Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Families Under the Cross - Serving One Another

Families Under the Cross, a Lenten Series by Rev. David Johnson.
Families Under the Cross: Families Serving One Another.
This sermon from an outline by Pastor Johnson.
Philippians 2:1-11, John 13:1-7
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:1-11, ESV)
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” (Jn 13:1-7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Did you know that you have a calling by God to serve?  You do.  God has placed you in a family to serve your neighbor.  The command to love and serve your neighbor starts with your closest neighbors, the members of your family, the people who you rub elbows with every day.  All too often we think that God’s call for us to serve is most closely connected to what happens here in this building, as if the work that goes on here is closer to God than the stuff that goes on in our families.  
Families Under the Cross, are called to serve one another but it’s not always an easy thing to do, is it?  In fact, serving each other in our families is a challenge every single day.  Think about the husband who comes home after a full day at work, ready for a relaxing evening of reading the paper and catching up on some TV.  “Honey,” a voice says, “I could really use some help getting the house ready for our company.”
“Mommy will you play with me?”  comes a small voice right in the middle of finally getting to the week’s laundry.  
“Mom, I really need you to watch the kids today.  We’ve an important meeting to go to tonight?”
“Son, you haven’t called me in ages.  It’s been very hard for me to be alone since your father died.”
These voices in our families are God, tapping us on the shoulder, asking us to serve, asking us to take care of our nearest neighbors.  Just think of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus tells about this man who cared for his neighbor in need.  Jesus told the story in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  The Samaritan helps the Jew who’s been robbed and beaten in the ditch.  The parable isn’t more that a morality tale, it’s a definition.  Our neighbor is anyone who has a need.  No one knows better than you the needs of the people in your family.  Your husband, you wife, your kids, your parents, your grandparents and even the dog!  God’s call to serve your neighbor begins with your closest neighbors.  The ones you are most able to serve.  
But even for Christian families, it is a challenge to serve.  Sin causes us to be more self-centered than we should be.  Sin wants us to practice quid-pro-quo (that is you do for me then I’ll do for you).  Sin wants us to hold service against our family members.  And even Christians have to deal with sin, the sin that lives right here in our hearts.  Serving our Families Under the Cross is difficult because there are many ways that sin shows up in our service to our closest neighbors.  
You know very well the worn out feeling that comes with our community responsibilities.  Work is challenging and difficult it often takes extra time we don’t have.  School activities fill every single night.  We want our children to be active, but often that means giving up every other family activity.  And other well meaning people in the community demand your presence as a sign that the things around here are not going south.  These pressures add up and there are many times when we just don’t have the energy to serve anyone.  It’s easier to just veg, to think about ourselves, to complain, and to find excuses, and to avoid helping others altogether.  
We want our precious free time to be about what we want.  The fishing pole or shotgun seem much more important than our families.  That good book we’ve been wanting to read, the dinner out with a friend rate higher than the needs of our children and husband.  I heard that some parents who have a day off will still drop their kids of a day-care so they can have free time not bothered by their children.  A couple who do that need to rethink their priorities.  All of us have a tendency to put our own goals and desires ahead of others.  And most often those who are closest to us are the most likely recipient to our neglect and selfishness.
On the other hand, we all do have the need for some “me” time.  The real challenge is keeping the two needs in balance.  That’s what St. Paul is talking about in our text.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  He’s talking about both.  Taking care of your own needs and taking care of others.  We often misunderstand God’s will on this point.  It’s just as bad to neglect the interests of others, as it is to completely ignore our own.  There’s a deep ditch of sin on either side.  We cannot live as God would have us live by completely ignoring others needs or completely ignoring our own.  
We can get “burned out” in serving.  How many examples of that have you seen.  Grandparents taking care of their grandchildren full-time, when they should be doing retirement stuff.  Single parents who haven’t the time or resources to do anything else.  Or children who are struggling with the needs of their aging parents and their dependant children.  People in those situations can feel resentment, and rightly so.  Especially when their lives are stuck in continual give mode.
We are wrong when we think that the godly thing to do is forget all about our needs in favor of the needs of others.  Some folks overdose on responsibility.  They have a very difficult time letting other people lend a hand.  For example, recruiting someone in church to do a job, and then telling them exactly how it must be done.  And there are those among us that take on other people’s problems as if they were their own.  Some folks are dependant on other people’s need.
When we talk about Serving Each Other as Families Under the Cross, we are talking about a proper distinction between Servant hood and Servitude.  
Servitude allows others to take advantage.  Servant hood serves with the heart toward the best interests of the person you are serving.  Including the interest of not allowing the person to manipulate.  A parent who gives into every whim of their whining child is not serving their child. A parent who demands their grown child drop everything every day to get a few items at the store isn’t being rightly served.  Servitude is bondage to the will of others, without regard to your own.   Real servant hood is doing what is in the best interest of the one you are serving.  “You’ll not get anything while you are whining.  If you are quiet I’ll consider it.”  “Mom, I’ll be glad to do your shopping for you.  You know I love you, but I can’t go to the store every day, you’ll have to make a list so I can do it just once a week.”  That’s a healthy balance.  When servant hood turns to servitude, both the person served and the person serving are demeaned.
That’s the challenge for families under the cross isn’t it.  We hear from God’s word that we are to be servants.  He tells us what true servant hood is.  He tells us how to serve without falling off the road on either side.  Of course there are times when we need to and should ignore our own needs for the sake of others.  But that doesn’t mean it has to be always.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Jesus shows us what it means to serve each other humbly.  He shows us what it means to be Families Under the Cross, serving one another.  He became a humble servant.  He took on human flesh to restore us to God’s family.  
Now there’s always a danger in using Jesus as an example, because of course, we can’t do it as well has he did.  In fact, we’ll always fall very well short.  Jesus did it perfectly, we never will.  Jesus served all that he was able, and yet never neglected his own need.  He didn’t’ heal everyone.  He often had to get away by himself to pray.  He got tired and needed sleep and rest.  And he even let others serve him, like the woman who washed his feet with her hair.  And when it was time to suffer and die for our sins, he did what we needed most.  He had us at the heart of the matter.  He had our best interest in mind.  
He did what you and I can’t do, he did what no human being could ever do.  He accepted the total responsibility for our sin.  He did it willingly.  I lay down my life for the sheep...No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  He’s talking about his death on the cross.  There he rescues us from God’s anger and punishment.  He stands in our place bearing it all.  Even the punishment we deserve for being self serving instead of serving others.  He bears it all, even our over serving at our own expense.  He bears it all, even when we serve out of only selfish motives.  He bears it all, even when we fail to live up to the special calling we have to serve especially those in our own families.  And for Jesus sake, because of his taking our punishment, God forgives it all.  
That’s the thing about Families Under the Cross.  We serve, however imperfectly, knowing that God forgives our sins and failures.  That makes all the difference.  When we serve with God’s forgiveness in mind we can serve out of selflessness.  We can allow others to serve us when we are in need.  With the Holy Spirit working in our hearts through Word and Sacraments we can and do, do the things that our families need us to do for them, and the things we need to do for ourselves.  And we can give forgiveness to each other when we fall short of serving our families the way we should.  
Serving each other under the cross builds healthy relationships.  We become more committed to each other because we know that we can depend on each other.  Serving one another gives our children and grandchildren an important example.  Children learn best by seeing and doing.  It’s not easy, and we all will fail because as sinful human beings we can’t do it perfectly.  But Jesus did.  He served us by giving His life.  He gives forgiveness for all our failures, especially while we try to do what he asks as Families Under the Cross, Serving One Another.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

No comments: