Do You Understand What He Did?

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Philippians 2:1-14

When you come to church on Sunday,  I wonder—how do you think of yourself… are you more like the Walmart greeter ready to make guest feel welcomed… or the person who is coming into Walmart to buy something… guest or greeter?

Which one describes you when you come to church?

Or, try this image on for size: If the Kirk were a restaurant, do you imagine yourself as the waiter or waitress or do you see yourself as the person sitting down in a booth, picking up the menu hoping to enjoy a good experience.

Or to put it in language of faith: On the day you decided to profess faith in Jesus was it because it was something Jesus could do for you…  or was it because you wanted to do something for Jesus. Did you come to be served or to serve?

I don’t know about you, but if I am ruthlessly and radically honest with myself and with you… one of the reasons I am a Christian is because of what Christ does for me.

Part of me follows Jesus because in Christ I discover a God who is caring, graceful, loving and who is there with me through thick and thin. This is the Lord of Psalm 23. God is there to forgive my sins when I stumble… Christ shows me a better way of life… and opens the way to eternal life… and through practices like prayer, worship and Bible study, I find a peace that passes all understanding. I have to confess that one reason I am here is because of what Christ has done, is doing and will do for me.

But the scripture today reminds me that if that is the only reason I come to church, I have not yet matured in my faith or my understanding of faith is far from complete.

In fact, one of the reasons I have seen people give up on the church and on faith altogether is because they come in with all sorts of expectations and they leave disappointed or disillusioned. The church isn’t meeting their needs. God isn’t meeting their needs. They thought following Jesus would make life easier, not harder. It was supposed to be a path to success… health and wealth.  But soon they learn that following Jesus also means taking up crosses… service, sacrifice… and that is a hard message to learn especially in our culture. Those are not exactly high values in our society.

Now I do take great comfort in the fact that I am not alone when I hear that attitude arising within myself. I read the story of the first disciples and they were rather slow learners. It took 3 years of following Jesus and an act of the Holy Spirit to learn what Jesus wanted them to be and become. Along the way we hear them battle their egos… and their consumer understanding of Jesus…

Surely you remember the day James and John ask Jesus for permission to take the #1 and 2 spots of power and authority when he comes into his kingdom and Jesus replies that they just don’t get it… and he says “you don’t know what you are asking for… I didn’t come so you could sit in power and rule over others… the son of man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life.”

Yes, the disciples were slow learners. But eventually they would get it. (That is encouraging to me)

No doubt one of Jesus’ last lessons he gave the night before he died on the cross (hint, hint) stuck with them and drove home what he was trying to teach them about following him. When Jesus washed the disciples feet on Maundy Thursday, he was making his final lesson about the life he wanted them to live.

To understand what Jesus was teaching, we need to understand what the world was like for them. Trevor Hudson described it this way:

“In his day society was arranged like a pyramid. At the top were the powerful- the well-off, the well-educated, the well connected. They were the ones who were in charge, the ones who ruled, the ones who called the shots. At the bottom were the powerless-the slaves, the uneducated, the alienated. It was always their job to serve those at the top. That was the way things worked. It was never the other way around. (Think of a “Downton Abbey” in the first century. )

One of the ways in which those at the bottom served those above was to wash their feet after a journey or when they came to your home. This was the most menial and lowest of jobs, reserved for the lowest servants. Now you can imagine what must have been going through the minds of the disciples when they got together for the Passover supper with Jesus.

Who was going to do this job? Certainly none of them were going to do this menial job!

When Jesus got up, put the towel around his waist and began to wash their feet, He was doing the unthinkable. He was identifying with those at the bottom of the pyramid… acting as a servant.

Not surprisingly, Peter reacted strongly. We can almost hear him saying to himself, “This is not the way things are supposed to work. Our master should not be washing our feet. If we go along with this, what will it mean for us? I will need to readjust all my attitudes, my values, my relationships, the whole way I see the world. I don’t want to lower myself like this to anyone. I will not let Jesus wash my feet.’

When he said this aloud, Jesus’ response was quite firm. “If you don’t let me wash your feet, you can have no part of me.”[1]

I’m surprised Jesus didn’t also say, “Any questions?!” (or “I’m just sayin’”)

When Jesus washed their feet he was giving them and all of us a pattern to follow.

It was a pattern Jesus had followed himself according to Philippians when an old hymn says, that though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God as something to be grasped, but became a servant.”

(Funny thing, this hymn was quoted by Paul because some Christians in Philippi selfish and self-centered: —it was a reminder to them of who Christ was and who they were called to be as his followers)

For Paul, Jesus was the example we were to follow. And if we are to become mature and faithful followers of Jesus we would do well to think about what it means to follow his example… and become a servant.

Usually, like washing feet, the pattern of loving service usually gets expressed in the mundane, the menial and messy.

John Ortberg suggests your family and closes friends may be one of the most important places we live out the life of a servant. So maybe the place to begin practicing what Jesus preaches is to look for opportunities to love and care for people in your family, at school, at work and among your friends.

We certainly should be practicing this at the church—in the body of Christ.

The  church should be known for having a servant attitude!

Wouldn’t it be nice to be known to have a servant culture at the Kirk?

Where becoming a member means not only being a consumer but also a servant…Where people discover the balance of a life of discipleship…Where you come here not only to be comforted and find help… to deepen your faith…  but also where you know you will be sent out to serve…Where service is an expectation for being a member and disciple.

One of the reasons we are making a transition from committees to ministry teams (We could call them servant teams) is to encourage this attitude. Soon you will be asked to think about where God is calling you not only to be served, but to serve.

Those who join ministry teams will be invited to do more than a task… a job… they will be invited into a community of people who are caring for one another, growing in faith together while at the same time serving God together in some mission or ministry.

What we are trying to do as a congregation is to follow the example of Jesus…and his disciples… as we understand what Jesus did that night when he washed the feet of his followers, we are trying to do as we live lives of service…We are trying to encourage you to ask not only:  “What can Christ or the church do for me?” but also “What can I do for Christ as a part of his body the church?” We are trying to ask: , “How can we live lives that are pleasing to Christ – lives of growing faith, deeper purpose and a deep desire care for those who Jesus cared for: the poor in body or spirit?” Lives of service?

The Roman Catholic Church has a new pope who seems to get this. I am not usually a papal watcher, but Pope Francis has caught my attention. His name is from that wonderful saint to the poor, St. Francis… It is clear that he has seen his ministry as a call not to be served but to serve…  who as a Cardinal chose to take the bus instead of limousine to work… who instead of having servants wait on him, chose to cook his own meals… who instead of living in luxury as a Cardinal, chose to live in a simple apartment… He understands following Christ as a call to a life of simplicity, humility and service.

I love the story I read about him when he was named archbishop. Before Easter in 1999, he washed the feet of 12 AIDS patients in a Buenos Aires hospital and the following year washed the feet of 12 prison inmates. He’s done the same every year since, with members of different social groupings.

We Protestants may have a lot to learn from this new Pope about what it means to follow Jesus. It is clear that he learned what it means to follow Jesus from St. Francis… not a bad model to lift up this day.

So why don’t we close the sermon today not with my prayer, but with the prayer of St. Francis—as a way to re-commit ourselves to being a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ… we could call it a servant prayer: (repeat after me)

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen


[1] Ocation 1354-58 in kindle version of Questions God Asks Us

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