This Thursday is Thanksgiving and I want to invite you to take some time this week to write down a few things for which you are thankful thanks. Even when we face problems with our health, finances, jobs, and relationships, we can still look around and see many good things for which we are grateful. We are blessed, and we need to identify these blessings and give thanks for all we have, but we have been talking this month about how a blessed life isn’t just found in what we have received, but when we give. Jesus said, it is more blessed to GIVE than to RECEIVE. The true blessing of God doesn’t come from all that we have received in life, but all the ways God shows us that we can give to Him and to others.
We have looked at different ways of giving, and when we think of giving we often think about giving our money, or a portion of our wealth and resources, but today we want to shift from thinking about money to another way of giving that Jesus says will bless us in life. To do this, we are going to look at a story found in John 13.
To set the scene, the disciples were together for a meal and while it wasn’t Thanksgiving dinner, it might as well have been. It was the Passover meal, which means it was the most important meal of the year. Families would travel from all over Israel to come to Jerusalem for the Passover, just as many of us will travel to be with family this coming week.
As the disciples gathered for the meal, each one of them walked by the place set aside for a servant to wash the feet of the guests. The problem was that there was no servant that day, and not one disciple wanted to stop and wash their own feet, let alone the feet of the others. So they gathered at the table with dirty feet.
To imagine what this might be like, imagine everyone at your Thanksgiving table has just gathered together after a nice long walk through a field – filled with cow manure – that no one saw in time – and no one bothered to clean or take off their shoes when they came in. Or imagine that your teenage son has invited everyone from his soccer team to join you for dinner and they all show up after a long practice, in their soccer clothes, and they have taken off their shoes. The place would have smelled and the disciple’s dirty feet wouldn’t have been tucked under the table because they were all reclining at a low table, which means that Peter’s feet were close to the noses of James and John, and Andrew’s foot was in the face of Thomas.
Imagine the aroma of roast lamb mixed with manure, or the aroma of roast turkey and sweat socks. It would not have been pleasant, and yet no one wanted to be the one to do something about it. They all walked right by the basin and towel. They could smell the problem, but no one wanted to do anything about it, and this is where we pick up the story: John 13:4-17.
You will be blessed if you do them. The blessed life comes not by waiting to be served but by being willing to serve. Jesus makes clear that he did not come as the Son of Man to be served but to serve, and he said that we will find life, a blessed life, if we will shift our attitude and perspective from being served to being the one who serves others. A blessed life comes from a heart that is set on serving and while serving others might not be second nature to us, we can train our hearts to beat for service.
The first thing we can do to develop a heart of service is to ask God to open our eyes so that we can see ways to serve. We talked about this last week when we talked about spontaneous giving. All around us are ways we can give to others, we just have to be able to see the opportunities, and the same is true with serving. All around us are ways we can serve others, and if we can see them, and then act on them, we train our hearts for service.
The first place we need to look is at home. Can we see ways to serve our own family? Sometimes it is those closest to us that we overlook. Do we see our children needing love, inspiration, and support? Do we see our parents needing time and care as they get older? Do we see the changing needs of our spouse? As we gather with family this week, let’s ask God to show us how we can serve those around the table, and those in our family.
Beyond our family, can we see the needs of our friends, and those we work with? What needs do we see in our schools and community? My first week as a pastor in Lewisburg, a woman asked me after worship where the children who got free lunches ate during the summer when there was no school. I wasn’t sure how to get to the grocery store myself – I had no idea what the answer was. Was this a need? Was this something the church had been talking about? I had no idea, but her question led us to look for some answers.
We found out there was no lunch program for kids during the summer, but there was a community center that served lunch to many children and youth in the community who needed help. We started providing lunch for them one day a week. Do you know that in Bellefonte there are 115 elementary school children who are given backpacks with food in them so that they will have something to eat at home on the weekends? I can tell you that those who help fill those backpacks are blessed because they are serving.
We need to ask God to help us see ways we can serve and making lists of service opportunities can help keep our eyes open. Seeing is only the first step, however, the second step is to stand up. In John 13 it says that Jesus got up from the table. He stood up to do something. He didn’t just see – or smell – the need, he acted, and there we see that moment of decision that is important in all of our lives. Great ideas and good intentions are nothing without follow through, so we need to learn how to stand up when we see a need.
One way to motivate ourselves to stand up is to commit to serving someone in some way every week. If we commit to doing something on a consistent basis and plan to do it, we will be more likely to act. Can we make a commitment this week to meet one need when we see it? Can we commit to serving our family in one new way on Thanksgiving? Can we commit to serving a neighbor or friend in one way over this holiday weekend? We learn to stand up by simply standing up.
Another way to help us stand up and serve is to ask others to help us. If you know someone who is serving at the food bank – ask if you can join them. Know someone who volunteers at the Faith Centre? Ask if you can go with them. Want to serve here at the church? Let us know and we will work to get you standing up and serving. While asking others to help us serve is one thing, we also need to be bold and invite people to serve with us
I am very good at procrastinating and telling myself that now is not the right time to serve, or I don’t have the right skills to help, so I need people who will be bold and ask to serve with them. I also need people to hold me accountable to serving by asking me how and where and when I am serving others. Too often we are like the disciples sitting around the table thinking someone else will get up and do it, or it is someone else’s job, when all the time God is asking us to stand up.
The third thing we see in Jesus is that he was willing to stoop down. He stood up to act but then he literally had to get down on one knee, or both knees to wash the feet of his disciples. The one to whom all knees will eventually bow to in humility, is the one who is stooping down to do the dirty work. He did the job that no one else wanted to do. He picked up a towel and basin, the tools used by the lowest servant in the household, and went to work. A heart of service stoops down to work in ways that others may not want to – but that work and service, Jesus says, brings a blessed life.
There was a real servant like this here at Faith Church. After going through a group study on the purpose driven life, she said that after a lot of thought, she came up with the idea that her purpose was doing the jobs that other people didn’t want to do. She said that she couldn’t play the piano or sing, and she didn’t think she was a great cook like her good friend Jane Shuey, but she did like washing dishes. She enjoyed cutting up all those labels that the UMW collected for missions. She came in early on Saturday to set up communion, and on Sunday to set up coffee for her Sunday School class. She called to check on people others often overlooked, and she sent cards to people that she knew and those she didn’t know. She also served at Centre Crest where she didn’t wash feet, she washed the resident’s hair.
In very quiet ways, Betty McDonell did those things that others didn’t want to do. She served and blessed all of us, but if you knew Betty then you know she would be first the one to say that she was blessed by serving.
Stooping down to serve often means doing those things that no one else wants to do and being willing to get dirty and learn humility. My very first job in the church was as a leader in my high school youth group. My job was called house and transportation committee, and the committee was me. It was my job to line up transportation for all our youth events, but I also had to make sure that every time youth group was over, no matter where we were, that we left the place cleaner than we found it. While I tried to get everyone on board with cleaning bathrooms, it didn’t always work, so I would clean up after our group. For a year I learned to serve and do those jobs that no one else wanted to do.
Many times as a pastor I have learned that stooping down to serve is part of the true blessing of ministry – and I do mean blessing. My life has been blessed. I’ve cleaned toilets, cleaned up after people who have been sick, and even cleaned up my neighbor’s house after she passed away at home and the first responders left with everything pretty chaotic. I have taken people to the ER, helped clean up after parishioner’s dogs, and yes, even carried a dead dog out of a woman’s house when the dog died in the living room and needed to be taken away. You just learn to do what needs to be done, and I have learned that with each experience, I am more blessed by serving. I know that what I have done has been helpful, but as I look back on all of those experiences I realize that I am the one who has been blessed when I have been willing to stoop down and serve.
If we can let go of our pride, or position, and seeking out those places of importance, and stand up to help and stoop down to serve – we will be blessed. In this season of the year, there are always opportunities for us to stand up and stoop down. I want to invite you to stand up to serve – not literally – but make the commitment today to serve in some intentional way during this next month.
(See Next Steps)
We all have good intentions of giving our time and serving others during the Christmas Season, but the busyness of the season can eat up all our time and wipe away all our good intentions. Stand up now and commit to serving, and then ask someone to hold you accountable to doing it. Commit now to serving and invite someone to serve with you. Nothing will bless your life more
Jesus said, I have given you an example of service and you will be blessed if you do it. We will experience the blessed life when we develop a genuine heart of service that helps us see the needs, stand up to help, and stoop down to serve.
The Blessed Life – A Heart of Service
I am thankful for:
1. See the need
Ask God to show you the needs of:
● Your family
● Your friends
● Your neighbors
● Your coworkers
● Your community
● Your church
When you see a need, write it down. Create a journal or list of needs to train your eyes and heart to see the needs of others. Share the list with someone.
2. Stand Up
I commit today to standing up to do something to serve.
● Here is one way I can serve this week of Thanksgiving:
● Here is one way I can serve in this season of Advent and Christmas:
3. Stoop Down
Pray for the humility to serve in ways that no one else wants to serve. Read John 13:1-17 and Philippians 2:1-18.
Ask God for a heart that is willing to serve others in humility.
Who has humbled themselves to serve you? Use this example to inspire you to be humble and serve others.