Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Mark of Service

Romans 12:1-16a

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. 

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 
If it is serving, let him serve;
if it is teaching, let him teach; 
if it is encouraging, let him encourage;
if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously;
if it is leadership, let him govern diligently;
if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. 
Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
Honor one another above yourselves. 
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 
Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 
Live in harmony with one another.


A man went to the doctor after weeks of symptoms.

The doctor examined him carefully, then called the patient’s wife into his office.

“I have bad news,” the doctor told the man’s wife. 

“Your husband is suffering from a rare disease. Without treatment, he’ll be dead in a few weeks. The good news is, it can be treated with proper care.

“You will need to get up early every morning and fix your husband a hot breakfast—pancakes, bacon and eggs, the works. He’ll need a home-cooked lunch every day, and then an old-fashioned meat-and-potato dinner every evening. It would be especially helpful if you could bake frequently. Cakes, pies, homemade bread—these are the things that will allow your husband to live.

“One more thing. His immune system is weak, so it’s important that your home be kept spotless at all times. If your husband is to live, you have to wait on this man hand and foot.  Do you have any questions?”

The wife had none.

“Do you want to break the news, or shall I,” asked the doctor.

“I will,” the wife replied.

She walked into the exam room. The husband, sensing the seriousness of his illness, asked her, “Well, what did the doctor say?”

With a sob, the wife blurted out, “The doctor says you’re gonna die!”

There is something about human nature that simply resists the call to be a servant.  For the most part, we don’t like to wait on anyone hand and foot, or even for a few moments.

Being a servant is not what anyone wants to be.

Ask a child, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

You will get all sorts of answers – firefighter, soldier, police officer, teacher, astronaut – but not often will a child say, “When I grow up I want to be a servant.”

It is against our nature in this culture.  But in our New Testament Lesson for today, St. Paul tells Christians, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  

In other words, it doesn’t matter that society tells us one thing, we don’t have to conform to that pattern.  We can be transformed in such a way that we can see the great value in what the world thinks of as being without value.

St. Paul goes on in this reading from Romans to say, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us … If a man's gift is serving, let him serve.”

            The rest of culture may look down upon being a servant, but to be a Christian is to be willing to live a life of a servant. 

            Our elders have identified seven marks of Christian discipleship, and one of these marks is “service in and beyond the congregation.” 

Since being a servant doesn’t seem to come very naturally to us, I want to suggest a handful of keys on how one begins to become a good servant.

The first key is that you have to KNOW WHO YOU WORK FOR.

There is a wonderful story in John Kenneth Galbraith’s autobiography, A Life in Our Times.  Emily Gloria Wilson was his family's housekeeper.  On one particularly difficult day, Galbraith asked Emily to hold all telephone calls while he took a nap. Shortly thereafter the phone rang. President Lyndon Johnson was calling from the White House.
"Get me Ken Galbraith. This is Lyndon Johnson."
"Sorry Mr. President,” she said, “He’s sleeping.”
“Now look here, I’m the President of the United States.”
“Sorry Mr. President, but he said not to disturb him."
"Well, wake him up. I want to talk to him."
"No, Mr. President. I work for him, not you.”
When Galbraith called the President back, Johnson could scarcely control his pleasure. "Tell that woman I want her to work here in the White House.  It’s great to meet somebody who knows who she works for."   (Houghton Mifflin in Reader's Digest, December, 1981.)
            If you are going to be successful  as a servant, you need to know who you work for – and as a Christian servant, you work for God.

We are like Emily in Galbraith’s story.  Others are always calling on us trying to tell us what to do.  The world is calling.  Our flesh is calling.  The devil himself will try to call us and direct us what to do.

Our business colleagues may require us to do something dishonest.  Our best friend may urge us to do something that is in his best interest, but is unsafe or unwise for us to do.  And like Emily in the story, you have to make a decision when you are called upon by others – who do you work for?

We work for God.

We are not going to be conformed to the world.  We have a law of God we conform to. 

So as we serve others, we may not always serve their desires or pleasures.  We serve them knowing that ultimately we work for God and we remain obedient to Him.

The next key to being a servant is to SERVE WITH WORDS.

Our New Testament lesson from Romans said that if a person’s gift “is encouraging, let him encourage.” 

Encouraging one another with our words can be one of the greatest acts of service we can provide.

            We don’t encourage each other nearly enough, and all of us are thirsty for words of encouragement.

            I met a man recently who was telling me about an experience he had while he was on vacation in the Bahamas.  He said he was walking along and he came to a pier and as he approached the pier he could tell that there was a great commotion going on, so he walked onto the pier to see what was going on.

            He looked down and saw this modern day adventurer, this young sailor who was preparing this homemade sailing boat for a solo trip around the world.  My friend said that all of these tourists were gathered around the pier and they were looking down at this young man and they were shouting things like,  "You're crazy.  It can't be done.  You'll never make it.  You're an idiot.  You'll run out of food.  You'll die of thirst."

            My friend said everyone was pessimistic, but there was in that crowd one lone voice that was different.  Perhaps a friend or relative of the young sailor, this voice was shouting, "I believe in you.  I've got confidence.  You're going to make it.  You've built a good boat.  You've made a solid plan.  You'll show them all."

            Man, what a perfect example of life.
The old song, "Home on the Range," sings about a place where “seldom is heard a discouraging word." 

            But we in out time and place seldom hear an encouraging word. 

            Paul in our New Testament lesson speaks of encouragement as a spiritual gift. And it is a rare and precious gift that all of us have to some degree -- or at least we should.  But some of us have it in a very special way.

            But all of us ought to be able to give encouraging words to one another.  That is a great way to serve others.

            The author of Hebrews made a comment (Hebrews 3:13)  "Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."

            Encourage one another daily.

            In his first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, Paul said, "Encourage one another.  Build one another up."

            And yet many of us put one another down.

            Many of us stand at life's piers and we look down on other people and we say, "You're never going to make it.  You don't have what it takes.  You're not good enough."

            Yesterday there were 248 people gathered here at Grace Covenant, each of us representing one of the five Presbyterian Church USA congregations in the Downtown Orlando area.  We were here to pack small packets of rice and dried vegetables and vitamins - enough to have 50,000 meals!  We did it in 3 hours. 

There were no words of discouragement - but encouragement.  You can do it.  Let me help you.  We're getting closer to our goal.  We even had a cheerleader with pom poms to encourage us!

            You want to be a servant?  Find ways to serve with your words.

            But words are not enough. 

            We need to SERVE WITH ACTIONS as well as with our words.

I learned something about the Dead Sea recently.  I knew already, you as you probably know, that the Dead Sea is so salty that it contains no fish or plant life.

But what I didn’t know until recently is why this body of water has so much salt.

It is because there are absolutely no outlets!

A great volume of water pours into this area, but nothing flows out. Many inlets plus no outlets equal a dead sea because all of the minerals in the water stay right there in the Dead Sea, making it dead.

This law of nature may also be applied to the child of God, and it explains why many believers are so unfruitful and lacking in spiritual vitality.

Some people come to church and become Christian only for what they receive.  They don’t have any outlets.  They aren’t giving, they are taking.  They aren’t serving, they are here to be served. 

Without those outlets of service, everything in their soul becomes stale.  (suggested by a devotional, Our Daily Bread, March-May, 1996, devotion for May 22). 

Our New Testament lesson suggests that service involves actions.  At one point St. Paul says, that if your gift is “contributing to the needs of others, give generously.”  Elsewhere in this morning’s lesson it says, “Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

These are activities that go beyond serving others with words. 

But as hard as it often is to serve others with encouraging words, it is more difficult to serve others with actions.

You know how when someone dies, everyone will call the house and speak with the family and say, “If there is anything I can do, please let me know.”

Well, I knew a family several years ago that had a death in the household and they decided they really did need some help.

So they made a list.

Someone needs to pick up grandma at the airport.
Someone needs to baby-sit during the funeral.
Someone needs to pick up the dry cleaning.
Someone needs to vacuum the house because of all the company that’s coming.

So when people called and said, “If there is anything I can do, please let me know,” this family gave them the list and let them know what they could do.

And people got upset and indignant.  They weren’t seriously offering help.  It was just a thing to say.  Words.  No actions were intended.

But we need to serve others with actions.  And sometimes those actions aren’t all that exciting for us.  But they need to be done.

Picking up someone’s grandma at the airport?

You look around and you see people who are sick, or weak, or in distress.  All it takes is a visit.  A card.  A meal taken to the house.  A helping hand.

St. Paul said in Galatians, (6:2),  “Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
We serve with our words.
We serve with our actions.

As Christians we want to be true followers of Christ, not simply fans who like Jesus – we want to be committed disciples.  On the bulletin each week for about a month we’ve listed seven marks of discipleship, and one of them is to “serve God in and beyond the local congregation.”

Do you embrace and demonstrate service in your life?

That is just another way of asking, “Are you good for anything?”

A Spanish philosopher used to tell the story about the Roman aqueduct at Segovia, in his native Spain.

It was built in 109 A.D.

For eighteen hundred years, it carried cool water from the mountains to the hot and thirsty city. Nearly sixty generations of people drank from its flow. Then came another generation, a recent one, who said, "This aqueduct is so great a marvel that it ought to be preserved for our children, as a museum piece. We shall relieve it of its centuries-long service."

They did; they laid modern iron pipes. They gave the ancient bricks and mortar a rest from service.

And the aqueduct began to fall apart.

The sun beating on the dry mortar caused it to crumble. The bricks and stone sagged and threatened to fall.

What ages of service could not destroy idleness disintegrated very quickly.  (Resource, Sept./ Oct., 1992, p. 4)

As a disciple of Christ, you either serve, or you dry up.

Copyright Maynard Pittendreigh, 2013