This is a transcript from the March 8, 2020 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
What we're going to talk about today is we started a new Lent series last week and it is called, "What Was Jesus Thinking?" Russ talks about a kenosis, the emptying of oneself. You heard the scripture that was read just a little bit ago, it says that Jesus said to think of others more than yourself and that He emptied himself to become a servant. Today we're going to talk about what does it meant to serve, and what was Jesus thinking when He was serving? Because Jesus was God and Jesus served people. He said I did not come to be served but to serve.
For many us serving, we often unconsciously maybe come up with excuses for why we don't want to do that. Some of us in our minds we think of serving as mission projects. Maybe it's Habitat for Humanity, maybe it's serving the poor and the hungry, maybe it's serving at your church in a certain ministry, but there's so many different ways we can serve and help others, but sometimes we get in our own way.
There's four things that I think we go through each time when somebody asks us if we can help out. The first one is we make assumptions. Let's say you see when you are at the stop light and somebody's asking for money, right? The assumption we come up with is, "I don't want to give them money because they're going to use it on drugs or alcohol." We come up with assumptions for when we are able to serve others that keep us from serving. It's an excuse that we put in our head unconsciously.
The next one is, we're just too busy. I get it. We are all busy. I think we are busier than we ever have been. There are so many more things on our calendars, so many more things we have to be a part of and have our attention. We are busy and we're stretched thin. I could place a bet that maybe for a lot of you there are things in your schedule that just drain you, that something that could be taken out of your schedule but you feel an obligation or maybe guilty, but maybe if you replace that with something that filled you it would be different.
Another one is we say, "It's just not my gift. I don't want to teach Sunday school. I don't like kids." Or, "I can't help at Habitat, 'cause I don't know how to use a hammer." Things like that. We always say, "It's just not my gift," and while this is wise in some ways, because we have to set our boundaries, we know our limitations, other times when we step out of our comfort zone and learn something new that can also benefit you greatly. Maybe next time you could say, "I don't know how to do that but I'm willing to learn."
Another thing is privilege. Many of us live lives of privilege that we don't always necessarily have to worry where our next meal comes from or how to pay the next bill. Our worries tend to surround around, "How do I make that work, how do I make this new car payment work, how do I make this mortgage work, how do we refinance?" Things like that. Sometimes our privilege puts us in a place of not understanding where our brothers and sisters are in their lives and it can make us apathetic. These are the four things that I see that unconsciously we use as ways to make an excuse not to serve.
We also hide behind religion. I think a lot of times in the Christian Church, the Christian religion, what I often see is people want to preach at the lost, the sick, the poor before they do anything else. They want to go around and preach the gospel and say, "Are you ready?" Oftentimes you hear, "If you were to die tonight do you know where you would go?" It's a scare tactic, right? We're preaching at people. We're condemning them without even knowing them.
Also in a point in history, I bet some Christians still have this view, but there was a view that there's scripture in Exodus and Deuteronomy that talks about the sins of the father and the mother and generational sins and how they get passed down, and for a while some Christians thought, "Well, that's because of the generational sin. They're sinners. We can't really help them. That's just something that's inherent in their family we can't do much about." There's a way to excuse helping those who are poor.
Poor people were not given help or compassion because they were sinners. We may do the same not consciously but unconsciously that we're thinking the same thing in some ways that these people have had their second chance, or maybe we're just too busy, or we don't have the gifts. Instead of making those other excuses we have this deep spiritual discrimination on people who are less fortunate than us.
When I think about this and I think about God being alongside of us, and Jesus walking alongside of us, a clip of a movie came to mind from Jerry Maguire, and it's an interesting movie to think of in this space, but it's the, help me help you scene. I think of Jerry Maguire being Jesus in some way and Cuba Gooding Junior's character being humanity.
What happens in this scene is Jerry Maguire is talking to Cuba Gooding Junior's character, he's trying to get him signed. He's an aging wide receiver in the NFL and he has an attitude. He's hot staff.
Jerry Maguire says to him, he's trying to convince him that what he has planned for him is good, and he's not really having it. Jerry Maguire then says, "Help me help you. Help me help you." Then he laughs at him, right? Then he leaves and he says, "I know this seems like a joke to you." In some ways it feels like humanity often does that to Jesus.
Through Jesus' whole life He taught us how to serve others and take care of others, and he's saying, "Help me help you. I am showing you the way and now you get to partake in the renewal of all things with me. Help me help you." Jesus in his ministry, He did a lot different things and one of the things that always sticks out to me about how Jesus served others was Jesus met their needs first before He told them about the reality of God or the kingdom of God.
It's things like feeding the 5,000 there's 5,000 people who were hungry and Jesus made it happen.
Jesus fed them before He told them about the reality of God. There's a woman who had eternal bleeding and back in the day when a woman bled like that it was unclean. She was an outcast in society and she reached just to touch His robe and He healed her just by that. He didn't need to know her story first and why she was bleeding. Then there's a woman who's going to be stoned to death because of adultery, which was perfectly lawful by the law, but Jesus stepped in and asked those without sin cast the first stone.
He didn't need to know the whole story of the woman first. It was the lepers who were untouchable, because as we all know right now with coronavirus that we go into panic mode even when we know more about science and sickness and how it spreads, but back then you just didn't know.
Those people were sent out of the city to live on their own and you cannot touch them, but Jesus went and healed them first. Then there's Jesus and the blind man. The man was blind and Jesus didn't ask, "What were the sins that your family caused for you to be blind?" He'd healed him. There's the paralyzed man, and then there's many stories of people with demonic possession that Jesus healed, and you get the idea that Jesus helped and met the needs of people first before telling them about the kingdom of God.
Sometimes we want it the other way around. We want to tell people about God first to make sure they're in our tribe, that they're in with us, that they have a commitment that maybe helping them isn't a waste of our time and resources because we want people to come to know God. We want it the other way. We want to preach first and help and meet the need second.
How will people know we're from God? How will people know the love of God if we don't act first? Every week and during lent we have the banners up there as you walk out that says, "Love God, love people." Love your neighbor as yourself, love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. What that means is that when we are loving our neighbor, we are in fact loving God. Because in Matthew Jesus said, "Whatever you do for the least of these, you also do for me." When we help others, when we serve others, when we take care of others, we are taking and loving God and showing people the face of God through that.
Serving others is also connecting with others. When we decide to help those in need, we are creating a connection, maybe a connection that wasn't there before. Many people who are stuck in the cycle of poverty or are in need of a little help feel alone, and now how many of you have felt alone at some point in your life? We all have. The interesting thing is that the science behind the brain, we know a lot more about the brain than we used to, but we also don't know enough.
There's been studies about loneliness and what it does to the brain. When people are experiencing loneliness, there's more higher levels of chemicals that are stress-inducing, and chronic loneliness in the brain often makes people feel paranoid. Chronicly lonely brains can also become more vigilant towards threats and more paranoid, sending increased threat signals about stuff that would previously not be worth worrying about. It creates a cycle of worry and paranoid. If you've ever been in a cycle where you feel lonely and worried and you don't know what's coming next, it's hard to see past it. Your brain changes. Over time, a lonely existence can rewrite your synapses and how you see the world.
When we give companionship and care for others without judgment, it creates a sacred space for people to see their actions and themselves for who they are. Another interesting thing about the chronic loneliness in the brain, it also, they have found, can impact the immune system. That people get sicker as they feel more loneliness, their body shuts down in different ways.
Bob Goff wrote a book called Love Does, and this came out in 2012, and it's a really wonderful book. It's an easy read. You can pick it up almost anywhere. It was a bestseller. He tells a story in that book about when he was in high school, he decided he was going to drop out of high school and go to Yosemite and just climb some mountains, climb some rocks. It's a very typical teenage mind thing to do. He went to his friend Randy, and his friend Randy was a little bit older. He was out of high school and he had a girlfriend, and he went and talked to Randy about his plan and he wasn't expecting Randy to do anything. He was going to go by himself but then Randy said, "Hang on one second." He went in the house and he came back out and he had a backpack. He said, "I'm ready to go." He's like, "Well, you don't have to go with me." He said, "but I want to, I'm with you."
They went and they went to Yosemite and of course, being a teenager, he didn't think about planning ahead and having a place to stay first. They snuck into the campground and slept in the back so they wouldn't get caught. They did this for about a week or so, and then Bob started to change his mind and he said, "I'm starting to think that maybe I want to go back to high school." Randy said, "Whatever you want to do, Bob, I'm with you." Then eventually made the decision, "I'm going back." When they got back, he went to Randy's house and Randy went to his house and said hello to his girlfriend and he noticed there were packages on the floor, some were wrapped and some were unwrapped. What he realized was Randy had just gotten married to his girlfriend and he had left to go with him even after just being married.
Now we could think about all the problematic parts of the story. Why would Randy leave his new wife right away? What Bob was making a point of, he said, "Randy was with me no matter what, he provided companionship and that helped me think through my choices better." If he was alone, maybe he would have never made the choice to go back to high school. Randy acted as Christ alongside of him and also we can do that for others. We can be that companionship that helps. Even just having somebody with you helps you think through things better. It helps you bounce ideas off of them. If somebody is especially nonjudgmental and open and compassionate to you through all your ups and downs, it changes you. When we feel alone, we only do what we know to survive, but not to thrive.
Helping others and serving others helps you too. It expands your heart, expands your understanding of people going through tough times. Also, one of the things, and we've talked about this before, that there is beneficial things to your brain and your body when you help and serve others, you become a happier person. You feel more connected to everybody around you.
Also one of the other things about this that's important to talk about too is, we can help and serve others, but sometimes we have to understand how to humble ourselves to be helped also to be served ourselves. Helping others acknowleges that someday you may need to be served, you may need to be helped out and you have to be okay with that. That's part of the kenosis, the emptying of oneself to be humble, to accept help when it's needed.
You can ask anybody here that has served either in youth group, Habitat For Humanity, Zimbabwe list goes on and on for the ministries at New Hope that people do it because they enjoy it, they feel richer because of it. That serving others and helping out has made their lives better in ways that they did not expect.
This week what I want to do is challenge you to, five times this week, to find ways to serve others. Five times throughout the whole week. Maybe that's once every day of the week, of the work week, you get two days off, but five times throughout this week of helping others. It could be something as big as helping in an emergency. It can be something as small as just random acts of kindness, but finding ways to serve others. It could be your spouse, it could be your family, it could be your neighbors, it could be that person that's waiting at the stoplight for money. Just do something to help first and talk second.
I'll get through this. I want to leave you with this from Carlos Rodriguez, who's a pastor in Puerto Rico. He says, "Go find the need, be the friend, feed the hungry, hug the homeless, call the politicians who represent you, welcome the stranger and hang out with the worst. You don't have to do it, but you get to do it. I know that Jesus is waiting for you there."
Service is not something we at New Hope want to guilt to you about. It's not something to be guilted about. I think what he says is exactly right, "You don't have to do it, but we get to do it." We get to partake in the renewal of all things. We get to act out the life that Jesus wants for us. When Jesus left the earth, He said, "You will do much greater things than these." When we look back at Jesus' work, He's encouraging us and saying, "Help me help you, because you can do even greater things than the things I did while I was here." Amen.