The message series for the monthly services has focused on the foundations for being truly Christian. They have also served as foundation stones for what we are trying to be as a church here in Huber Heights. We first looked at the Great Commandment and the call to Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Learning to love God must be the beginning point, because without that love we cannot move on to any of the other things we have or will be talking about in this series.
Next we looked at the Great Commandment’s call to Love our neighbor as ourselves, and looked at the story of the Good Samaritan. We are challenged to love the people around. And the call that sets Jesus’ teaching apart from all others is the call to love and respect and pray for those who are our enemies and would hurt us.
Today we are going to look at what it means to really serve. Not just the action of serving, but Jesus’ call to serve and the why behind it.
You know there are some people who are really good at serving others. They seem to pick it up easily, and do it very well. I am not one of those people..or at least when it comes to serving in the small ways.. I have always believed that Christians are called to serve, and I have learned to like serving most of the time. But it doesn’t come natural for me. I thought, after planting a church in Kansas City that served the community more than churches 20x our size, that I knew how to serve.
I was wrong.
When I first moved back to Dayton from Kansas City I took a job as a Pastoral Assistant at the Dayton Vineyard. I felt like God was leading me on to something else. I never imagined I would have as much difficulty making the transition.
I had planted a church, was a writer and editor, had two educational degrees...and now, as a Pastoral Assistant, I was moving cones around the parking lot of the Vineyard. And I obviously was thinking way too highly of myself because I did not have the right attitude while doing this particular chore.
I remember one Sunday morning. It was raining and cold. I was drenched and my hair was flat. I had been setting up cones in the parking lot for about an hour when something else went wrong. I was grumbling all the way through the lobby. “Why did I even bother to go to seminary? I can move cones around anytime.” Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah. The door was locked, I tripped over something, the cart I needed got snagged on a corner of the wall...this was only getting better!
That’s when I looked up and saw it...a sign serving as the voice of God reprimanding me. It read, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much...” And I wasn’t trustworthy with the very little task of setting up cones in a parking lot. I discovered that I wasn’t very good at serving.
But Jesus sets an example of serving that always brings conviction on me. There’s an old word...conviction. I never had good connotations about that word because it always symbolized guilty feelings I had at the end of one of those sermons that was more about God’s law and my failure to keep it than about God’s forgiveness, grace, and willingness to come alongside and help me.
But conviction is such a rich and meaningful term. Conviction does carry with a sense of guilty, but not one laid on us by someone else. True conviction is when we sense the Holy Spirit prompting us to seek God’s forgiveness for an area we need to bring in line with His will. It is not a place of condemnation. It is a call to forgiveness and wholeness.
So, I regularly sense the Holy Spirit at work when it comes to serving because there are some ungodly attitudes that bob to the surface only when serving.
And there is something about serving others that does that for most of us. Because we are a fallen people, serving does not come easily. For some, the whole behind the scenes things gives them trouble. I mean who wants to give to help a neighbor’s financial struggles and “not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing”?
Or, let someone we are serving have a bad attitude, act indifferently to our service, or act like we owe the service to them, and we get another glimpse of those internal attitudes that wrestle within us that only serving will reveal.
We are going to look at John 13:2-17...John is weaving a couple of things together in this passage...the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet and Jesus’ prediction of His betrayal...this morning we are going to focus on Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet, and I think we will find it a defining story for how we are to serve.
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"
Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."
Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."
"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"
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." For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
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. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 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.
Just like modern times, attendees at a feast would make appropriate, shall we say, personal hygiene preparations. Coming to the Passover Feast with Jesus, the disciples would have bathed, washed their hair, put on fresh clothes, and come in their best. But then they would have walked through the dusty streets of Jerusalem to get to the room where the feast was being held.
As a sign of common hospitality, the host or, in this case, the disciples, would have prepared water and a towel for the attendees to wash their feet. Because, for one, it is nice to have clean feet, but for another, when they sat at the table they didn’t sit in chairs. They reclined on the floor with their head near the feet of the person next to them.
It was the responsibility of the lowest servant or lowest disciple in the household to wash the feet of the guests.
And no one had made this preparation. So Jesus, in an unprecedented move for the distinguished guest of the meal, got up, clothed himself with a towel, and washed the disciples’ feet.
This passage points to several important things about serving...first
Serving is often lowly.
Most of the time God does not call us to serve in the big and showy ways.
Most of us know the name St. Francis of Assisi, but we know very little about him. He is the founder of the Franciscan Monastic Order which is known for their commitment to serving and to living lives of poverty. They were the first Monastic Order that did not spend the majority of its time walled off from the world around it.
Francis’ founded the Order at the call of God, but it also served as a kind of protest of the church at the time...leaders that were interested in using their power for political gain, a church filled with greed and consumerism, and an elitist attitude that kept God in the hands of the leaders and out of the hands of the people.
Despite being known for serving the lowest of the low...there is one story about St. Francis that intrigued me...he could not bring himself to serve lepers. They scared him. He got the hebejebes.
But one day as Francis was walking he saw a leper in the distance and his insides began to tense up. He got nervous and started to go another direction. That is when he heard God’s voice say, “Go and hug that leper.” Now, to Francis’ credit, he immediately obeyed. I tend to wrestle with God when I hear Him telling me to do something I don’t want to do. I don’t know why I do that, but Francis was not that way. He immediately walked up to the man and hugged him...and then something within him broke open. He was no longer afraid of them or the disease. He became a radical in service to the lepers.
For Jesus, what he did was leadership suicide. No rabbi or self-respecting leader would ever stoop to wash the feet of their disciples. Disciples were there to serve their masters.
But Jesus was setting an example for them to follow...nothing...no matter how low...is below the followers of Jesus...not even setting up cones in a parking lot with a seminary degree!
The disciples were obviously shocked; for several reasons which we will discuss in a moment. They were shocked because their leader and master was taking on the lowly role of a servant.
It is a little like the show Undercover Boss...only in reverse. Jesus took the role of the lowly servant not to gain understanding of how the common worker felt, but to teach His disciples that their understanding of leadership and power were wrong when it came to leading in the Kingdom of God. Jesus knew they weren’t getting it. They didn’t have a clue what He was calling them to do. So the only way to get them to listen was to shock them into changing their perspective.
For most of them, as for most of us, they couldn’t understand or accept this kind of serving because they didn’t have a solid understanding of who they are. Jesus did...
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
You see Jesus wasn’t their servant...He was serving them, and there is a big difference between the two. They may look the same on the outside, but they are very different. Jesus knew who He was and what His mission was...therefore he could serve even in the lowliest of positions and it not matter one bit.
There was no ego and no fear.
When we attempt to serve others without a sense of confidence in who we are in Christ Jesus...it makes us servants rather than servers. If we do not serve from the right core or sense of being then we can get sucked into serving out of obligation, a sense of salvation dependence, or guilt. Or, we begin to resent God or the people we are serving...because we feel like servants.
Jesus knew who he was...and He knew where He was going. He was from God and was returning to God. There is a lot of confidence gained when you are secure in your identity and when you know the mission you are fulfilling.
It brings confidence when we realize that we don’t have to fight to earn other people’s love and respect...that it doesn’t matter how people treat us or respond to us when we serve. Why? Because when we are in Christ, we already loved and accepted by the one who really matter, and we are part of His mission to redeem the world. When we understand this, we can serve in lowliest of things, and it not matter.
Jesus, Lord and Master, served in the lowliest positions of the household and that leads us to the next point...That kind of Serving
Serving will evoke strong responses.
When thinking of strong reactions to Jesus’ foot washing, we automatically think of Peter. First, He rejected Jesus’ act. No, Lord, you are not going to wash my feet. Then, after the explanation, he reacted with this overdone, all-or-nothing approach. “Then wash all of me. My hands and my head.” The problem is that both of these reactions attempt to keep Peter in control and dictate to Jesus the manner of serving. But looking at that is a completely different message.
Peter did offer a strong reaction, but silence can be a powerful response too. It can hide indifference or contempt or confusion. While not loud, these reactions are just as strong.
It is interesting that it is at this point that John includes the story of Judas hardening his resolve to betray Jesus. This kind of service is not what the disciples thought of when they began following the Messiah. The Messiah was to be the King of Israel, take back control from the Romans, set up His Kingdom, and bring in an age of unprecedented peace...and as Jesus’ disciples, they were going to be rulers and leaders in this new kingdom.
But now, their leader was serving as though he was the lowest of all servants. The disciples very clearly understood that “no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him,” and that is what disturbed them. Because their leader served in such a lowly way, and they realized they too were being asked to serve in this way.
Just think of the people who’s feet Jesus was washing.
Judas who’s resolve to betray Jesus was strengthened during this time. I mean how could he stomach following a man, who claimed to be the Messiah and Son of God, that was willing to lower himself to the level of a common household servant.
James and John two fishermen from Galilee. These two brothers had sought to gain power over the other disciples by requesting to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand. These were positions of power...it is where we get our phrase “Right hand man” from. These were important people in the Kingdom. They didn’t want to see their leader submitting himself like this.
Matthew the Tax Collector had left a very lucrative job to follow Jesus. He had been a very wealthy man.
Simon who had been part of a radical political group called the Zealots must have been reeling! The Zealots were equivalent to a modern terrorist group wreaking havoc on the Roman guards and government wherever they could. He didn’t want to see his leader serving in this way.
When you and I begin serving like this...when we as a church serve like this...we will receive some strong reactions. And sometimes those reactions will be from people inside the church. Why? Because following God’s voice to serve will lead us to serve people who are rejected by others.
I remember the responses of the churches to “those kind of churches” that served men and women dying of AIDS in the 80’s. Luckily a few brave churches and Christians forged ahead and served them.
I worked at one church in 90’s that had a serious debate over whether they should help an unwed mother with some financial and baby needs. Because what would that say to people around them...that they accepted this kind of behavior.
Mother Theresa started serving the lowest caste of people in India, and for many years was rejected by people because she chose to serve these “untouchable” people whom they thought were poor because they deserved it. They had sinned horribly in a past life, and now had to live this way in this life because of it.
Notice that all our discussion of strong reactions have centered on the people around us who should be serving. We haven’t even looked at the people being served. Many people will respond well to our serving them. Others will respond with anger, smug indifference, an attitude of “you owe it to me to do this.” But even those reactions must be not be a deterrent to serving.
Radical service to other brings conviction to those around us because deep down they realize the truth of number...
Serving is our calling.
I believe that we are created to serve. Again, not to be servants of people, but to serve those around us. In this passage Jesus is simply reminding us of our calling.
In the last part of that passage, Jesus says,
You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 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.
As individuals, we find meaning and purpose when we begin to serve others...and not just by doing Servant Evangelism...beginning to discover ways to really meet needs and affect change in people’s lives through humble service.
I think many people fail to grow spiritually because they don’t really love God. I know that when I am not growing spiritually it can usually be traced back to my having allowed myself to love other things besides God or I replace my love for God with a desire to get God’s things. But next to this...I think one of the main reasons people fail to grow in their faith is that they fail to serve. But even in saying that we have to be careful because we do not serve SO THAT we can grow. We grow because we serve.
I remember watching my daughter Brianna catch the meaning of service for the first time. We were planting the church in Kansas City, and began to do more and more Servant Evangelism. We were out giving money away at the gas pumps to help ease the skyrocketing price of gasoline. Bri was was about 4 or 5, and was with me. My friend Pete and his daughter Arianna, who was about the same age, was with us too.
I kept giving money away, and finally Bri said, “I want to do the next one!”
So I handed her the money for the next car and we went over, she handed them the money and said, “We just want to show you that God loves you!” The person took the money, thanked us, and went about pumping their gas.
Well, Arianna was sold. She wanted to do it. She took the money went up to the next car with her dad, and, in her excitement, basically threw the money at the person, said, “God loves you,” and ran to the back of the car where she shouted to Bri, “I did it!”
Bri responded with a “You go girl!”
And I couldn’t help but smile because I realized that she got what it meant to serve others.
For Jesus, this wasn’t just washing the disciple’s feet, it was a very practical example of his entire life. He had stepped down from heaven, counted all His God-ness as nothing and became part of the human struggle in order to deliver His creation from the bondage of sin. Foot washing demonstrated to the disciples and to us that no act of service is too low for those who follow Christ.
This week I asked the question on Facebook, “What is the hardest thing you have ever done in service to other?” Shane replied, “Serving others is not nearly as difficult as the thought of serving others. Stepping out of our comfort zone is the hard part. The rest is simply amazing.”
As we are starting this new church, I would like to invite you to come serve alongside us. We are not just starting another church, we are part of extending the Kingdom of God here in Huber Heights, Ohio and around the rest of the world. I don’t know what God has in store for us, but I do know that we will be finding ways to radically serve others. Not just Servant Evangelism, but also making a difference in the lives of those who are broken, hurting, and lost. We will not be a church that stays within its walls, we will be a church that continually goes out into the world and cares for people, loves people, and serves people.