Serve Others

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

 I. Beginnings

This morning, we continue our sermon series that digs into our mission statement, where we explore three key points.  To Grow in Faith. Serve Others. And Share the Love of Jesus Christ. As we covered last week, these three points are the things that should shape the work that we do as a church. As a church, a collective of people who claim to be followers of Christ, we first and foremost must center ourselves on Jesus as the foundation. If we are to hold to the metaphor we used last week, we will remember that the foundation of a building is the solid base that reinforces the structure above it, the foundation is what connects the structure to the ground and upholds the heavy load of the structure above ground. The foundation must not only withhold the weight of the structure pressing down on it, but it must disperse the weight throughout the base solidifying it to the earth and press forces up to keep the building standing.  If not for the foundation, then the building itself will not be able to sustain its weight and it would collapse upon itself.  The Church, the gathered people of God, is just like that building,  we are the living stones of a building that are used by God to build up the Kingdom of God, but our central foundation, that holds us up, that grounds us to the work of God, is and must be Jesus Christ.  If we do not center ourselves on Jesus, we fall apart.

 But our mission statement is the framework or the joints, that give us shape, it guides how we as the people of God, actually shape ourselves to do what God calls us to do as the living stones, that make up the Kingdom of God. Everything that we are function in and because of Christ, and our work takes shape by the mission we have set before ourselves. This means  our mission is the framework that shapes the programs and ministry that we do.  So our mission that we have crafted for ourselves, the piece that tells us the specifics of how we choose to contribute to building up the Kingdom of God, tells us that our ministries, our work, the things that pull us together as a community, should have us Grow in Faith, serve others, and share the love of Jesus Christ.  We have boldly stood claiming that all that we do, will do one or all of these things: to grow in faith, to serve others, and to share the love of Jesus Christ.  It should guide us so much of what we do as a church that if anyone were to ask anything about us it would roll off our tongue that of course we are centered in Jesus Christ, but then Christ calls us to grow in faith, serve others, and share the love of Jesus Christ.

This morning though, we are moving on to the second part of our mission statement, the second part of the framework that guides us as living stones, building the Kingdom of God, to serve others.  Serve Others. God calls us as Cheltenham United Methodist Church, and the people of God as a whole, to Serve Other.  Serve one another, before we focus on self.  Serve others, to show love to one another and meet each others genuine need.  To serve others. We know that serving others is the nice and commendable thing to do.  We have been told over and over in Sunday school as we grew up, that we should be nice to one another and help others, serving, the way Jesus has told us to do.  But do we say this so quickly and agree so freely, do we really know what it means to serve others, do we know what it means really change our behavior that we come with a humble heart and serve others.  Is our service to others more about stroking our own ego and flexing our privilege, or is it rooted in the genuine love that Christ taught us?

 II. Serving Others Is Discipleship

We mentioned last week, that to grow in faith leads us on a road to discipleship, but as discipleship is defined, it is the condition in which one chooses to follow someone, in this case Jesus Christ. To grow in faith is an obvious indicator of discipleship, because of course in following Christ we want to grow in our faith and grow closer to the one we follow.  But this morning as we look at our task to serve others, we must acknowledge that serving others is also a form of discipleship because it is a means of following Jesus. Not only is it doing what Christ taught us to do, but it is doing what Christ did as he walked this earth.  And what better mode of discipleship, than to do the actions of the one we have chosen to follow.  What better way to proclaim our discipleship than to make the ways of Christ our ways and to share it with all the world.  An essential part of Jesus’s work on earth involved serving others.  Jesus served others as he connected with the social outcasts who were blind or plagued with leprosy and healed their pain; Jesus served others as he fed the hungry in which he fed the 5000 as they watched in awe; Jesus served others as taught within the temple showing them how to live out faith fully; Jesus served others as he saw the humanity of the demon possessed man and exorcised his demon; Jesus served others as he saw the pain of the woman with the issue of blood and not only healed her body but acknowledged her existence; Jesus served others as he healed a dying girl at the desperate plea of her father; Jesus served others as he told the woman at the well where she could find living water, water that would quench her thirst; Jesus served others as he taught the disciples, that the good news might be spread to the world; Jesus served others as he washed the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper; Jesus served others as he became a suffering servant that offered his life on a cross for our redemption; and as we live in the Easter season, Jesus served others as he rose from the dead granting new life to all the world.  His whole life was about serving others, it may go beyond the scope of how we traditionally think of serving others, but we must note that most of what Jesus did upon this earth, at least most of what we have recorded was done out of service to others, service to the world, done with a loving heart, to serve the people of the world. And as we grow in our faith we must understand that service to others, actually serving others, shows up through the genuine consideration of loving our neighbor and what they may need.  But we must understand that if we declare that we are followers of Jesus Christ, then Jesus our example of how to live life.  And in his life we see that he served others over and over again until his very death and beyond.  So to be a true disciple we must serve others.

Our scripture from Galatians this morning says that we are set free when we serve others, meaning we find true liberation through showing love, serving others. That means we are more connect to Christ in our acts of service, we are more connected to the source of our salvation, when we give from our heart and serve others.  Our gospel reading this morning, on the other hand, is a narrative that shows us that Jesus specifically calls his disciples to serve others, because even him, the Son Man, or as we know him, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, the Prince of Peace, the Bright and Morning star, he came, not to be served, even though he surely deserved all the glory and the praise.  But he came to serve the world.  So we are tasked with serving others as well.

 III. Jesus, James, and John 

Our narrative begins as James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approach Jesus and ask him a question.  We might envision that Jesus is traveling along with his disciples, they have gone on a long journey. They are walking along and every now and then they stop so that Jesus might teach them the ways of the gospel.  13 people, Jesus and the 12 disciples, are traveling along the road, which is quite an interesting task.  All of them likely traveling together, but each traveling at their own pace.  Some moving faster than others and others are straggling in the back as they try to keep up.  As they travel together, they tend to cluster into social groupings, probably clinging to the ones that they most feel comfortable with.  I have always said that if you have a group of more than three people you are likely to see cliques begin to form within the group.  Even in our narratives we often find that Peter, James, and John were grouped together.  Some might have tried to keep closer to Jesus that they might get more of his teachings or that they might be able to find greater favor above their colleagues. And some may have wanted to slow down and rest, while others wanted to push on to the next destination.  We just cannot take for granted that 13 people traveling together, walking across the desert plains of Israel/Palestine is not an easy task – it is not easy to keep people together and it is not easy to stay on one accord. But if we want to envision what is happening we might see a group of 13 men, traveling on a road, generally going in the same direction, yet sparsely grouped together two here up front, four over there in the back, a couple here in the middle, and others spaced out yet together.

As Jesus travels on the road along with his disciples, James and John, the brothers, the sons of Zebedee somehow, group themselves together, inching themselves up to Jesus that they might get to him alone and make a request, that they might corner him while no one else is nearby, that they might be able to get their own special attention on this journey.  In their request, they ask Jesus to grant them everything they want, which is problematic on many levels.  First and foremost, this is not something that Jesus has granted to them or anyone else for that matter.  So, what would make them think it was okay or acceptable to make this request from the their teacher, the Messiah, the one whom God had sent, the one who deserved all the glory and honor?  Secondly, this request puts Jesus on the spot, expecting him to do something. But it also tries to pressure Jesus to proclaim his preference for James and John over the other disciples. Third, it disregards all that Jesus had taught them.  They wanted Jesus to give them a role or a title of privilege and preference. They were seeing the world from the viewpoint of human beings, rather than allowing themselves to be led by the Holy Spirit or be influenced by the teachings of Jesus. They only want Jesus to grant their own desires.

They knew Jesus was the Messiah, a man with great status and royalty, as he was the one sent by God, the one sent as the messiah, the one to save God’s people.  They knew that he was the Son of God, so he had authority.  And it could be that they were so caught up in the historical tradition of who the Messiah was going to be as a warrior who would bring liberation to the people of God and establish a new kingdom.  And while all of this was true, Jesus did not do these things in the traditional sense.  But what is clear is that they were looking a things from a human lens that valued hierarchical structure, rather than through a spiritual lens.  They just knew that Jesus was creating a kingdom, but they probably envisioned it much like a physical kingdom that would replace the Roman Empire. So, they wanted to establish their role as ones of great status, by sitting at the right and left of Jesus, to possibly even take on the role in helping Jesus judge others.  In this moment, they are holding to the hierarchal structure of this world, trying to ensure that they have a position of power.  That they might be able to not just lord over the other disciples, but all other people.  They wanted power, the power of privilege, the power of hierarchy, the power of judgment, the power of status, the power of riches, the power of authority, the power that is unconcerned with all other beings.  But if we learn anything from the teachings of Jesus, we know that Jesus often sought to disrupt the hierarchal social order of the time, by serving the social outcast, by seeing the humanity in those cast out by society.  Jesus showed the world that it was not about power, hierarchy or pecking order, but about loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.  It was about sharing that love in ways that serve others.  Even Jesus, the one who came to this world, and deserved all the glory and honor, who had authority and power, offered himself in service out of love for all of humanity. 

The seat that James and John were asking for, the positions of power, were not available to give.  But Jesus respond to them by telling them that they don’t know what they are asking, that they don’t know the ramifications of what Jesus is going through in his place of being the Messiah.  They have no idea.  But, he asks them if they are able to carry the cup that Jesus must bear and the baptism that he is baptized with.  Jesus is illuding to his role as a suffering servant,  he is saying are you able to give of yourself, serve of others to the point of sacrificing your very life? Because that is what he has been called to do as the Messiah, but the disciples still don’t fully understand, there is still so much they have to learn, and some of it they will not fully understand until the death and resurrection. But as their minds were still focused on the things of this world and the status symbols we cling to with our human instinct, they say that they are able, but they have absolutely no clue.  The irony is that one day, when they fully understand the teachings of Christ, on the other side of the cross and the tomb,  they likely endured the burden that Jesus had endured because of the persecution they received from carrying the teachings and good news of Jesus Christ to the world.  But it is clear that now, they had not internalized enough, it is clear that they have more to learn from Jesus, it is clear that now they have to allow Jesus to transform their thought and being.  It is clear that they must learn more on how to let the Holy Spirit lead them.

So, Jesus then teaches that in order to be great, not in the sense of hierarchy or status, but to great because you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, requires you to serve others.  Serve others in way that shows we love our neighbor, love others, and that we can carry the love of Jesus Christ to the world.  But as we try to take heed of the direction of Jesus, as we try to be great, great in ways that allow us to be great disciples, great followers of Jesus Christ, we can learn a few things from our narrative this morning, as we seek to serve others. 

 IV. The Hierarchies Should Not Dictate Our Behavior

First, we must realize that the hierarchies of the world should not dictate our behavior.  We must release the hold that the world has on us, and take on the ways of Christ. Because the structures of the world, the rules of society, are not rooted in the ways of Christ, but in the ways of humanity.   They were crafted in sin that perpetuates separation from God and promotes violence, hierarchy, hatred, oppression, injustice. The ways of Christ are not the ways of the world. James and John got caught up in the ways of the world, but we cannot get caught up in the ways of the world because they often lead to perpetuating hurt, harm, and injustice.  But we are a God’s people, set apart, in the world but not of the world and our ways should demand love and truth rather than hate and oppression. When the world functions in a way that maintains the structures of the supremacy of one being over another for whatever reason, be it education, class, race, gender, sexuality, political stance, political position, income, or whatever – when one being feels they have power or status over another, we must understand that those are not our ways, God has not shown us that.  Not only should we not be like that but we should not tolerate that.  Because Jesus has taught and is teaching us that we need to release our preconceived notions, that power is not in holding a position but loving and empathizing with others.  Because we are called to serve others, and serve in ways that reflect the ways of Christ, that say I stand in solidarity with you, I love you so much that my very being is put on the line for you.  We should not lord our position over others, and others should not make us feel less than because of their status.  Life is not about class or hierarchical structures that place us in categories, but its about what have done for one another, how have we touched someone’s heart, and how have we let people know Jesus.

 This week brought us the visuals of another black person killed by a police officer and a video of an active military soldier afraid for his life as he was mased by police. No matter what your opinion on this issue, by seeing these visuals, people have legitimately felt as if their lives are in danger, that they are devalued as human beings, and that things do not work for their sense of justice because of the color of their skin. And when people are made to feel as less than a child of God, for something completely out of their control, we recognize that the structures of this world are not functioning with God love and should not dictate our ways. And as we stand in a place where we recognize that the ways of the Christ are not the ways of the world, as we commit to the ways of Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us rather than uphold the injustice of the structures of this world we must acknowledge that all people must be seen as created by God, all people should be seen as holding the image of God, the Imago Dei, within them.  In Jesus Christ, all other structures of hierarchy lose all value. Because in Jesus we are all equal, needing a savior, needing Jesus Christ.  And in him there is love, love that calls to serve one another.  In this we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable and led by the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the ways of God.  And this by no means is an easy task, for this means that we have to change our way thinking, and not do things for our own progressive gain, but spread love.  The easiest way to do this is to pray daily, for God to transform us that we might see the ways of God in the world and not be bound by societal structures that perpetuate oppression.  Then we are set free. We will be set free to live in what Jesus taught us, which is love and service to others, free in connection with God.

 V. Serve Others

Secondly, we must bravely serve others, as Christ is telling us to do.  Which means we must see the humanity in all of the people.  We must see them as not just a charity case, or an opportunity to pump ourselves up, but as human beings, that are children of God, who deserve love and care. So we serve others, serve those in need, serving them because it sets us all free, that we might all live in God’s love.  So we serve the sick, by checking on them, seeing how they are doing, bringing them a meal, praying for them, and getting them the help they need.  We serve the hungry by feeding those who need food, through food banks, participating in the homeless run. We serve those imprisoned by visiting them and helping them re-emerge into society. We serve those who are made to feel less than by society by affirming their worth and showing them God’s love.

 VI. Dedicate Ourselves To Follow Jesus

Third, we must dedicate ourselves to follow Jesus.  That means that as the Son of Man came not to serve, but to serve, to give his very life, we too must seek to serve at the very risk of life.  Jesus loved us so much that he sacrificed his life for our sin.  He was so pained by the separation the sin had brought, so pained by the lack of love among us, so hurt that we had strayed so far from God that Jesus Christ offered himself in service that we might live, that we might be reconnected back to God and that we might find the liberation of new life.  This means that when we put on the mind of Christ and follow Christ truly, there are going to be things that pain us in the face of injustice, there are going to be things that hurt us because we want Christ’s love to prevail, there are going to be some things that make us uncomfortable because they reject the ways of God.  And in these instances we may have to place our bodies on the line for the sake of others as a mode of service and love to others.  This may cause someone to face death, but it could also mean that when we see someone undermined because of their gender, we serve others by speaking up on their behalf and pointing out the injustice. It could mean that when we see someone harming someone, we serve others by speaking up and calling for help.  It could mean that when we see those that are hungry we serve others by addressing the issues that perpetuate hunger.

We are called by God to Grow in Faith. Serve Others. And Share the Love of Jesus. And today as we focus on serving others we must: 1) Release the hierarchies of the world and allow Jesus to transform us. 2) The no brainer, serve others. But also see the humanity in the people we serve. And 3) Dedicate our lives to following Jesus Christ, because then we might take on his ways as our ways. May we live into what God has called us to and Serve Others. Go out into the world and serve others. Amen.