Selfless In Service – Sermon on John 13:1-17

January 28, 2018
Watch a video of this sermon here.

We’re in a message series called Self-less, We live in an incredibly selfish, self-centered, self-gratifying, self-promoting culture. In fact, if you look up the work “self-promotion” on Google, right on the first page, you will see article after article teaching you how to promote yourself.

One is called, “The Art of Self-Promotion: “6 Ways to Get Your Work Discovered.” Forbes wrote one called, “Self-promotion is a Skill.” In other words, if you want to make it in this society, you better learn how to promote yourself. Then there’s this is one: “40 Ways to Self-Promote Without Being a Jerk.”

It seems like everyone in today’s culture wants to be the GOAT. Raise your hand if you know what that is. I’ll give you folks over the age of 50 a hint: Muhammad Ali made this claim back when he was still known as Cassius Clay. Do you remember? He said, “I am the … greatest!” GOAT is an acronym for the Greatest Of All Time.

The problem is that, if you want to follow Jesus in our self-promoting, self-centered, selfish-oriented culture, Jesus’ teaching is diametrically opposed to all of that. This is what Jesus said: If you want to follow me, first you must deny yourself and pick up your cross.

In other words, you have to die to your own selfish natures and then, you follow me. Jesus said, if you want to be great, you don’t self-promote. Instead, Jesus said, “the greatest among you will be your servant.”

Christ calls us, invites us, to be selfless, denying self and taking on the very nature of a servant. In other words, as Jesus followers, serving is not just something that we do. It reflects who we are. A servant is who we’re called to be at our very core.

We could say it this way – Repeat after me:

I am a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I serve others, I am serving Christ.

Serving isn’t just what we do, a servant is who we are. And there is no better example of how we can be servants of Christ than Christ himself.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper  Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,  got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, 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, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:1-17)

Do you hear a theme running through these scripture passages today? First we heard about David, carrying provisions to his brothers on the battlefield. Then we have Tabitha, or Dorcas, sewing clothes for the poor and caring for widows. Now we have Jesus, kneeling in front of his followers with a towel around his waist, washing their stinking feet. Bringing food, making clothes, carrying a towel – these are not examples of self-promotion. They are examples of being servants.

Let me ask you: If somebody were to describe you with the word “always,” what would they say? “He’s always doing such and such” or “She’s always doing this.” What would others say that you are always doing?

Maybe people would say you’re always encouraging, or they might say you’re always griping. They might say you’re always finding fault, or they might say you’re always finding good. What would they say that you’re always doing? Maybe it’s, ”Man, he’s always working” or, “She’s always working out.” “She’s always sharing her faith.” “He’s always talking about fishing.” What would others say that you are always doing? [Tell your neighbor.]

So let’s talk about being faithful in service. That word ‘faithful’ means it’s something we are always doing. Tabitha – or Dorcas – was always doing good things for other people. She was a servant of Jesus Christ. And look at David. He became famous as a war hero, and ended up as King of Israel, but how did he get to be so great?

You might think that he was great because he won the battle against Goliath. But we need to go further back into David’s story to see what really made him into a great leader. David was promoted in the kingdom of God because he had the heart of a servant.

David was the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons. While his older brothers were out fighting at war, David was left behind to tend the sheep. When his father Jesse sent him with food for his brothers, he did what he was told. He might have been wishing he was old enough to go fight the Philistines, but he was obedient. And it turned out that he got to fight the most decisive battle of all.

We have to be willing to do what may seem insignificant, what isn’t often visible to others. What you do may feel like it’s behind the scenes, but getting promoted in the kingdom of God is never by self-promotion, it’s always by serving. It’s not about what we do; it’s about who we are. We are servants of Christ, who was a servant to all.

This image of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is one of the most powerful pictures from the New Testament. The setting is a Passover meal among friends in an upper room. Jesus is seated there with his disciples, and his whole life’s purpose is about to be fulfilled. This is his last chance to teach his followers what it means to surrender completely to God’s will, even if it means suffering and death.

And then, an argument breaks out among the disciples. Do you know what they were arguing about? This is what they wanted to know: Who’s the GOAT? Who is the greatest of all time?

Who gets to sit next to Jesus in the Kingdom of God? Who gets pride of place? Who gets the most recognition? Who gets to be the most important? Who’s the GOAT? Who’s the greatest of all time?

Jesus is sitting at the table, knowing that he did not come to be served, but to serve. He looks around and sees proud hearts, and dirty feet. And so what does Jesus do? He gets up from the meal, takes off his outer clothing, and wraps a towel around his waist. Then he pours water into a basin, and he begins to wash his disciples’ feet.

This was the most scandalous act of selfless service that anyone had ever seen. Peter says what they are all thinking: “No Jesus, you can’t do this! Not you, and not to me.” You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” Keep in mind that footwear in first century Judea meant sandals. The primary mode of transportation was walking. So feet got dirty.

Today, if you came to my house, I might say, can I take your coat? Can I offer you a cup of coffee? But in Jesus’ day, a polite host would have a servant bring you a bowl of water and a towel so you could wash your feet before coming into the house.

Washing your feet as you entered someone’s home was the polite thing to do. But your host would not be the one washing your feet. Not even a servant would wash your feet – they’d just bring you the water and towel.

But Jesus looks around the room, and he sees proud hearts and dirty feet, and Jesus grabs a towel and a bowl, gets down on his knees, and starts washing feet.

Who … is … Jesus?
He is the son of God. He is the bread of life.
He is the prince of peace; he is the living water.
He is the great high priest; he is the light of the world.
He is the Lamb of God; he is the righteous judge.
He is the living stone; he is the true vine.
He is the King of glory; he is the chosen one.
He is the King of all kings; he is the Lord of all lords.
He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
He is our redeemer, he is our righteousness,
he is our sanctification, he is our rock,
he is our Lord.

And he knelt down, took a bowl, grabbed a towel, and he washed feet.

Because Jesus knew the greatest among you, is never a self-promoter. The greatest is always a servant. Jesus said, “I didn’t come to be served, I came to serve others, to give my life as a ransom for sins. It’s who I am.” Because serving is not just something we do, a servant is who we are. I am a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, and when I serve others, I’m serving Jesus Christ.

Jesus told another story, in Matthew 25. Jesus said, “One day, at the end of time, all the people will be standing before me, and I’m going to separate them. I’ll put the sheep on this side, and on the other side, I’’ll put the GOATs.”

The GOATs say, “I wanna be the greatest of all time.” And Jesus will say to the GOATs, “I’m sorry, but we didn’t know each other.” And he’ll say to the sheep, “Welcome into the kingdom I have prepared for you, because when I was thirsty, you gave me a drink. And when I was locked out, you invited me in. And when I was sick, you prayed for me. And when I was in prison, you visited me.”

And the sheep will look back and say, “When did that happen, Jesus? When did we visit you, or give you something to drink?” And Jesus will look back and them and said, “What you did to the least of these, you actually did to me. When you visited someone else in prison, you were showing love to me. When you made it possible for someone to get access to clean drinking water by providing a well, you were actually doing that to me. When you welcomed somebody who didn’t feel welcome, and you showed them love and grace, you were actually welcoming me. Well done, good and faithful servant.”

How do you become truly great? By being less about you, and more about Christ; by being more about meeting the needs of other people, and less about getting your own needs met. Because serving isn’t just something that we do, serving is our essence, it’s our core.

You may say, “But I’m not great at much. I may be able to do something small but it’s very insignificant.” Listen, in the kingdom of God, the little things are the big things. It’s the little things, it’s the things that you do when nobody else is looking, it’s what you do when you feel insignificant that really matters.

Today we honor the United Methodist Women. These women understand service. But they aren’t the only ones in this church who serve. Let me tell you about some other servants. There’s a team of nearly 40 people who take turns making the Saturday Community Breakfast happen each month. More than ten caring adults devote their Wednesday nights to teaching our children and youth how to follow Jesus; and another group of people take turns preparing meals for that Wednesday Family Night event.

There are folks who set up, tear down, and staff the Diaper Depot at the county fair each summer; and the dozen or so people who dress up in costumes to welcome children and their parents to Trunk or Treat each October. And then there are the behind-the-scenes servants, like those who create and run the slide show that gets us through worship, and those who record and edit the video of our worship to share with the community access channel.

There are more people who take turns staffing our nursery and leading the KidsConnect! lessons, or putting together the busy bags for kids to use during worship. There’s the hospitality crew who greet you at the door and make sure there’s coffee and the worship space is ready for you when you get here. There are the children who take turns gathering the Wednesday night offering and serving the Bread and Cup during Wednesday night communion. These are just some examples of people who have said “Yes” to following Jesus, and have found joy and meaning in serving Christ by serving others.

What are you always doing? If someone were to describe your life, wouldn’t it be amazing if they said, “Oh, he’s always offering a ride.” “She’s always carrying a towel.” “He’s always bringing a lunch.” “She’s always holding a baby.” “He’s always welcoming people at the door.” “She’s always giving to somebody who’s in need.” “Oh, he’s always praying.” “Oh, she’s always being cheerful.”

Then one day you’ll be before God in Heaven, and Jesus may look at you and say, “Thank you for encouraging me when I was only 15. Every week when you met with that group of teenagers, or prepared the meal on Wednesday nights, you were loving and serving me. Because what you did unto the least of these my sisters and brothers, you were doing unto me.”

We each need to find a consistent place to serve, a place to use our gifts. It may be someplace in the church. It may be someplace in the community. But we each need a place that week after week, we are there, consistently serving in the name and for the love of Jesus. Because of what he did for me, because of what he did for you, we are servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, and when we serve others, we are serving Christ.

Then, every single day when we wake up, we can say, “God, this is the day that you have made, I will be glad and rejoice in it. Give me eyes to see people who are in need. God, give me a heart that breaks for the things that break your heart. I am your servant. When you call, let my answer be yes. You may prompt me to carry a lunch. You may tell me to wash somebody’s feet. Whatever you ask of me, I will say yes to you, because serving isn’t what I do, it’s who I am.

And then one day, if someone were to ask the question, what’s he always doing, what’s she always doing? They would have a really powerful answer. She’s always serving. He’s always making a difference. She’s always helping people see the love of Jesus. He’s always there, every single week, showing up consistently. You can count on her, she doesn’t just talk about Jesus, she lives the love of Jesus. They are servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This sermon, and others in the “Selfless” series, are based on outlines offered by Craig Groeschel of life.church on their Open network. The “Selfless” series artwork and support materials can be downloaded for FREE  here. 

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