The Way of the Cross - Week 4: "Serve"

This week I'll be continuing the sermon series "The Way of The Cross: Following Christ On the Lenten Path."   

Each week we'll be exploring one of the core values of our church as a Lenten practice, a spiritual discipline that we can take up --both as individuals and as a community.  Our core values are: Worship, Connect, Grow, Serve and Invite.  

Today we'll be talking about what it means to Serve.  

I have a really big question that I think needs to be asked and answered before we go any further:  

If we cease to exist tomorrow--who would miss us?  Seriously, if we shuttered this whole thing and locked the doors forever tomorrow morning, would anyone in our community miss us?  

Or would they say---"Man, I really hope they put an Alamo Drafthouse there?"   

A couple of years ago, I was asked to moderate an elder meeting for a small, dying congregation in a neighboring town.  Their worship attendance had dropped down to less than fifty a Sunday, and over half of the members were in their eighties.  

Before the meeting I'd had a conversation with the Clerk of their Session, who glumly admitted that the church would probably be gone in less than ten years.  

Their meeting was filled with the usual boring stuff and it looked like I was going to get out of there a bit early.  Then one of the elders spoke up, "I want to talk about a big problem that we are having, and I think we need to do something about it sooner rather than later." 

She went on to explain that the church property was being overrun by kids who were leaving the local middle school after being dismissed.  Some of them were riding skateboards, others bikes, but most of them were just wandering through the campus, hanging around, and trying to use the wifi.  

For the next hour a debate ensued as to how to keep the kids off the property.  One suggestion seemed to gain traction--put up a fence with a locked gate so that they would have walk around the entire church. 

Finally, I asked a question. "Do you have a ministry to any of the local schools?"  They told me how they joined with a bigger church in the area each year to do a backpack drive.  "We gave thirty backpacks to the backpack drive last year," the woman who had been upset about the kids on the campus proudly told me.  

"Maybe," I suggested to them, "what you need to do is instead of trying to run the kids off, try to find out how to minister to them--do some after-school stuff, bake them cookies, offer a tutoring program... something, anything except build a fence."  

Not only was my suggestion not well received, I was never asked to return to moderate their session meetings.  

How do we keep from being the kind of church that no one would miss if we were gone? 

We serve like Jesus---that's how.  We serve like Jesus.  

And what does it look like to serve like Jesus?  

Well it looks a little like this. We SERVE like Jesus when we are Loving God, Loving People and Loving the World.  

Jesus showed his followers what it looked like to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Jesus showed his followers what it looked like to love people as they would love themselves.  Jesus showed his followers what it looked like to love the world as God so loved the world.  

And he did this by giving of himself, healing, serving, feeding, noticing, raising up and setting free scores and scores of people who were in need.  And when all was said and done, Jesus served by giving his own life to show just how far God is willing to go to rescue those whom God loves.  

This is the example that Jesus set for his followers.  And it's effects on the Early Church are illustrated beautifully in Acts chapter 4: 

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

So how does this passage help us learn anything at all about what it means to serve as a community of faith? Because it seems evident that there was something special going on with the Early Church, something selfless and real and compelling.  They were loving God, loving people and loving the world, and it showed. 

People were transformed, healed, changed, made new because the disciples served.  

They served like Jesus, and their movement spread like wildfire.  

There was an underlying reason for everything they did to serve one another and everyone else---a reason that ought to be at the heart of every Christian community.  

Because if we want to be the kind of church that would be missed, we must never... ever... ever forget the reason why we are doing all of this.  Because the reason we exist, the reason we do all of the things we do is simply to point to the One who taught us to Love God, Love People and Love the World.   

In the Early Church serving like Jesus was simply how you showed your faith in Jesus.  You showed your faith by both word and deed.  It wasn't just about what you said it was about what you did, how you gave of yourself, how you demonstrated your love for God, your love for people and your love for the world... just like Jesus.  

If you were among the first Christians, there would have been no hesitation in explaining that the reason you sold some of your possessions to give to the poor was because you had been absolutely transformed by Jesus. 

There would have been no problem at all in sharing that the reason you were serving widows and orphans, caring for the sick and dying, the lepers and outcasts was because you had been turned upside down because of Jesus.  

You see, what was being done was not nearly as important as in whose name it was being done.  Because it was Jesus who taught those first Christians what it meant to Love God, Love People and Love the World.  

This wasn't just a hobby for these people.  It wasn't just something that they did one day a week.  They lived and breathed this.  It was their identity, their reason for being. 

So why was this so important for the apostles?  What made them so bold about declaring the name of Jesus as they did their thing---as they loved and  served together?

Because when someone rises from the dead... you kind of do what they suggested.  

And listen... listen... they took very seriously Jesus command to "go out" into the world beginning in Jerusalem, then to the surrounding villages in Judea, then to the uncomfortable towns of Samaria where they were hated as Jews and finally to the wider world.  

They started serving like Jesus in their own back yard. To their neighbors and friends, and then they went father down the road and finally to difficult places and spaces and even to the ends of the earth.  

Okay.  So how do we figure this out?  How do we keep from becoming a church that wouldn't be missed?  

It begins by being outward focused, that much is evident.  Focused on God.  Focused on others.  Focused on bringing the Good News of Jesus to the world.  

That church who wanted to keep the kids off it's property had become so insider focused, so obsessed with holding on to what they had left, they were unable to see the people God was sending them to serve--right in their own back yard.  

If we are going to serve like Jesus, if we are going to show we love God, love people and love the world then we are going to have to be the church in our own Jerusalem---right here in South Austin--in our surrounding communities---and to the ends of the earth. 

We are killing it when it comes to global mission.  We send people to Guatemala for four different projects.  We'll be commissioning missionaries to go to Africa in a few weeks to serve in some of the various missions many of you are supporting there.  We are about to organize the first trip back to Mexico in many years.  

We can't go on a mission trip one time a year, and then high five one another and think we've done enough.  

What can we be doing to increase our impact on a consistent basis, day in, day out, week after week right here in our own neighborhood?  In our neighborhood schools?  To the homeless in our midst.  To the widows and orphans all around us?  

And I would dare say that there are more than a few of us who are gathered here today who have yet to find our niche---our place to serve.  And we've got good reasons for it.  We're busy at work.  Life is demanding.  The kids are small.  The kids are teenagers.  The kids are having kids.  We're too poor, too old, too young, too something to step into service.  

Or maybe you were serving and you got tired, burned out, or got your feelings hurt, so you stopped.  Or maybe you felt like whatever you were doing wasn't making much of a difference.  

It's time to start again.  

Or for the first time.  

If you haven't found a place to serve and you would like to figure that out.  All you need to do today is...  

We need to serve like Jesus. 

We SERVE like Jesus when we are Loving God, Loving People and Loving the World.  


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