Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Peering Outside Our Walls: Serving Those Outside Our Walls

How would you answer the question, “Who was Jesus?” There are so many things we could say about his life. A Savior, a shepherd, a perfect human being. Gregory of Nazianzus (Fourth Century) wrote these words:
He began His ministry by being hungry, yet He is the Bread of Life.
Jesus ended His earthly ministry by being thirsty, yet He is the Living Water.
Jesus was weary, yet He is our rest.
Jesus paid tribute, yet He is the King.
Jesus was accused of having a demon, yet He cast out demons.
Jesus wept, yet He wipes away our tears.
Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver, yet He redeemed the world.
Jesus was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet He is the Good Shepherd.
Jesus died, yet by His death He destroyed the power of death.
This is one of those poems we need hours to digest, taking each line by itself, meditating on the life of Jesus. But, what if you had to put the life of Jesus into words. What images would you use? What story do you most remember about Jesus? Is there one story that typifies his life more than any other? One story that represents a microcosm of his life on this earth? Obviously, many of us would choose the crucifixion narrative. Or perhaps the Resurrection narrative, maybe even the Ascension narrative. But if I could point to one story that answers the question, “Who was Jesus?” I know where I would look. I would look at John chapter 13.
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 NRSV)
What makes Jesus’ role as a servant so remarkable is his family tree. Think about it. Who is the most powerful family you can think of? The Kennedys, the Bushes, the Clintons? Jesus’ family makes each of these groups look like starving, homeless misfits out in the street. Jesus was from the family of the Creator…and John wants you to know. Look how John sets up this episode concerning Jesus’ service. Jesus knew it was almost time for him to return to his father. Jesus knew that his father had put all things under his power. After all, he had come from GOD! Don’t pass over these words without realizing their significance. This person John is talking about is royalty! But not just ordinary royalty, He is the Son of God! The God who created the world, the God who led millions of people out of Egypt, the God who caused it to rain for 40 days and nights. This “Jesus” was great—I think sometimes we forget that!

In 1715 King Louis XIV of France died after a reign of 72 years. He had called himself "the Great." He was the monarch who made the famous statement, "I am the state!" His court was the most magnificent in Europe. His funeral was equally spectacular. As his body lay in state in a golden coffin, orders were given that the cathedral should be very dimly lit with only a special candle set above his coffin. This was intended to dramatize his greatness. At the memorial, thousands waited in hushed silence. But just before the Bishop began to speak, he slowly reached down. He snuffed out the candle and said, "Only God is great." Lest we forget, only God is great! And this “Jesus” was this God’s Son! Jesus was heir to the throne of the world!

And this great man became nothing!

Jesus became a Servant! John’s words in verses 3–4 amaze me. He has just discussed the great lineage of Jesus. But as verse 3 begins, John says…
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come from the Father and that He was returning to the Father, He [therefore] got up from dinner and took off His garments, and put on a towel. (John 13:3-4) 
John seems to imply that Jesus performed this act, not in spite of being royalty, but because he was royalty. This turns our entire worldview upside down. We usually think of kings being served with many servants, not having to lift a finger, like the King from The King and I. Or, have you ever noticed the actions of NBA players when they return to the bench? They sit down, someone puts a towel around their neck, someone puts a Gatorade bottle in their hands, another person might take his shoe off and rub out a cramp. And when they return to the court, the toss the towel away. Usually just right there on the floor for someone else to pick up. It’s kind of comical to watch sometimes. They don’t have to lift a finger! Everything is done for them.

But Jesus is much more important than a star athlete, or even an earthly king. And John says… “Because he knew how important he was…he put on a towel.” You know, some people think Jesus’ days of service ended in 33 AD. He went to sit by his Father in heaven and forgot about us. He did these wonderful things, but then disappeared. I have a problem with that. Because I still see Jesus serving every day. I see Jesus here…daily. Just in case some of you think I might be seeing visions, let me explain myself.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:5-17 NRSV)
One of the most wonderful passages in all of Scripture…Think of what this passage is saying. Christ died, rose, and went to be with the Father. But whoever accepts Christ, Christ comes and lives inside the person. They die and Christ takes over. That person becomes an heir with Christ.
That person becomes a son of God! So, the service of Christ lives on! In the lives of His children, in the lives of His heirs, through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, living inside each one of us!

So, why is this so important for us to hear today?

An American man was in India in 1967. He spent several months in a TB sanitarium with tuberculosis. After finally being admitted into the sanitarium he tried to give Christian tracts to everyone he saw. Patients, doctors, nurses, but no one would take them. He could tell that they weren’t really happy with him. A rich American (to them all Americans were rich) being in a government sanitarium. They didn’t know that he was just as broke as they were! He was quite discouraged. He was extremely sick. Everyone was angry with him and he was not able to share the message of Christ. The language barrier and no one even bothered to listen anyway. The first few nights, he woke up around 2:00 a.m. every morning, coughing. One morning as he was going through a coughing spell he noticed one of the older (and certainly sicker) patients. He was across the aisle trying to get out of bed. He would sit up on the edge of the bed and try to stand, but he was just too weak. He would immediately fall back into bed…exhausted. Then the American heard the older man begin to cry softly. The next morning he realized what the man was trying to do. He was simply trying to get up and walk to the bathroom. He was not able to make it. He had been too sick, too weak. So, the next morning, the stench in the ward was awful. Most of the other patients yelled insults at the man. The nurses were extremely agitated and angry. They had to clean up the mess. They moved him roughly from side to side to take care of the problem. One of the nurses in her anger even slapped him. The man, terribly embarrassed, just curled up into a ball and wept. The next night, also around 2:00 a.m., the American again awoke coughing and once again, he noticed the man across the aisle sit up. He was still too weak. He fell back whimpering as the night before. This young American was like most of us. He didn’t like bad smells. He didn’t want to become involved. He was sick himself. But before he realized what had happened, he was out of bed. He went over to the old man. The old man was still crying and did not hear him approach. As he reached down and touched his shoulder his eyes opened. He was scared. The young American simply smiled. He bent down and picked him up. Even though he was sick and weak, he was certainly stronger than the old man. This older man was extremely light because of his old age and advanced TB. He walked down the hall to the washroom if you could call it that. It was actually just a smelly, filthy small room with a hole in the floor. He stood behind the man and held him up. After he finished, he picked him up and carried him back to his bed. As he began to lay the man down, the elder man kissed the young American on the cheek. He smiled, and he said something which probably meant “thank you” in his language.

It was amazing what happened the next morning. One of the other patients woke the American around 4:00. He’d never met him before. But he handed him a steaming cup of delicious Indian tea. He then made motions with his hands. He didn’t know any English. He wanted a tract. As the sun came up, some of the other patients began to approach. Each of them took booklets. He had tried to distribute before, to no avail. Throughout the day people came to the young American, asking for the Gospel booklets. This included the nurses, the hospital interns, the doctors. Finally everybody in the hospital had a tract, booklet, or Gospel of John. Over the next few days, this sickly TB patient was able to become Christ. What did it take to reach these people with the Good News? It certainly wasn’t health. It definitely wasn’t the ability to speak. It took a simple act. One man getting off his bed and taking an old man to the bathroom. Anyone could have done that!

It’s amazing to continue to watch Christ serve in this world.

Have you seen Christ in this church? How have you seen Him? Where have you seen Him?

We’ve been discussing all summer long how people outside these walls see Jesus. How can we make an impact in a community like ours? How can we communicate Jesus to people who are skeptical of the church? I believe Jesus gives us the answer in John 13. There was a common fad among Christians a few years ago. Wearing WWJD bracelets. I didn’t all together like the fad. I think the creators of this fad missed something very important. They overlooked a very important detail. WWJD stands for: What Would Jesus Do? I have a problem with the world “would.” There is no past tense involved in the life of Christ. Jesus continues to work among us. Perhaps the slogan should read: What Does Jesus Do? Then, we would not only be reminded of how we are to act, but we would also notice how Jesus continues to act among us. People would once again admire the service of Christ in the world. Just like a group of His friends did 2000 years ago in a small poorly lit room when Jesus took off his crown and put on a towel.

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