My first sermon at Church For all People
What are you going to give up for Lent? Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent. Lent is a period of 40 days in which we prepare ourselves to encounter the risen Christ on Easter morning. It is a time when people pray and fast and refocus on God.
Many times, you will hear people talk about what they are giving up for Lent. You might hear someone say something like, I am giving up coffee or television for lent. I have done that before. I am a self-confessed chocoholic. I can resist many temptations, but chocolate is my weak point. So one year I gave up chocolate for lent, I went 40 days without any cocoa and made the people around me miserable. But guess what I did on Easter. I went out and got a chocolate shake, I ordered it double chocolate, double malt, double thick. It was good.
But what did my giving up of chocolate accomplish? Not much, it didn’t make me a more loving person, it didn’t bring me closer to God, it might’ve temporarily lowered my blood sugar level for a few weeks, but that is about it.
This Lent, I want to invite all of you to consider a question that will have a greater implication for your life and your faith than giving up chocolate. Our question for Lent is: how am I living a life of servanthood?
In the scriptures we already heard read, and over the course of our worship services during this season of Lent, Jesus is lifted up as the greatest of all servants. Anyone who has read the Bible or been around the Christian faith for very long knows that is true. No one argues about whether or not Jesus is a servant. You can go to a church of any denomination and everyone would agree that Jesus was the ultimate servant.
The deeper question isn’t simply, what kind of servant was Jesus, but what impact does Jesus’ servanthood have on your life? What does servanthood look like for us? How are we living lives of servanthood?
In some ways, servanthood has become a trendy topic. If you have ever worked in a customer service job, you have heard companies use phrases like “service before self”. In 1970, the phrase servant-leadership was coined to speak of a different kind of management-style. Instead of leading people through power and authority, one could lead through listening and empathy, bringing out the best in people.
While this cultural emphasis on servanthood is a good thing that gets us moving in the right direction, what Jesus lived is much deeper than this. Jesus servanthood was not just a mere management style in order to bring out the most in the early disciples, it was at the very core of his being and the very reason he came to earth.
Jesus first showed his servanthood by showing up. In the Philippians text we hear this message that even though Jesus had the full form of God, he didn’t see that as something to be exploited, but “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”
Showing up is the first lesson of servanthood. For it is not just showing up in ways that are convenient or easy or comfortable, it is about showing up for the benefit of others, especially when it is inconvenient for yourself.
Think about this showing up that Jesus did. Paul says, Jesus had the full form of God. Now, I have no idea what it means to be God, but I imagine it is far from this world where cars don’t start and water pipes break and people we care about struggle with cancer. And whatever all of that is, whatever life looks like in eternity and heaven, Jesus gave all of that up to come down here. What we hear from these scriptures is that in his life he, Jesus suffered.
When we think of Jesus suffering, we often skip to the cross. Surely, the cross is the place of Jesus’ ultimate suffering and our ultimate redemption.
But Jesus suffering did not begin with his death, it began with his birth and continued throughout his life.
When Jesus was born, he didn’t come to people who lived in comfort. He wasn’t born as the son of wealth or power, the child of a king or even a priest, but born to common parents, far from their home, in a manger.
Jesus suffered in life before the cross. He suffered the death of friends. He suffered the pains of life. He said of himself, that foxes have their holes and birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
In the words from Isaiah we hear that he was not physically attractive, he was despised and rejected and held of no account.
No account? That is a powerful and sad statement, that someone would be so unappreciated as if to be held in no account. Can you imagine a life of no account? That doesn’t even matter. It is difficult to fathom.
Jesus suffered because he showed up in the most difficult places in our world. Jesus suffered because he placed himself among the most vulnerable and broken people.
When the Pharisees see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, they ask him, why are you eating with them. Jesus says “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
And as a sinner myself, I say thank God for that!
But in order to redeem sinners, Jesus has to place himself among sinners.
In order to heal the sick, Jesus has to touch the leper and be among the sick.
In order to comfort the broken, Jesus has to feel the tears of the broken.
Jesus is compared to a shepherd, a shepherd has to be among his sheep. It is because Jesus came to redeem the hurting and the lost, that Jesus placed himself among the hurting and the lost.
I believe it is the same today.
People often ask, where is God, today? We look at the world, we see so many things wrong, and we ask, where are you God.
God is there, with people who are suffering.
God is on the beach in Libya, where 21 Christians are beheaded.
God is with a mother and a grandmother and an entire community who mourns the loss of a young man to violence.
God is with the alcoholic who wakes up in the morning, desperately promising, never again.
Jesus is the one who Isaiah describes as “a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity” because that is where Jesus placed himself then and where he places himself now.
We can take comfort from these words, because we are a people of suffering.
Let me tell you a secret, the only person who isn’t suffering and struggling, is the person you don’t know well enough. Some people’s suffering might show on the outside, others might be hidden on the inside, but no matter what clothes we wear or how much makeup you have on, we all have some stuff.
So these words are a comfort to us, because God is found amongst our sufferings too. We can know that we are never alone. Jesus final words at the end of the gospel of Matthew is that I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
God is with us in our suffering, because our God is a suffering God.
But that shouldn’t only be a word of comfort for us, but a challenge that asks us, where are we? Where do we place ourselves? We can watch the nightly tragedy of the evening news, shake our heads, and behind our closed doors we ask, why doesn’t God do something about all of this, when God is the one who has called us to do something. To be servants. To place ourselves among the very people God seeks to redeem.
Servanthood begins with showing up.
Are you willing to show up? Are you willing to go somewhere God might be calling you to go?
Before you answer yes to quickly, realize the places God calls us to go are often uncomfortable, the very last places we want to be.
God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and Jonah ran the other way.
God called Paul to go west to Macedonia when he wanted to go east to Asia.
God calls us to go to places that are downright uncomfortable and to do things that are horribly inconvenient.
And yet, it is when we show up that we see God’s hand at work.
As we celebrate black history month, we think of the martyrs who showed up. Servants like Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Malcom X who gave their young lives for the cause of freedom. King worked to free both the oppressed and the oppressors.
We can see these servants across history, but we can also see them right here. This week, I saw servants at work here at our church:
On Tuesday schools were cancelled because of the brutal cold. Yet, there were people here at 4 in the morning in the cold and the snow to shovel the sidewalk so people could get what they need from the free store and the fresh market. Hundreds of people came here and received what they needed, because the people of God showed up.
This week people gathered in that room to pray for you and for all of your prayer requests. The cries of your heart were lifted up to God, because the people of God showed up.
This week, in this place, people who mourned were comforted, people who were hungry were fed, people who felt alone found community, because the people of God showed up.
What about you, how are you going to show up for someone else this week?
The thing about servanthood and showing up, is that it isn’t for us, as much as it is for others.
If you look again at the Isaiah 53 scripture, you will see why Jesus did all of the things he did. He wasn’t a person of suffering because he enjoyed suffering, he suffered for us.
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”
Jesus gave up all that it means to be God, for us.
Jesus suffered, for us.
Jesus died and rose again, not simply to show how powerful God is, but for us. so that we would experience forgiveness, redemption, and healing. Jesus did it all for us.
Who will you show for this week?
Often the person who needs to be treated with compassion the most is the person who is most difficult to be around. We all like being around people like us. We like being around people we like. But Jesus call to love your neighbor extends to every person you see.
The truth is, every day we encoutner people we would rather not be around. We see people who are rude, bossy, who just get on nerves. We know people have done wrong things and it is easy for us to sit in judgment of them.
But the next time you are around this kind of person, remember, he or she is a child of God too, who has his or her own stuff. The person who says an unkind word to you, is speaking from the same brokeness you feel within yourself.
When you find yourself in that situation, ask yourself, How can you show up in that person’s life, in the way Jesus has shown up in yours.
To be honest, this is hard work.
To show up places you don’t want to go isn’t easy.
To be loving around people who get on your nerves, even harder.
Servanthood is about sharing the love and grace and forgiveness and compassion we have experienced in Jesus Christ with others.
Servanthood is not some kind of strange humility test where we can see how much pain and discomfort we can endure as a way of proving our toughness.
Servanthood is not about being docile, taken advantage of, or abused.
Servanthood is about being a part of God’s redemptive work in our world, so our very lives proclaim the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Servanthood begins with showing up, for the other person. It starts by looking at people differently, not from what we can gain from others, but how we can serve.
Where will you show up this week, who will you show up to, with a servants heart, that glorifies God?