Committed to Christ Series
We are in the final week of a six-week series called Committed to Christ. We are reviewing, as we try to do each Fall, the basics of the Christian faith. This week’s topic is serving.
My weekly blog posts for these six weeks are going to focus on six aspects of discipleship.
Six Marks of Discipleship:
- Bible Reading
- Financial Giving
The goals of this series are:
- To engage the entire congregation in praying and growing together in faith
- To develop small groups that grow faith and bond the congregation together in strong
- To welcome newcomers and close the back door of the church
- To grow faith and generosity
The key components of the series are:
- Daily devotions
- Weekly home groups
- Sunday worship
November 13, 2016 is Pentecost 26C
Isaiah 65:17-25 – The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
Malachi 4:1-2a– The day is coming when the arrogant and evildoers will be stubble. But for those who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.
Isaiah 12 – The First Song of Isaiah. Surely it is God who saves me. I will trust in him and not be afraid.
Psalm 98– Sing to the Lord a new song! Let the seas roar, and the floods clap their hands! Let the hills sing together for joy!
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 – Keep away from believers who are idle. Imitate us, for we were not idle when we were with you. We worked day and night to not be a burden. Do not grow weary in doing good.
Luke 21:5-19 – The destruction of the Temple foretold. Nation will rise against nation. They will arrest you and persecute you. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Here are some texts that you may consider reading instead of or along with the appointed texts.
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfil the scripture, “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
It is virtually impossible for me to imagine Christianity without serving. If you do nothing else, read through the passages above, and try to imagine a servant-less Christianity.
Amos 5 channels the heart of the God through the prophet. Take away from me your religious festivals, your solemn assemblies, the stench of your sacrifices, and the noise of your songs, but instead, let justice roll down like mighty waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. God and the prophets have no time for a soulless, pseudo-religiosity that seeks to look good before God, but is perfectly comfortable looking the other way when the injustices of the world become eminently clear. The law does not mince words. The people of God are to care for the orphan, the widow, and the alien.
Philippians 2 is the well-known Christ Hymn. This appears to be a hymn that is already known and being sung by the time Paul writes his letter to the church in Macedonia (now Turkey) in the late 40’s A.D. Already the significance of Jesus has been codified in hymnody. Followers of Christ, Paul says, are humble, regarding others as better than themselves. Paul says we have the mind of Christ, then he uses the hymn to spell out what that means:
Christ was in the FORM OF GOD.
Yet he did not exploit this reality. He emptied himself.
Christ took the FORM OF A SLAVE.
So he was born as a human being.
Christ took the FORM OF A HUMAN
So he humbled himself and became obedient unto death.
Even the death on a cross.
To follow in Christ’s footsteps is to do what he did. He did not cash in on his status. He did not hoard it, or use it to impress others. He did not leverage it for personal gain. He used his status to become a blessing to others. To follow Christ is to use your status to be a blessing to those around you. It is not to be up on your high horse, but to use your wealth, power and status to serve those in need, as Christ did.
And therefore God exalted him. This rings with Jesus’ saying in the gospels, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and God will lift you up.” Jesus reveals that the essence of divinity is humility. Following Christ frees us to love and serve. To take on the form of a servant, even a slave.
What if this was the reputation of our churches? What if we were known principally for our servanthood? How might this be a witness to the world?
Ephesians 2 makes it clear that our serving is not a way to earn our righteousness. We cannot buy salvation. Our relationship with God is already made right through grace, in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This is not your doing. Luther and Paul make it clear that we are not saved by any human agency. Period. But this truth does not preclude works.
Paul goes on to say that we were created for good works. This is something which God intended to be our way of life before the foundation of the world. So, we are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works. Justification by grace through faith does not mean we should be afraid of good works. Quite the opposite. Faith and works are not at odds. Luther puts it this way.
Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith,
quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.
— Martin Luther (LW 35:371)
In Mark 9, the disciples are arguing with one another about who is the greatest. I find this very heartening. That the people whom Jesus chose to build his church were flawed, misguided, and sometimes selfish in a very human way.
Jesus says to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” If you use this text, invite people to underline the word servant.
Mike Stachura once said, “The mark of a great church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity.” I believe that’s true. A sign of a healthy church is not its seating capacity but its sending capacity. There is nothing that grieves God’s heart more than a huge church of pew potatoes. You can have the biggest church in the whole world, but if that church doesn’t have a significant impact on poverty, hunger, and homelessness in the community, one wonders what kind of church it is, and which Jesus we are following. It seems to me if we aren’t serving, we have missed a big part of what Jesus is saying: the part about taking up our cross and following him into the world.
We serve quite naturally when we have experienced the grace of God, and begin to see the world through with heaven’s eyes. Bob Pierce once said, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break God’s heart.” To become conformed to Christ, to have the mind of Christ, is to have our hearts broken by what breaks God’s heart. What is breaking God’s heart today?
Mother Teresa understood that good works was why she was created. She had a saying that she printed on what she called her “business cards.” They were little, yellow index cards. This is what they said:
The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.
When Jesus wanted to show his disciples what following him was all about, he took off his robe and wrapped a towel around his waist. He washed the disciples’ feet. This was the job of the lowest slave. To follow Christ is to know the God who invites the exalted to humble themselves and the humbled to be exalted.
When he had finished washing their feet he asked them, “Do you understand what I have just done? If I your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” How clearer could Jesus be? Following Christ we connect to God through prayer, study, and worship. We are filled with faith, hope, and love so that we can witness, give, and serve. This is the rhythm of life in Christ.
Matthew 25 gives us one last word on serving. He spells it out: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Serving the world in Jesus’ name means a concern for those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned. These would make good departments of any church. Our congregation councils should ask:
- How is God calling us to serve those who need food and water?
- How is God calling us to provide welcome to the strangers, the immigrants around us?
- How is God calling us to provide food and shelter to those in need?
- How is God calling us to visit the sick and those in prison?
Notice that all these are done in relationship. I discovered a tendency in the well-meaning congregations that I served, to attempt to fulfill this calling from a distance. We could feel good about serving those in foreign lands, but ignore those right in our back yard. When we did serve those in our own town, we did so by collecting things to send to the food pantry. Are you serving those in need? “Why yes, we collected green beans for the local shelter.”
Jesus’ call, however, invites us to be in relationship with those in need. The game changed for our congregation when we agreed to house the homeless in our building, on a rotation with other congregations. We then encountered the homeless, often single women with children fleeing from abusive men. We got to know them. We heard their stories. Jobs got offered. Cars got offered. The congregation learned about homelessness, and began to care more, because they knew real, live people by name and came to terms with their stories. Their lives were transformed, but so were ours.
When we enter into this privilege of serving, we discover that the gift is not for those whom we serve. We are the ones who are blessed. We are drawn deeper into the drama of life. Serving grows our faith and spirituality. When we encounter those in need, we encounter Jesus himself. This, he has promised.