by serving others at home, at school, at work and at church. Don’t do it because it makes you feel good- but because it’s the right thing to do. Serve others because Jesus did- and that’s what Jesus expects of us.
And don’t you dare tell the mission trip group next week that we have all done Christ’s servant work around here while they’ve been gone. Just smile and nod when they talk about how great it is to serve Christ- just pretend like you are SO jealous that you didn’t get to go. And it will be our secret- that we spent the week in service too! I leave you with these words from Paul about what it means to be a servant,
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Amen and Amen!