Hi friends! It has been almost a month since my last sermon. I didn’t realize I would be away from the pulpit from that long, but since I was away for two weeks and then came back to Beatles Sunday, it ended up being almost a month without a sermon.
We are still in our six-week sermon series on hospitality. The topic of discussion this week was: How do we serve others?
Rehoboth Congregational Church
August 25, 2019
1 Peter 4:7-11
How Can We Serve Others?
Back in the spring, I tried to get the church to march in the Memorial Day Parade in Rehoboth.
It did not go very well.
I think five people signed up.
Refusing to admit defeat, I changed my plans and decided that, as a community, we were just going to hang out on the front lawn of the church. We were going to ring the bells when we saw the lead police car come over the hill, open our doors so people could use the restroom or just seek shelter for the sun and we were going to cheer on the parade from the sidelines. After all, what is a parade without spectators?
Missi Wells reached out when she heard about my plan and organized a lemonade and cookies stand. The response was incredible. We filled tables on the side of the road with two different kinds of lemonade and countless plates of cookies. And as the smell of sugar started to waft out into the crowd, people’s interest was piqued and they started to wander over.
We did not charge for anything that morning; in fact, we did not even put out a donation jar. And it’s not that I don’t like to raise money or anything (y’all know that’s not true), it’s just that this was something Missi and I wanted to for the community, simply as an act of service.
And I have to say – it was the coolest thing ever.
Because it was like communion.
There was this moment towards the end of the parade when the Fire Department was coming through. Engine 3 had stopped in front of the church; Jeff Rutko was driving, Zack was sitting shotgun and there was a group of guys in the back seat. Missy Enos ran over to the truck with and entire tray of lemonade and handed it to Jeff through the window. He grabbed a cup and passed the tray around and everyone took a cup when it came to them.
And I swear to you, it looked exactly like it does on the first Sunday of the month when the Deacons are passing around those trays of juice.
It was in that moment that I knew it was the right decision not to charge a penny for that lemonade; because this was an act of service that felt like worship. It was a moment where we were able to walk outside the walls of our church building and show the community what it means for us to live out the Gospel. It was hospitality on a level that I could not have planned.
Okay – so.
We have looked at the why: Why is it important to talk about hospitality? Why are names so important?
Then we looked at the what: What does it mean when we say that all are welcome? What does it look like to welcome children?
Now we are going to look at the how: Today we will ask ourselves, how can we serve others? And, to close out this series, next week we will ask the question, how can we create a space where people feel welcome?
How can we serve others?
I chose three texts to look at in order to address this question. The first comes from the first letter of the Apostle Peter. Peter, of course, we know from the Gospels. He was also referred to as Simon; Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen and they were the first two disciples that Jesus called. Peter was one of the members of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples; that Jesus brought with him to the healing of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration and to pray with him in Gethsemane.
Peter was the disciple that denied Jesus three times, but later in his apostolic ministry was one of the key leaders in the early church. Although the details of his death are not recorded in scripture, most scholars agree that Peter was crucified.
There are two letters of Peter in the New Testament, likely pseudonymous and written in the 80’s after his death. These letters were addressed to Christians who were suffering for their faith and so Peter (or someone writing under Peter’s name) was talking not only what it means to be strong in your faith, but to build a strong community of faith.
Because, like we have talked about, as a community, we are more than simply just the sum of our parts. We need one another – in good times and in bad times. Peter says in this letter that love and hospitality towards one another lays a strong foundation to build a community that can glorify God and spread the Gospel.
Our second reading comes from the Gospel according to Luke, the story of Mary and Martha. Mary and Martha appear several times in the different Gospels. In the Gospel of John, Mary and Martha are identified as Lazarus’ sisters; Lazarus is the man who was presumed dead for several days, but who came to life. And Mary is also the woman who anoints Jesus feet with expensive perfume. When we read that story in the Gospel of Mark, the woman was not named, but when it is told in the Gospel of John, she is identified as Mary. Coincidentally (and in keeping with the dynamic of this story), while Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, Martha served everybody else.
This story always brings up a fascinating discussion about what it means to be a follower of Christ. Are we meant to sit and learn or are we meant to stand up and serve others? Jesus does not necessarily give us a clear answer.
Our final reading comes from the Gospel according to Matthew; Jesus was teaching his disciples. They were already in Jerusalem and Jesus had foretold the destruction of the temple. The end was near; as soon as Jesus finished speaking these words, the plot to kill him begins. And so what this means is that his final lesson to his disciples before the Passion Narrative begins is about serving others; feeding them when they are hungry, giving them something to drink when they are thirsty, welcoming them when they are a stranger, clothing them when they are naked, taking care of them when they are sick and visiting them when they are in prison.
Jesus’ words in this discourse help us step back and, again, answer the question of, why? Why is it important that we serve others? Jesus says because when we serve others, it is as if we are serving Jesus, himself. Jesus says that when we serve others we are doing so in Jesus’ name, because this is what the Gospel teaches us, because this is what it looks like to put our faith in action. Jesus says that when we serve others, like the Apostle Peter later writes, we are doing so to glorify God and to show an outward expression of the love that we maintain for one another.
In other words, the way we live our lives matters. It is not enough to come to church and proclaim our beliefs, but we have to live out these beliefs as well. The Body of Christ only works if we are all on the same team, helping one another, championing one another, picking one another up when we fall. As human beings living in this human world, serving other human beings is the conduit in which we serve God.
So that begs the questions of, how?
This might be one of those “easier said than done” scenarios, but I also think that the story of Mary and Martha teaches us that there is no one way to serve others. Here in this story you have two sisters that take vastly different approaches to welcoming Jesus into their house: Martha is concerned with “many tasks” – likely cooking and cleaning – and Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to learn. When Martha shows frustration that Mary is not helping her, Jesus tells Martha that she is worried and distracted by many things and that there is need of only one thing, which Mary is doing.
But I don’t think Jesus is necessarily downplaying the role that Martha is playing; I think he is simply saying that there are many ways to serve others and that we cannot do it all. This story needs both Mary and Martha. This world, the Body of Christ, needs both Marys and Marthas to come together and glorify God in their service to others.
Sometimes this means handing out lemonade at parades and refusing to take a dime. Sometimes this means bringing someone a meal. Sometimes this means giving someone a ride or just stopping by for a visit. Sometimes this means letting someone know that you are praying for them. Sometimes this means lending a hand at a funeral. Sometimes this means volunteering your time with our youth group, church school or nursery programs. Sometimes this means celebrating a joyous time in someone’s life and also supporting them through a hard time. Sometimes this means saying hello to someone who walked through the doors of our church for the first time or sitting down next to someone who is sitting alone. Sometimes this means hopping on a committee at church or signing up to help out with something. Sometimes this means volunteering at one of the TACT breakfasts that Missions hosts or donating to one of their collections throughout the years. Sometimes this means, like Peter points out, serving others with the gifts that we have been given – perhaps offering legal counsel to someone if you are a lawyer, fixing a leak in someone’s house if you are a plumber or tutoring someone if you are a teacher. As a church, sometimes this means running a fundraiser to support a specific cause or making our building available to someone who is struggling financially at a low or no cost.
This question of how we serve others ongoing and ever-changing. It is one that I do not ever think we will come up with the “right” answer for, because what it “right” in one moment might change in the next.
But I know one thing for sure: Our community cares about loving one another. Our community wants to serve one another and serve others. And so I invite us all to prayerfully discern how call is calling us to serve in this moment. And may we all be open to the ways God is present in our lives as we seek to glorify God through service to others.
Thanks be to God!