Life Is Better Serving

John 13:1-17

Those who are around Christians and the church will oftentimes hear us talk about Jesus as our King. Some churches even use King in their title – Christ the King Church, for instance. And if you follow the common lectionary, you know the church celebrates Christ the King Sunday. Many hymns describe Jesus as King – Beautiful Savior, King of Creation; Crown Him with Many Crowns. On and on the list can go. Those who are around Christians and the church will oftentimes hear us talk about Jesus as our King. Some churches even use King in their title – Christ the King Church, for instance. And if you follow the common lectionary, you know the church celebrates Christ the King Sunday. Many hymns describe Jesus as King – Beautiful Savior, King of Creation; Crown Him with Many Crowns. On and on the list can go.

Even contemporary music talks of Jesus as King. Jack Hayford’s song, “Majesty” describes Jesus as the King of all Kings. In our church, we sing another favorite song called, “You are my King, Jesus.” Preachers describe Him as King from the pulpits because Scripture uses the language as well.

When you think about it though, it’s churchy language, which can be puzzling to contemporary people both inside and outside the church. People may wonder what we mean by calling him king. We don’t talk about kings in our everyday conversations, and we don’t have kings in a democratic society. Our only experience with kings is looking back in history and at the present day figureheads in Europe. So, what does it mean to call Jesus the King?

We could respond, He is the king of the universe. He reigns over history itself. He has come to be our Savior and our King. The day will come when all knees will bow to him.

Someone else might say, Well, there is a personal side to this as well. To call Him my King is to say He’s my leader, my boss, my authority in life, my control center. He is the One I trust as I live out my days. 

Why describe Him as a King? It is a very lofty title. I suppose we could say it’s because we call Him “Jesus Christ,” which is actually “Jesus the Christ,” the Anointed One. It has the image of a King.

But there’s more. We call Him “King” because of the resurrection, because of Easter. He overcame sin and death, ascended to heaven, and sits at the right hand of God in power and authority over the whole creation. He is in charge. All of history is His story. The final word is His! If you have come to know Him and what He has done for you at the cross, how wise and how great He is, and how much He knows about what makes a person’s life work best, you know it’s best to serve Him and obey Him as the authority in your life – the King! That is why we describe Him as King. Jesus rules over creation, and He is a great King as He rules over the lives of those who surrender themselves to Him.

What kind of king is Jesus? How would you answer that question. Well, you might say He is a great King; He is a good King; He is a loving King. All of those would be correct. But have you ever heard the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words”? Jesus gives us a picture of His kingship in today’s reading.

It was the night before Jesus is to be crucified on the cross for the sins of the world. He was with His disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. He knew what was going to happen to Him. They were celebrating one last Passover meal together. Before the meal started, Jesus got up from the table, put a towel around His waist, and took a basin of water. Then He stooped and washed the feet of His disciples. Peter tried to stop Him, but Jesus insisted. He washed their feet, which was the work of a servant in those days. Jesus was doing the work of the servant. He is a humble King stooping to wash the feet of His disciples.

He is the servant King, as many have described Him. He is the One who said, “I came not to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.” That’s the kind of king He is – a humble servant King.

By the way, washing of the feet was actually a metaphor of sorts, symbolic of the ultimate cleansing that would take place at the cross when Jesus poured out His innocent blood for our sins. Remember when He spoke to Peter’s hesitation in this story? He said, “You don’t understand now, but later you will.” And to Peter’s protest He said, “Unless I wash you, you can have no share with me.”

This story begins with the words, “(Jesus) having loved his own (disciples), he loved them to the end.” What end? The cross. He washed them clean of their sins.

I would be neglectful as preacher if I didn’t stop and ask you a personal question as the listener: Have you been washed of your sin by the crucified, servant King? Forgiveness is awaiting the unclean sinner who is lost and needs to come home, who repents and turns to Christ trusting in what He has done for you, because His innocent blood covers our sins and gives us a new start. Have you been washed? He is waiting for you today. He wants to wash you, to be your King, your servant King.

You might be wondering, If Jesus is my King and I am His subject, how do I live the rest of my days under Him? He doesn’t leave us guessing. After He washed the feet of His disciples and there was silence in the room (because I’m sure they were wondering what He was doing), Jesus said to them, “Do you see what I’ve done for you? You call me Teacher and Master. . .  If I have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do what I have done to you.”

If Jesus is my King, I’ll be a doer of the Word. I’ll do what He says and follow His example. I’ll take a step to serve others. Notice, Jesus didn’t say, I gave you an example that you should study about it on Sunday mornings, or I gave you an example that you should form a discussion group and meditate on this. Or even, I gave you an example that you should memorize my words and repeat them often. No, no, no! Jesus said it plainly. He was looking for action, not theory. I gave you an example that you should do as I did to you.

What does serving others look like? In the church, for instance, Jesus tells us to wash each other’s feet. I think of Luke and Jack who faithfully show up at church each Friday. It is Jack’s day off and Luke is retired, but every week they do custodial work and help in the office to get us ready for Sunday mornings. They are serving. They are giving their time and skills away.

I think of the nursery workers who faithfully serve parents who want to worship in peace without having to wrestle with a two-year-old. They are serving. I think of those who help people who can no longer drive to church. So they pick them up and bring them to church.

I think of people who open their homes. They are great hospitality people. They host groups of people for Bible studies. And I think of those who are leading those studies, who have the gift of leading and facilitating groups.

I think of Jamie who comes every Wednesday to get things ready for our youth events. She is great at organizing things! Or the Helping Hearts and Helping Hands folks in our church who help people move, or mow their lawn, clean their house, take them to doctor appointments, and so on. Or the women who sew prayer shawls a couple times a month to be given to hurting people around us. Those with the gift of hospitality who serve communion, are greeters and readers, ushers, you name it. They are giving; they are serving. They are serving in Christ’s name.

I think of people who work with our children and youth faithfully each week. We have one of the best children and youth ministries around the Twin Cities, I believe. We serve hundreds of kids each week. Why is it happening? Because faithful servants are taking a step Jesus has called them to take. Serve. I’ve given you an example; do what I’ve done.

There are opportunities to serve outside the walls of the church as well – people who can’t make ends meet so they get help with groceries and so on. We have people hand out groceries to folks down in the inner-city, folks who don’t have anything and need someone to help them have a better life. We have folks who serve Loaves and Fishes ministry meals to the poor.

There is the opportunity for global serving. Teams go to Honduras and Haiti (Teen Challenge), and China. Quilters make quilts for Lutheran World Relief to give to refugees. The list goes on and on because the needs go on and on. Christ says, “I’ve given you an example that you should do also what I have done to you.” Wash feet.

Maybe you are homebound. Pick up a phone and call someone, because there are those who need words of encouragement, someone to let them know they are being thought about. When was the last time you wrote a card to someone and said, I’ve been thinking about you and praying for you, or to congratulate them for something they have accomplished?
How about prayer? You can pray. You can bathe people in prayer. It goes on and on.

I’ve given you an example, Jesus said. Do what I’ve done to you. If Jesus is your King, you will be a doer of the Word.

I want you to also notice the promise attached to this command of Jesus. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Blessed are you if you do them. There is a blessing in the doing. The primary reason Jesus calls us to servanthood goes beyond people who need our services. He also calls us because of what happens when we take a step to serve. We get blessed!

Have you ever felt blessed after doing something nice for someone? It was such a blessed experience, you say. I went to be a blessing but I’m the one who was blessed! Many stories exist about people who receive a blessing by giving themselves away to others. Jesus seems to be saying with this promise, Your life is better by serving in My name.

How is it better? We receive the blessing of growth. How do we grow?

  • We grow in our relationship with God, which is God’s plan for us.
  • We grow in humility. Healthy self-forgetfulness begins to happen when we are caught up in serving others and giving up a side of ourselves.
  • We grow in joy as we step into the adventure instead of just sitting around waiting to be waited on by others. As you step out and serve others, you find adventure and joy. You feel so alive in your faith, and your prayer life becomes more active because you are in over your head and need God’s help to make it happen.
  • We grow closer to Jesus who said, “I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. As you did it to the least of these my brethren you did it to me.”

In USA Today is wonderful story out of Portland, Oregon. Homeless people gather under a bridge called Burnside Bridge. For more than three years, carloads of Christians from a ministry called Bridgetown Ministries have shown up on Friday nights to minister to these needy men and women. In addition to providing hot meals, shaves, and haircuts, some of the volunteers wash the homeless people’s feet. The writer for USA Today, Tom Krattenmaker, was stunned by the display. He called it one of the most audacious acts of compassion and humility he’d ever witnessed. The group of outcasts had their bare feet immersed in warm water, scrubbed, dried, powdered, and placed in clean socks. One man said with a smile, “I can’t find words to describe how good it feels.”

Krattenmaker commented on the significance of this foot washing in the article. “Washing someone’s feet is an act best performed while kneeling. Given the washer’s position, and the unpleasant appearance and odor of a homeless person’s feet, it’s hard to imagine an act more humbling.” In preparation for their night of outreach, the leader of the ministry offered these words to those servants, “When you go out there tonight, I want you to look for Jesus. You might see Him in the eyes of a drunk person or a homeless person. We’re just called to go out there and love on people. You’ll grow closer to Jesus. You just might look into the face of Jesus as you serve.”

  • Finally, we grow closer to one another. With the closeness is a sense of belonging as you work shoulder to shoulder with other people for the cause of Christ, for the cause of serving in His name. You have ownership in the mission of the kingdom of God, something bigger than ourselves. It is an amazing blessing waiting to be experienced.

You might think you don’t have any ability to serve. Someone once told me the most important ability is availability.

The big ask today is, Will you trust Jesus on this one? Will you take a step of trust – a step toward being a blessing and receiving blessing and growth in your own life? I encourage you to make yourself available. Take that step, and you will be blessed as you do what He says. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer