ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH APRIL 7, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
SHAPED FOR SERVICE
1 Corinthians 3: 5-9, John 13:12-17
Today, we’re on the fifth week of our sermon series, in which we ask an essential human question: “What on Earth am I here for?” Without an answer to that question, we’re lost. No matter how famous or successful we might become, we’ll be empty. In an interview, Priscilla Presley shared this about her legendary husband, “Elvis never came to terms with who he was meant to be or what his purpose in life was. He thought he was here for a reason, maybe to preach, maybe to serve, maybe to save, maybe to care for people. That agonizing desire was always with him and he knew he wasn’t fulfilling it. So, he’d go on stage and he wouldn’t have to think about it.” We all seek a sense of purpose. So far, we’ve learned that our meaning is found in God’s plans or will for us. We’re made for fellowship with God. We’re made to be loved by God and to love him in return. As John says, “We love, because God first loved us” (1 John 4: 19). We have also discovered we’re Planned for God’s Pleasure; Formed for God’s Family; and Created to be like Christ. This week we learn that we’re Shaped for Service; we’re made to serve God. Paul writes, “He creates each of us in Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing” (Ephesians 2: 10) What are we created for? In Christ, we’re created to do good works. Yup, good works. It doesn’t matter how long we live, or what we accumulate, or even if another person loves us, what matters is what we give back. I know that’s not what our culture tells us, but you were created to serve; you were saved to serve; you are gifted to serve.
Just to be clear, we are created for good works, not saved by them or by our own efforts. Salvation is the gift of God’s grace given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is not our doing. But salvation puts us in a right relationship with God, so that the things God designed us to do, are now possible. God designed us to serve. God made you a unique person and God loves you to death – literally. Your uniqueness is a gift not just to you or for you but for God and others. Scripture doesn’t say, each of us should use whatever gift he’s received to make a lot of money and to indulge one’s self. No, it says, “Each of us should use what ever gift he’s received to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10). God shaped us to serve.
The Bible refers to this as “ministry”. You’re made for ministry. That’s a word that’s often misunderstood. We hear “ministry” and we think: minister, priest, clergy. People in backwards collars and fancy robes who devote their lives to Christ. The NT word “ministry” (leitourgia) is also the word for “service” from which we derive the word “liturgy” – the liturgy, of course, is the order of service we use each week to worship God. The Bible says every believer is a minister; every believer is a servant. Not all of us are called to pastor to congregation or preach “God’s Word” but each of us is called to minister or serve in the ways we’re gifted. We’re all called to serve Jesus Christ and a main way we do that is by serving others. That may seem like a tall order. The good news is: God not only created us for service, God gave us a model. One day, just a short while before his execution, Jesus had dinner with his friends; part way through the meal he got up, took off his robe, put a towel around his waist and washed their feet. This totally confused them. He was their teacher and leader, a respected spiritual figure and here he was doing the menial work of a slave. When he had finished, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example” (John 13:12-14). Isn’t that incredible? The Son of God sets an example on his knees washing the dusty feet of ordinary men! He added, “…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew. 20:26).
What?! This is so far from the values of our world, it’s mind-boggling. Our world tells us: the guy with the biggest stick wins; do whatever it takes to get the upper hand; aim to be the person in charg////////////////////////////e; get recognition.
The Bible teaches that the greatest joy in life is to be used in God’s service. Yet, the thought of serving doesn’t always evoke joy. What keep us from using all our experiences, spiritual gifts, and innate abilities in this way? If we’re honest, it really comes down to our attitude. The person who has a servant’s heart is always available.
So, what kinds of things keep us from being available to others? No doubt, one reason is self-centeredness. As Christians, we sometimes fail to serve because we’re caught up in petty things and in our own wounded or offended egos. The Church in North America today needs to mature. We need to exchange our bibs for towels. Whenever you see a need that you’re gifted to meet, God is providing you with an opportunity to serve, isn’t He? But often we’re busy with our own plans. That’s not always bad – many things we do are consistent with God’s dreams and purpose for us. We have many big callings in life – Church, family, work, school. We also need to see the opportunities for service within and beyond those callings. Call them the “Samaritan moments”, where a need unexpectedly arises, and we can help. We can’t be too busy for them.
Sometimes, we miss opportunities for service because of our pride. We think we’re above certain tasks; that God should call us to do bigger or more important things. If you think you’re a servant, pay attention to how you react when someone treats you like one.
Another barrier may be perfectionism. Perfectionism is a two-edged sword. On the one hand it leads us to excellence in all we do. On the other hand, it can lead to paralysis. We want everything to be flawless before we can act. We say, “Hey God, when everything is cool, and life settles down then I can serve”. Or we tell ourselves that we can’t help out until we have all the right words and needed skills. In Ecclesiastes we read, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done” (11:4). Anyone interested in offering a testimony on that verse? I think Christ-servants need to do what they can with what they have in the moment. It may not be our very best, but God would rather have us do something good than not do anything at all. If God only used perfect people in His service nothing would ever get done. Nothing! We all have our weaknesses, our blind spots, and our mixed motives. But you know what? God uses us anyhow. God doesn’t need superstars. He needs ordinary people motivated to go. God will bless even our smallest efforts.
One more thing that gets in our way is materialism. Jesus once said this, “No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). Notice the word “cannot”. Now, if God wants to give you money, that’s great. I wish Christians made more money than anyone else because I want to believe we use our financial resources to make an incredible positive impact for Christ. But money cannot be the number one purpose of our lives. We’ve got to decide whether we want to be rich or we want to serve God. We can’t take our money with us, but we do enter heaven by the grace of God in Christ with our faith, our character and our good works, without which faith is dead.
Another stumbling block is comparing and criticizing. It’s difficult to be available to serve when we’re looking at others and rating their contribution, dissecting their theology or diminishing their intentions. We’re all on the same team. Some have more energy than others; some are more reliable; some are more committed and so on. But we’re all here to serve God. Christians can be our own worst enemies; we can be quite harsh on other Christians who don’t stand exactly where we do. Paul asks, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before their own Lord that they stand or fall” (Romans 14:4).
One thing “required of servants is that they be faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). What motivates us to be faithful over the long haul? Well, most of all it’s God’s loves and forgiveness. If God never did another thing for me, I owe Him my life (literally!) for what He’s already done. I also draw encouragement from Paul who wrote, “Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort” (1 Corinthians. 15:58). Whenever we serve in Jesus’ name, no matter how small – it matters. In God’s book there’s no service to insignificant, there’s just faithful service. When I think of all the little acts of service that are done by so many people just to make this worship time come together, it boggles my mind. Likewise, with Pasta Supper or Feeding the Hungry or painting the foyer or teaching our kids, or anything we do. It’s little acts of service all added together. When I think of the impact of thousands of little acts of service, it amazes me how God uses even our smallest efforts.
In the end, we are continually doing one of two things with this gift of life – we’re wasting it or investing it. One day we’ll stand before God and He’s going to ask us what we did with all the talents, gifts, experiences and resources He gave us. We’re made to service God by serving people, when we do, we find purpose. And when we fulfill our purpose, we make God smile.