Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
April 13, 2017 Maundy Thursday
The Cross of Service
Text: John 13:16 Exodus 12:1-10 John 9:1-41
We live in a nation built on self-improvement. Billions of dollars are spent annually by American consumers on self-improvement. Exercise and diets compete fashion and cosmetics industries. Career gurus and motivational speakers are aimed at self-improvement.
Self-improvement is America’s mantra. Our ancestors were lured by promises of self-improvement offered by the land of the free, and the home of the brave.
Some preach self-improvement as the pathway to heaven. The Gospel of Prosperity promises God rewards people with wealth when they devote themselves to God. Wealth and heaven are goals for the self-improvement generation. Being a good person earns our ticket to the Kingdom of God, or so the self-improvement preachers preach.
How easy it is to get swept along with the self-improvement current of American life. It can lead us right away from Jesus Christ and what He did this night. If self-improvement is the essential message of the Gospel, then why did Jesus call His disciples to be servants?
A servant isn’t invested in improving his own life. A servant isn’t devoted to living for herself. A servant serves the life of others.
A servant gives life to others.
Tonight, Jesus calls us to abandon the pursuit of self-improvement. He calls us to radical selflessness. Empty your life of self. Fill it with concern for others. Only after you have emptied yourself of self, can you discover what God wants you to do for others.
Jesus began to teach us self-lessness with a bowl of water and a towel. He humbled himself like the house servant and cleaned the feet of His disciples. He literally showed them how to be a follower. He took care of their most mundane needs – cleanliness – and instructed his disciples to clean one another. But the bowl of water and towel were just the first step towards servanthood. There was a much greater example He had in mind.
The Christian life is such a radical departure from the self-oriented culture of free enterprise. The true Christian life comes in the shape of a Cross – the Cross of Service.
The Cross of Service is the radical demand of Christ upon His followers. It separates Christianity from being a hobby we pursue when we have free time, to a Christianity that’s lived to serve others.
Christian faith demands from Jesus followers an investment in the growth of others. It lives, breathes, and dies, for the life of others.
Pick a vocational calling where a Christian believes he or she is practicing Christ’s call –that Christian works for the life of others.
Rather than seek wealth as a reward for selling a product, the Christian seeks to serve others at the expense of his or her life. Christian selflessness leads Christians to accept the most difficult tasks that others would never tackle because they can’t see themselves being benefited. Selflessness is the first step to service. Without selflessness, the pursuit of service can be corrupted by self-interest.
Candidates for public office often declare they’re running to serve their constituents. How many times have those candidates claimed to work for others when their office-holding serves their own interests? What president has left the Oval Office to live a life of poverty? What Senator enters Congress to give up endorsements and gifts to buy influence?
Plato once said public office holders should never be paid more than what’s necessary for survival. Today, we hear too many public office holders say they have to raise their salaries if they want to attract qualified candidates for public service. Service doesn’t count salary figures.
In contrast, Jesus instructed His disciples to go into the public and not take any personal possessions with them. He instructed them not to go soliciting for their own survival. Just share the Gospel with those who will listen. Ask for nothing for anyone. God will take care of the rest.
Instead of fanning the flames of who is the greatest disciple, Jesus said, “Whoever is greatest among you must become servant of all.” Of all the stories told about Jesus and His disciples, the humble service of what He personally did for them tonight is so poignant. It holds a central place in the story of Holy Week. Jesus taught them selflessness, and service as the central purpose of His mission.
Tomorrow, Jesus showed His disciples the greatest act of selflessness and service. He offered His life for His disciples, for the people of Judea, for the world. He served the needs of the world to have hope beyond death, and love beyond despair when He mounted the Cross.
When you embrace the Cross of Service, you no longer live for self but die for Christ. You no longer live to improve your own lot in life. You live to improve other’s lots with Christ.
You a remembering, “Whoever would save His life will lose it. Whoever loses His life for my name’s sake will save it. Take up my Cross and follow me!”
The Cross of Service is what gets Christian school teachers up each day to try to make a difference for the kids in their classroom. The Cross of Service is what gets Christian physicians and nurses working deep into the night to save the life of others. The Cross of Service is what motivates Christian civic leaders to endure the injustice of allegations and innuendoes by those who don’t understand public service. The Cross of Service is what inspires Christian mothers and fathers not to give up on their children when their children fall prey to the culture’s worship of self-improvement.
The Cross of Service leads Deacons and Elders to drop what they’re doing and visit those in need. The Cross of Service is what challenges Christians in all walks of life to live for more than themselves – to live for others as they follow Christ.
Those who understand what Jesus’ call to discipleship really means, do not hear a voice calling them to personally profit. They hear an invitation to help others find new hope, new love, new life – in serving Jesus Christ our Lord.