Sermon Transcript January 31, 2021
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ John 4:27-39 ~ Sunday, January 31, 2021
It had been a long day on Capitol Hill for Senator John Stennis. He was looking forward to a bit of relaxion when he got home. After parking the car, he began to walk toward his front door. Then it happened. Two people came out of the darkness, robbed him, and shot him twice. News of the shooting of Senator Stennis, the chairman of the powerful Armed Forces Committee, shocked Washington D.C. and the nation. For nearly seven hours, Senator Stennis was on the operating table at Walter Reed Hospital. Less than two hours later, another politician was driving home when he heard about the shooting. He turned his car around and drove directly to the hospital. In the hospital, he noticed that the staff was swamped and could not keep up with the incoming calls about the Senator's condition. He spotted an unattended switchboard, sat down, and voluntarily went to work. He continued taking calls until daylight. Sometime during that next day, he stood up, stretched, put on his overcoat, and just before leaving, he introduced himself quietly to the other operator, "I'm Mark Hatfield. Happy to help out." Then Senator Mark Hatfield unobtrusively walked out. The press could hardly handle that story. There seemed to be no way for a conservative Republican to give a liberal Democrat a tip of the hat, let alone spend hours doing a menial task and be "happy to help out." Knofel Stanton, Heaven Bound Living, Standard, 1989, p. 35.
In the politically polarized times in which we live this story is inspiring. It’s refreshing to hear that the power of our shared humanity can be greater than the power of polarizing politics! But there is something else about this story that makes it worth remembering, especially as we’re wrapping up serving week in our Red Letter Challenge. We’ve spent the week focusing on serving. Does Mark Hatfield’s sentiment ring true for you: “Happy to help out”?
Serving has the power to produce the richest feelings of happiness. There is something deeply satisfying about serving. When you do something out of a spirit of service, to help someone out, to serve a noble cause, doing something positive for the people in your home, your church, your community, it makes you feel good. Not only about the work you’ve done but also about yourself. Psychologists have actually studied this and determined that nothing fulfills you more than serving others.
That’s something Jesus himself experienced. We hear him say so in John, chapter 4. Jesus has stopped at well where he strikes up a conversation with a Samaritan woman. Jesus was doing something groundbreaking here, breaking down several cultural barriers. That’s the most well-remembered part of the story. But there is something even more significant happening here. After the Samaritan woman goes away Jesus’ disciples come back. They had been in town picking up food to fill their hungry stomachs. When they return, let’s listen in on Jesus’ Red Letter conversation with them:
His disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” (vv. 31-33)
Jesus is using a play on words. They had left to consume food to fill the hunger in their stomachs, and Jesus uses it as a teaching moment about what really feeds the fire in his belly: “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (v. 34)
What does Jesus’ mean? Jesus is saying: “What really fills me up isn’t consuming a meal to quiet the rumble in my tummy. What really satisfies me is to do what God designed me to do. What the Father designed me to do and what satisfies me most deeply is serving other people!”
What a striking contrast! Broken human beings tend to think that satisfaction comes from what you consume. That happiness results from satisfying the hungers we experience. Jesus sees it working in the exact opposite direction. He found his greatest happiness, his greatest fulfillment in meeting people’s needs. By serving, Jesus experienced the greatest satisfaction. There is a reason Jesus teaches his disciples this. This is God’s will, not just for Jesus. This is God’s design for us too!
How fully do we actually embrace this truth? I’d like to explore that question with a story of a meeting I had recently. A church family sat down with me to talk. In the course of the conversation, one of the things they shared with me is their disappointment that there isn’t anything for their kids at church right now. Due to COVID we’ve put children’s church and nursery care on pause. For parents with children, especially younger children, in person worship can be more challenging if little Billy or Betty are feeling kind of squirrely! I really appreciated that they actually brought the concern directly to me.
That conversation surfaced a sentiment that I hear on a regular basis. It goes something like this: “The church doesn’t _________ “ (fill in the blank with what is missing). I want to reiterate: I am truly grateful when church members bring their concerns to me so we can talk them through. When faced with concerns about what the church isn’t doing, though, one of the questions that comes into my mind is: when members are pointing out such a concern about the “the church” do they realize that they are the church?
The church is more than a building. It’s more than this campus. It’s more than those who get paid to work here. It’s more than the Executive Council or the preacher. At its essence, Christ the King Lutheran Church is God moving in each of us, calling us to faith in Jesus Christ, calling us to commit ourselves to one another as brothers and sisters in this church family, and calling us to serve one another as the body of Christ.
That raises the question: When it comes to the church, do you see yourself as a consumer or a contributor?
What’s the difference and why does that matter? Think about it in terms of the concern that was raised: the church isn’t doing something that will advance its God-given mission. The church isn’t providing a service that could be impactful for carrying out God’s vision for this campus. What’s the difference between the way a consumer raises the issue and sees it getting resolved verses a contributor?
A consumer raises the issue as the failure of others to provide them with the necessary goods and services. And if the situation isn’t resolved to the consumer’s satisfaction, they will go looking for other providers of religious goods and services who will make them happy. How is that different than a contributor? A contributor may raise the exact same concerns. But in doing so: a contributor is asking themselves: how can I help meet the need? What can I do to resolve the problem?
That’s the kind of conversation Jesus is having with his disciples in John 4. While they had been consumed with finding food to satisfy their appetite, Jesus saw the needs of the world around him and something deep within him drove him to do something about it. In this instance for the sake of a Samaritan woman who was spiritually lost and confused. While his disciples had been wrapped in satisfying their own needs and wants, Jesus was driven by his insatiable hunger for doing God’s will. And he told us what that will was. Do you get the point of his harvest picture? There are souls out there, in his time, and in ours, who are ripe for the picking…precious souls who don’t know Jesus but who need to hear about Jesus. Jesus is calling his disciples to see themselves as more than consumers. He’s inviting them to see themselves as contributors, members of his church who are called to serve in God’s harvest field!
That’s still true for us today too. Think about it like this. Scripture teaches that we are made in the image of God. If Jesus, the Son of God, is wired to feel revitalized and re-energized by contributing, then God has wires us that way too! Jesus says so. He has made us to serve. In other words, you need to serve as much as the people that you may be serving need you.
Which means, hear this right now, this means: You can’t save yourself, but you can help save someone else. You don’t save yourself by serving. There is no amount of service you can offer to others that will gain you a right standing before God. We don’t serve others, we don’t even serve Jesus to gain salvation. Salvation isn’t something we achieve, it is something we receive. In order to serve others, we first need Jesus to serve us. Like he did with this Samaritan woman, Jesus calls each of us to faith. He calls us each of us to believe on him. Jesus invites us to refresh our souls and renew our spirits by drinking deeply and frequently of the living water of forgiveness, of saving faith, and eternal life that he provides. If we’re not consuming from the well of Jesus’ saving Word, we will soon lose our spiritual fervor. In fact, we’re putting the very life of our souls in jeopardy. But as we drink deeply from God’s Word, Jesus is actually fulfilling God’s will for him to us. Jesus is energized by doing God’s will: serving us by pouring his teaching, his heart, his very life into us.
And we are energized by Jesus. Energized to do what Jesus calls us, commissions us to do. Wit the Spirit of Christ in us, we are moved to serve others the way he serves us. Jesus says that very thing in his Red Letter words in Matthew 5: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (vv. 14-16)
This is God’s will! And this is the opportunity and the walk that God invites you into, to be a contributor in the work of his kingdom. If we are honest, we would say, I probably wouldn’t have come up with a plan to use broken, fickle people like us, but it is God’s plan. We are God’s representatives to the world. And we represent him best when we serve well.
And did you catch the end of the last verse I read from John 4? Jesus said, that when you serve, people might see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. We have the opportunity to point people back to Christ through what we do. Through how we serve. We want our lives to reflect his life alive in us, living out his serving spirit in such a way that other people are actually moved to glorify God the Father by how they see us living and the ways they see us serving.
I want to share an example of this right here at Christ the King. Early on in the pandemic, our congregation organized an effort to serve people by delivery what we called “COVID Care Kits” to the homes of church members, school families and other people in our community. About a week after that effort, I received this note in the mail:
“Pastor on Saturday, May 9, 2020, I found a ‘COVID Care Kit’ on our front porch. I was so impressed by this gift, words could not explain. Such a wonderful surprise of ‘Brightness’ by people I do not even know or being a member of your congregation, when many folks are making do, during hard times, again, “Thank you.” Pastor Zahn, I have to say I … would truly enjoy attending one or more of your Sunday Services, never know – as they say, “Times Change and So do people.” And thank you for the fantastic and thoughtful gift of brightness … and for all the brightness you brought me!”
Isn’t that encouraging? An amazing example of: You cannot save yourself but you can help save someone else.
Wow. What an opportunity we have. We can point people back to Jesus. And one of the most powerful and profound ways we can do that is by how we serve others.
You were made to serve. You need to serve. God wired you this way. You experience the greatest fulfillment this side of heaven by contributing, by serving, by living a life that is bigger than your own little world, your own needs and wants.
Together, we are the church! For our church to represent Christ well to the world, it’s up to each of us to step into the call that our loving Lord issues to all of us! A call to experience in even greater measure the deep fulfillment and genuine satisfaction that Jesus himself felt in doing the will of God. Stepping into and stepping up Christ’s call to serve, we are being people who are helping people become all that Christ calls them to be! We are living out God’s will for us and this ministry that Christ has joined us to carry out together! God grant it by strengthening Christ’s servant spirit in each of us. And may the Spirit of Christ bless our service by bringing many more souls into Christ’s kingdom! Amen.