Prayer and Service
Topic: Biblical Verse: Philippians 2:1–2:11
"Prayer and Service"
When was the last time that you saw a "full service" isle at a gas station? I went to visit friends up in New Jersey late last year and needed to refuel before making the trip home. So I pulled up to the pump and opened my door to get out of the car; however, I was greeted by the service attendant, who informed me that they actually pumped the gas for you. In fact, he said, it was this way throughout the state! Given the choice, I probably would have gone with a "self service" pump because they're generally less expensive. That's the catch with full service: when it's available, you usually have to pay a premium to get it!
There are occasions, though, when I don't mind spending a bit more for a higher level of service. For example, Nordstrom's almost always seems to provide an excellent customer service experience when I go looking for something, regardless of which city I'm in at the time. The shoe department, in particular, really gives me a sense of being in the "full service" isle. The staff there is attentive, courteous, and helpful. These salespeople focus on the needs of the customer's feet. Indeed, as I understand it, persons seeking to move into management positions at Nordstrom's must spend time working in the shoe department.
Now imagine that you're shopping at Nordstrom's. You've gone into the shoe department to look for a nice pair of shoes - an indulgence, something that you don't get to do very often at all. You're standing there, tempting tabletops of fine footwear laid out before you, when you hear it: "Pardon me..." What's this now? There's a nicely-dressed older lady standing beside you. (She must have sneaked up on you while you were enjoying your shoe-selection reverie.) "Pardon me, but could you please see if you've got these" - she gestures to a pair of hazard-sign-yellow galoshes - "in my size?" What is your first reaction? Perhaps some feelings of righteous indignation start to stir: "What's this lady thinking? I'm a customer here, too, just like her! I didn't come here to serve, but to be served!" But being polite, you might respond with a "Sorry, ma'am, I don't work here." How many of us would, without thinking twice, set aside our shoe shopping safari and help the woman find shoe in her size - even going to the point of helping her try them on?
These days, we're much more accustomed to "self service." A friend of mine doesn't go to Nordstrom's, precisely because he has a hard time accepting the level of service that they provide! We pump our own gas. We find our own shoe size on the shelf. We can even scan and bag our own purchases at the supermarket checkout. In a world that values independence and self-sufficiency, real service is an increasingly alien experience. But is our self service really selfish service, focusing on our own wants and needs? Even here in the church, when we think of "servant events," what comes to mind? The youth group? A special event? A pet project? As disciples, gathered under the cross of Christ, what should our practice of the discipline of service be?
In John's text, our reading for this Thursday of Holy Week, the day on which we remember Jesus Last Supper with his disciples, the evangelist doesn't record Jesus' institution of Holy Communion. Instead, we have this record of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. You may have heard before that washing guests' feet was at the lowest rung of duties of household servants. In fact, Jewish homes would typically not make their Jewish slaves perform this menial act, instead reserving it for Gentile slaves. But people needed to have their feet washed: walking around dusty roads all day in sandals, feet got dirty - even the disciples' feet. So Jesus, knowing that the time had come for him to return to God, got up, tied a towel around his waist, and washed feet. The disciples would have been extremely embarrassed at the sight of their beloved Teacher washing anybody's feet, let alone their own. Make no mistake, however: Jesus is not giving up his role as teacher in doing this for his students. The master is still the master and his disciples, who would serve him, are still servants. When the master has willingly done something, the servant cannot think that act to be beneath himself in his role as servant. Christ is laying out a pattern for his disciples. He is demonstrating humility in making the dirtiest part clean.
Jesus washing the disciples' feet looks forward to the cross. Tomorrow, on Good Friday, we reflect on how Jesus made us clean by pouring himself out and washing away the dirt of our souls' sin with his life's blood. He gave himself in service to us.
After Judas' departure from the Last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples a new command, following on the example he set in washing their feet: to love one another. But what's "new" about this command? "Loving one another" had been part of what was to define God's people in the world. The Ten Commandments could be summed up as, "Love God, love your neighbor." Jesus, however, adds a heretofore unknown dimension to the command: "just as I have loved you." Care for one another, just as Jesus has cared you: unselfishly. Serve one another, just as Jesus has served you: fully. Christ-like service means pouring oneself out in service to another, even to the point of death. Love one another, just as Christ has loved you. Christ has given us this new command, and he gives us the Holy Spirit to make the living of such love possible for us. Through the work of the Spirit in us, God strengthens our faith as we serve, as we love one another.
Just as Jesus, our Teacher, has set a pattern of service before us, we are called to be examples of his love to those around us. I now encourage you to specifically consider what kind of pattern you set before your family. What kind of Christian example are you to your brothers and sisters? To you husband or wife? To you child? To your grandchild? To your parents? How have you shown them the love that Christ has shown you? How have you shared with them the faith that God has given to you? Invite them to gather with you around the cross. Read and hear God's life-giving Word with them. Spend time together in praying to your loving heavenly Father. Love one another, just as Christ has loved you.
In addition to being Maundy Thursday, today marks the end of our Lenten sermon series, "Praying Disciples: Growing in Faith Through Spiritual Disciplines." If you have been here in worship to have heard all of these sermons proclaimed or have read them after the service in print or online, I congratulate you! Not because you've been treated to exemplary preaching or because of anything that Pastor Meehan or I have done, but because you have learned of particular tools that you can put to use for the rest of your life. For that matter, the same holds true if you've only heard one or two of these messages: the tool is intended for use! It is the impractical screwdriver or pair of hazard-sign-yellow galoshes which is meant only for display. God works through our practice of spiritual disciplines, equipping us to serve.
Here at St. John's, our Teacher calls us to practice the discipline of service. Participating in the crafting group or "Children of Chernobyl," for example, offers an opportunity to provide to those with special needs. If you prefer different kinds of hands-on service, assist with the ESL (English as Second Language) classes that we host, or go with other to help feed the hungry at the Carpenter's Shelter on April 15.
Come now to the Lord's Supper, where God gives full service, and go, in love and service to one another.
More in Lent 2007 - Praying Disciples
March 28, 2007Prayer and Submission
March 18, 2007Praying Disciples: Growing in Faith Through Prayer and Celebration
March 14, 2007Prayer and Study