Tuesday, February 6, 2018

When the Chips are Down

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, February 4, 2018 at United Presbyterian Church in Sterling, KS.  Listen to the audio here.
Read Galatians 6:1-10 & Joshua 22:1-5 here.

In business, do you know why Customers are like teeth?
Ignore them and they'll go away.[1]

My first grown up job, the first job I had after Rob and I got married, was at a stationary store.  The owner, Jim Hart (may he rest in peace), was very focused on making sure customers got great service.  One of the ways he did this was by giving us lots of training opportunities, and so he subscribed to these little booklets that gave tips on how to give great customer service.  I was always looking for things to read, so I read those to pass the time, not realizing how much I was learning.  I still remember many of the things I learned there and I notice now when people are doing these little things that improve service, like. . .
  • · letting the customer be the first to hang up on a phone call, or
  • · making sure you smile on the phone because the customer can hear that smile in your voice. 
I learned to walk with the customer to the item for which they were looking instead of just pointing and saying, “It’s over there.”  And I learned that if I didn’t know the answer to a question or couldn’t solve a customer’s dilemma, I could always call the boss, and Jim would be right there ready to take care of things. He taught us how to be good at service by demonstrating it himself.

We’d probably all agree that good customer service is good business.  There are plenty of books that talk about how successful businesses are based on giving great service.  But did you know that the oldest guide for giving good service is the Bible?  Service goes beyond just what we do in our jobs. 

In business, the ultimate purpose of good service is for the business to make more money.  As Christians, our purpose is not to make more money, but to obey God.  That’s why service is central to our faith and life. 

Jesus was our greatest example.  One day the disciples were arguing over who would get to sit next to Jesus when he took over as king, not understanding that Jesus wasn’t going to be the kind of king they had in mind.  So Jesus called them over and had a little service training.  He said:
 “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:25-28)
“the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve..."

As followers of Jesus, we too are called to serve.  We heard this call in Joshua’s words that we read this morning:
 “…be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Josh 22:5)
To serve him with all your heart.

We are called to serve, and not just when we’re here at church, but everywhere and at all times. That’s why it’s important to keep working on our serving skills. So today let’s talk about five things we learn about service in the Bible that help us to live a life of service - that up our service game:

1.    Service builds community.
a.     We see this in our reading from Galatians today.  Paul is finishing off his letter to the church in Galatia with instructions about how to be the church together, and he starts this section off with words about forgiving. He says in Galatians 6:1, My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way.”  In a gentle way because it’s about forgiving, and thank God it is, because none of us are without sin.  We all face temptation, and instead of pointing fingers, we are to help each other get through those challenges.
b.    Whether we realize it or not, we are all interconnected.  That’s why Paul says in another of his letters, the letter to the Corinthians, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor 12:26).
                                                             i.      In the letter to the Galatians, it says, Help carry one another's burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).  Paul doesn’t tell us exactly what the “law of Christ” is but what Paul is saying goes right along with Jesus’ teachings that we read in the gospels, especially the command to love God with all we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
c.     Service that builds community is not just in the New Testament.  We see people committed to serving one another in the Old Testament, too. 
                                                             i.      Abraham bends over backwards to welcome some passing travelers in Genesis 18.
                                                           ii.      Joseph’s exemplary service earns him a place of honor in Pharaoh’s courts (Genesis 32-50). 
                                                        iii.      And in Joshua 22, the verses we read today, we find Joshua commending the men of three tribes that left their homes and families to help the other tribes get settled in to the Promised Land.
Serving one another builds community.  When we serve together, we grow together, and that’s why I’m encouraging our small groups that will be meeting during Lent to not only study the Bible together, but also choose a service project to do together.
Serving one another builds community, however this is not true if we are self-righteous about our service,[2] which is why it’s important to be aware of the next point:

2.    Service grows humility.
a.     Paul gives us a dose of humility in today’s reading from Gal 6:3: If you think you are something when you really are nothing, you are only deceiving yourself.” The more we are focused on serving others, the more we gain this perspective.
b.    In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren talks a lot about serving and keeping a servant’s perspective.  The very first sentence of the book may say it best. “It’s not about me.” Later in the book, he tells us more about why this happens.  He says,  Servants think more about others than about themselves. Servants focus on others, not themselves. This is true humility: not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less.[3]
c.     Paul tells us this as well in his letter to the Philippians.  He says, "Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand." Phil 2:4 MSG
Along with humility…
3.    Service finds freedom in giving up the right to be in charge.
a.    Ecclesiastes puts it this way:  If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done. Eccl 11:4 TLB
b.    The old customer service motto is “the customer is always right.”  This can be pretty challenging to follow when a customer is super grouchy or super demanding. My boss at the office supply store, Jim Hart, taught us to honor this motto.  Sometimes, though, a customer can go beyond grouchiness and become abusive.  When that happened, we were to call him right away.  It was amazing to watch how he handled them.  He didn’t get angry, and he rarely sent a customer away for having a bad attitude.  Instead he bent over backwards to get them what they wanted.  He was adamant that his employees shouldn’t have to be mistreated, but he willingly took it upon himself.  Jim was being Jesus in those situations. Not surprisingly, his employees and his customers were incredibly loyal to him. 
c.     When we choose to serve, we choose the situation.  When we choose to be servants, we give up the choice of the situation, and we are then free to serve in whatever situation presents itself.[4] 
d.    And we are taking on the mind of “Christ, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing     by taking the very nature of a servant…” (Phil. 2:6-7)
When we have this mindset,
4.    Service becomes a lifestyle.
a.     Paul encourages us to do this in Gal 6:9-10: “So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest. 10 So then, as often as we have the chance, we should do good to everyone, and especially to those who belong to our family in the faith.”
b.    One women tells how becoming a Christian radically changed her to-do list. “Serving others” is no longer one bullet point among many; it’s the overarching aim of everything else on the list.[5]
c.     Our Reformed confessional tradition and the great reformer John Calvin emphasize how serving God means letting God have authority over every area of human life… There is no room for the belief … that there are some areas of individual and social life that are not claimed by God and in which we are excused … from serving God.[6]
When service becomes our lifestyle, we find that…
5.    Service brings new life.
a.     That’s because true service involves sacrifice.
b.    It’s a concept that’s so foundational that it’s included in the constitution of our church, the Book of Order: The Church is [called] to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life. (F-1.0301)[7]
c.     Jesus said it too.  He said, “Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it.”[8]
d.    The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. Mahatma Gandhi[9]

There was a man who was stranded on the side of the road one day when he got a flat tire in a car with no jack.  Many people drove right by without stopping, and he sat there wondering if anyone ever would.  Finally someone did – a family in a old van that looked like it was about ready to break down itself.  They were Mexican immigrants who spoke little English, but they didn’t let that get in the way of offering help.  Once they figured out what the problem was, they dug in the van and brought out a jack.  While they were using it, though, it broke.  They talked amongst themselves, brought the man a jug of water, and then the mother drove off in the van.  The man didn’t know what to think, but before long she came back with a brand new jack.  They got the tire changed and the people got back into the van, and as they were doing that the man tried to give them $20, but none of them would take it.  He finally managed to slip it into the front seat of the van, just before they pulled away.  Then they stopped and one ran back to ask if he wanted food, offering a tamale, so the man, hungry from being stranded for so long, gratefully accepted it.  The van drove away, and as he unwrapped the tamale he discovered the $20 just inside the wrapper.[10]  They saw an opportunity to help and went the extra mile in making sure the man was taken care of.

6.    The Holy Spirit points us to opportunities to serve in new ways, and we grow as we are willing to take risks as we follow God.
a.     Gal 6:8-9  If you plant in the field of your natural desires, from it you will gather the harvest of death; if you plant in the field of the Spirit, from the Spirit you will gather the harvest of eternal life.
a.     A pastor whose church is doing new things says, “When you step out and do something completely different, It’s like you’re a new Christian again. God is speaking and you’re going, ‘Oh, I see what you want.’”[11]

This church demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice and take risks when you agreed to become the site for the Lil Cubs daycare center. We don’t know yet what we God will lead us to do in the future. It’s exciting to see where God is leading us and giving us opportunities to serve in new ways.  We started talking about some possibilities at our outreach committee meeting this past week, and we’ll get to hear more about what they’re planning and what all our committees are planning at our congregational meeting next Sunday after church. 

These days I often find myself singing the old Carpenter’s song. 
Can you guess which one? “We’ve only just begun…”  
I’m singing it around here a lot because it reminds me that we’re just getting started on the new life that God has for us together as United Presbyterian Church. Our willingness to let the Holy Spirit lead and guide and inspire us continues to grow. We’re following Jesus together into the future.  And together, with God’s help, we’ll get there.

[2] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1978)
[3] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, Day 34 as found at http://purposedrivenlife2005.blogspot.com/2005/04/day-34-thinking-like-servant.html
[4] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
[6] “Confessional Nature of the Church Report,” Book of Confessions, (Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church USA, 2014), xi.
[7] F-1.0301 The Calling of the Church, Book of Order
[8] Matthew 10:39, Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, John 12:25

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