Sermon for Volunteers of America Holy Week Service,
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Church for the Highlands Chapel
I was getting ready for work the other day and saw breaking news on one of the TV news channels. It was, of course, about Justin Bieber. This one had nothing to do with his hair. It was all about his recent trip to Israel. He wanted to see and experience the Holy Land and arrived there with great hopes of seeing the roots of his Christian faith. His arrival, however, caused such a commotion and paparazzi frenzy that he wasn’t able to get out of his hotel and be a tourist. He made the comment that he just wanted to get out and walk where Jesus walked, but they (paparazzi) were keeping him from it. He was obviously angry that he was missing out. Hearing this made me think of how easy it is for people and things and even ourselves to get in the way of walking in the way of Jesus; from walking where he walked. This Holy Week, however, provides us with a great opportunity to not miss Jesus’ footsteps as he entered Jerusalem and as he experienced the roller coaster of the last days of his life.
It is in this last week of Jesus’ life, as we trace the footprints of Jesus, that we see up close what we have already heard about in the Scripture read this morning. It is unavoidable and undeniable that Jesus came into this world a servant and he left one as well. This was God’s call on his life, one he surrendered to early in his life and lived out well. St. Paul captured this in such a beautiful way in the Philippians text we just heard. This text (Philippians 2:5-8) says it all about service, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.
And Isaiah 53 reminds us not just that he came to serve but how he did it. The service of Jesus was one of suffering. We can’t look at his life and not agree that here was a man who was undeserving of such suffering, yet he was one well acquainted with it. We can’t look at him and not see how he suffered for others, speaking out for the voiceless, loving the unlovable, healing the sick, defending the defenseless, and challenging the systems of injustice in his community.
Leo Tolstoy said “Life is a place of service. Joy can be real only if they look upon their life as a service and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.” Sounds like the life of Jesus, doesn’t it? This is the way Jesus walked in his world. And these are the steps that we should be tracing with our feet today.
As we look at Jesus as servant, we are confronted with really two ways to go with him. Our first inclination is to recognize the service he has given to us in our condition, to be thankful and rest in it. And this is good to do and is something we don’t do enough of. Our lives could use a little more recognition of what Jesus has done for our condition, a little more of resting in what he has given us with such a great cost. We would do well to have more Easter in our lives. Our lives could use a little more gratitude. This is the way a lot of people, a lot of us, go. And that’s as far as we get.
But in the midst of our gratitude, we must see that what our lives and our world really could use is a lot more servitude. And this is the way we ought to be going with them. This, too, is the call of God on our lives. Just as God commissioned Jesus to serve the world, so Jesus has called us out and given us the towel of service to others. As we gather here under the banner of Volunteers of America, we recall the mission of this organization as a “ministry of service.” It could have been a lot of things, but it was established and has been maintained for over a hundred years for the purpose of service to others. This is our calling as we gather here today.
As Paul mentioned to the Philippian Christians in this text for today, we have an example for how this is to look. Paul wrote these words for followers of Jesus, Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, . . . ” And so this is our model for ministry. And Volunteers of America provides each of us with the opportunity to serve the needs of other people above our own. We don’t have to look far at all to find needs do we? We are surrounded by them–with Sr. Adults who have little to eat and need a hot meal, with parents in need of help with their children, with women in need of help with their pregnancies, with people with disabilities in need of employment, with teenagers and young adults who have no place to live, with children who need tutoring and encouragement, with people who have suffered spinal and brain injuries in need of resources and help, with unemployed women in need of clothes and hope for success. And the list goes on and on. All of these require service, the kind Jesus exemplified, the kind he gave even as he suffered to death. And this is the the kind you and I are called to give as well, even if it means we will suffer as we serve. This kind of service changes lives. This kind changes the world.I read a story the other day that is a powerful reminder of the way Jesus served us and how we become like him with our service. Stan Duncan tells the story,
When I was living in Guatemala back in the ’80s, I spent some time with missionaries up in the Highlands. Over the desk in my room was a framed newspaper photo. It showed a group of young children standing close together with their arms straight out from their sides. I thought about it several times during my stay with them, so I finally asked what it was and why they had it on their wall. The husband said there was a custom among the indigenous Ixchel Mayan people who were Christians. Whenever they felt bad or sorrowful or in pain, they would put their arms out, imitating Jesus on the cross. That way they felt as if they were bringing Jesus’ suffering into their own. The Jesus who could weep for them and die for them took their own individual sufferings up into his, and they were then no longer alone. They could feel Jesus totally identifying with their pain and, in a magical, cosmic, spiritual way, their pain was lessened. I said something like, “Wow, what on earth was going on in the picture that all of them at once could be making the gesture of the cross?” He moved me over closer to the picture and asked, “Do you see that long black shadow on the ground?” I did. He said, “That’s a rifle barrel. There are about 20 others right in back of it. Someone in this town was thought to be a rebel, and the military wanted to make an example of them so others wouldn’t do the same. So just outside of the range of the picture, army troops had lined up. And just after this picture was taken, they fired and killed all the children in the village. They all died. They were buried in that pit you see just in back of them. The children all knew they were going to die, but when they held out their arms, they could feel Jesus identifying with them … and they weren’t afraid.” (Stan G. Duncan, Homiletics.)
This week, as we go out into the rest of Holy Week, may we remember the arms of Jesus that opened wide with identification and suffering for us and may we open ours in the same way for the needs of others around us in this community.