Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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The Vows of Membership- Service

John 13:1-17 and Matthew 20:20-28

I guess mothers will be mothers no matter when or where. They always want the best for their children. Some think James and John may have thought they deserved this honor because they were in some way related to Jesus. It’s possible, based on a few passages in the New Testament, that their mother was actually Jesus’ aunt, so they would have been his cousins. Family first? But that is just a theory. And regardless, they were among the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, so at the least they probably figured they had the “inside track.”

They wanted the honor of being Jesus’ right, and left, hand men. But what it really shows is that, even though they’ve been with him for three years, they still don’t really understand him or his purpose. They are still thinking very much in terms of an earthly kingdom.

Ironically, who was it that was on Jesus’ right and left when he entered into his glory? It wasn’t any of the disciples. It was the two thieves hung on the crosses beside his, because the cross, the moment of his deepest humiliation, was also the way by which Christ entered into the glory of his Kingdom.

But the question of the disciples, through their mother, was an indication that they were still thinking in very worldly terms. And in the world, greatness is measured, at least in part, by your ability to rule over other peoples’ lives, to make them do your will. But in the Kingdom of God, the opposite is true. In the Kingdom, greatness is measured by your willingness to serve others.

This is the example of Jesus himself. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The Son of God dying on a cross on behalf of his wayward creation, humanity, is the supreme act of service that has ever been done.

But more than that, service was also the very practical example of Jesus. We heard earlier from John 13, the story of the Last Supper, which Jesus and his disciples celebrated as a Passover Meal.

They were gathered in an upper room, a guest room upstairs in the home of a wealthy family. It must have been a wealthy person’s home for them all to be able to gather there. The Gospel of Luke records that the argument among the disciples about

who was the greatest happened as they were on their way to the upper room, so this all would have been very fresh in their minds.

Maybe it was that very argument that prompted Jesus to show them by his own example what greatness in the Kingdom was really all about. By custom, they would have all bathed before this meal. But also, the custom was that since they had walked on the dry and dusty streets to the upper room, their feet needed to be washed now as well. In the culture of the Middle East to this day, the feet are considered to be the most disgusting part of the body. No one would ever want to touch another person’s feet. Normally the job was left to slaves. If there were no slaves available in a home, the job would fall to a woman or a child. Sorry, ladies and children. No free man would ever willingly touch another man’s feet.

There were no slaves present. That’s a bit of a mystery, since this was a wealthy household, and wealthy households almost always had slaves in that society. Maybe they weren’t there to help keep this gathering a secret from the authorities who were seeking to arrest Jesus. Or maybe Jesus had intentionally sent away the slaves for the sake of making this point.

Either way, they weren’t there, and it created something of a crisis. None of the disciples would do it. After all, they had just been arguing over who was the greatest. To do this now would be to admit they were the least. So Jesus did it.

The convention of the day was that the table would be a low table, maybe about 18 inches off the floor. Instead of sitting, people laid down on pillows to eat, propping themselves up on their left elbow and eating with their right hand. Doesn’t seem a very comfortable way to do it to me, but that’s how it was done. Everyone’s feet would be facing out away from the table. Jesus went around the room, washing each one’s feet as he came to them. And he concluded by saying, “As I have done for you, do likewise for each other.” To serve is to love, and to love is to serve.

Service, more than anything else, is what qualifies us for leadership in the Kingdom of God. If we desire to lead in the Kingdom, it must begin with service. Titles and offices and all such things do not make a leader in the Kingdom.

If a person desires to be heard and respected in the Church, they must begin by serving their fellow believers and also those outside the Christian faith. We are not to follow in the way of the world. The world throws respect and honor and admiration

toward those who have the wealth, the power, and the fame to demand that others serve them. And it is most definitely a temptation for us as well. We are tempted to look up to those that the world looks up to. But we should not.

I think one of the most difficult tests for us as believers is how treat those who serve us. The ability to accept service with humility is almost as difficult as the ability to offer service freely.

Peter may have thought he was being humble by refusing to accept Jesus’ service, but I think he was really being proud. It was the pride of self-sufficiency, the pride of saying, “I don’t need anything from anyone.” But as Jesus said, “Unless I serve you, unless I make you clean and acceptable in God’s eyes, you have not part in me.” And unless he washes us and serves us and we accept it, we have no part in him either. If we think we need nothing from Jesus the Servant, that is a sin of great pride.

So how do we treat those who serve us? One of the things our bishop has said on numerous occasions that has challenged me is to talk about that very question: How do we treat those who serve us? How do we treat those who wait on us in restaurants or in stores? How do we treat people who clean up after us? If we love to boss such servants around, and there are certainly people who love to boss them around, I’ve seen it and I’m sure you have to. If we’re honest, we’ll probably have to admit that we’ve done it ourselves on occasion. That reveals a lot about our hearts because if we treat those people poorly, are we not saying that “I am better than you because you have to serve me?” Are we better than Jesus who served us? Do we truly have a servant’s heart if we are not willing to receive service? Do we truly have a servant’s heart if we look down on servants?

Another question: Whom do we serve? Who are we willing to serve and who are we not willing to serve?

It’s easy to serve our friends because we expect that in some way or another, they will someday serve us back. But what about strangers? Will we serve those that we don’t know and who will likely never have the chance to serve us in return? Do we serve the poor? Do we serve those who may never have the financial means to repay our service?

And what about our enemies? Will we serve our enemies? Consider this: Jesus washed the feet of Judas, who had already betrayed him. And Jesus knew he had

already been betrayed. And he still served him just the same as the rest. What about us? Would we be willing to serve the one who has betrayed us? If we desire to follow the example of Jesus, we should be.

Finally, let’s bring this back into the context of the vows of membership. If we are to support the ministries of the church by our service, what does that mean?

It certainly means we should be servants within the Body of Christ, one to the other. Jesus said that by our loving service to each other, the world will know we are his disciples. Does the world know we belong to Jesus by the eagerness that we have to serve each other?

But, let’s remember that serving our friends is the easy part, and hopefully we can count our fellow believers as our friends. There are other issues at work if we can’t. We must also serve those who are outside of the Body. Jesus was a servant to all, and we are the Body of Christ. We are to embody the loving service of Christ to the world. We talked about this idea two weeks ago when we talked about being the presence of God in the world. If we do not serve the world as the Body of Christ, then Christ’s service to the world ended on the cross and faces the danger of irrelevancy.

Service is the example of Jesus. Service is the way of leadership in the Body of Christ. Both the willingness to serve and to receive service are necessary to have a servant’s heart. And unless we serve the world, how will Christ continue to serve it?

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