Servanthood: John 13 v1-16
At the American Revolution a man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers repairing a small defensive barrier, their leader was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them. Asked why by the rider, he retorted with great dignity, “Sir, I am a corporal!” The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers. The job done, he turned to the corporal and said, “Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.” It was none other than George Washington. (Today in the Word, March 6, 1991.)
I ask the question, how well do we know our commander in chief, Jesus? Do we allow him to help in the many battles we face throughout our lives. Do we fully understand the amount of other titles he has and the ability and desire to fulfill them? For example just to name a few. Jesus the Good Shepherd, Jesus The Redeemer, Jesus the provider, Jesus the healer, Jesus the Bread of life and Jesus the Servant King our theme tonight. Today’s reading is probably a very familiar passage for us. This week I’m sure that soap manufacture’s profits rise as many churches re-enact this feet washing event. Most of the sermons I’ve heard on this subject place an emphasis on the humility of Jesus. However his humility in this act is just part of the story. I believe our bible passage is more to do with rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty than cleaning feet!
Sadly Christians can be a bit like most politicians, they talk the talk but seldom walk the walk. Jesus is the perfect Servant King who kept his word, who always fulfills his promises.
A man and his wife are awakened at 3 o’clock in the morning by a loud pounding on the back door. The man gets up and goes to the door where a drunken stranger, standing in the pouring rain, is asking for a push. “Not a chance,” says the husband, “It is three o’clock in the morning.” He slams the door and returns to bed.
“Who was that?” asked his wife. “Just some drunk guy asking for a push,” he answers. “Did you help him?” she asks. “No. I did not. It is three o’clock in the morning and it is pouring rain outside! “His wife said, “Don’t you remember about three months ago when we broke down and those two guys helped us? I think you should help him, and you should be ashamed of yourself!”
The man does as he is told, gets dressed and goes out into the pouring rain. He calls out into the dark, “Hello. Are you still there?” “Yes,” comes back the answer. “Do you still need a push?” calls out the husband. “Yes! Please!” comes the reply from the darkness. “Where are you?” asks the husband. “Over here! On the swing!”
OK it’s a funny story but seriously, it’s strange how often some of us conveniently forget acts of kindness or generosity bestowed on us when maybe we should reciprocate such deeds. At Easter we celebrate the greatest deed a man can give. What greater gift that a man lays down his life that we might live? However could we ever repay that deed? Maybe by acts of service?
I requested our reading be extended by 4 verses to emphasise the importance that we are called not just to be served but to serve following the example set by Jesus.
One of my rolls in the Police Force, opps sorry that’s politically incorrect, the Police Service, was I was part of the Public Order Team which is used in riots or where there is a serious threat of public disorder. We all had to be trained to a high level of crowd control which included the use of various types of riot shields and shield formations. One of which involved the use of 7 officers joining their shield together, 3 at the front 2 at the sides and 2 holding their shield on top to act as a roof. This formation was known as the tortoise, as it enclosed us in a hard protective shell. All 7 had to rely on each other to link up correctly, one error and we could all be vulnerable to serious injury if attacked. One way our instructors tested our effectiveness was to drop an old fridge on top of us from about 30 foot! I guess in this day and age of health and safety this test is no longer used but I can assure you every team member made sure they played their roll to perfection!
I mention this as an illustration of working together, serving each other and God can only make this church stronger. Just as it was all hands to the pump to fill a gap in the defensive wall in my earlier illustration, there are many gaps that need filling here at St. Chad’s. We need musicians, workers for our children & youth, people to help clean the church. Nobody has offered to take over the men’s ministry which I gave up 3 years ago after doing it for 11 years! Sadly we do have a few corporal in our fellowship, they seem to say a lot but do little! When we come into this church what do we expect? To be served or to serve? I think the answer should be both. Are we willing to be humble enough to receive help and healing but generous enough to give either our time or money to the service of the fellowship and God.
Who can remember Are You Being Served? A sitcom that ran from 1972 to 1985. It was set in the very old-fashioned Grace Brothers department store. The program deals with the working life of the staff of the Ladies and Gent’s outfitting departments. The title comes from the idea that when customers come into Grace Brothers they are asked, ‘Are you being served?’
When it comes to Christianity are you the one asking, ‘Are you being served?’ Or are you the one to whom the question is asked. Christians should be like these characters in the department store and ask ‘Are you being served?’ Many times Christians believe that they are the customers. As Christians we are not the customers, we should be the service workers.
Many ask, “Where can I get the best deal” instead of where can I serve? We are the Mr. Humphries and Mrs. Slocombs to the world. Who can remember Mr. Humphrey’s catch phrase? “I’m free”. You know as Christians we need to echo these words. I’m free, free to serve my Lord and Saviour. Also we need to tell the world that in Christ Iâm free! We can be free of sin and guilt, free from addiction, free from anger, bitterness, free from the fear of death why? Because of what happened on Good Friday, the next day after the feet washing. I don’t suppose it felt a good Friday for Christ, Crucifixion must be the most painful of deaths. But believe me it was a good Friday for all who turn to Christ! His death gave us life!
Jesus didn’t wash his disciples feet just to get them to be nice to each other. Instead he wanted to extend his mission on earth after he was gone. The disciples were to move into the world serving God, serving each other and serving all people to whom they took the message of salvation.
Again going back to my opening illustration, it’s important to grasp that nobody should think too highly of themselves that they reject doing lowly tasks! All ministries and tasks are important to a successful church. Whilst at one of my previous churches I preached once a month but I also cleaned the church once a month!
A large group of European pastors came to one of D. L. Moody’s Northfield Bible Conferences in Massachusetts in the late 1800s. Following the European custom of the time, each guest put his shoes outside his room to be cleaned by the hall servants overnight. But of course this was America and there were no hall servants. Walking the dormitory halls that night, Moody saw the shoes and determined not to embarrass his brothers. He mentioned the need to some ministerial students who were there, but met with only silence or pious excuses. Moody returned to the dorm, gathered up the shoes, and, alone in his room, the world’s only famous evangelist began to clean and polish the shoes. Only the unexpected arrival of a friend in the midst of the work revealed the secret.
When the foreign visitors opened their doors the next morning, their shoes were shined. They never know by whom. Moody told no one, but his friend told a few people, and during the rest of the conference, different men volunteered to shine the shoes in secret. Perhaps the episode is a vital insight into why God used D. L. Moody as He did. He was a man with a servant’s heart and that was the basis of his true greatness.
Although I’m sure he would be the first to admit his not perfect, one of Martin’s strengths is that he is prepared to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in. Whether that be filling in as worship leader, knocking down walls or even washing up! Sometimes I worry that he takes on too much. Sadly I have meet some clergy to consider themselves exempt from such things! However any good leader such as George Washington, D.L. Moody or even Martin will and should lead by example such as Christ did in our reading.
To close I want to finish with one more true story about President Ronald Reagan when he .was in the hospital healing from when he had been shot. One day his Vice President walked in the room to find him on his hands and knees wiping up water. The Vice President said, ‘Mr. President, they’ll take care of that.’ He meant that the people at the hospital would clean it up. All President Reagan had to do was call them and they would hurry in. But the President said, ‘No, no, if they come in and see it the nurse will be blamed for it. I don’t want the nurse to be blamed. She didn’t do it. I did.’ You know we have all spilled something in our lives, either physically or metaphorically, I hope this common little spill story by The President of The United States, becomes a story of humility that we can all understand that it never hurts for us to take a part in cleaning up our own mess. However as we start to celebrate the most important event in Christianity, let us also never forget that whatever mess we cause in our lives, there is hope and healing through the sacrifice and blood of Christ we are washed as white as snow.
I leave you with these thoughts about service: Why in the world would you give your hard earned money to a church? Why would you volunteer to teach children or lead worship or clean the building? You would only do it if you had a vision of what it means to your Lord. Matt 25:40 “And the King (that is Jesus) will answer and say to them, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me”. Amen