Friday, February 20, 2009

Serving God

a sermon preached by Becky Hartwell on Sunday, 15th February

 Now last week Richard talked about serving God, it was moving on from the 18+ event that never happened.  In the morning he talked about serving God, by serving others.  Because the fruit of the love of God is at work within us and through this it becomes a joy.


And this evening while talking about serving God I want to focus on the idea that serving God doesn’t always have to be something we work up to, something we plan for years, something that can only be done under certain circumstances.  We don’t have to be missionaries, church ministers, doctors in shanty towns.  Instead, serving God can be the day to day things, bringing up your children, helping out a stranger, taking care of someone who needs it.


Encouraged by Richard’s services I decided to also look at serving God, looking at those who have served God in unusual ways, or in subtle ways.  While trawling through the mass of information on the internet I found something quite interesting, something called “Sunday School Teacher Appreciation Day”.  Now, I myself have never heard of such a thing, as it turns out it is an American thing.  And yet for all of us who went to church as children we understand the affect that a Sunday School teacher or Junior Church leader has.


But I would encourage us all to think of those who have affected our spiritual journey.  It may be that there have been so many people, those we’re not even sure the names of but people who through their words, their actions and their kindness. 


Personally for me, there have been children’s leaders, youth workers from our Federation events, family, friends and some lovely ladies from churches when I was growing up.  But there were those who unknowingly had an affect as well.  My friends from university who weren’t Christians but were aware of my behaviour, they knew I was a Christian and were interested on how that affected my behaviour.  No matter what happens we have an affect on those around us, it just depends what sort of affect it is.


There is a theory called Locard’s exchange process – now I don’t use intelligent theories in talks often so let’s just hope I can explain it.  In television shows like CSI – Crime Scene Investigators, they can pick up dna or clues because when a person has been at the scene something of the location will be left on the person and vice versa.  It is explained as this “with contact between two items, there will be an exchange”.


So what does that mean for us?  Well, it is true for us as well, with contact between two people there will be an exchange. 


We remember, even for a short time a rude shop assistant, a helpful person with directions – when I was travelling I remember the towns that had the polite people and those that didn’t.  We can remember those that have challenged us as Junior Church leaders have, those that have left us happy, sad, angry or confused but we do remember people. 


In that Locard’s exchange process rings true for us as people, and if we remember others do they remember us?


Undoubtedly there are people who have been so grateful for the flowers they have received, an activity that runs well at the end of services but has an affect.  There are those who remember having someone at church chat to them the first time they came, and one of the children even said to me a couple of weeks ago, “Come on Becky, do one of your little prayers” – people remember the contact we have with them.


So with contact with two people there will be an exchange.


If we look to the story of Jesus washing the feet we can see that exchange.


We can see how Jesus affected his disciples, the man they saw as Lord and teacher was kneeling down to wash their feet.  Imagine our teachers doing that for us.  The one we see as the most powerful, important, humbling themselves completely in love and service.  The love that Richard talks about.


Jesus wasn’t doing this act because it was all about a lesson, he could have done the same lesson in a different way, without getting his hands dirty.  He knew he was going to die soon, he was going to suffer, be tortured, be in complete pain and in fact be rejected by the men he was bending down to wash the feet of.


But he chose that moment to bend down and wash their feet.  These weren’t beautifully manicured feet that had been washed that morning and then kept in socks and shoes.  These were sweaty feet, dirty from walking round the streets probably with marks, grazes and other things on them.  He wasn’t humbling himself in a picture perfect postcard way, he was humbling himself in a complete act of service.  In an act of love.


The exchange process was there for the disciples as well.  We can always see the affect Jesus has on others, whether it be aiding them to feel loved, welcoming children to him, confusing and angering the Pharisees.  But the disciples also had an affect on Jesus.


Later on in John we hear of Jesus being troubled in spirit, and we hear of his annoyance that the disciples were sleeping while he was praying in Gethsemene.  Jesus came as a person with emotions and taking on experiences in life, people affected him as well as him affecting them.


When asked questions by the disciples in this passage Jesus answered with honest, real answers.  He didn’t fob his disciples off with things that would just shut them up.  Jesus spent time with them, he spent time as a human on earth.



Jesus is a man who served with his heart, an incredible example and a man who has had the biggest effect on our lives.  Jesus did huge acts of service, things that seem to be watered down by calling them service.  We know he died for all of our sins and yet in comparison the washing of the feet is minuscule.  This small act still stands out though as an important act of service.


But what about other people in the bible who showed acts of service.  There are the stories that involve a lot of action, planning and time, for example Noah and King David.  Then there were the smaller things, where people served God then and there, taking the gifts that God had given them and then giving them back to him in service.  There was Esther, a beautiful lady who became a Queen and with the help of others saved the Jewish people.


Or the story of Paul and Silas, serving God while in jail.  And there was Mary, the mother of Jesus, a lady who when so young gave birth to the Saviour of the world.


Instead we heard the story of the birth of Samuel.  Samuel became a very important man in the story of God’s people, a judge, a prophet and the man who anointed King David.


However, when we meet him here he is just a baby.  A baby that is truly longed for by his mother.


But what makes this a story about someone serving God.


In her prayers to God, Hannah says that she is his servant.  Often we forget how we can be serving God in our daily lives, we may consider it is something we can do in years to come, when we are “better” Christians, when we are praying over thirty minutes a day, when we have not done anything wrong in a twenty-four hour period.  And yet, in this moment Hannah is saying she IS God’s servant, even though she hasn’t had her child. 


Hannah established in her prayer that she was God’s servant.  But that if he gave her what she desperately wanted, she would in fact give it back to him. 


Hannah didn’t pray a selfish prayer, she wanted to serve God even in her pain.  She was willing to be humble and stated she was a servant of God.


In some ways, Hannah’s prayer seems like the type we might say when we are desperate, or the ones we frequently hear on tv “God if you do this for me… I will be a really good person…I won’t ever been mean to someone again…I will go to church every Sunday”.  But Hannah’s prayer was more powerful than that.  She would have known God wouldn’t have ignored words like that, Hannah was praying honestly and humbly.



And so it came that when Samuel was born, Hannah gave him back to God.  She kept her promise and took him to the Tabernacle.  She was giving him to God.


Hannah was a person of the bible, not hugely featured, just in two chapters but in the situation she was in she served God – she wasn’t a judge, she wasn’t a prophet, she wasn’t the wife of a King but she served God through prayer and having a child.


This story of Hannah and Samuel enables us to think about the gifts God has given us.  In the same way when Hannah had a choice to make with Samuel, these are gifts that we can choose to give back to God, given back to him through serving him and his people.


There is a story in a book I have read about a person who is given a special tea set, very posh and beautiful.  But this tea set is kept in the attic, wrapped up in paper for a special occasion.  But an occasion special enough never happens and eventually the tea set just sits, hidden and never used.  Then one day the owner dies, their children find the tea set and use it.


Our gifts from God can end up like this tea set, he gives them to us so we can serve him and his people but if we keep saving them til the right time we might never use them.


So service is something that we have lots of examples in the bible.  But as Richard has talked about it needs to be grounded in God.  The joy comes from loving God. 


When I talked about Locard’s exchange process before I talked of how when we meet someone we make a choice, have a good effect or a bad effect.  But as we have an affect they also have an affect on us.  If we spend all our time serving God but never time with God we will be affected by all the things we see, we receive.  There is a lot of suffering, pain and sadness in the world.  This can and does have an affect on us.  So we need to stay grounded in the love of God, we need to still immerse ourselves in his word and stay in prayer with him.


We can come to Jesus in everything, and ask for him to renew us, we can develop our learning and understanding of him, we can embrace all that he has to offer us.  Serving isn’t a lonely thing, it comes with the love of Jesus.


So we see that small acts can make a large difference, as I said at the beginning serving God isn’t always about the big acts but the small things also have a significance, the prayer and being a parent, the washing of feet and the being a Junior Church leader.



So as Richard said last week, what difference is hearing this going to make? 


  • Maybe we can think what is our tea set?  What are we holding on to for a special occasion?


  • Maybe we need to be remembering those who have served God by being there for us.  Those who have had patience and love for us, even when we weren’t hugely likeable people.  Or maybe those who have served us and gone unnoticed, those who have been involved in the small things that might not transform lives immediately but might have such a gradual effect we didn’t realise it.  And thank God for their service.


  • Or just maybe we can say to God, “use me”.  A scary thing to say to God because he doesn’t ignore those words.  Maybe as we go home from here or get up tomorrow morning we can ask God to use us for that day, for the walk we might be taking or the people we will meet.  We can ask God to help us serve him better.
    • Little random acts of kindness, story of people who pay for toll booths but then get ignored
    • Trying to leave earlier so to be a better driver


Finally I am going to leave you with some words that were made by a man called Robert Fulghum, a man who understood that things can stop us.  A man who also saw that it was possible to do small things in serving God if we are willing to use what we have in the moment.

She strode to the rostrum and changed the agenda of the conference from intellectual inquiry to moral activism. She said, in a firm voice to the awed assembly: "We can do no great things; only small things with great love. "

The contradictions of her life and faith are nothing compared to my own. And while I wrestle with frustration about the impotence of the individual, she goes right on changing the world. While I wish for more power and resources, she uses her power and resources to do what she can do at the moment.



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