Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 20, 2010
The Power of Serving Others
The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection
This document can be found online at http://j.mp/c3weUc.
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, 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, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their 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.
My name is Andrew Conard, Pastor of Resurrection Online. My wife, Nicole, and I have been serving as pastors here at Resurrection since July of 2006. I spent several years in Congregational Care as pastor for those whose last names begin with M-R. In November of 2009, I transitioned to a full time role as Pastor of Resurrection Online.
Resurrection Online seeks to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with digital natives and those who are unable to or have not yet become part of a traditional congregation in a physical location. Resurrection Online creates space to worship, grow, give and serve online. We are also seeking to support faith communities, or micro churches, which meet at a physical location and have local leadership to worship, grow, give and serve. This strategy creates new places for new people in which to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
It is a joy to continue to serve here.
On Friday, I had the opportunity to go to Welborn Elementary School in Kansas City, Kansas and serve near the end of the Bless the School project for this summer. My wife, Nicole, and I were able to get in on painting some bookshelves with some very bright blue paint and a few other projects. It was great to interact with some of the volunteers who had been their for weeks and were nearing the end of a great project. One of the school staff came back to her room where we were working and it was good to hear her response to the changes and updates that had been made.
In the hours that I spent serving at Welborn, I saw serving others build relationships both with those being served and with those who were serving together. One of the most significant moments of the day was seeing a girl from the neighborhood pedal up on her bicycle. It was a great day.
As I begin the message today, I invite you to take the Grow. Pray. Study. Guide out of your bulletin. You will find space to take notes during this message and also a guide for reading the bible and praying throughout the week. I hope that you take it home and use it as a guide each day this week.
What I saw at Welborn Elementary school is the theme for the message today. The power of serving others is in the relationships that are built. Today, we will consider that message from several different perspectives.
First, I invite you to consider with me the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. At that time, it was normal for foot washing to be part of the routine when visiting a home. It was offered for cleaning your feet from a dusty road and as hospitality for the guest. Most often the guest would wash her or his own feet or a servant would provide the foot washing service. It usually took place on first entering the home, before a meal began.
Given that context, there are several things that are notable about the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. The meal has already begun when Jesus gets up to wash feet.
It would have been normal for a servant to wash feet before the meal began, but she or he may not have been present for the meal. A host would normally have not provided the foot washing service, but would have been present for the meal. Jesus combines both of these. He is present for the meal and washes feet. In this way, Jesus serves both as host and as servant.
This combination of roles may have been part of the reason that Peter protests Jesus washing his feet. Peter says, “What are you doing? This doesn’t make sense. If anyone is to be washing feet, it clearly should not be you Jesus. You are serving as host for the meal. Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replies, “Absolutely, Peter, it does not make any sense now, it will later.”
Peter won’t give in. “There is no way that you are going to wash my feet Jesus.”
Can you picture this story today? It makes me think of the television show, Undercover Boss. In this show, the CEO of a major company takes on roles in the lower level of the company in an undercover effort to find out more about what really makes the company run. One of the key parts of the show is that no one is able to recognize the CEO. It is done in secret.
This story is different. Jesus is taking on the role of a servant and it is not at all secret. The one who the culture would suggest should be getting served, instead takes the role of a servant. Imagine the CEO of a major company serving as the janitor in the headquarters building. It just doesn’t make sense.
When Peter initially refuses Jesus’ attempt to wash his feet, Jesus changes the conversation. Jesus responds to Peter’s refusal by saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Other translations say, “You have no share with me.” This is a key verse in understanding what Jesus is offering the disciples and what Jesus offers us. The Message interpretation of the text makes it clear. Jesus said, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”
Jesus is not just offering Peter clean feet. Jesus is offering Peter and the disciples a relationship in which they can be part of what Jesus is doing in the world. This is a relationship in which they can be a part of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
Theologians tell us that through the foot washing, “Jesus manifests the unity and intimacy of God, Jesus, and the believer that marks full relationship with God. ... To have Jesus wash one’s feet is to receive from Jesus an act of hospitality that decisively alters one’s connection to Jesus and, through Jesus, to God.”
Jesus’ offer to wash the disciples feet was to solidify the relationship that had developed between them. Jesus’ service builds relationships. The power in serving others is in the relationships that are built.
This is as true today as it is in the stories of scripture. We find that serving others builds relationships both with those being served and with those with whom we serve.
In January, I traveled to Zimbabwe with a team of leaders from the Kansas West Annual Conference to explore the possibility of a partnership with the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference. We visited many churches and mission centers to hear both opportunities and challenges. At each stop the church members would serve us drinks and food. As we were visiting 7 or 8 sites each day, the food and drink began to be overwhelming. It was nice to be served, but it was a lot. I was getting full. I asked one of the Zimbabwean pastors who was traveling with us if it was okay to turn down the offer of more food at the next stop. The answer was well, no not really.
The pastor went on to explain that the act of serving and sharing a food together was meant to solidify the relationship. If we had just come to visit and did not receive the gift of service and hospitality, the relationship wouldn’t be real. We had to receive the service of food for the relationship to be built. I traveled to Zimbabwe with the idea that we were exploring ways to serve the people of Zimbabwe. What I found was that if there was a meaningful relationship to be built, I would need to receive the service of others.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to travel with a team of students and adults on the RezLife Mission Trip to the gulf coast. I was on a team that spent the week painting the outside of a home for a woman and her family. Throughout the week, I had a chance to get to know the home owner, but also members on the team. In a week, I built strong relationships with students with whom I was serving, some of which continue to this day. I had gone to serve others on the gulf coast. I discovered that I built a relationship with those who I served and also those with with whom I served.
I wonder if some of you have similar stories. An occasion where serving others built relationships with others, both those serving and being served. It might have been a regular opportunity for service at one of our Kansas City mission partners in which your Sunday Morning Small Group participates. Maybe you come to FaithWork and get to know some people on your team that you might not have known before. Perhaps you have traveled on a Beyond Kansas City and created bonds of friendship both at home and abroad. Where in your life have you experienced acts of service creating connections with other people?
You remember the Story of the Good Samaritan. A man was traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was set upon by robbers, stripped, beaten and left for dead. A priest and a Levite walked down the same road and when they saw him, passed by on the other side of the road. Then a Samaritan passed by and when he saw the man that was beaten he stopped to help.
You will remember that at that time, Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other. This was something that was stronger than the way that Missouri and KU fans feel toward each other, although that might give you some idea about what this relationship was like. Clearly, a Samaritan is not someone who was expected to stop and help a Jew that was injured.
However, in Luke 10:34, we read “[The Samaritan] went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have’” (Luke 10:34-35, TNIV).
Did you notice the relationship that these verses illustrate? The Samaritan stopped to serve and continued to serve. He did not just call the authorities and ask that someone else come to help. He did not just take the man to the nearest hospital and drop him off. The Samaritan stopped to help. He stayed with him and cared for the man who had been injured. He did not leave the next day without addressing the ongoing needs of the one who was beaten. The Samaritan serves the injured man and creates a bond that connects them together through the day and days later when the Samaritan returns from the trip.
Imagine how the Jewish man responded when he realized that it was a Samaritan that had helped him. I wonder what the injured man’s perspective on the Samaritan people was after he found out the identity of the man who had likely saved his life. I wonder if the Samaritan and the one who was injured developed a friendship. We don’t know from the text whether there was an ongoing relationship. However, it is clear that the the power of the Samaritan’s service was in the relationship that broke cultural barriers and expectations.
We have considered the way that serving others builds relationships both with those being served and with those with whom we serve. But, why? What if I am not really interested in a relationship with others? Why should I serve?
To begin to answer that we question, I would like to go back to the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet and see what happens next. Jesus responds to Peter’s protest by saying, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part in me, you have no share in me, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.” Jesus has extended the offer of a relationship to the disciples through the washing of feet.
The gospel writer of John tells us, that “When [Jesus] 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. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them” (John 13:12-16, TNIV).
The story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples concludes in Jesus encouragement to his followers to share with others what he has done for them. This is an invitation for the disciples around the table and an invitation for us today. We find in this passage the answer to the question, “Why serve?” Jesus tells us that we should do as he does. At the surface, this is an invitation for Jesus’ followers, for us, to serve others, to provide food, water, clothing and comfort to those in need. This is a clear call to action. It is also not the whole story.
The answer to “Why serve?”, is also found in Jesus’ invitation to the disciples to not just have their feet washed. Jesus’ invitation is into relationship. [Jesus says,] “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15, TNIV). An example to be in relationship. An example to serve others because of the relationship that we have with Jesus. Our relationship with Jesus leads us to serve out of gratitude and out of a picture of the future.
Christians serve out of gratitude about what Christ has done for us. In Philippians, chapter 2, Paul reminds us that [Jesus] “did not did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8, TNIV)!
Christ’ life, death and resurrection is the ultimate service for humankind and the source of God’s grace for us. Divine grace is God's freely given and unmerited love for all of humanity. It is through God’s grace that we come to know, love and serve God. It is through God’s grace that we are on the journey of becoming deeply committed Christians. There is nothing that we have done to deserve God’s love.
Our relationship with God through Christ invites us to serve others as a way of saying thank you. God invites us to build relationships with other people through our service out of gratitude for what God has already done for us in Jesus Christ.
Christians serve others because of a picture of the future of our lives and the future for all of creation. In each of our lives, our Christian hope is that death is not the end. We have a living hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Ultimately, we know that God wins. Good triumphs over evil. Love wins out over hate. We have the opportunity to hope in life after death and the opportunity to live as a part of God’s kingdom while we are still on this earth.
Every week, we pray that God’s kingdom might come on earth as it is in heaven as part of the Lord’s prayer. We serve others because God’s kingdom is one where the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given something to drink, the captives are set free and orphans are provided with their needs. We serve others because we live as part of God’s kingdom.
Today we celebrate Father’s Day. Some of you may have had a father who gave you a picture of what it is like to serve others in a way that builds relationships. In my senior year in high school, my dad would get a foot long turkey sub from Subway and a big orange for me before every football game. We lived close to the high school in Salina and I would come home to pick it up before heading to the locker room or he would bring it by so that I could have it on the bus. It was a small way of serving that had a significant impact on building our relationship.
What about your father, mother or significant family member? Can you recall a time when the service of someone else helped build your relationship with them? Do you notice when someone serves out of gratitude to God or a clear picture of the future?
That brings me back to Bless the School and the little girl that that pedaled up on her bicycle. She had ridden her bike to the school in the middle of the morning and was hanging around. I saw one of the volunteers from Resurrection say “Hello” and tell her that she had something for her. After going inside for a moment, our team member came back to the girl and offered her a children’s Bible. She told the girl about the stories that she would find inside. Finally, she offered to read her a few stories if she came back in the afternoon.
I continued working and as I was preparing to go, I saw the girl pedal up on her bicycle. She was back. I asked her if she went to school here. She said that she used to. I noticed that she had the children’s Bible in her hand and was getting off her bike. I asked her if she was going to hear some Bible stories. She said, “After they get back from lunch.” She seemed expectant and grateful. This is where I saw the power in serving others. It is in the relationships that are built.
I witnessed someone serving out of gratitude to God and a clear picture of the future. I saw the impact that it made on a little girl who lives near Welborn Elementary school.
The good news is that God offers us the opportunity to be in relationship with God. This relationship gives us the power to serve others out of gratitude and a picture of the future. Here is my invitation for you today:
Serve others in a way that builds relationships.
Be grateful to God for all that God has done for us and live this week with hope for the future.
Dear Father, thank you for all that you have done for us in Jesus Christ. Send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us for a life of service that builds relationships with You and others. Help us to live this week with hope for the future. Amen.