How May I Serve You? Follow the Leader
Topic: Love Like Christ Scripture: John 13:1–13:17, Philippians 2:1–2:11
Have you ever played the game, Follow the Leader? I’m sure you have. It’s one of the simplest and earliest games out there. As kids, there was a leader picked out and then the rest of us would have to follow that person around and try to do exactly what they did. If we messed up, we were out. The whole goal is to look at the person in front of you and to imitate them as closely and carefully as possible. Now, you might not be able to recall that last time you played Follow the Leader, but I can promise you that you did much, much more recently than when you were a kid.
In reality, we kind of end up playing Follow the Leader most of our life. True, we might not be hopping on one leg in a line with our friends. But we do spend a great deal of our lives observing the behavior and motions of others and then trying to emulate them as best as we can. Early on, it might be our parents or a sibling that we try to copy. As we grow, we look to role models such as teachers, coaches, or public servants like police officers or firefighters. When we get our first job, we go through orientation and we learn by watching how to bag groceries, make coffee beverages, or how to do a paper route. This pattern continues as we progress into our careers, always observing and heeding the actions and sometimes even the character of supervisors, colleagues, or mentors. Even in recreation, we play Follow the Leader. Whether it is learning how to dance or how to throw a baseball or how to play an instrument, we look to another who has more experience and wisdom and do our best to learn from them and do as they do. In almost every endeavor or goal we have in life, we look for an example to follow so that we can learn and master what we’re striving for. And that even goes for our faith and the simple but powerful act of serving others.
This morning we are starting a new message series called How May I Serve You? We’re going to spend a few weeks talking about what it means to serve others, specifically as followers of Jesus and children of God. And to begin that exploration, the best thing we can do is to look to the greatest example of service there is. Jesus Christ. Over the next few weeks, we will talk about who we serve and how we serve or what we serve with. We’ll even look at an inspiring story about serving others. But before we do that, we have to play Follow the Leader. To learn the ins and outs, the depth and the power, the sacrifice and cost of truly serving others, we have to know who we are following. So, let’s look to Scripture to learn about how Jesus exemplifies service. We’re going to read Philippians 2:1-11.
Here, the apostle Paul shows us the inspiring example of Christ. These words from Paul are words of encouragement. He is trying to lift up and commend the Christ-followers in the city of Philippi. Even as he does that, Paul urges this group of growing, devoted believers to model their lives after one person: Jesus. While Paul’s words might sound like flattery, there is also a subtle but firm conviction there as well. These people made up an inspiring community of Christ-followers, a church any of us would be thrilled to be a part of. There’s was a community known for encouragement, understanding, compassion, openness, and love. And Paul celebrates that reality. But he also takes it a step further. He says, “If you have any joy or tenderness or thankfulness for what you have and what God has given you, then do…this.” And that “this” is to look to and live out the example of humility and service found and practiced perfectly in the Savior. And what an example it is. It’s one thing trying to copy the actions of a friend and to walk backward for a game or to try and learn how to get your fingers to play the keys the same way your piano teacher might. But this game of Follow the Leader when it comes to service and Jesus, well, it’s challenging to say the least. But it’s also what we are called to do and, important for us to keep in mind, it’s also one of the primary ways how we can be used by God to do the most good in this world. So let’s notice a few of the things we’re shown here when we look to our Savior.
The first thing we learn about true service in the name of Christ is that it is utterly selfless. It’s about looking to the interests of others over our interests. Did you catch how Paul describes this? He says to “value others above yourselves”. In a world of tax breaks and good publicity, serving like Jesus means doing something solely and wholeheartedly for the good of another person, not because of what it could do to serve you. Jesus taught this message during his ministry. In the gospel of John, Jesus says this, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34. And we know that Jesus didn’t just teach this, He did it. Both on the cross and in Paul’s words here in his letter to the Philippians. So, Christ’s example of service reminds us that selfishness or gain really has no place in the equation. But that’s not all.
If we commit to Follow the Leader in service and truly try to serve as Jesus served, it means we have to be willing to go to some uncomfortable and difficult places. We can never do exactly as our Savior did in this regard. Listen again to Paul’s words on this. “Jesus made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” We don’t have the time to go full into a theological discourse on the personhood and divinity of Jesus. That’s another 23-part sermon series for another time. But what we see in Jesus, both in his words and in his actions, and what we hear reinforced by Paul here is that Jesus is “in very nature God.”
As a member of the Trinity, Jesus the Son existed before time began and has been present for every act of creation, compassion, and transformation ushered forth by the Almighty. And yet, by utterly unimaginable compassion and love, the Son of God willingly came to this place and became like us. Perfect divinity born into fragile humanity. To love us, to save us, to serve us, Jesus comes to where we are. But it doesn’t even stop there. And, believe me, that would have been enough. But no, the love of our Savior soars to impossible stratospheres of grace by Jesus voluntarily going to his own death upon the splintered and coarse wood of the cross. All for us. Jesus went to incomprehensible places to serve others, to serve each of us.
If we’re going to play Follow the Leader with service and hold Jesus as our role model and example, then I think it’s safe to say that each and every one of us has our work cut out for us. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to explore what it means and how important it is to serve those in greatest need. We’re going to explore the inspiring diversity of ways in which our God created and put within us to serve. But before we can think about who we will serve or how we will serve, we must consider who we are modeling our acts of service after.
To serve others as Jesus did will mean picking up our own priorities and preferences and removing them from the pedestal we’ve had them resting on and instead focusing on the needs and hurts and the stories of others. We’re going to have to continually and repeatedly catch ourselves when we start thinking about how an act of service might benefit us. We shouldn’t help that co-worker with a big project because we think it’ll get us promoted or noticed by our boss. We do it because we know what it feels like to be overwhelmed. We don’t help out around the house simply to get an allowance or to store up brownie points with our spouse that we can cash in later. We do it because we recognize we’re a part of a family and that acts of genuine love and kindness aren’t currency when you love someone. We don’t help our neighbors with yard work or shoveling snow because we hope they’ll return the favor down the road. We do it because they’re our neighbors, and we all have a part to play in creating the community we want to live in.
To serve others as Jesus did will mean going to uncomfortable places, places like well outside our comfort zones. It could mean spaces like a food bank or Safe Harbor. It could mean going into a school to mentor a young kid or even spending a few hours with some kids in the Great Hall serving in our afterschool program. It could mean saying “yes” to serving in a certain way or a certain role that you might be reluctant about. Sometimes, it will mean humbling yourself and offering forgiveness to a person you’ve harbored hard feelings for. Serving others will inevitably mean going to places and spaces where we are uncomfortable, that are difficult, that are outside our comfort zone. And in those moments where it feels unbearable, and we want to just turn around and return to what is comfortable, we have to remember that our Savior, the one we want to be like, went so much farther than we ever can when he went to the cross to serve us all.
It’s not going to be easy. There will be days where we just don’t want to do it. But serving others is one of the most powerful and personal ways that we can share the love and truth of Jesus with others, one of the most powerful ways we can work to bring God’s kingdom to this place. It is also one of the most tangible ways we can worship and honor the God who loves us so perfectly. It’ll take practice. We’ll need each other for support. Sometimes it will feel intimidating. But we have someone who we can look to. We have an expert who can teach us, a friend who can guide us. We have our Savior, Jesus Christ. So now, it’s time to play Follow the Leader.